WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Since Iran announced it was resuming its nuclear program earlier this week there has been much speculation over what the West's response is likely to be. As President George W. Bush likes to say, "All options are on the table," -- including military strikes if the diplomatic track fails. And, alas, all indications show diplomacy is failing.
The European Union-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- who have been engaged with Iran in trying to find a peaceful solution to the crisis have all voiced disappointment with Tehran's decision. They are meeting Thursday in Berlin to decide whether to refer the problem to the U.N. Security Council.
But time is running out. The threshold will soon be crossed when the Iranian facilities become "hot," meaning an attack on the sites would endanger the environment, most likely causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Iran. Can you say Chernobyl?
So what if Israel and/or the United States did actually venture into unchartered waters and decided to carry out military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities? What are the likely consequences?
First, given the complexity of such an undertaking -- given that, according to Iranian dissident sources, there are anywhere between 200 and 300 possible sites -- the scope of the military operation would have to be formidable. It would require top-notch intelligence to identify and strike only at relevant sites. Assuming that 200 sites are targeted, such a military operation would require at least 600 airplanes, again assuming that only three planes were assigned to hit each facility.
The attack planes would have to include bombers, escort fighters, refueling planes and command-and-control aircrafts.
If the United States were to participate in the raid, it certainly has all the hardware needed, such as the Stealth B1 bomber, carrier-based attack aircrafts in the Mediterranean and the nearby Gulf, as well as Cruise missiles. However, if Israel were to go at alone, it would have to commit almost its entire air force.
Israel, says its Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, can destroy Iran's nuclear program, though he stressed, "It is not only Israel's problem."
Israel certainly has the hardware, too. Among its main strike force, Israel possesses at least 33 F-15A/B, 17 15C/D, 25 F-15I Fighter-Bombers, 94 F-16As/B Fighter-Bombers, 75 F-16C/D Fighter-Bombers, 102 F-16I Fighter-Bombers and 5-A-4N Skyhawk attack planes, as well as two C-130H Hercules ELINT (electronic intelligence gathering), four KC-130H Hercules tankers and three Boeing 707-320 tankers.
Given the sheer number of aircraft in the skies, encounters with Iranian air force should be expected. Even if the Iranian air force is not up to par, seeing it lacks new combat aircraft, spare parts, training, etc. it is bound to hit something, maybe at least one or two aircrafts. Now imagine the fate reserved for a captured Israeli or U.S. airman downed during a raid on Iran. Can you say Somalia?
With the Iranian Revolutionary Guard defending the installations, as is reported, Iran's nuclear facilities should have impressive anti-aircraft weaponry as protection, including ground-to-air missiles.
Now consider the collateral damage when carrying out an attack on this scale. Again, we are talking about hitting anywhere from 200 to 300 targets, some of which are reported to be in or near civilian agglomerations. There are bound to be a few stray hits despite the best intelligence in the world. Can you say Belgrade, where that same intelligence directed a hit on the Chinese Embassy?
Or Iraq, where false intelligence led to numerous civilians becoming "collateral damage."
Now picture this: Al Jazeera and other Arabic television channels showing house after house destroyed by American and/or Israeli air raids; images of mutilated bodies, women, children, as is bound to be the case, all in living color to be viewed by several millions of Arab and Muslim around the world. Think they hate us now? Think how much more will they hate us then?
But so far we have only examined the immediate action-reaction of such an operation. What about the longer-term consequences?
First, any attack on Iranian soil will ignite Iranian national pride and unite all Iranians around the government, strengthening the ayatollahs' hold on power. In other words, it would be strongly counterproductive.
Second, it would not necessarily terminate Iran's nuclear project. Iran could just as easily regroup and rebuild. Tehran has scattered the project to enough different locations that some of it is bound to survive the initial raids, as will their scientists who will resume their plans with renewed vigor.
Third, the effect on the price of oil on world markets is bound to reach new heights as Iran's production would be undoubtedly disrupted, either voluntarily -- (an Iranian boycott) or involuntarily (accidental hit on refineries, oil installations, etc.)
And last, but by no means least, the other factor to consider is the fate of the 150,000 or so American service personnel currently deployed in neighboring Iraq where they would be prone to attacks from pro-Iranian militias seeking avenge for the raids.
Either way, it's not a pretty picture.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@UPI.com.)