The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.American and European intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), agree that Iran is intent on developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. But there are widely differing estimates of how long that will take, and whether diplomacy, sanctions, or military action is the best way to prevent it. Iran insists that its research is for peaceful use only, in keeping with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it will not be delayed or deterred.There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”The rationale for regime change was articulated in early March by Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert who is the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and who has been a supporter of President Bush. “So long as Iran has an Islamic republic, it will have a nuclear-weapons program, at least clandestinely,” Clawson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2nd. “The key issue, therefore, is: How long will the present Iranian regime last?”When I spoke to Clawson, he emphasized that “this Administration is putting a lot of effort into diplomacy.” However, he added, Iran had no choice other than to accede to America’s demands or face a military attack. Clawson said that he fears that Ahmadinejad “sees the West as wimps and thinks we will eventually cave in. We have to be ready to deal with Iran if the crisis escalates.” Clawson said that he would prefer to rely on sabotage and other clandestine activities, such as “industrial accidents.” But, he said, it would be prudent to prepare for a wider war, “given the way the Iranians are acting. This is not like planning to invade Quebec.”One military planner told me that White House criticisms of Iran and the high tempo of planning and clandestine activities amount to a campaign of “coercion” aimed at Iran. “You have to be ready to go, and we’ll see how they respond,” the officer said. “You have to really show a threat in order to get Ahmadinejad to back down.” He added, “People think Bush has been focussed on Saddam Hussein since 9/11,” but, “in my view, if you had to name one nation that was his focus all the way along, it was Iran.” (In response to detailed requests for comment, the White House said that it would not comment on military planning but added, “As the President has indicated, we are pursuing a diplomatic solution”; the Defense Department also said that Iran was being dealt with through “diplomatic channels” but wouldn’t elaborate on that; the C.I.A. said that there were “inaccuracies” in this account but would not specify them.)“This is much more than a nuclear issue,” one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. “That’s just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.”A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. “This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war,” he said. The danger, he said, was that “it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability.” A military conflict that destabilized the region could also increase the risk of terror: “Hezbollah comes into play,” the adviser said, referring to the terror group that is considered one of the world’s most successful, and which is now a Lebanese political party with strong ties to Iran. “And here comes Al Qaeda.”In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat. A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not take part in the meetings but has discussed their content with his colleagues, told me that there had been “no formal briefings,” because “they’re reluctant to brief the minority. They’re doing the Senate, somewhat selectively.”The House member said that no one in the meetings “is really objecting” to the talk of war. “The people they’re briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq. At most, questions are raised: How are you going to hit all the sites at once? How are you going to get deep enough?” (Iran is building facilities underground.) “There’s no pressure from Congress” not to take military action, the House member added. “The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it.” Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, “The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.”Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions—rapid ascending maneuvers known as “over the shoulder” bombing—since last summer, the former official said, within range of Iranian coastal radars.Last month, in a paper given at a conference on Middle East security in Berlin, Colonel Sam Gardiner, a military analyst who taught at the National War College before retiring from the Air Force, in 1987, provided an estimate of what would be needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. Working from satellite photographs of the known facilities, Gardiner estimated that at least four hundred targets would have to be hit. He added:I don’t think a U.S. military planner would want to stop there. Iran probably has two chemical-production plants. We would hit those. We would want to hit the medium-range ballistic missiles that have just recently been moved closer to Iraq. There are fourteen airfields with sheltered aircraft. . . . We’d want to get rid of that threat. We would want to hit the assets that could be used to threaten Gulf shipping. That means targeting the cruise-missile sites and the Iranian diesel submarines. . . . Some of the facilities may be too difficult to target even with penetrating weapons. The U.S. will have to use Special Operations units.One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.There is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons. In the early nineteen-eighties, the American intelligence community watched as the Soviet government began digging a huge underground complex outside Moscow. Analysts concluded that the underground facility was designed for “continuity of government”—for the political and military leadership to survive a nuclear war. (There are similar facilities, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, for the American leadership.) The Soviet facility still exists, and much of what the U.S. knows about it remains classified. “The ‘tell’ ”—the giveaway—“was the ventilator shafts, some of which were disguised,” the former senior intelligence official told me. At the time, he said, it was determined that “only nukes” could destroy the bunker. He added that some American intelligence analysts believe that the Russians helped the Iranians design their underground facility. “We see a similarity of design,” specifically in the ventilator shafts, he said.A former high-level Defense Department official told me that, in his view, even limited bombing would allow the U.S. to “go in there and do enough damage to slow down the nuclear infrastructure—it’s feasible.” The former defense official said, “The Iranians don’t have friends, and we can tell them that, if necessary, we’ll keep knocking back their infrastructure. The United States should act like we’re ready to go.” He added, “We don’t have to knock down all of their air defenses. Our stealth bombers and standoff missiles really work, and we can blow fixed things up. We can do things on the ground, too, but it’s difficult and very dangerous—put bad stuff in ventilator shafts and put them to sleep.”But those who are familiar with the Soviet bunker, according to the former senior intelligence official, “say ‘No way.’ You’ve got to know what’s underneath—to know which ventilator feeds people, or diesel generators, or which are false. And there’s a lot that we don’t know.” The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped.” He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. “There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. “The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,” the adviser said. “And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.”The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “They’re telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation,” he said.The chairman of the Defense Science Board is William Schneider, Jr., an Under-Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration. In January, 2001, as President Bush prepared to take office, Schneider served on an ad-hoc panel on nuclear forces sponsored by the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. The panel’s report recommended treating tactical nuclear weapons as an essential part of the U.S. arsenal and noted their suitability “for those occasions when the certain and prompt destruction of high priority targets is essential and beyond the promise of conventional weapons.” Several signers of the report are now prominent members of the Bush Administration, including Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; and Robert Joseph, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.The Pentagon adviser questioned the value of air strikes. “The Iranians have distributed their nuclear activity very well, and we have no clue where some of the key stuff is. It could even be out of the country,” he said. He warned, as did many others, that bombing Iran could provoke “a chain reaction” of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world: “What will 1.2 billion Muslims think the day we attack Iran?”With or without the nuclear option, the list of targets may inevitably expand. One recently retired high-level Bush Administration official, who is also an expert on war planning, told me that he would have vigorously argued against an air attack on Iran, because “Iran is a much tougher target” than Iraq. But, he added, “If you’re going to do any bombing to stop the nukes, you might as well improve your lie across the board. Maybe hit some training camps, and clear up a lot of other problems.”The Pentagon adviser said that, in the event of an attack, the Air Force intended to strike many hundreds of targets in Iran but that “ninety-nine per cent of them have nothing to do with proliferation. There are people who believe it’s the way to operate”—that the Administration can achieve its policy goals in Iran with a bombing campaign, an idea that has been supported by neoconservatives.If the order were to be given for an attack, the American combat troops now operating in Iran would be in position to mark the critical targets with laser beams, to insure bombing accuracy and to minimize civilian casualties. As of early winter, I was told by the government consultant with close ties to civilians in the Pentagon, the units were also working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast. The troops “are studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds,” the consultant said. One goal is to get “eyes on the ground”—quoting a line from “Othello,” he said, “Give me the ocular proof.” The broader aim, the consultant said, is to “encourage ethnic tensions” and undermine the regime.The new mission for the combat troops is a product of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s long-standing interest in expanding the role of the military in covert operations, which was made official policy in the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published in February. Such activities, if conducted by C.I.A. operatives, would need a Presidential Finding and would have to be reported to key members of Congress.