The Difficulty of Launching a Successful Iran Strike

Over at The Atlantic's debate site, on which various worthies are arguing over my article on Iran, Gary Milhollin, one of the country's most prominent non-proliferation experts, raises important questions about the efficacy of any sort of military action against Iran:

Would it be possible to find out, after the bombing, what was really hit? The answer is no -- not unless Iran were invaded. Short of which, after exhibiting the inevitable civilian casualties, Iran would likely slam the door on UN inspectors and take its nuclear work underground. Popular nationalist pride will only enable this reaction, if not push hard for it. Iran could claim, with justification, that the data on its nuclear sites gathered by the present UN inspection teams has simply made it easier to target these sites. Why should Iran provide more targeting data by allowing more inspections? Even the limited knowledge we now have about Iran's nuclear status could disappear -- a casualty of military action.

I would argue against one point here: It would not take an invasion of Iran in order to learn about the damage done to the country's nuclear sites following an air raid. Israel, and the U.S., both have specialized commando units that could penetrate these sites quickly and quietly, do their assessments, and try to destroy facilities not destroyed in the air attack. The Israelis have already factored this in to their plans, I've been told. And they have a conveniently-located jumping-off point in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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