- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

As it becomes increasingly clear that the United States and others could be faced with a choice between allowing Iran to become a nuclear-weapons state very soon or taking military action to prevent this, American policy-makers will have to weigh the costs of launching military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, which are potentially very high, against the cost of not acting, which could prove to be even greater in the long run.

Tehran has other options for responding to an attack on its nuclear facilities. Although its ground forces have limited capabilities, Iran’s navy, armed with submarines, missiles and mines, could temporarily disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz; its special forces could try to sabotage harbor facilities in the Persian Gulf or attack ships in port. In the event of a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear targets, the Navy would have to be prepared for the likelihood that Iran would respond by targetting oil platforms and other infrastructure in the Gulf, or by attempting to disrupt oil production and shipping in the region.

Iran may also respond to such a U.S. strike by stepping up its efforts to destabilize Iraq. In coordination with its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Tehran could well permit terrorists to cross the border in order to target American troops, activate Revolutionary Guard cells that have already infiltrated Iraq or encourage Iraqi Shi’ite militias to stage violent protests. It is also possible that Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army may stage coordinated attacks on coalition forces as it did two years ago in conjunction with attacks by Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Then there is the possibility that one of the terrorist groups backed by Tehran might be ordered into action. We might witness a repetition of the events of Nov. 21, when Hezbollah attempted to kidnap Israeli soldiers and fired rockets into Israel from Lebanon. Hezbollah, which has an extensive presence in South America, could target Americans there. And Hezbollah (which has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group save al Qaeda) has cells in numerous U.S. cities, according to the FBI. It may decide to activate them.

Does all of this prove conclusively that taking action against Tehran is a bad idea? Absolutely not. Iran has all of the above capabilities today. If it acquires nuclear weapons, its terrorism and subversion capabilities would be protected by an atomic shield, arguably making them even more dangerous, because Washington would be even more reluctant to take any action against Iran.

Finally, there is the possibility that, if Iran has nuclear weapons, they could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. As Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Robert Joseph put it in a Feb. 1 address: “Iran is at the nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological programs and actively supporting terrorist movements. If Iran has fissile material or nuclear weapons, the likelihood of their transfer to a third party would increase — by design or through diversion.” In the end, the costs of military inaction could prove even higher than the high cost of taking action.

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