“ ‘Force protection’ is the new buzzword,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the Pentagon’s position that clandestine activities that can be broadly classified as preparing the battlefield or protecting troops are military, not intelligence, operations, and are therefore not subject to congressional oversight. “The guys in the Joint Chiefs of Staff say there are a lot of uncertainties in Iran,” he said. “We need to have more than what we had in Iraq. Now we have the green light to do everything we want.”The President’s deep distrust of Ahmadinejad has strengthened his determination to confront Iran. This view has been reinforced by allegations that Ahmadinejad, who joined a special-forces brigade of the Revolutionary Guards in 1986, may have been involved in terrorist activities in the late eighties. (There are gaps in Ahmadinejad’s official biography in this period.) Ahmadinejad has reportedly been connected to Imad Mughniyeh, a terrorist who has been implicated in the deadly bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, in 1983. Mughniyeh was then the security chief of Hezbollah; he remains on the F.B.I.’s list of most-wanted terrorists.Robert Baer, who was a C.I.A. officer in the Middle East and elsewhere for two decades, told me that Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard colleagues in the Iranian government “are capable of making a bomb, hiding it, and launching it at Israel. They’re apocalyptic Shiites. If you’re sitting in Tel Aviv and you believe they’ve got nukes and missiles—you’ve got to take them out. These guys are nuts, and there’s no reason to back off.”Under Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guards have expanded their power base throughout the Iranian bureaucracy; by the end of January, they had replaced thousands of civil servants with their own members. One former senior United Nations official, who has extensive experience with Iran, depicted the turnover as “a white coup,” with ominous implications for the West. “Professionals in the Foreign Ministry are out; others are waiting to be kicked out,” he said. “We may be too late. These guys now believe that they are stronger than ever since the revolution.” He said that, particularly in consideration of China’s emergence as a superpower, Iran’s attitude was “To hell with the West. You can do as much as you like.”Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is considered by many experts to be in a stronger position than Ahmadinejad. “Ahmadinejad is not in control,” one European diplomat told me. “Power is diffuse in Iran. The Revolutionary Guards are among the key backers of the nuclear program, but, ultimately, I don’t think they are in charge of it. The Supreme Leader has the casting vote on the nuclear program, and the Guards will not take action without his approval.”The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said that “allowing Iran to have the bomb is not on the table. We cannot have nukes being sent downstream to a terror network. It’s just too dangerous.” He added, “The whole internal debate is on which way to go”—in terms of stopping the Iranian program. It is possible, the adviser said, that Iran will unilaterally renounce its nuclear plans—and forestall the American action. “God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.”While almost no one disputes Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is intense debate over how soon it could get the bomb, and what to do about that. Robert Gallucci, a former government expert on nonproliferation who is now the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, told me, “Based on what I know, Iran could be eight to ten years away” from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon. Gallucci added, “If they had a covert nuclear program and we could prove it, and we could not stop it by negotiation, diplomacy, or the threat of sanctions, I’d be in favor of taking it out. But if you do it”—bomb Iran—“without being able to show there’s a secret program, you’re in trouble.”Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, told the Knesset last December that “Iran is one to two years away, at the latest, from having enriched uranium. From that point, the completion of their nuclear weapon is simply a technical matter.” In a conversation with me, a senior Israeli intelligence official talked about what he said was Iran’s duplicity: “There are two parallel nuclear programs” inside Iran—the program declared to the I.A.E.A. and a separate operation, run by the military and the Revolutionary Guards. Israeli officials have repeatedly made this argument, but Israel has not produced public evidence to support it. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term, told me, “I think Iran has a secret nuclear-weapons program—I believe it, but I don’t know it.”In recent months, the Pakistani government has given the U.S. new access to A. Q. Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani atomic bomb. Khan, who is now living under house arrest in Islamabad, is accused of setting up a black market in nuclear materials; he made at least one clandestine visit to Tehran in the late nineteen-eighties. In the most recent interrogations, Khan has provided information on Iran’s weapons design and its time line for building a bomb. “The picture is of ‘unquestionable danger,’ ” the former senior intelligence official said. (The Pentagon adviser also confirmed that Khan has been “singing like a canary.”) The concern, the former senior official said, is that “Khan has credibility problems. He is suggestible, and he’s telling the neoconservatives what they want to hear”—or what might be useful to Pakistan’s President, Pervez Musharraf, who is under pressure to assist Washington in the war on terror.“I think Khan’s leading us on,” the former intelligence official said. “I don’t know anybody who says, ‘Here’s the smoking gun.’ But lights are beginning to blink. He’s feeding us information on the time line, and targeting information is coming in from our own sources— sensors and the covert teams. The C.I.A., which was so burned by Iraqi W.M.D., is going to the Pentagon and the Vice-President’s office saying, ‘It’s all new stuff.’ People in the Administration are saying, ‘We’ve got enough.’ ”The Administration’s case against Iran is compromised by its history of promoting false intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In a recent essay on the Foreign Policy Web site, entitled “Fool Me Twice,” Joseph Cirincione, the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote, “The unfolding administration strategy appears to be an effort to repeat its successful campaign for the Iraq war.” He noted several parallels:The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. Secretary of State tells Congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The Secretary of Defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism.Cirincione called some of the Administration’s claims about Iran “questionable” or lacking in evidence. When I spoke to him, he asked, “What do we know? What is the threat? The question is: How urgent is all this?” The answer, he said, “is in the intelligence community and the I.A.E.A.” (In August, the Washington Post reported that the most recent comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate predicted that Iran was a decade away from being a nuclear power.)Last year, the Bush Administration briefed I.A.E.A. officials on what it said was new and alarming information about Iran’s weapons program which had been retrieved from an Iranian’s laptop. The new data included more than a thousand pages of technical drawings of weapons systems. The Washington Post reported that there were also designs for a small facility that could be used in the uranium-enrichment process. Leaks about the laptop became the focal point of stories in the Times and elsewhere. The stories were generally careful to note that the materials could have been fabricated, but also quoted senior American officials as saying that they appeared to be legitimate. The headline in the Times’ account read, “RELYING ON COMPUTER, U.S. SEEKS TO PROVE IRAN’S NUCLEAR AIMS.”I was told in interviews with American and European intelligence officials, however, that the laptop was more suspect and less revelatory than it had been depicted. The Iranian who owned the laptop had initially been recruited by German and American intelligence operatives, working together. The Americans eventually lost interest in him. The Germans kept on, but the Iranian was seized by the Iranian counter-intelligence force. It is not known where he is today. Some family members managed to leave Iran with his laptop and handed it over at a U.S. embassy, apparently in Europe. It was a classic “walk-in.”A European intelligence official said, “There was some hesitation on our side” about what the materials really proved, “and we are still not convinced.” The drawings were not meticulous, as newspaper accounts suggested, “but had the character of sketches,” the European official said. “It was not a slam-dunk smoking gun.”The threat of American military action has created dismay at the headquarters of the I.A.E.A., in Vienna. The agency’s officials believe that Iran wants to be able to make a nuclear weapon, but “nobody has presented an inch of evidence of a parallel nuclear-weapons program in Iran,” the high-ranking diplomat told me. The I.A.E.A.’s best estimate is that the Iranians are five years away from building a nuclear bomb. “But, if the United States does anything militarily, they will make the development of a bomb a matter of Iranian national pride,” the diplomat said. “The whole issue is America’s risk assessment of Iran’s future intentions, and they don’t trust the regime. Iran is a menace to American policy.”In Vienna, I was told of an exceedingly testy meeting earlier this year between Mohamed ElBaradei, the I.A.E.A.’s director-general, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, and Robert Joseph, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control. Joseph’s message was blunt, one diplomat recalled: “We cannot have a single centrifuge spinning in Iran. Iran is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and our allies, and we will not tolerate it. We want you to give us an understanding that you will not say anything publicly that will undermine us. ”Joseph’s heavy-handedness was unnecessary, the diplomat said, since the I.A.E.A. already had been inclined to take a hard stand against Iran. “All of the inspectors are angry at being misled by the Iranians, and some think the Iranian leadership are nutcases—one hundred per cent totally certified nuts,” the diplomat said. He added that ElBaradei’s overriding concern is that the Iranian leaders “want confrontation, just like the neocons on the other side”—in Washington. “At the end of the day, it will work only if the United States agrees to talk to the Iranians.”The central question—whether Iran will be able to proceed with its plans to enrich uranium—is now before the United Nations, with the Russians and the Chinese reluctant to impose sanctions on Tehran. A discouraged former I.A.E.A. official told me in late March that, at this point, “there’s nothing the Iranians could do that would result in a positive outcome. American diplomacy does not allow for it. Even if they announce a stoppage of enrichment, nobody will believe them. It’s a dead end.”Another diplomat in Vienna asked me, “Why would the West take the risk of going to war against that kind of target without giving it to the I.A.E.A. to verify? We’re low-cost, and we can create a program that will force Iran to put its cards on the table.” A Western Ambassador in Vienna expressed similar distress at the White House’s dismissal of the I.A.E.A. He said, “If you don’t believe that the I.A.E.A. can establish an inspection system—if you don’t trust them—you can only bomb.”There is little sympathy for the I.A.E.A. in the Bush Administration or among its European allies. “We’re quite frustrated with the director-general,” the European diplomat told me. “His basic approach has been to describe this as a dispute between two sides with equal weight. It’s not. We’re the good guys! ElBaradei has been pushing the idea of letting Iran have a small nuclear-enrichment program, which is ludicrous. It’s not his job to push ideas that pose a serious proliferation risk.”The Europeans are rattled, however, by their growing perception that President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed, and that their real goal is regime change. “Everyone is on the same page about the Iranian bomb, but the United States wants regime change,” a European diplomatic adviser told me. He added, “The Europeans have a role to play as long as they don’t have to choose between going along with the Russians and the Chinese or going along with Washington on something they don’t want. Their policy is to keep the Americans engaged in something the Europeans can live with. It may be untenable.”