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IRAN: Stop nukes by bombing oil wells, neocons suggest

June 19, 2008 |  9:17 am

Why attack Iran's nuclear facilities when striking their oil infrastructure would be much more effective in the scope of a US-led preventive war? Sure, oil prices might skyrocket and the world economy might collapse. But, hey, that's the price you pay for security.

Patrick_clawson_press_photo_2Such a scenario is not a nightmare or an outtake from a remake of Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," but part of a serious recommendation made by two neoconservatives in case sanctions fail to persuade Iran to abandon its enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons or fuel for peaceful energy production.

In a July report titled "The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action Against Iran," and published by the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Studies, scholars Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt advocate military strategies that would ultimately discourage Tehran from pursuing any future non-civilian nuclear activities:

Because the ultimate goal of prevention is to influence Tehran to change course, effective strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure may play an important role in affecting Iran's decision calculus. Strikes that flatten its nuclear infrastructure could have a demoralizing effect, and could influence Tehran's assessment of the cost of rebuilding. But the most effective strikes may not necessarily be against nuclear facilities. Iran is extraordinarily vulnerable to attacks on its oil export infrastructure.... The political shock of losing the oil income could cause Iran to rethink its nuclear stance—in ways that attacks on its nuclear infrastructure might not.

Michael_eisenstadt_press_photoAnd if an attack on the oil facilities of a country with some of the world's largest reserves leads to a huge spike in oil prices, sends gas prices up to 10 bucks a gallon and brings economic ruin in the rest of the world, the report continues, well, so be it:

To be sure, in a tight world oil market, attacking Iran's oil infrastructure carries an obvious risk of causing world oil prices to soar and hurting consumers in the United States and other oil-importing countries.... If the choice is between higher oil prices and a Middle East with several nuclear powers, higher oil prices and reduced economic growth are not clearly the greater evil.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy is a famous Beltway think tank. It was founded in 1985 by Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

The 45-page report reads like a manual on how to wage a successful preemptive war on Iran. It discusses "key political and contextual questions" pertaining to a preventive war outside the usual frame of strictly military-technical considerations.

The report assesses different scenarios of military action by stressing the importance of "favorable" international, regional and local political environments. An attack against Iran won't necessarily lead to a nationalist backlash if it's done at the right time and in the right way. They draw such conclusions from civilian reaction to bombing runs during World War II and the Iraq-Iran War:

After a few days of bombing, civilians realized that as long as they stayed away from military facilities or potential strategic targets, they could go about their business reasonably safely, even during air raids. That fact is likely to undercut the intensity of the reaction to any preventive strike.... The challenge, should the United States decide to go that route, would be to conduct military and information campaigns that mitigate a nationalist backlash and that undercut and isolate the regime, while at the same time signaling the Islamic Republic's leaders that the United States is prepared to make a deal if they abandon their nuclear program.

The authors go on to dismiss Iranian responses to a strike and present "remedies" to every one of these possible responses, from attacking U.S. assets in the Gulf to attacking Israel through Lebanon and sponsoring terror or even waging a full-scale war. They argue that the U.S. should strike Iran before Israel does because the Jewish state "would have many disadvantages to the United States."

The report concludes that no matter how costly, a policy of prevention remains a better option than deterrence:

If the potential risks, challenges and consequences of prevention (as previously outlined) are daunting, the risks and challenges of deterrence are even more so. Deterrence is not an easy, low-risk alternative. The cost/benefit calculus pertaining to prevention versus deterrence as a means of dealing with Iran's nuclear program may be one of the most complex and difficult policy choices facing U.S. policymakers today, given the uncertainties of the prospects for success and the possible price of failure for each.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photos: Patrick Clawson, top, and Michael Eisenstadt. Credit: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East. You can subscribe by registering at the website here.

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