Iran's Other Nuclear Threat to U.S.

John C. Wohlstetter
The Baltimore Examiner
November 30, 2008
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A nuclear Iran is an obvious threat to the existence of Israel, but also poses a significant national security risk for the United States. That's because just one nuclear bomb detonated 300 miles above the Midwest could literally send us back to the 1800s.

In April, the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission released a report warning that because Americans are dependent on a "complex and dynamic network of interlocking and interdependent infrastructure," we are particularly vulnerable to an EMP attack from a single nuclear missile. Such an attack could have "long-term catastrophic consequences" beyond any national or wartime disasters we've ever experienced.

John Wohlstetter, author of "The Long War Ahead - and the Short War Upon Us," agrees, and wonders whether the new administration will be up to the challenge, given that President-elect Barack Obama's response to Iran's testing of its Shahab-3 missile (range: 1,250 miles) was to call for more diplomacy and tougher economic sanctions, neither of which have yet deterred Tehran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. The issue became even more urgent last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been inspecting Iran's main nuclear plant at Natanz, reported that Tehran now has enough low-grade uranium to make a single atomic bomb if enriched to weapons-grade material. But in an EMP attack, one is all it takes.

Wohlstetter, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, describes a scenario in which a disguised Iranian freighter launches a single short-range, nuclear-tipped missile from international waters over the continental U.S. The resulting EMP could fry as much as 70 percent of our electrical grid in an instant, damage that could take up to a year to repair. In the meantime, most areas of the country would be without everything powered by electricity, including heating/air conditioning, water, sanitation, refrigeration, television, computers, etc. Modern life as we know it would stop in a blinding instant.

But because such an attack would not immediately kill any Americans (although millions would die later), the president would have to decide whether to respond with a massive counterstrike, knowing that doing so would kill millions of innocent people in Iran who had no part in their government's decision to attack, and likely doom millions more in a nuclear Armageddon. With the the American public unwilling to accept even non-lethal water-boarding of hardened terrorists, it's not clear that the U.S. would retaliate in kind, especially if Iran threatened to destroy European and Israeli cities if the U.S. retaliated, according to Wohlstetter.