“The Brits think this is a very bad idea,” Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staff member who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, told me, “but they’re really worried we’re going to do it.” The European diplomatic adviser acknowledged that the British Foreign Office was aware of war planning in Washington but that, “short of a smoking gun, it’s going to be very difficult to line up the Europeans on Iran.” He said that the British “are jumpy about the Americans going full bore on the Iranians, with no compromise.”The European diplomat said that he was skeptical that Iran, given its record, had admitted to everything it was doing, but “to the best of our knowledge the Iranian capability is not at the point where they could successfully run centrifuges” to enrich uranium in quantity. One reason for pursuing diplomacy was, he said, Iran’s essential pragmatism. “The regime acts in its best interests,” he said. Iran’s leaders “take a hard-line approach on the nuclear issue and they want to call the American bluff,” believing that “the tougher they are the more likely the West will fold.” But, he said, “From what we’ve seen with Iran, they will appear superconfident until the moment they back off.”The diplomat went on, “You never reward bad behavior, and this is not the time to offer concessions. We need to find ways to impose sufficient costs to bring the regime to its senses. It’s going to be a close call, but I think if there is unity in opposition and the price imposed”—in sanctions—“is sufficient, they may back down. It’s too early to give up on the U.N. route.” He added, “If the diplomatic process doesn’t work, there is no military ‘solution.’ There may be a military option, but the impact could be catastrophic.”Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, was George Bush’s most dependable ally in the year leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he and his party have been racked by a series of financial scandals, and his popularity is at a low point. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said last year that military action against Iran was “inconceivable.” Blair has been more circumspect, saying publicly that one should never take options off the table.Other European officials expressed similar skepticism about the value of an American bombing campaign. “The Iranian economy is in bad shape, and Ahmadinejad is in bad shape politically,” the European intelligence official told me. “He will benefit politically from American bombing. You can do it, but the results will be worse.” An American attack, he said, would alienate ordinary Iranians, including those who might be sympathetic to the U.S. “Iran is no longer living in the Stone Age, and the young people there have access to U.S. movies and books, and they love it,” he said. “If there was a charm offensive with Iran, the mullahs would be in trouble in the long run.”Another European official told me that he was aware that many in Washington wanted action. “It’s always the same guys,” he said, with a resigned shrug. “There is a belief that diplomacy is doomed to fail. The timetable is short.”A key ally with an important voice in the debate is Israel, whose leadership has warned for years that it viewed any attempt by Iran to begin enriching uranium as a point of no return. I was told by several officials that the White House’s interest in preventing an Israeli attack on a Muslim country, which would provoke a backlash across the region, was a factor in its decision to begin the current operational planning. In a speech in Cleveland on March 20th, President Bush depicted Ahmadinejad’s hostility toward Israel as a “serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace.” He added, “I made it clear, I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel.”Any American bombing attack, Richard Armitage told me, would have to consider the following questions: “What will happen in the other Islamic countries? What ability does Iran have to reach us and touch us globally—that is, terrorism? Will Syria and Lebanon up the pressure on Israel? What does the attack do to our already diminished international standing? And what does this mean for Russia, China, and the U.N. Security Council?”Iran, which now produces nearly four million barrels of oil a day, would not have to cut off production to disrupt the world’s oil markets. It could blockade or mine the Strait of Hormuz, the thirty-four-mile-wide passage through which Middle Eastern oil reaches the Indian Ocean. Nonetheless, the recently retired defense official dismissed the strategic consequences of such actions. He told me that the U.S. Navy could keep shipping open by conducting salvage missions and putting mine- sweepers to work. “It’s impossible to block passage,” he said. The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon also said he believed that the oil problem could be managed, pointing out that the U.S. has enough in its strategic reserves to keep America running for sixty days. However, those in the oil business I spoke to were less optimistic; one industry expert estimated that the price per barrel would immediately spike, to anywhere from ninety to a hundred dollars per barrel, and could go higher, depending on the duration and scope of the conflict.Michel Samaha, a veteran Lebanese Christian politician and former cabinet minister in Beirut, told me that the Iranian retaliation might be focussed on exposed oil and gas fields in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. “They would be at risk,” he said, “and this could begin the real jihad of Iran versus the West. You will have a messy world.”Iran could also initiate a wave of terror attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, with the help of Hezbollah. On April 2nd, the Washington Post reported that the planning to counter such attacks “is consuming a lot of time” at U.S. intelligence agencies. “The best terror network in the world has remained neutral in the terror war for the past several years,” the Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said of Hezbollah. “This will mobilize them and put us up against the group that drove Israel out of southern Lebanon. If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us.” (When I asked the government consultant about that possibility, he said that, if Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel, “Israel and the new Lebanese government will finish them off.”)The adviser went on, “If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.” The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. (Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, has close ties to the leading Shiite parties in Iraq.) A retired four-star general told me that, despite the eight thousand British troops in the region, “the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck.”“If you attack,” the high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna, “Ahmadinejad will be the new Saddam Hussein of the Arab world, but with more credibility and more power. You must bite the bullet and sit down with the Iranians.”The diplomat went on, “There are people in Washington who would be unhappy if we found a solution. They are still banking on isolation and regime change. This is wishful thinking.” He added, “The window of opportunity is now.”
Estados Unidos admitem utilizar armas nucleares contra o IrãoA administração de George W. Bush admite a preparação de um campanha com recurso a armas nucleares contra o Irão, destinada a destruir uma base suspeita de fabricar armas atómicas, avança a edição online da revista norte-americana "New Yorker".Ainda segundo a revista, cuja edição impressa sairá no próximo dia 17, Bush e outros responsáveis da Casa Branca consideram o Presidente iraniano, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, como um “Adolf Hitler em potência”. “É o nome que utilizam”, sublinha o jornalista Seymour Hersh, autor do artigo, citando um antigo alto responsável dos serviços secretos norte-americanos.Por sua vez, um conselheiro do Pentágono afirma, sob anonimato, que a “Casa Branca considera que a única forma de resolver o problema é alterar a estrutura no poder no Irão, e isso significa guerra”.O antigo responsável dos serviços secretos descreve ainda ao jornalista os preparativos para um ataque como “enormes”, “violentos” e “operacionais”.Um antigo responsável da Defesa também pela "New Yorker" indica, por sua vez, que os preparativos militares são fundados na crença de que "bombardeamentos no Irão vão humilhar a direcção religiosa e levar a que a população se revolte e derrube o Governo".Nas últimas semanas, o Presidente Bush iniciou secretamente uma série de discussões sobre planos para o Irão com senadores e membros da Câmara dos Representantes. A revista revela que entre esses planos é considerada a utilização de armas nucleares tácticas de destruição de “bunkers” como os B61-11, no sentido de destruir a principal unidade de produção nuclear iraniana situada em Natanz.Mas o ex-responsável dos serviços secretos norte-americanos conta que a opção nuclear suscitou diferendos entre os militares e certos oficiais falaram mesmo em demitir-se se a opção do recurso ao nuclear for concretizada.Também o conselheiro do Pentágono ouvido pela “New Yorker” afirma que “existe entre os militares fortes sentimentos de oposição quanto à utilização de armas nucleares contra outros países”. Para esta fonte, um bombardeamento do Irão poderá provocar uma “reacção em cadeia” de ataques contra os interesses e os cidadãos norte-americanos em todo o mundo, bem como reforçar o Hezbollah, partido xiita libanês pró-iraniano."Se o fizermos, a metade sul do Iraque inflamar-se-á", sustentou o conselheiro.
