Despite all the talk of negotiations, the threat of a US military strike on Iran is real, argues Phyllis Bennis. What would be the consequences of such an attack? And what really needs to be done to resolve the issue?Completely nuts,’ said the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, commenting on the idea of a US military strike against Iran. And judged by the standards of both realpolitik and international law (not that Jack Straw has shown much regard for the latter) it would indeed be mad. We know that any military strike on Iran would be a violation of international law prohibiting preventive war. And George Bush now admits that ‘preventive war’ – not his earlier claim of pre-emptive war – is indeed his strategic doctrine. We know that the International Court of Justice judges even the threat of using nuclear weapons to be a violation of international law – and the Bush administration is threatening to use nuclear ‘bunker-buster’ bombs to attack Iran. But we also know that the Bush administration is driven by ideology rather than realpolitik and that it has contempt for international law. As with Iraq, its goal is regime change. The current regime, without being in any way progressive, is an obstacle to US domination of the region Iran is the only country in the Middle East with the three prerequisites to be a regional power: self-sufficiency in water; oil as a source of wealth (and the potential for an Iranian oil bourse operating in euros); and a large, educated population. As far as Bush and the neo-cons are concerned, it must be brought to heel. Iran’s uranium and its minimal enrichment capacity is just the ludicrous excuse. It is ludicrous because Iran’s current capacity is capable of achieving an enrichment of only about 5 per cent – the amount required for nuclßear energy and bearing no realistic relation to the development of a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon requires a 90 per cent enrichment for which Iran simply doesn’t have the capacity at present. Yet Bush has talked breezily about ‘surgical’ attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. So what if the Bush administration does order such attacks? Then what? What happens the day after? Practically no one is talking about that. And that makes this whole threat even more dangerous. It’s as if the Bush administration believes that the day after it bombs Iran, everything will be over, except maybe for people in the streets of Tehran cheering and clamouring for the US to bomb some more to help them change their regime. Maybe the administration really does believe that. There are certainly plenty of Iranian versions of Ahmad Chalabi around Washington, exiles eager to return to power on the backs of US tanks, urging the White House on. (Seymour Hersch wrote about them and their institutes in the New Yorker in March.) Let’s look at reality, instead of lies, distortions and weasel words. If the US attacks Iran – with nuclear or ‘conventional’ bombs – it is virtually certain that Iranian retaliation will be swift and lethal. Iran’s surrounding neighbourhood is, as the military jargon puts it, ‘target-rich’. Iran’s military strategists will have a wide choice. A direct attack on US troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region (Oman and Qatar are both possibilities) is only the first option. Iran’s military may be no match for the Pentagon, but serious retaliation doesn’t require that. Tehran has plenty of conventional capacity to target those troop concentrations. How about Israel? Tel Aviv had been making bellicose threats towards Iran even before the Bush administration took up the crusade, and Israel’s 1981 destruction of Iraq’s French-built nuclear power plant at Osirak still looms large in Middle Eastern memories. Iran’s missiles can certainly reach Israeli cities. And given President Bush’s statements that Iran represents a threat to Israel, and that the US will do whatever is needed to ‘protect our ally’, it is certainly possible that Iran’s retaliation would target Israel, regardless of whether it was ultimately US or Israeli bombers that dropped their lethal payload. Another possibility would be an attack through proxies, particularly in Iraq. Iraqi Shia and others, outraged by the expansion of Washington’s war to Iran, could well push already unstable parts of the country over the edge. Southern Iraq could collapse into chaos and violence. Conversely, the widely-discussed claim that Iran might retaliate against the US by ‘turning loose’ Hezbollah to commit rampant terror attacks around the world appears to be grounded less in facts than in febrile Washington imaginations. Such a scenario assumes that Hezbollah, a decades-old anti-occupation movement in Lebanon created to resist Israel’s 1982 invasion, is nothing more than a cat’s-paw of the Iranian regime that Tehran can deploy at will. It denies the reality of Hezbollah’s independent, popular legitimacy, including its powerful representation in the Lebanese parliament, and the fact that despite long-standing Iranian support, Hezbollah’s strategic imperatives are driven by Lebanese, not Iranian, realities. And what about the oil weapon? Iran certainly has the capacity to shut the strategic, and potentially vulnerable, Strait of Hormuz, through which a huge proportion of Middle Eastern oil flows to the rest of the world. What if the Iranian navy scuttled an oil tanker in the strait, blocking oil traffic? What if it was a US tanker? Of course the Bush administration – which so far has steadfastly refused even to hint at the possibility that Iran might respond to a US bombing campaign with anything other than cheers and flowers – would respond. Might that retribution even go so far as the invasion by US ground troops (partial or complete) that we’re being told today is not being considered? Some military analysts indicate that Iran’s troops are training primarily in defensive guerrilla-war strategies, seemingly aimed at overcoming a future invasion. That shouldn’t surprise us. Iran, like the rest of the world, has watched the Bush administration’s disparate treatment of the various ‘axis of evil’ countries. It has escaped no one’s notice – certainly not Iran’s – that the US invaded Iraq, a country that had no viable nuclear programme, while quietly ignoring North Korea, understood to have at least the technical capacity to produce, and perhaps already possessing, a nuclear weapon. We can assume that other countries around the world have learned the same dangerous lesson – that, nuclear non-proliferation treaty or not, if you get on the wrong side of Washington only a nuclear capacity might protect you from a possible US invasion. Iran has been fairly clear about what it wants. It doesn’t seem to want an actual nuclear weapon (both the late Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor issued religious prohibitions, or fatwas, against such weapons), although there is little doubt that President Ahmadinejad appears to believe that posturing aggressively about ‘going nuclear’ will help his flagging domestic ratings. (Sound familiar?) What Iran really wants, and has asked for, is serious negotiations with the US, based on equality, not humiliation. And at the end, a security guarantee that neither Europe nor the UN, but only the US itself – the world’s ‘sole super-power’ and the only nuclear weapons state actually threatening to use its nuclear arsenal – can provide. For all sides, talk is crucial. Nuclear weapons – in anyone’s hands – are a threat to humanity that should be abolished once and for all, as the now-fading non-proliferation treaty anticipated many years ago. Certainly Iran should abjure any quest for its own nuclear arsenal – but that’s not going to happen alone. What is needed is a weapons of mass destruction-free zone throughout the Middle East. So not only no nukes for Iran, but also a strategy to force Israel to sign the non-proliferation treaty and place its unacknowledged but highly provocative Dimona arsenal of 200-400 high-density nuclear bombs under international supervision – and ultimately destroy them. Neither the difficulty nor the importance of such a strategy should be underestimated. It will be impossible to rid the Middle East of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons so long as Israel retains its nuclear capacity. It’s also way past time for the US to make good on its own non-proliferation treaty obligations to move towards full and complete nuclear disarmament. As long as Washington laughs off that obligation, it is hard to imagine why any other countries should take seriously a US demand that take nuclear weapons off their agenda. European governments must be pressured to recognise that US threats against Iran are not aimed at non-proliferation but at regime change. By supporting Washington’s aggressive moves, those European governments who once stood against illegal US intervention in Iraq are setting the stage for a potentially even greater conflagration. It will be negotiations, not threats, that have any chance of achieving the non-proliferation and disarmament goals. Talking is the only way.