The mullahs are hearing footsteps.  The Iranians issued a threat today in response to reports that Israel and/or the US has prepared an attack on their nuclear facilities.  Any such attack would prompt retaliation against Tel Aviv and US ships in the Gulf, Tehran warned, saying that they would be “burned”:

“The first bullet fired by America at Iran will be followed by Iran burning down its vital interests around the globe,” the students news agency ISNA quoted Ali Shirazi as saying in a speech to Revolutionary Guards. …

“The Zionist regime is pressuring White House officials to attack Iran. If they commit such a stupidity, Tel Aviv and U.S. shipping in the Persian Gulf will be Iran’s first targets and they will be burned,” Shirazi was quoted as saying.

Shirazi, a mid-level cleric, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards.

“The Iranian nation will never accept bullying. The Iranian nation is a nation of believers which believes in jihad and martyrdom. No army in the world can confront it,” he added.

Well, they can certainly try.  The point of a pre-emptive attack would be to take out Iran’s first-strike and retaliatory capability, but that would require massive forces that neither Israel nor the US has within striking distance.  Undoubtedly, an attack on Iran would take out some of these capabilities, as well as command and control.  The question would be whether it could take out enough, and that seems unlikely.

However, this does point out some vulnerabilities for anyone hoping to successfully attack Iran.   First, Iran has a functioning military, unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003.  They could close the Straits of Hormuz, which would make $140-per-barrel oil prices look like a K-Mart Blue Light Special.   We can’t launch operations from Iraq for obvious political reasons, and Kuwait and Qatar might not agree to it, either.  That would require us to launch attacks from the Gulf, which would disrupt oil shipments even if we managed to keep the Straits open.  This doesn’t even consider the fact that we could bomb Iran all day long, but if we don’t know where to aim, we won’t knock out their nuclear program.

That doesn’t mean we should take the military option off of the table, but it does mean we should be realistic about the chances of its success and the consequences of its failure.  The only real chance for success would be a decapitating strike that would kill off the Guardian Council and the military leadership of Iran.  We tried that in Iraq twice in the opening hours of the 2003 invasion, when we had better intel and open skies, and failed both times.

The best option we have is to get the Iranians to throw out the mullahcracy on their own.  If we can’t do that, then we have few choices left — and we cannot afford to have a nuclear-armed Iran that sponsors terrorism around the world.