Bunker-Busters Readied; Iran Attack Near?As you've probably heard by now, Sy Hersh has a new scoop: that planning for an attack on Iran is further along than you think, and that nukes might be involved.One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz... reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year... The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.Based on a 1950's design, the B61-11 bunker-buster has been around in its current form since 1997. That Divine Strake test -- the one that's gonna produce the "mushroom cloud over Las Vegas" on June 2? Probably a B61 simulation, the Arms Control Wonk says.The Pentagon and the Energy Department have been pushing for an update for several years, now -- something that can penetrate deeper, and rely on a lower nuclear yield. That program, the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator," is officially cancelled. But there's widespread speculation that money for this project is just hidden elsewhere.Meanwhile, Lockheed is looking into the "Kinetic Energy Cavity Penetrator Weapon" -- a bunker-buster that surrounds the bomb with a gas bubble, so it can plow into the ground ten times further than similar weapons. Testing continues for the Army's "Deep Digger," the bunker-buster that uses cannon to tunnel through solid rock, drilling a channel for the bomb. It's the current record-holder for non-nuclear penetrators, going down twice as deep as the nearest competitor. But still, that's only 30 feet. The Natanz bunker is down another 45. Which is why we're getting ready to see that massive explosion outside of Vegas.UPDATE 04/09/06 10:56 AM: "The Air Force is proposing to build a new 'prompt global strike'" missile, Inside Defense notes. "Land-based boosters traditionally used for nuclear weapons would be reconfigured and fitted with conventional warheads, according to Air Force Space Command."
Iran: the coming warWill the United States attack Iran? Eight major arguments say no. Each one dissolves on inspection, says Dan Plesch.Do not be in the least surprised if the United States attacks Iran. Timing is an open question, but it is hard to find convincing arguments that war will be avoided, or at least ones that are convincing in Washington.There are eight arguments currently in circulation. How do they stand up?First, is it likely that Iran will “do a Libya” – open all its facilities to American and British intelligence officials and surrender any illicit weapons along with its missile programmes? Such a policy would command little support amongst the Iranian public, let alone within the political-religious leadership.Second, will the European Union succeed in brokering a compromise in which Iran fully satisfies the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors, the United States and Israel? Privately and not so privately, senior US officials – such as vice-president Dick Cheney, newly appointed undersecretary of state Robert S Joseph, and nominee for United Nations ambassador John Bolton – deride the EU’s efforts as futile.Third, are the military obstacles too great to permit a successful US attack on Iran? This may turn out to be the case. However for Washington – and indeed for Israel – this conclusion is literally unthinkable.The military strategy adopted under President Bush’s father, continued under President Clinton and accelerated under the current administration is based on the idea that the US should have “full spectrum dominance” of all aspects of warfare and be so far ahead that, in the words of the current national security strategy, any state will be “dissuaded” from even trying to compete.An attack on Iran would have to take into consideration a number of risks. But from the perspective of those considering a military option, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons merely makes all of these problems harder – and in that sense provides an additional argument for pre-emptive action.Perhaps more importantly, none of the arguments made about the consequences of an attack on Iraq – whether or not they proved true – influenced the decision to go to war; some, such as the need to provide enough troops to prevent the outbreak of disorder, were simply ignored.Fourth, it is sometimes claimed that the US does not have enough troops to attack Iran. But the US army is engaged in a reorganisation to provide more frontline forces from headquarters and training units, and in any case the US air force is wholly available for the task of blowing up Iran – and it was barely used in Iraq beyond the first few weeks.Fifth, it is argued that the Iranians may have hidden their activities in inaccessible parts of their huge country. This is likely to be the case – though whether these are banned WMD programmes or permitted activities is an open question. However, as Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker, special forces are already in Iran preparing the target list. An aerial attack would not involve a ground invasion and would leave the Iranians to pick up the pieces.Sixth, could the Iranians cause immense trouble with Iraq’s Shi’a community and through Hezbollah with Israel? Perhaps, but how much stronger would Iran’s hand be if it was believed to have nuclear weapons? Moreover, the Iraqi Shi’a did not collectively defect to Tehran’s side during the Iran-Iraq war, and may be more concerned to develop their own interests than to be drawn into a new war. The present US pressure on Syria in Lebanon is partly related to Syria’s alleged involvement with the Iraq insurgency, but it can also be seen as isolating Hezbollah and clearing the way for action against it, prior to or in conjunction with an attack on Iran.Iran’s military has considerable experience drawn from the long war with Iraq in the 1980s. It has, no doubt, closely watched US military tactics around its borders. It certainly retains some options to launch counter-missile attacks on Israel, as well as at the US navy and US bases along the Persian Gulf – from Kuwait to Bahrain and the straits of Hormuz.At the same time, the US armed forces have been preparing for this contingency for many years and it would be hard to be the military commander telling President Bush that Iran is just not “doable”. As the former counter-terror official Richard Clarke has written, a second-world-war-style advance by US armies to Tehran from the Gulf coast is not possible, but this is not part of the planning anyway. As John Pike of the indispensable globalsecurity.org puts it: “they think that they can just blow up what they want to blow up and let the ant-heap sort itself out afterwards.”Seventh, wouldn’t a war with Iran cost too much and risk plunging the US into recession? US conservatives are quick to point out that as a percentage of gross domestic product, US military spending is barely half the Reagan-era peak of 6.5% of GDP; and of course, military spending is the one Keynesian tool of economic policy that conservatives permit themselves.Eighth, would US public opinion and US politicians prevent the war? There are few who would come to the defence of what is widely seen as a fanatical religious state that repeatedly calls for the end of the state of Israel. As one of John Kerry’s staff said to me: “why do you disarmament advocates oppose our doing it militarily?”So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election. At present Senators Lugar, Hagel and McCain all see themselves as being able to exploit the president over his ideological policies.But surely in the aftermath of Bush’s kiss-and-make-up tour of Europe, this analysis is fanciful? Perhaps. One former British special forces officer told me that the visit frightened him more than anything he had seen in the last five years. Something like the Godfather’s last visit to an old family retainer on whom he has just put out a contract.
Can a Nuclear Strike on Iran Be Prevented?The Bush administration has put together all the elements it needs to justify the impending military action against Iran. Unlike in the case of Iraq, it will happen without warning, and most of the justifications will be issued after the fact. We will wake up one day to learn that facilities in Iran have been bombed in a joint U.S.-Israeli attack. It may even take another couple of days for the revelation that some of the U.S. bombs were nuclear.Both Americans and the rest of the world have left the door wide open for this to happen. The international community has failed to declare the Iraq war illegal (e.g., Resolution 1483) under international law, implicitly condoning the next similar U.S. adventure. Furthermore, since the IAEA resolution of Sept. 24, 2005, it is "legal" for the U.S. to use nuclear weapons in a military conflict with Iran.And the discussion now riveting the country's attention, about whether the administration misused faulty intelligence to justify attacking Iraq, plays right into the plan to attack Iran. Many critics of the war are implicitly conceding that if the intelligence had been right, the attack on Iraq would have been justified. However, the charges that were false for Iraq are true for Iran, or are at least widely accepted to be true.Since after the fact there isn't much one can do about it, except, in Cheney's words "clean up the diplomatic mess," it is important to bring up the topic for discussion now, even if the administration would prefer that you focus instead on the Iraq mess, incredible as that may seem.How the Iraq Deception Aids an Attack on IranThe country is up in arms over the "16 words" in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq "attempting" to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Some criticisms imply that if indeed there had been such an attempt, the attack against Iraq would have been justified. Iran makes its own yellowcake and is processing it into uranium hexafluoride at this very moment. According to the latest reports, the material being processed is enough for 10 nuclear bombs.The other reasons given to attack Iraq apply at least as much or even more so to Iran and will be brought up by the U.S. government after the attack, so we may as well consider them now: * Iraq was falsely accused of possessing WMD; it turned out it didn't have a single ounce. Iran almost certainly still has remnants of chemical weapons (as do many other countries, including the United States). The U.S. accuses Iran of having both chemical and biological weapons. * Iraq was accused of having used chemical weapons in war in the past. Iran has been also. * Iraq was accused of having ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11. The bipartisan 9/11 commission determined that Iraq had no significant ties to al-Qaeda, and no connection to 9/11. Instead, it determined that "senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives" in 1993, alleged the "persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda figures" after 1996, and claimed that "there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers." * Iraq was accused of supporting terrorists intent on harming America. No proof of such allegations has emerged. Iran is accused of sponsoring Hezbollah, labeled a terrorist organization. Iran was indicted by the U.S. attorney general for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 Americans, which according to the 9/11 commission, may have involved al-Qaeda. Furthermore, an American court ruled that Iran was directly involved in the 1982 Beirut bombing that killed 241 U.S. marines. * Both Iraq and Iran have long been declared enemies of Israel. The U.S. and Israel have been warning against the Iranian danger to Israel for many years, claiming it is trying to develop nuclear weapons since at least as far back as 1995. Iran has missiles that can reach Israel; Iraq did not after the Gulf War. Iraq was only accused of giving money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers; Iran is accused of supplying arms and rockets to Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists. * The U.S. and Britain