Iran's dirty little weapon
On this thread from yesterday, an interesting discussion is ensuing concerning what could--or should--be done about Iran's nascent nuclear arsenal.
But one point I haven't seen mentioned there, and which troubles me greatly, is the fact that intelligence has it that Iran has oh-so-cleverly built:
...many of their facilities under densely populated areas, and especially under buildings that would make Israel [or the US] look like the international villain if those were destroyed: hospitals, old age homes, etc. Could you imagine what a field day the UN would have after an Israeli [or American] strike ended up causing collateral damage among Iranians (from Iranian nuclear fallout or from the Israeli explosives) in the tens or even hundreds of thousands?
The Iranians are not stupid. The Israeli strike on Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 put them on notice. Sometimes an antibiotic only helps a disease mutate into a strain that is resistant to the drug. In this case, the Osirak attack made it clear to Iran that they needed to diversify their facilities in a way that would make successful repetition of a similar strike very difficult.
And so they have, making for some extremely complex decisions, not just in the tactical sense but in the moral sense:
If the Iranian nuclear facilities were located in one place, away from any civilian population center, it would be moral — and, under any reasonable regime of international law, legal — for Israel to destroy them. (Whether it would be tactically wise is another question.) But the ruthless Iranian militants have learned from the Iraqi experience and, according to recent intelligence reports, deliberately have spread its nuclear facilities around the country, including in heavily populated areas. This would force Israel into a terrible choice: Either allow Iran to complete its production of nuclear bombs aimed at the Jewish state's civilian population centers, or destroy the facilities despite the inevitability of Iranian civilian casualties.
The laws of war prohibit the bombing of civilian population centers, even in retaliation against attacks on cities, but they permit the bombing of military targets, including nuclear facilities. By deliberately placing nuclear facilities in the midst of civilian population centers, the Iranian government has made the decision to expose its civilians to attacks, and it must assume all responsibility for any casualties caused by such attacks. Israel, the United States and other democracies always locate their military facilities away from population centers, precisely in order to minimize danger to their civilians. Iran does precisely the opposite, because its leaders realize that decent democracies — unlike indecent tyrannies — would hesitate to bomb a nuclear facility located in an urban center.
That's the difference between states that act as terrorists and those that sometimes have to cause loss of life with deep regret. The former, such as Iran, not only sponsor outright terrorism of various kinds, but deliberately expose their civilian populations to harm, counting on the reluctance of countries such as the US or Israel to harm innocent civilians. All the while, Iran continues to castigate those states for being bloodthirsty villains. Clearly, the mullahs don't believe their own rhetoric.
States, such as the US will indeed act in self-defense if they see no alternative. But the consequences of killing civilians in this way is likely to be further condemnation from the international community--not towards those who deliberately place the civilians in harm's way, but towards those in the unenviable position of having made the terrible decision to bomb the facilities anyway.
As I said, those mullahs aren't dumb.