US senator: A military strike could send Iran ‘back to day zero’

Republican Tom Cotton, a prominent opponent of the nuclear deal, tells Israeli reporters US must maintain ‘credible threat of force’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Sen. Tom Cotton speaking to Israeli reporters in his Washington office, August 4, 2015 (Raphael Ahren)
Sen. Tom Cotton speaking to Israeli reporters in his Washington office, August 4, 2015 (Raphael Ahren)

WASHINGTON — It’s important to maintain the threat of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, a US Senator told Israeli reporters Tuesday, arguing that it is indeed possible to set back Tehran’s nuclear program.

“We can set them back to day zero. There is no doubt that the United States has the capability to do that,” said Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a prominent opponent of the nuclear deal the US and five world powers signed with Iran last month.

Opponents of a military strike against Iran often argue that air strikes would only be able to set back the country’s military nuclear program for two to three years.

Speaking to the Israel Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Cotton — who retired from the US Army with the rank of captain — called for the US to make plain to the Iranians that it wouldn’t hesitate to use force if it felt the need to do so.

“It is critical that the credible threat of force back up our policy. Right now, I don’t think the Iranian leadership believes that the United States is willing to use force to protect our national security objectives,” he said, speaking in his Senate office.

As opposed to the Iraq war, whose objective was to topple Saddam Hussein and required 150,000 troops on the ground, a military campaign against Iran would aim solely to thwart the regime’s nuclear program, Cotton said. A potential military confrontation with Iran would be similar to the US’s 1998 Operation Desert Fox — a four-day bombing campaign — or the Kosovo War, he said.

“You can destroy facilities. I don’t think any military expert in the United States or elsewhere would say the US military is not capable to setting Iran’s nuclear facilities back to day zero,” Cotton said. “Can we eliminate it forever? No, because any advanced industrialized country can develop nuclear weapons in four to seven years, from zero. But we can set them back to day zero.”

Israel destroyed the nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria, Cotton said, and these acts succeeded in deterring these countries from trying to become nuclear powers. “Syria hasn’t been building nuclear reactors lately, in part because that use of force demonstrated the political will not to allow that country to proceed with nuclear facilities. Once it’s done once, a country gets the picture and they know that their adversary has the political will to stop them from developing those facilities.”

Cotton — at 38 the youngest incumbent US senator — is one of Congress’s most prominent opponents of the Iran deal. In March, he wrote a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning him that President Barack Obama had no authority to sign a deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

“The leaders in Tehran don’t understand how our democracy works,” Cotton said Tuesday. “Most Americans don’t believe that the words ayatollah and uranium go well together. And they’re right to believe those words don’t go well together.”


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