Over the past two or three years, as the full scope of Iran's overt and covert nuclear weapons programs has been disclosed, the possibility of preventive military action by either the US, Israel, or both, periodically comes up. Every time it does, a chorus of naysayers emerges. They tell us that Iran is not Iraq, and that military option to preempt or at least significantly delay Iran's nuclear timetable does not exist, or is too expensive to be viable. It is true that, unlike Saddam Hussein, the ayatollahs of Teheran have dispersed their nuclear facilities in heavily fortified underground facilities across their nation. This makes the kind of air strike Israel employed in 1981 to take out Saddam's nuclear reactor impractical. THIS DOES not mean, however, that a military option does not exist. Several possible military viable military options do exist. The problem is not a lack of means or capabilities, but a lack of will and fortitude. â€¢ One option is a sustained assault lasting several days. Iran's air force has been third-rate ever since Khomeini came to power, when it was purged due to the fact that all its pilots had been Western-trained and were considered pro-royalist by the Islamic regime. Even though Iran has upgraded its air defense systems they are not capable of dealing with state-of-the art Western avionics and would soon collapse under a sustained air assault. Bottom line: A surgical missile strike against Iran's few advanced air defense facilities would dismantle them, neutralizing the country's entire air defense system. Attacking air forces equipped with the most advanced technological capabilities would enjoy total air superiority, enabling the launching of a sustained prolonged strategic bombing attack. Such an assault, in addition to causing significant damage to at least some of the facilities, could also jump-start regime change. The sight of US and perhaps also Israeli aircraft flying unopposed over Iran would be highly demoralizing for the regime. Dictatorships, which survive solely on the perception of power and fear, have difficulty surviving such humiliations. Air strikes could also be used to carry out Israeli-style targeted eliminations, disrupting and destroying the battalions of the Bajilis and other similar groups of pro-government goon squad militias who crushed the student protests a few years ago.
Another military option would be the targeting of the country's clerical, political and military leadership. The only factor preventing such an attack is the current American doctrine, which prohibits the targeting of an enemy state's political leaders. All that is needed is the political will and wisdom to change the doctrine. Iran's leaders may aid, abet and provide comfort to terrorists, but they do not live and work underground.
An air assault could eliminate most of the political leadership, neutralizing the revolutionary guard's (Pasderan) field officer corps and rank and file, creating a catalyst for anti-government forces to coalesce and hit the streets in force, bringing the government down.
Members of the leadership surviving the initial surprise strikes would be forced to go underground. Leadership has to be visible to be effective, especially dictatorial coercive leadership, which rules by fear. The very fact that the leadership would be known to be cowering underground, cut off and unable to muster or implement any kind of effective command and control would be sufficiently demoralizing for pro-regime forces, encouraging and empowering the legions of disaffected youth to hit the streets and effect regime change.
The biggest obstacle to a military option is not a shortage of capabilities or weapons systems, but a surfeit of conventional and outmoded thinking. This is the same kind of thinking that appeased Hitler from 1936 to 1939.
IRAN HAS been waging an undeclared war against Israel, world Jewry and the US for over 30 years. It has constantly and systematically attacked Israel, world Jewry and the US by proxy, arming, training and financing terrorist operations. In Argentina it went a step further, bribing the then head of state, former president Carlos Menem, to enable and cover up a massive terrorist assault against that country's Jewish community. It is financing Syria's attempt to assassinate the Lebanese leadership out of existence or into submission.
One thing Iran's leadership has shown is an ability to think out of the box and take risks. It's time we did the same. No country can afford to stand by and do nothing when another one wages an undeclared, yet very real and palpable war against it.
Not only are there several viable military options regarding Iran, ultimately they are the only options available, unless we want to see Iran achieve superpower status.
The writer is the former Editor-in-Chief of Maariv International. In addition he was an adviser to a foreign government, and has military experience (retired Lt.-Colonel).