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Above: Israeli F-35s. Fast tracking the sale of KC-46 tankers to Israel, which have thus far been delayed, would enable the Zionist state to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. We would suggest that this would be the Biden administrations preferred option, coupled with the provision of more arms and intelligence, rather than a direct U.S. strike

With negotiations likely to fail, he’d better be prepared for a military strike

Mark Dubowitz, Matthew Kroneog – Wall Street Journal Jan 6, 2021

Negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program started this week and quickly stalled—and little wonder. Tehran is striding toward nuclear weapons and has little interest in a diplomatic breakthrough.

That makes it almost certain that President Biden will soon face the fateful choice between allowing the clerical regime to become a nuclear-weapons power and using military force to stop it. The red line for military action will come when Iran’s timeline to sprint to a nuclear weapon shrinks to less than the Pentagon’s response time. On the current trajectory, that could happen early this year. If and when it does, the president should order military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent Tehran from building the bomb.

The best possible resolution of this crisis would be a negotiated settlement that verifiably and permanently closes off all Iranian pathways to the bomb. But the 2015 nuclear deal failed to do that, and Tehran isn’t interested in any agreement that does.

Meanwhile, time is running out. Iran already could produce one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium in as little as three weeks and test a crude nuclear device in six months. It might take a year or two to fashion a functioning nuclear warhead that is deliverable on a missile, but once the clerical regime has enough weapons-grade material, the game is over. The world could no longer physically prevent Iranian weaponization. Like North Korea, Tehran could move its bomb-grade material to secret facilities and fashion warheads undisturbed. To stop Iranian nuclearization, Washington must stop Tehran from acquiring sufficient quantities of fissile material.

A nuclear-armed Iran would cause further proliferation as regional powers like Saudi Arabia build their own bombs. Backed by the threat of nuclear weapons, Iran would step up its regional aggression and support to terror and proxy groups. With Washington deterred by fear of escalation—including the risk of a nuclear strike against Israel—the clerical regime would have a freer hand. Eventually, as Tehran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program advances, the U.S. itself would be vulnerable to Iranian nuclear attacks and coercion.

Fortunately, Washington has effective military options. There is little doubt the Pentagon can destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities (even those that are deeply buried and hardened), as several defense secretaries have stated.

American strikes would delay Iran’s efforts by years at minimum and forever at best. Tehran can’t enrich uranium without the necessary facilities. It would take time to rebuild, install and operate centrifuges, and reconstitute stockpiles of fissile material. The U.S. government has estimated that an Israeli strike would buy only one or two years, but an American strike would be more effective. And Iran might think twice before spending billions to rebuild facilities the U.S. could destroy again.

Iran would likely retaliate, but the lesson from President Trump’s strike on Gen. Qasem Soleimani two years ago is that Tehran’s response would likely be muted. The attack would stun the Iranian political system since it will be unexpected; Islamic Revolutionary Guard publications now regularly mock American determination. The ruling clerics still fear a major war, which could lead to the destruction of their military and the end of their regime. Washington can further deter retaliation by issuing an explicit threat that if Tehran escalates, the Pentagon will destroy more than the nuclear facilities.

Mr. Biden should publicly ask the Pentagon to update military plans and, alongside allies and partners, conduct exercises targeting mockup Iranian nuclear facilities. He should also ensure that U.S. allies and bases in the region are protected against Iranian counterstrikes. Israel would benefit from help addressing the threat of Iranian precision-guided missiles. Mr. Biden could also broker a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia on missile and drone technology, which Riyadh needs to defend against Iranian attacks. It could have the added benefit of encouraging the kingdom’s entry into the Abraham Accords.

Military options are most effective when they don’t have to be used. If Tehran understands that diplomatic intransigence will have serious consequences, it will be more likely to negotiate. For those who hold out hope that coercive diplomacy still can solve the Iranian nuclear challenge, putting the military option back on the table, along with a renewed sanctions offensive, is the best bet.

If all else fails, Mr. Biden should be prepared to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. The risks of this approach pale in comparison to the threat of living with a nuclear-armed Iran for decades to come.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Mr. Kroenig is a professor of government at Georgetown, director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative and a former senior policy adviser at the Pentagon

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