POMED Notes: How to Prevent War in the Gulf: While Stopping Iran from Getting the Bomb.
On Thursday, the Center for National Policy hosted a panel on the recent dispute between the U.S. and Iranian government, and whether Tehran’s desire to develop a nuclear program will end diplomatically or militarily. The speakers were Dr. Afshon Ostovar, a Middle East analyst for the Center for Naval Analyses Strategic Studies, Mattew Kroenig, a Stanton Nuclear Security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Alireza Nader, a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. The panel was moderated by Indira Lakshmanan, a reporter for Bloomberg news.
For full event notes, continue reading below. Or, click here for the PDF
Lakshmanan opened the panel by shedding light on the Iran situation that is currently the dominant point of discussion in the West. The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, suggesting that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, and Iranian protestors storming the British embassy, are have triggered the increased sanctions and embargos towards Iran. The imposed restrictions from the West have been met with threats from Tehran.
Nader felt the Iranian Republic is extremely vulnerable and a desire for a nuclear weapon is “motivated by weakness and security.” Nader’s opinion is that the sanctions being imposed on Iran are taking their toll economically. The rise of the “Green Movement,” and the majority opinion that the last elections were fraudulent have weakened the regime’s position. Although the “Green Movement” has largely been quiet since its inception, the reasons for social mobilization and protest against the government still exist, unemployment and corruption to name a few. There is also a noticeable power rift evident between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated by the dismissal of the Minister of Intelligence, Heydar Moslehi, and his later reinstatement. Nader closed with saying the U.S. has been successful in crafting a policy of isolation against Iran.
Ostavar is not convinced the world can prevent war with Iran while keeping them without the “bomb.” Currently, the U.S. stance towards Iran remains they cannot have nuclear weapon, which has been stated by the last two administrations. Iran’s stance involves more ambiguity regarding possible uranium weaponization, which leads to the world perception that weaponization is the true desire. Iran’s increasingly aggressive response to “soft concessions” leveled against them is projecting the challenge of “we can get there before you can get there.” In the end, Ostavar believes Iranian leadership wants the “preservation of the regime” and will sacrifice its standing domestically and internationally to remain in power. Ostavar said, “If we (U.S.) do not want Iran to get a nuke we need to convince Iran we have no interest in replacing the regime.”
Kroening said that Khamenei could agree to (involve Iran’s nuclear program) and save face, but also convince the West that Iran is no longer pursuing a nuclear weapon. This places the U.S. in a dilemma; “do we acquiesce or have a (military) strike.” Kroening stated, a nuclear Iran will increase nuclear proliferation, toughen Iran’s stance against neighbors, inevitable involve the U.S. to sign multiple defense packs throughout the area, and could accidentally trigger a war between Iran and Israel. Overall, “a nuclear Iran is more dangerous.” Out of all the available outcomes with Iran, a military strike against Iran, while bad, is the least negative option. A military strike against Iran could invite three different types of responses: missiles launched at naval forces and population centers, the use of proxy terrorist or naval engagements. Kroening felt a way to stymie an Iranian retaliatory response could involve issuing warnings that nuclear facilities remain the only targets, and threaten that any retaliation would be met with greater military force.
During the question and answer session, Nader said that a war with Iran would not be confined regionally, but would involve the entire Middle East. Ostavar responded that it is difficult to see a diplomatic solution arise but still feels the U.S. has the ability to engage diplomatically. Kroening laid out what he felt the “redline” issues were for the U.S. If the Iranians enrich uranium above 20 percent (no civilian purpose past this point), kick out the inspectors, or install advanced centrifuge, the Iranians will have reached a point where a military strike is the only option. Nader offered that wars sometimes happen, accidentally. Currently, there is so much tension and rhetoric between all the actors that one side may not grasp the situation and act in such a way that would trigger a point of no return.