are accusing Iran of supplying arms and bombs to insurgents in Iraq. * Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a secular regime, more to the liking of America than the Iranian Muslim fundamentalist regime.Iran has denied most of the allegations listed above. However, the accusations are widely reported in the Western press as facts, and most Americans have accepted them as such.Consider the following: if the Bush administration knew that it was misusing and manipulating faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion, as most Americans now believe, it also knew that the truth about nonexistent Iraqi WMD would come out after the fact. Whether the American people interpreted it as incompetence or deliberate deception, the administration's decision to go to war would eventually be subject to widespread criticism on either ground. Why did the administration choose to build up a case for invading Iraq out of thin air, knowing full well it was destined to fall apart in the aftermath?I believe there are two complementary reasons. (1) The faulty arguments to attack Iraq provide an even stronger justification to attack Iran, as explained above. Since the country has already accepted that line of argument, the administration can argue after the attack on Iran that it did not need to go to Congress or the American people to ask for their support again. (2) The real, ultimate goal was always to attack Iran, but the Iraq invasion was a necessary intermediate step.What the Rest of the World Is DoingThe United States used diplomacy, in particular UN resolution 1441 of November 2002, which was supported unanimously by the Security Council, as a cover to justify its military action against Iraq, and it is using the same strategy again. Europe is enabling the U.S. strategy by pushing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the Security Council. When the process reaches a dead end at the Security Council, or even if it never gets there, the U.S. will argue that the international community, especially Europe, "share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it." Depending on whether diplomatic action stalls at the Security Council or before that at the IAEA, the U.S. will argue that each entity "has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours." Russia and China oppose placing sanctions on Iran, but they are not taking a strong stand against U.S. aggression.Why a Nuclear Attack Against Iran Is ImminentThe U.S. and Israel have made it clear that they will not allow Iran to implement a civilian nuclear program that includes the fuel cycle, because it will bring Iran closer to a point where it could develop nuclear weapons if it so decided. Iran claims the right to develop civilian nuclear technology, including the fuel cycle, which is explicitly allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These are completely irreconcilable positions, and in the absence of compromise they can only be resolved by military action in which the stronger side prevails. The U.S. is not negotiating with Iran either directly or indirectly and is in essence demanding that Iran prove today beyond any doubt that it will not have nuclear weapons in the indefinite future, which is as impossible as it was for Saddam Hussein to prove that he did not have weapons he didn't have.Iran is much stronger militarily than Iraq was, and is potentially a much larger threat to Israel. Iran will continue to grow stronger in the future, and following the Bush logic, it is preferable to preempt than to wait. The Bush statement in the 2002 State of the Union address,"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."was directed to Iran as much as to Iraq. So was the following:"I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."Furthermore, the balance of power in the region has been upset by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in an irreversible way. The containment that Saddam Hussein provided to Iran's power in the region no longer exists, and if the U.S. reduces its presence in Iraq without attacking Iran, Iran is likely to establish itself further as a strong regional superpower, expanding its influence over Iraq as well as the broader Middle East.So why hasn't Iran been attacked yet?Only because several elements had to first fall into place, as they now have. The attack on Iran will occur at any time in the coming days or weeks and will include the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. Let us summarize the pieces of the puzzle assembled by this and previous administrations that lead to the upcoming nuking of Iran: * The lumping of nuclear weapons together with other unconventional weapons under the general concept of WMD, starting in earnest in the early '90s; * The "negative security assurance" [.pdf] declaration of the United States, which promises not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, but explicitly excludes from this assurance states that are in noncompliance with the NPT; * The United States' gradual modification of its approach to the use of nuclear weapons, to the point where now they are part of the conventional arsenal. In 2002, when the "Nuclear Posture Review" policy document was leaked and criticized, the Defense Department argued that it was just a "wide-ranging analysis of the requirements of deterrence" and that it "does not provide operational guidance on nuclear targeting or planning." Such "operational guidance" was recently provided and leaked to the press (possibly to gauge public reaction, which unfortunately has been almost nonexistent) in the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" [.pdf] document, which describes many specific scenarios in which the U.S. will use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries, scenarios that apply specifically to the Iran situation. * The scuttling of the NPT Review Conference of 2005, caused mainly by the refusal of the U.S. to include on the agenda issues related to nuclear disarmament and negative security assurances, which are of primary interest to non-nuclear states; * The declaration by the IAEA on Sept. 24, 2005 [.pdf], that Iran is in noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and thus subject to nuclear attack by the U.S.; * The placement of 150,000 U.S. troops within the range of Iranian missiles and conventional forces.Why are nuclear weapons an indispensable part of the enterprise? Because conventional military action against Iran would be very costly and would likely lead to disaster. Iran has dozens of Shahab 3 missiles that can reach Israel and many more short-range missiles that can target U.S. forces in Iraq, potentially with chemical warheads. It also has a 7 million-strong Basiji volunteer militia and local support from the Shi'ite population in southern Iraq, all of which would easily overwhelm the 150,000 U.S. troops and the weak Iraqi army.Before the U.S. invaded Iraq, a conventional aerial attack against Iranian installations (like Israel did to Osirak's reactor in 1981) would also have been futile. Iran's facilities are numerous, many are underground, and partial destruction would only have led to a radicalization of Iran's regime and a full-scale drive toward nuclear weapons.However, to justify the breaking of the 60-year-old taboo against the use of nuclear weapons, it is necessary for the lives of many Americans to be at stake. Otherwise, the American public would not condone the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. By placing U.S. forces within range of Iranian missiles and conventional forces, a situation has been created in which the American public will support the use of nuclear weapons to save thousands of American lives. This is why the invasion of Iraq was a necessary prelude to the nuclear attack on Iran.Most importantly, the value of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is emphasized in Defense Department policy, and it will undeniably enhance their deterrent effect to demonstrate that the U.S. is ready to use nuclear weapons, lest the world forget after 60 long years of dormancy that nuclear weapons are for real.Why a Nuclear Attack on Iran Is a Bad IdeaNow that we have outlined what is very close to happening, let us discuss briefly why everything possible should be done to prevent it.In a worst-case scenario, the attack will cause a violent reaction from Iran. Millions of "human wave" Iranian militias will storm into Iraq, and just as Saddam stopped them with chemical weapons, the U.S. will stop them with nuclear weapons, resulting potentially in hundreds of thousands of casualties. The Middle East will explode, and popular uprisings in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries with pro-Western governments could be overtaken by radical regimes. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons, and a nuclear conflict could even lead to Russia's and Israel's involvement using nuclear weapons.In a best-case scenario, the U.S. will destroy all nuclear, chemical, and missile facilities in Iran with conventional and low-yield nuclear weapons in a lightning surprise attack, and Iran will be paralyzed and decide not to retaliate for fear of a vastly more devastating nuclear attack. In the short term, the U.S. will succeed, leaving no Iranian nuclear program, civilian or otherwise. Iran will no longer threaten Israel, a regime change will ensue, and a pro-Western government will emerge.However, even in the best-case scenario, the long-term consequences are dire. The nuclear threshold will have been crossed by a nuclear superpower against a non-nuclear country. Many more countries will rush to get their own nuclear weapons as a deterrent. With no taboo against the use of nuclear weapons, they will certainly be used again. Nuclear conflicts will occur within the next 10 to 20 years, and will escalate until much of the world is destroyed. Let us remember that the destructive power of existing nuclear arsenals is approximately one million times that of the Hiroshima bomb, enough to erase Earth's population many times over.Furthermore, despite all the U.S. and Israeli allegations, there is not a shred of real evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The fact that it hid its nuclear program for many years is understandable, given that the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran and first accused it of pursuing nuclear weapons many years ago. Since 2003, all Iranian nuclear activities have been open and accessible to the IAEA, and Iran has signed an additional protocol that allows unannounced inspections of all its facilities. Iran would not be able to develop nuclear weapons under these conditions even if it wanted to. Finally, Iran has offered to enter into partnerships with foreign companies to provide additional assurances that its uranium enrichment is devoted solely to civilian purposes. Recall that uranium enrichment for reactors is at 3-5 percent levels, while weapons require 90 percent levels, which demands a qualitatively different effort.Can a Nuclear Attack Be Averted?The reader will notice that this section is very short. Creative ideas are needed!Because the United States is counting on the "nuclear option" to ensure the success of military action against Iran, it is not seriously pursuing diplomatic alternatives, such as negotiating directly with Iran to reach an agreement on a civilian nuclear program under strict international supervision.It is essential to debate whether the U.S. should use nuclear weapons against Iran before it happens rather than after. In the case of Hiroshima, because the existence of nuclear bombs was classified information, a public discussion on whether nuclear bombs should have been used against Japan to end World War II could not occur. Many physicists who were part of the Manhattan Project in 1945 urged the government not to use the newly developed weapons, but their calls went unheeded.Today, a public debate can occur. The scenarios described in the Pentagon document [.pdf] in which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons include "for rapid and favorable war termination on U.S. terms," against "an adversary intending to use WMD against U.S., multinational, or alliance forces," and "to demonstrate U.S. intent and capability to use nuclear weapons." These are not acceptable scenarios. It is not in the best interests of the United States nor the rest of the world for the U.S. to base its military planning on such policies, because if it does so a situation will inevitably arise in which no alternative will be left, as in the case considered here. There has to be a public discussion in the media, online, and in Congress. Unless there is an extraordinary outcry of opposition against such policies, they are bound to be implemented in the very near future.
