Frequent topics of discussion are whether or not Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and whether or not Israel could successfully cripple Iran’s nuclear industry (given the hardened and widely dispersed multiple sites. I’m going to take the “should” as read (of course somebody should, and it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to do it), and table the question of “could” – we won’t know whether or not Israel can successfully take out all or most of the sites until she tries. For many of us who believe as I do in the necessity and inevitably of these attacks, the only question is “When will Israel act?” (Which may also be phrased as “What the hell is Israel waiting for?” …But I digress.) If we agree that an attack by Israel is both necessary and inevitable, then the only point of discussion left (apart from the timing) is the nature of the attack. Will it be limited only to those known sites which are part of Iran’s nuclear program, or will there be other targets as well? This question is rarely addressed as everyone seems to assume that only the nuclear sites will be targeted. As a purely hypothetical thought exercise, however, I find myself wondering exactly why Israel should not have a broader agenda if and when she does attack; and what the repercussions would be.
First, on the matter of repercussions, I don’t believe that expanding the scope of attacks will result in a proportionate expansion of the repercussions against Israel. This is because the attacks against Israel are never reasoned or proportionate. If Israel takes any military action against Iran at all, she will be facing a new wave of Intifada from the Palestinians, another nave of attacks from Iran’s Hezbollah clients, further one-sided attacks by the United Nations and other left-leaning anti-Semitic transnational organizations, blood libel in European newspapers, calls for sanctions, calls fro boycotts of Israel products, etc. Most of this is already old news and business as usual for Israel; and since she is going to get this reaction regardless of what action she takes, there is absolutely no reason for her to show any restraint when that restraint will not in any way be noted or rewarded. It would most likely be seen as yet another sign of weakness. So, from the point of view of reprisals, there is no reason why Israel should not pursue a broader campaign against Iran than just her nuclear sites.
Please note that I am not talking about attacks on civilian targets. Israel tried harder than almost anybody to avoid civilian casualties; it is the Palestinians and Hezbollah who hide their rocket launchers behind the human shields of the populace who are committing war crimes, not the Israelis who go after the launchers. However, even if Israel manages to destroy the entirety of Iran’s nuclear program – all of the sites and equipment – that won’t do anything about their will to simply rebuild and reacquire the facilities to eventually obtain nuclear weapons, and there remain plenty of other nations (up to and including Russia) who are more than willing to assist them in this goal. So, in addition to removing the capability to acquire and use nuclear weapons, perhaps a second prong of the presumed Israeli attack ought to target Iran’s will to acquire and use nuclear weapons. This would involve additional attacks on Iranian military and government targets.
An attack on military targets would limit Iran’s ability to stage a reprisal against Israel with purely convention forces, and also leave it with (at the very least) the appearance of being weaker militarily to its neighbors (and internal dissenters). This would give the Iranian government far more things to deal with in the short range than to rebuild their nuclear program… Especially if any of the (surviving) high-ranking military personnel blank Iran’s nuclear program for the attack upon them in the first place, and see that any additional attempts by Iran’s government to acquire nuclear weapons could lead to additional attacks on the Iranian military. Other ways to distract the focus (and finances) of the Iranian government might include attacks upon the Iranian infrastructure, including oil wells, pipelines, major roads and rail lines, and so forth. All of these would take time and money to rebuild. It’s true that these attacks would be de facto acts of war against Iran; but then, simply attacking their nuclear facilities would also be an act of war. If you’re going to commit an act of war, you might as well go all the way.
Finally, there’s the issue of whether or not Iranian government figures and facilities would be viable targets. Israel has employed assassination against enemies before, so it would not be an unprecedented act on their part to target high-ranking members of the Iranian government. Even if they didn’t get Ahmadinejad, just the fact that they were willing to try once (and might be willing to try again) ought to “focus his mind.” After all, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi got awfully quiet for a while after Reagan dropped a few bombs uncomfortably close to him; and he really got nervous when he saw what the US did to Saddam Hussein. Dictators couldn’t care less what you do to their citizens (odds are they’re killing far more of their own people already than you ever will) but they sure as hell care about their own skins. Ahmadinejad might not be overly frightened by the thought that Israel plans to bomb his reactors, but he’s bound to have an entirely different reaction to the thought that Israel plans to bomb him. Other dictators might also hesitate in their attempts to join the nuclear club if they knew that they, too, would be personally targeted.
So, as I said, just a “purely hypothetical thought exercise”. What do you think? If Israel’s going to attack Iran anyway (and isn’t it about damned time?) should they go for a broader range of targets? What do they have to lose that they won’t already face by going after a more limited set of targets?