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Would Air Strikes Work? Understanding Iran's Nuclear Programme and the Possible Consequences of a Military Strike

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Dr Frank Barnaby, with a foreword by Dr Hans Blix
1 March 2007

The prospect of a nuclear Iran causes acute concern not only in the United States and Israel, but also in Europe, the Middle East and most of the rest of the world. Recent indications from the USA point towards possible military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets. The aim of such strikes would be to put back by many years any ambitions elements in the Iranian regime may have for nuclear weapons.

This report is an assessment of:

  • What is known of Iran’s nuclear programme.
  • How that programme could be diverted towards military ends.
  • Whether military strikes would succeed in preventing Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

Frank Barnaby concludes that far from stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, military attacks would probably accelerate Iran’s nuclear programme.

The reasons for this counter-intuitive outcome are that:

  • Limited intelligence about Iran’s nuclear programme means that many hundreds of strikes would still not destroy all nuclear related facilities and materials.
  • Iran could then move from a gradual and relatively open nuclear programme, to a clandestine crash nuclear weapons programme using secret facilities, salvaged materials, and possibly procuring supplies from the black market, outside of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty controls.
  • Under crash nuclear weapons programme conditions, Iran could build a nuclear weapon within two years if the decision was made. Which is less time than the evidence suggests Iran could manage with the current programme.

In the long-term, the report concludes, Iran cannot be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities.


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