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"Can an Attack Deny Iran the Bomb?"

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 27, 2009. Israel disagreed with the U.S. over a potential military strike to thwart Iran's progress toward a possible nuclear weapon.
AP Photo

"Can an Attack Deny Iran the Bomb?"

Op-Ed, The Huffington Post

May 11, 2010

Author: Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2008–2010

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


"As the international pressure on Iran intensifies, the option of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities remains on the table. It is widely believed that a limited strike targeting key nodes in the nuclear complex can delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons by several years. However, a fresh look at the historical record suggests that an attack can intensify the Iranian nuclear challenge and push Iran across the nuclear weapons threshold sooner rather than later.

Advocates of a military strike believe that the Israeli destruction of the Osiraq reactor complex in June 1981 delayed Iraq's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. This belief rests on two assumptions: that Iraq was pursuing a weapons option in a determined manner before the attack and that the destroyed reactor was intended to serve as a key component of these efforts. Both assumptions are false.

In the mid-1970s Iraq began to develop a nuclear weapons option as part of a wider expansion of their nuclear power program. Iraqi sources demonstrate that there was no dedicated organization, staff or funding for the purposes of acquiring nuclear weapons prior to June 1981. In other words, Iraq had not begun to act on Saddam's nuclear weapons ambition in a serious or determined manner.

The Israeli attack triggered Iraq's determined pursuit of nuclear weapons. In September 1981, three months after the strike, Iraq established a well-funded clandestine nuclear weapons program. This had a separate organization, staff, ample funding and a clear mandate from Saddam Hussein. As the nuclear weapons program went underground the international community lost sight of these activities and had no influence on the Iraqi nuclear calculus...."

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For Academic Citation:

Braut-Hegghammer, Malfrid. "Can an Attack Deny Iran the Bomb?." The Huffington Post, May 11, 2010.

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