American officials and experts urged U.S. President Barack Obama this week to take a tougher stance on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, with some advising the administration to provide Israel with the arms needed for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Ahead of a failed round of nuclear talks with Iran in Moscow, 44 U.S. senators wrote a letter to Obama, calling him to consider withdrawing from a dialogue in absence of tangible agreement, and focusing on increasing pressure.
The missive included specific demands to be met by Tehran in case of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff, saying that among “the absolute minimum steps it [Iran] must take immediately are shutting down the Fordo nuclear facility, freezing enrichment above 5 percent, and shipping all uranium enriched above five percent out of the country.”
In addition, on Wednesday, one day after the talks with Iran in Moscow ended without visible results, U.S. lawmakers discussed the options ahead for dealing with Iran, specifically with a military strike as a means to thwart Tehran’s nuclear program.
At the hearing of the House Armed Services Committee titled “Addressing the Iranian Nuclear Challenge: Understanding the Military Option,” former Senator Charles Robb of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) urged in his testimony that “the dual approach of diplomacy and sanctions simply have not proved to be enough. We need the third track, and that is credible and visible preparations for a military option.”
Robb explained that judging by past behavior of Iran, the best chance to induce it to concessions is when it is “in a dire and military threat.”
He gave some examples of what he called “credible military readiness” – “augmenting the 5th Fleet’s capacity by procuring and deploying force protection munitions; defend U.S. naval forces against potential Iranian retaliation by pre- positioning military supplies across the region, including strategic bombers, bunker buster munitions and fuel; by exploring strategic partnerships with countries on Iran’s northern perimeter such as Azerbaijan; by conducting broad military exercises with regional allies.”
Another suggestion was “augmenting Israeli offensive and defensive capabilities, including the sale to Israel of three KC-135 aerial refueling tankers and 200 GBU-31 bunker-busting munitions needed in whatever missile defense systems are needed.”
“One of the reasons that we’re recommending that additional KC-135s be supplied so that the credibility of the Israeli response to crossing a red line that they have laid down would be taken more seriously, because you do have very significant distances and the ability to strike and return without re-fuelers is very much in question,” he added.
Robb stressed that “we are not urging Israel to take unilateral military action against Iran nuclear facilities, but we need to make their capability to do so stronger so that Iran will take that threat more seriously.”
“We are not advocating another war in this region. We’d like to see this perilous situation resolved peacefully. We applaud the president for offering an open hand to a closed fist in his very first few minutes as president, but diplomacy simply hasn’t done the job,” Robb added.
This is despite the fact that Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is currently on visit to Washington, said on Tuesday at the Washington Institute that if there will be no other resort with Iran but the military strike, U.S. and other Western powers should lead it.
David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, said at the hearing that he sees the threat of military action by President Obama as “genuine”, but argued that surgical strikes “will simply not work, at least by themselves.”
Albright added that he believes there will be enough time to detect an Iranian breakout – “sufficiently long to allow a response.”
Albright also explained that his institution recommended among other things “strengthening the credibility of the Israeli military threat against Iran, as well as the U.S. military threat” – recommendations that were picked up by lawmakers (a bill called the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 called on the United States to provide Israel with additional aerial refueling tankers, missile-defense capabilities and specialized munitions, such as bunker-busters).
Republican Congressmen seemed to agree with the experts – and some expressed concern that cuts to the military budget could undermine the credibility of the military option.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) asked: “What kind of conflict do we have in sending that message of a credible threat of force when Iran is watching us with these huge defense cuts that we’re doing – $487 billion and then sequestration looming out there, which certainly sends a message to the world we may not have that kind of credible force?”
“When you talk about beefing up the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman – how does that conflict with the new strategy of this pivot to the Asia-Pacific area? We can’t have it kind of both ways,” he said.
Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Ca) said the Obama administration message on Iran “has not always been consistent”, adding that “unfortunately it is not clear that the Iranian regime is deterred by such statements”. McKeon said lawmakers are fully aware of the risks of the military option, but that it’s the committee’s responsibility “to ensure that the military option is credible.”
Rep. Austin Scott said that “we as a country cannot expect Israel to take this challenge on by themselves. We’ve got to stand by them. They’re our true ally over there.”
Democrats seemed more wary of the military option, even reminding the too-quick Congress approval of the war in Iraq.