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Is the U.S. Planning to Attack Iran?

Comment and analysis from London, Berlin, Moscow, New Delhi, Ankara, Toronto, and Tehran, February 21, 2006

Iranian demonstrators hold up anti-U.S. placards during a demonstration in Tehran. (Photo: Atta Kenare / AFP-Getty Images)

While underreported in the U.S. media, the question of whether or not America is planning a military strike against Iran has been heatedly debated for years in the international press.

On Sept. 22, 2004 London's Daily Telegraph reported, "Israel admitted yesterday that it is buying 500 'bunker-buster' bombs, which could be used to hit Iran's nuclear facilities as Tehran paraded ballistic missiles as a warning against attack. The BLU-109 bombs, which can penetrate more than 7 feet of reinforced concrete, are among 'smart' munitions being sold to Israel under America's military aid program."

An article headlined, "America would back Israel attack on Iran," ran in the Daily Telegraph on Feb. 18, 2005 and reported, "President George W. Bush added a new twist to the international tension over Iran's nuclear programme last night by pledging to support Israel if it tries to destroy the Islamic regime's capacity to make an atomic bomb."

President Bush was quoted as saying, "Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened." Bush's remarks made front-page news in France's Le Monde as well as several other European dailies but received no attention in the U.S. media.

On March 13, 2005 The London Times, in a report that was again largely ignored in the U.S., said that, "U.S. officials warned last week that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israeli or American forces had not been ruled out should the issue become deadlocked at the United Nations."

In the Dec. 4, 2005 Financial Times, columnist Philip Coggan argued that, "a U.S. military attack on Iran does not mean an invasion. The U.S. could mount air strikes to try to eliminate Iran's nuclear facilities or it could encourage Israel to do so. Twenty years ago, Israel attacked a nuclear power plant in Iraq."

Recent reports in the German media also suggest that the United States may be preparing its allies for an imminent military strike against facilities that are part of Iran's suspected clandestine nuclear weapons program. The most talked about story is a Dec. 23, 2005 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. According to Ulfkotte's report, "western security sources claim that during C.I.A. Director Porter Goss' Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possible 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission."

DDP also reported that, "the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan have been informed in recent weeks of Washington's military plans. The countries, apparently, were told that air strikes were a 'possible option,' but they were given no specific time frame for the operations."

A report published in Jan. 2006 by the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel also cited NATO intelligence sources claiming that, "Washington's western allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options. Of course, Bush has publicly stated for months that he would not take the possibility of a military strike off the table. What's new here, however, is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year."

So is the region now on the verge of a military strike or even a war?

Leading the chorus of speculation are Turkish newspapers, which have also sought to connect these visits to plans for an attack on Iran. But so far none of the speculation has been based on hard facts. Writing about the meeting between Porter Goss and Tayyip Erdogan, the left-nationalist newspaper Cumhuriyet wrote, "Now It's Iran's Turn." But the paper didn't offer any evidence to corroborate its claims.

In Dec. 2005, according to Germany's Speigel Online, "Turkey's government has distanced itself from Sharon's threats to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon on his own if nobody else steps up to the task."

An article appearing in India's Hindustan Times (Jan. 3) titled, "Wild, Wild West," said that, "American allegations against Iran are well-known - its plans to acquire WMD capability, including and particularly nuclear, its assistance to terrorist organizations like the Hezbollah and suppression of liberties at home. In fact, the U.S. has been looking for compensation for past Iranian sins of sacking the Shah and the U.S. hostages and what that ultimately signified - the fear that a switch, over time, to the petro-euro would weaken the supremacy of the dollar. Besides, the Iranians went ahead and struck multi-billion dollar energy deals with the Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis."

The Russian government appears to be urging caution on the issue. In The Moscow Times (Feb. 7), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned world powers against threatening Iran and said the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program must be resolved through negotiations.

"I think that at the current stage, it is important not to make guesses about what will happen and even more important not to make threats," Lavrov said at the start of a two-day visit to Athens, Greece. Lavrov was responding to a request for his reaction to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments to a German newspaper that a military option for dealing with Tehran should be kept open.

Richard Gwyn, in the Toronto Star (Feb. 11), said the, "potential nuclear threat that Iran poses is real and is exceedingly frightening. The true source of the threat isn't Iran itself though. It's Al Qaeda-type terrorists. Once Tehran has acquired the bomb, the Iran government would be tempted to pass it to terrorists."

India's The Hindu (Feb. 13), quoted U.S. Senator John McCain as saying, "There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option and that is a nuclear-armed Iran."

According to a Feb. 13 Radio Free Europe report, "Kofi Annan and George W. Bush are meeting at a moment when developments in the Middle East are becoming ever more complicated … Annan will be pleading for a conciliatory diplomatic approach to Iran — for anything rather than military action … For his part, Bush is likely to press Annan to use his influence on U.N. Security Council members to take a firm line on Tehran's nuclear program if and when Iran is reported to the Council."

The London Times reported on Feb. 7, "Iran has threatened to defend itself if attacked. It could use medium-range missiles to hit Israel or U.S. military targets in Iraq and the region. It could also use its missiles and submarines to attack shipping in the Gulf, the main export route for much of the world's energy needs... While this huge U.S. offensive is underway Iran would almost certainly deploy its most powerful weapon. It would unleash a counter-attack through proxies in the region. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia, would attack Israel. Moqtadr al-Sadr, the militant Iraqi Shia religious leader, could order his Mahdi Army to rise up against American and British forces in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups could wreak havoc against Western targets across the world.

"It will have to be diplomats, not F15s that stop the mullahs," said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "An air strike against the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan would inflame Muslim anger, rally the Iranian public around an otherwise unpopular government. Finally, the strike would not, as it often said, delay the Iranian program. It would almost certainly speed it up."

According to Iran Daily (Feb. 2), the Iranian army is ready to defend their country: "[The] Islamic Republic of Iran Army is fully prepared to respond to any threat or violation of the country's airspace, Defense Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad-Najar said. Speaking to reporters at the end of his visit to an airbase in the southern city of Bushehr, home to the country's first under construction nuclear power plant, the minister expressed satisfaction over the high capability and readiness of the country's air force. Reiterating the importance of guaranteeing the security of Bushehr's nuclear power plant, Najar said any attack on Iran's peaceful nuclear facilities would receive a quick and decisive response by the country's armed forces."

Iran's Abrar newspaper, as reported in Iran Daily's Feb. 16 edition, denounced discussions of a possible attack by stating, "Several foreign news agencies have claimed that the U.S. forces are preparing to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. They have further claimed that American military strategists are considering rapid strikes on Iran's sites in order to prevent Iran from continuing its nuclear program. The fact of the matter is that at times the news published in western publications are aimed at launching a psychological warfare against the Islamic system. Although it might seem easy for the Americans to start a war against Iran, they cannot predict its outcome."

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