Planned US-Israeli Attack on IranAt the outset of Bush's second term, Vice President Dick Cheney dropped a bombshell. He hinted, in no uncertain terms, that Iran was "right at the top of the list" of the rogue enemies of America, and that Israel would, so to speak, "be doing the bombing for us", without US military involvement and without us putting pressure on them "to do it": "One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked... Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards," (quoted from an MSNBC Interview Jan 2005)Israel is a Rottweiler on a leash: The US wants to "set Israel loose" to attack Iran. Commenting the Vice President's assertion, former National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in an interview on PBS, confirmed with some apprehension, yes: Cheney wants Prime Ariel Sharon to act on America's behalf and "do it" for us: "Iran I think is more ambiguous. And there the issue is certainly not tyranny; it's nuclear weapons. And the vice president today in a kind of a strange parallel statement to this declaration of freedom hinted that the Israelis may do it and in fact used language which sounds like a justification or even an encouragement for the Israelis to do it."The foregoing statements are misleading. The US is not "encouraging Israel". What we are dealing with is a joint US-Israeli military operation to bomb Iran, which has been in the active planning stage for more than a year. The Neocons in the Defense Department, under Douglas Feith, have been working assiduously with their Israeli military and intelligence counterparts, carefully identifying targets inside Iran ( Seymour Hersh, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/HER501A.html )Under this working arrangement, Israel will not act unilaterally, without a green light from Washington. In other words, Israel will not implement an attack without the participation of the US.Covert Intelligence Operations: Stirring Ethnic Tensions in IranMeanwhile, for the last two years, Washington has been involved in covert intelligence operations inside Iran. American and British intelligence and special forces (working with their Israeli counterparts) are involved in this operation. "A British intelligence official said that any campaign against Iran would not be a ground war like the one in Iraq. The Americans will use different tactics, said the intelligence officer. 'It is getting quite scary.'" (Evening Standard, 17 June 2003, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/FOX306A.html )The expectation is that a US-Israeli bombing raid of Iran's nuclear facilities will stir up ethnic tensions and trigger "regime change" in favor of the US. (See Arab Monitor, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/ARA502A.html ).Bush advisers believe that the "Iranian opposition movement" will unseat the Mullahs. This assessment constitutes a gross misjudgment of social forces inside Iran. What is more likely to occur is that Iranians will consistently rally behind a wartime government against foreign aggression. In fact, the entire Middle East and beyond would rise up against US interventionism.Retaliation in the Case of a US-Israeli Aerial AttackTehran has confirmed that it will retaliate if attacked, in the form of ballistic missile strikes directed against Israel (CNN, 8 Feb 2005). These attacks, could also target US military facilities in the Persian Gulf, which would immediately lead us into a scenario of military escalation and all out war.In other words, the air strikes against Iran could contribute to unleashing a war in the broader Middle East Central Asian region.Moreover, the planned attack on Iran should also be understood in relation to the timely withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, which has opened up a new space, for the deployment of Israeli forces. The participation of Turkey in the US-Israeli military operation is also a factor, following an agreement reached between Ankara and Tel Aviv.In other words, US and Israeli military planners must carefully weigh the far-reaching implications of their actions.Israel Builds up its Stockpile of Deadly Military HardwareA massive buildup in military hardware has occurred in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.Israel has recently taken delivery from the US of some 5,000 "smart air launched weapons" including some 500 BLU 109 'bunker-buster bombs. The (uranium coated) munitions are said to be more than "adequate to address the full range of Iranian targets, with the possible exception of the buried facility at Natanz, which may require the [more powerful] BLU-113 bunker buster ": "Given Israel's already substantial holdings of such weapons, this increase in its inventory would allow a sustained assault with or without further US involvement." (See Richard Bennett, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/BEN501A.html )Gbu 28 Guided Bomb Unit-28 (GBU-28) The Israeli Air Force would attack Iran's nuclear facility at Bushehr using US as well Israeli produced bunker buster bombs. The attack would be carried out in three separate waves "with the radar and communications jamming protection being provided by U.S. Air Force AWACS and other U.S. aircraft in the area". (See W Madsen, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/MAD410A.htmlBear in mind that the bunker buster bombs can also be used to deliver tactical nuclear bombs. The B61-11 is the "nuclear version" of the "conventional" BLU 113. It can be delivered in much same way as the conventional bunker buster bomb. (See Michel Chossudovsky, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO112C.html , see also http://www.thebulletin.org/article_nn.p ... jf03norris ) .According to the Pentagon, tactical nuclear weapons are "safe for civilians". Their use has been authorized by the US Senate. (See Miochel Chossudovsky, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO405A.html ) Moreover, reported in late 2003, Israeli Dolphin-class submarines equipped with US Harpoon missiles armed with nuclear warheads are now aimed at Iran. (See Gordon Thomas, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/THO311A.htmlEven if tactical nuclear weapons are not used by Israel, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities not only raises the specter of a broader war, but also of nuclear radiation over a wide area: "To attack Iran's nuclear facilities will not only provoke war, but it could also unleash clouds of radiation far beyond the targets and the borders of Iran." (Statement of Prof Elias Tuma, Arab Internet Network, Federal News Service, 1 March 2005)Moreover, while most reports have centered on the issue of punitive air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, the strikes would most probably extend to other targets.While a ground war is contemplated as a possible "scenario" at the level of military planning, the US military would not be able to wage a an effective ground war, given the situation in Iraq. In the words of former National Security Adviser Lawrence Eagelberger: "We are not going to get in a ground war in Iran, I hope. If we get into that, we are in serious trouble. I don't think anyone in Washington is seriously considering that." ( quoted in the National Journal, 4 December 2004).Iran's Military CapabilitiesDespite its overall weaknesses in relation to Israel and the US, Iran has an advanced air defense system, deployed to protect its nuclear sites; "they are dispersed and underground making potential air strikes difficult and without any guarantees of success." (Jerusalem Post, 20 April 2005). It has upgraded its Shahab-3 missile, which can reach targets in Israel. Iran's armed forces have recently conducted high-profile military exercises in anticipation of a US led attack. Iran also possesses some 12 X-55 strategic cruise missiles, produced by the Ukraine. Iran's air defense systems is said to feature Russian SA-2, SA-5, SA-6 as well as shoulder-launched SA-7 missiles (Jaffa Center for Strategic Studies).The US "Military Road Map"The Bush administration has officially identified Iran and Syria as the next stage of “the road map to war”.Targeting Iran is a bipartisan project, which broadly serves the interests of the Anglo-American oil conglomerates, the Wall Street financial establishment and the military-industrial complex.The broader Middle East-Central Asian region encompasses more than 70% of the World's reserves of oil and natural gas. Iran possesses 10% of the world's oil and ranks third after Saudi Arabia (25 %) and Iraq (11 %) in the size of its reserves. In comparison, the US possesses less than 2.8 % of global oil reserves. (See Eric Waddell, The Battle for Oil, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/WAD412A.html )The announcement to target Iran should come as no surprise. It is part of the battle for oil. Already during the Clinton administration, US Central Command (USCENTCOM) had formulated "in war theater plans" to invade both Iraq and Iran: "The broad national security interests and objectives expressed in the President's National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Chairman's National Military Strategy (NMS) form the foundation of the United States Central Command's theater strategy. The NSS directs implementation of a strategy of dual containment of the rogue states of Iraq and Iran as long as those states pose a threat to U.S. interests, to other states in the region, and to their own citizens. Dual containment is designed to maintain the balance of power in the region without depending on either Iraq or Iran. USCENTCOM's theater strategy is interest-based and threat-focused. The purpose of U.S. engagement, as espoused in the NSS, is to protect the United States' vital interest in the region - uninterrupted, secure U.S./Allied access to Gulf oil. (USCENTCOM, http://www.milnet.com/milnet/pentagon/c ... m#USPolicy , emphasis added)Main Military ActorsWhile the US, Israel, as well as Turkey (with borders with both Iran and Syria) are the main actors in this process, a number of other countries, in the region, allies of the US, including several Central Asian former Soviet republics have been enlisted. Britain is closely involved despite its official denials at the diplomatic level. Turkey occupies a central role in the Iran operation. It has an extensive military cooperation agreement with Israel. There are indications that NATO is also formally involved in the context of an Israel-NATO agreement reached in November 2004. Planning The Aerial Attack on IranAccording to former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, George W. Bush has already signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran, scheduled for June.(See http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/JEN502A.html )The June cut-off date should be understood. It does not signify that the attack will occur in June. What it suggests is that the US and Israel are "in a state of readiness" and are prepared to launch an attack by June or at a later date. In other words, the decision to launch the attack has not been made.Ritter's observation concerning an impending military operation should nonetheless be taken seriously. In recent months, there is ample evidence that a major military operation is in preparation: 1) several high profile military exercises have been conducted in recent months, involving military deployment and the testing of weapons systems. 2) military planning meetings have been held between the various parties involved. There has been a shuttle of military and government officials between Washington, Tel Aviv and Ankara. 3) A significant change in the military command structure in Israel has occurred, with the appointment of a new Chief of Staff. 4) Intense diplomatic exchanges have been carried out at the international level with a view to securing areas of military cooperation and/or support for a US-Israeli led military operation directed against Iran. 5) Ongoing intelligence operations inside Iran have been stepped up. 6) Consensus Building: Media propaganda on the need to intervene in Iran has been stepped up, with daily reports on how Iran constitutes a threat to peace and global security.Timeline of Key InitiativesIn the last few months, various key initiatives have been taken, which are broadly indicative that an aerial bombing of Iran is in the military pipeline: November 2004 in Brussels: NATO-Israel protocol: Israel's IDF delegation to the NATO conference to met with military brass of six members of the Mediterranean basin nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. "NATO seeks to revive the framework, known as the Mediterranean Dialogue program, which would include Israel. The Israeli delegation accepted to participate in military exercises and "anti-terror maneuvers" together with several Arab countries. January 2005: the US, Israel and Turkey held military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean , off the coast of Syria. These exercises, which have been held in previous years were described as routine. February 2005. Following the decision reached in Brussels in November 2004, Israel was involved for the first time in military exercises with NATO, which also included several Arab countries. February 2005: Assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The assassination, which was blamed on Syria, serves Israeli and US interests and was used as a pretext to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. February 2005: Sharon fires his Chief-of-Staff, Moshe Ya’alon and appoints Air Force General Dan Halutz. This is the first time in Israeli history that an Air Force General is appointed Chief of Staff (See Uri Avnery, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/AVN502A.html ) The appointment of Major General Dan Halutz as IDF Chief of Staff is considered in Israeli political circles as "the appointment of the right man at the right time." The central issue is that a major aerial operation against Iran is in the planning stage, and Maj General Halutz is slated to coordinate the aerial bombing raids on Iran. Halutz's appointment was specifically linked to Israel's Iran agenda: "As chief of staff, he will in the best position to prepare the military for such a scenario." March 2005: NATO's Secretary General was in Jerusalem for follow-up talks with Ariel Sharon and Israel's military brass, following the joint NATO-Israel military exercise in February. These military cooperation ties are viewed by the Israeli military as a means to "enhance Israel's deterrence capability regarding potential enemies threatening it, mainly Iran and Syria." The premise underlying NATO-Israel military cooperation is that Israel is under attack: "The more Israel's image is strengthened as a country facing enemies who attempt to attack it for no justified reason, the greater will be the possibility that aid will be extended to Israel by NATO. Furthermore, Iran and Syria will have to take into account the possibility that the increasing cooperation between Israel and NATO will strengthen Israel's links with Turkey, also a member of NATO. Given Turkey's impressive military potential and its geographic proximity to both Iran and Syria, Israel's operational options against them, if and when it sees the need, could gain considerable strength. " (Jaffa Center for Strategic Studies, http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/sa/v7n4p4Shalom.html ) The Israel-NATO protocol is all the more important because it obligates NATO to align itself with the US-Israeli plan to bomb Iran, as an act of self defense on the part of Israel. It also means that NATO is also involved in the process of military consultations relating to the planned aerial bombing of Iran. It is of course related to the bilateral military cooperation agreement between Israel and Turkey and the likelihood that part of the military operation will be launched from Turkey, which is a member of NATO. Late March 2005: News leaks in Israel indicated an "initial authorization" by Prime Minster Ariel Sharon of an Israeli attack on Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant "if diplomacy failed to stop Iran's nuclear program". (The Hindu, 28 March 2005) March-April 2005: The Holding in Israel of Joint US-Israeli military exercises specifically pertaining to the launching of Patriot missiles. US Patriot missile crews stationed in Germany were sent to Israel to participate in the joint Juniper Cobra exercise with the Israeli military. The exercise was described as routine and "unconnected to events in the Middle East": "As always, we are interested in implementing lessons learned from training exercises." (UPI, 9 March 2005). April 2005: Donald Rumsfeld was on an official visits to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. His diplomatic endeavors were described by the Russian media as "literally circling Iran in an attempt to find the best bridgehead for a possible military operation against that country." In Baku, Azerbaijan Rumsfeld was busy discussing the date for deployment of US troops in Azerbaijan on Iran's North-Western border. US military bases described as "mobile groups" in Azerbaijan are slated to play a role in a military operation directed against Iran. Azerbaijan is a member of GUUAM, a military cooperation agreement with the US and NATO, which allows for the stationing of US troops in several of the member countries, including Georgia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. The stated short term objective is to "neutralize Iran". The longer term objective under the Pentagon's "Caspian Plan" is to exert military and economic control over the entire Caspian sea basin, with a view to ensuring US authority over oil reserves and pipeline corridors. During his visit in April, Rumsfeld was pushing the US initiative of establishing "American special task forces and military bases to secure US influence in the Caspian region: "Called Caspian Watch, the project stipulates a network of special task forces and police units in the countries of the regions to be used in emergencies including threats to objects of the oil complex and pipelines. Project Caspian Watch will be financed by the United States ($100 million). It will become an advance guard of the US European Command whose zone of responsibility includes the Caspian region. Command center of the project with a powerful radar is to be located in Baku." ( Defense and Security Russia, April 27, 2005) Rumsfeld's visit followed shortly after that of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's to Baku. April 2005: Iran signs a military cooperation with Tajikistan, which occupies a strategic position bordering Afghanistan's Northern frontier. Tajikistan is a member of "The Shanghai Five" military cooperation group, which also includes Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. Iran also has economic cooperation agreements with Turkmenistan. Mid April 2005: Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets George W Bush at his Texas Ranch. Iran is on the agenda of bilateral talks. More significantly, the visit of Ariel Sharon was used to carry out high level talks between US and Israeli military planners pertaining to Iran. Late April 2005. President Vladmir Putin is in Israel on an official visit. He announces Russia's decision to sell short-range anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and to continue supporting Iran's nuclear industry. Beneath the gilded surface of international diplomacy, Putin's timely visit to Israel must be interpreted as "a signal to Israel" regarding its planned aerial attack on Iran. Late April 2005: US pressure in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been exerted with a view to blocking the re-appointment of Mohammed Al Baradei, who according to US officials "is not being tough enough on Iran..." Following US pressures, the vote on the appointment of a new IAEA chief was put off until June. These developments suggest that Washington wants to put forth their own hand-picked nominee prior to launching US-Israeli aerial attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. (See VOA, http://www.voanews.com/english/2005-04-27-voa51.cfm ). (In February 2003, Al Baradei along with UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix challenged the (phony) intelligence on WMD presented by the US to the UN Security Council, with a view to justifying the war on Iraq.) Late April 2005. Sale of deadly military hardware to Israel. GBU-28 Buster Bunker Bombs: Coinciding with Putin's visit to Israel, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (Department of Defense) announced the sale of an additional 100 bunker-buster bombs produced by Lockheed Martin to Israel. This decision was viewed by the US media as "a warning to Iran about its nuclear ambitions." The sale pertains to the larger and more sophisticated "Guided Bomb Unit-28 (GBU-28) BLU-113 Penetrator" (including the WGU-36A/B guidance control unit and support equipment). The GBU-28 is described as "a special weapon for penetrating hardened command centers located deep underground. The fact of the matter is that the GBU-28 is among the World's most deadly "conventional" weapons used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, capable of causing thousands of civilian deaths through massive explosions. The Israeli Air Force are slated to use the GBU-28s on their F-15 aircraft. (See text of DSCA news release at http://www.dsca.osd.mil/PressReleases/3 ... rected.pdf Late April 2005- early May: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Israel for follow-up talks with Ariel Sharon. He was accompanied by his Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, who met with senior Israeli military officials. On the official agenda of these talks: joint defense projects, including the joint production of Arrow II Theater Missile Defense and Popeye II missiles. The latter also known as the Have Lite, are advanced small missiles, designed for deployment on fighter planes. Tel Aviv and Ankara decide to establish a hotline to share intelligence. May 2005: Syrian troops scheduled to withdraw from Lebanon, leading to a major shift in the Middle East security situation, in favor of Israel and the US. Iran SurroundedThe US has troops and military bases in Turkey, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and of course Iraq. In other words, Iran is virtually surrounded by US military bases. (see Map below). These countries as well as Turkmenistan, are members of NATO`s partnership for Peace Program. and have military cooperation agreements with NATO.Copyright Eric Waddell, Global Research, 2003 (Click Map to enlarge)In other words, we are dealing with a potentially explosive scenario in which a number of countries, including several former Soviet republics, could be brought into a US led war with Iran. IranAtom.ru, a Russian based news and military analysis group has suggested, in this regard: "since Iranian nuclear objects are scattered all over the country, Israel will need a mass strike with different fly-in and fly-out approaches - Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and other countries... Azerbaijan seriously fears Tehran's reaction should Baku issue a permit to Israeli aircraft to overfly its territory." (Defense and Security Russia, 12 April 2005).Concluding remarks:The World is at an important crossroads.The Bush Administration has embarked upon a military adventure which threatens the future of humanity.Iran is the next military target. The planned military operation, which is by no means limited to punitive strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities, is part of a project of World domination, a military roadmap, launched at the end of the Cold War.Military action against Iran would directly involve Israel's participation, which in turn is likely to trigger a broader war throughout the Middle East, not to mention an implosion in the Palestinian occupied territories. Turkey is closely associated with the proposed aerial attacks.Israel is a nuclear power with a sophisticated nuclear arsenal. (See text box below). The use of nuclear weapons by Israel or the US cannot be excluded, particularly in view of the fact that tactical nuclear weapons have now been reclassified as a variant of the conventional bunker buster bombs and are authorized by the US Senate for use in conventional war theaters. ("they are harmless to civilians because the explosion is underground")In this regard, Israel and the US rather than Iran constitute a nuclear threat.The planned attack on Iran must be understood in relation to the existing active war theaters in the Middle East, namely Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. The conflict could easily spread from the Middle East to the Caspian sea basin. It could also involve the participation of Azerbaijan and Georgia, where US troops are stationed.An attack on Iran would have a direct impact on the resistance movement inside Iraq. It would also put pressure on America's overstretched military capabilities and resources in both the Iraqi and Afghan war theaters. (The 150,000 US troops in Iraq are already fully engaged and could not be redeployed in the case of a war with Iran.)In other words, the shaky geopolitics of the Central Asia- Middle East region, the three existing war theaters in which America is currently, involved, the direct participation of Israel and Turkey, the structure of US sponsored military alliances, etc. raises the specter of a broader conflict. Moreover, US military action on Iran not only threatens Russian and Chinese interests, which have geopolitical interests in the Caspian sea basin and which have bilateral agreements with Iran. It also backlashes on European oil interests in Iran and is likely to produce major divisions between Western allies, between the US and its European partners as well as within the European Union.Through its participation in NATO, Europe, despite its reluctance, would be brought into the Iran operation. The participation of NATO largely hinges on a military cooperation agreement reached between NATO and Israel. This agreement would bind NATO to defend Israel against Syria and Iran. NATO would therefore support a preemptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and could take on a more active role if Iran were to retaliate following US-Israeli air strikes. Needless to say, the war against Iran is part of a longer term US military agenda which seeks to militarize the entire Caspian sea basin, eventually leading to the destabilization and conquest of the Russian Federation.The Antiwar MovementThe antiwar movement must act, consistently, to prevent the next phase of this war from happening.This is no easy matter. The holding of large antiwar rallies will not in itself reverse the tide of war.High ranking officials of the Bush administration, members of the military and the US Congress have been granted the authority to uphold an illegal war agenda.What is required is a grass roots network, a mass movement at national and international levels, which challenges the legitimacy of the military and political actors, and which is ultimately instrumental in unseating those who rule in our name.War criminals occupy positions of authority. The citizenry is galvanized into supporting the rulers, who are "committed to their safety and well-being". Through media disinformation, war is given a humanitarian mandate.To reverse the tide of war, military bases must be closed down, the war machine (namely the production of advanced weapons systems) must be stopped and the burgeoning police state must be dismantled.The corporate backers and sponsors of war and war crimes must also be targeted including the oil companies, the defense contractors, the financial institutions and the corporate media, which has become an integral part of the war propaganda machine.Antiwar sentiment does not dismantle a war agenda. The war criminals in the US, Israel and Britain must be removed from high office. What is needed is to reveal the true face of the American Empire and the underlying criminalization of US foreign policy, which uses the "war on terrorism" and the threat of Al Qaeda to galvanize public opinion in support of a global war agenda.
Growing Iran-Syria tiesTop Iranian officials just threatened to inflict "harm and pain" on the United States, vowing to "use any means" to "resist any pressure and threat" over its nuclear program. It's not just rhetoric. Iran is making preparations to deliver on both promises by expanding its alliance with its evil twin, Syria.With each passing day, Syria's Baathists and Iran's radicals inch further into each other's embrace, limiting our policy options - and making both less susceptible to international pressure.The rising Damascus-Tehran axis means more trouble for the U.S./Israel in the Middle East, more Iranian/Syrian support for terrorism and insurgency across the region - and, worst of all, the specter of nuclear cooperation between the two.Strategic ties date back to the early 1980s, when Syria lined up with Iran against Iraq (i.e., Iran-Iraq war) and the United States and Israel (i.e., Lebanon). Relations have grown increasingly chummy more recently - especially since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran's president last September.Visiting Damascus in mid-January, Ahmadinejad emphasized improving relations - noting that he and Syrian President Bashar al Assad had adopted identical positions on all international issues.On that same trip, Ahamdinejad also paid a return visit on the terrorist "tools" who had paid homage to him in December in Tehran, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian rejectionist groups, promising them they could count on Iran's full support.Tehran-Damascus shuttle diplomacy is more frequent, too. Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi visited Syria just a couple of weeks ago for a meeting of the Joint Syrian-Iranian Higher Committee - the regimes' consultation/coordination organ.Davoudi called for both sides to exchange views regularly, characterizing current relations as "strategic." After meeting with Davoudi, Assad crowed that bilateral ties were both broad and promising - and called for "all-out relations."The Iranian and Syrian economies are increasingly integrated, too - boosting both powers' ability to buck any new punitive sanctions. They recently inked a series of trade/financial accords, including developing a joint banking system and building an Iranian oil/gas pipeline across Iraq to Syria.On the security side, Iran and Syria concluded a mutual defense treaty in 2004, meaning they will protect each other if attacked. Reaffirming the pact last February, Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al Otari noted, "Syria and Iran face several challenges, and it is necessary to build a common front."Mohammed Reza Aref, then Iran's vice president, responded, "We are ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats," undoubtedly referring to the pressure on Damascus following the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.As the Iranian nuclear crisis came to a rolling boil earlier this year, Iran and Syria further cemented their security relationship with more meetings, undoubtedly discussing defense strategy should the United States take military action against either or both.Both countries actively support terrorist/insurgent groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, too. Their growing intimacy will improve their sponsorship's efficiency/effectiveness, especially after Hamas' recent electoral victory.But the most dreaded strategic aspect of their partnership is the potential for nuclear cooperation. Last September, Ahmadinejad announced a willingness to share "peaceful" nuclear technology with other "Islamic" states. (Damascus is the most likely recipient of Tehran's nuclear largesse.) There is reason to be concerned. While Syria only has a small nuclear R&D program, based on a Chinese-supplied 30-kilowatt reactor, operating under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, that isn't the whole story.The State Department says that Syria has also obtained some dual-use nuclear technologies - some with IAEA assistance - that could be used in a weapons program. Although details are murky, Russia may have agreed to assist the Syrian nuke program, too.And don't forget about A.Q. Khan, the CEO of Pakistan's nuclear Walmart, who probably contacted Damascus during his hey-day in the 1990s. Fortunately, there is no evidence - to date - that Syria ever became a Khan client.The possibility of Iran or Syria becoming nuclear states - or of, one coming under the other's nuclear umbrella - is a nightmare for American interests, hamstringing U.S. policy options for dealing with either problem.The burgeoning Syrian-Iranian consortium is sowing an arc of evil and instability across the Middle East, allowing both regimes to resist international pressure on terrorism in Iraq and across the region, as well as on weapons of mass destruction.Vigorously opposing this alliance of evil whenever - and wherever - it raises its dark, tyrannical head, is the right and necessary thing to do.Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is just out.