Washington Post & Der Spiegel & WSWS – 2006-04-09 09:37:07
US Is Studying Military Strike Options on Iran
Peter Baker, Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks / Washington Post
(April 9, 2006) — The Bush administration is studying options for military strikes against Iran as part of a broader strategy of coercive diplomacy to pressure Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear development program, according to US officials and independent analysts.
No attack appears likely in the short term, and many specialists inside and outside the US government harbor serious doubts about whether an armed response would be effective. But administration officials are preparing for it as a possible option and using the threat “to convince them this is more and more serious,” as a senior official put it.
According to current and former officials, Pentagon and CIA planners have been exploring possible targets, such as the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan. Although a land invasion is not contemplated, military officers are weighing alternatives ranging from a limited airstrike aimed at key nuclear sites, to a more extensive bombing campaign designed to destroy an array of military and political targets.
Preparations for confrontation with Iran underscore how the issue has vaulted to the front of President Bush’s agenda even as he struggles with a relentless war in next-door Iraq. Bush views Tehran as a serious menace that must be dealt with before his presidency ends, aides said, and the White House, in its new National Security Strategy, last month labeled Iran the most serious challenge to the United States posed by any country.
Many military officers and specialists, however, view the saber rattling with alarm. A strike at Iran, they warn, would at best just delay its nuclear program by a few years but could inflame international opinion against the United States, particularly in the Muslim world and especially within Iran, while making US troops in Iraq targets for retaliation.
“My sense is that any talk of a strike is the diplomatic gambit to keep pressure on others that if they don’t help solve the problem, we will have to,” said Kori Schake, who worked on Bush’s National Security Council staff and teaches at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Others believe it is more than bluster. “The Bush team is looking at the viability of airstrikes simply because many think airstrikes are the only real option ahead,” said Kurt Campbell, a former Pentagon policy official.
The intensified discussion of military scenarios comes as the United States is working with European allies on a diplomatic solution. After tough negotiations, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement last month urging Iran to re-suspend its uranium enrichment program. But Russia and China, both veto-wielding council members, forced out any mention of consequences and are strongly resisting any sanctions.
US officials continue to pursue the diplomatic course but privately seem increasingly skeptical that it will succeed. The administration is also coming under pressure from Israel, which has warned the Bush team that Iran is closer to developing a nuclear bomb than Washington thinks and that a moment of decision is fast approaching.
Bush and his team have calibrated their rhetoric to give the impression that the United States may yet resort to force. In January, the president termed a nuclear-armed Iran “a grave threat to the security of the world,” words that echoed language he used before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Vice President Cheney vowed “meaningful consequences” if Iran does not give up any nuclear aspirations, and U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton refined the formula to “tangible and painful consequences.”
Although Bush insists he is focused on diplomacy for now, he volunteered at a public forum in Cleveland last month his readiness to use force if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tries to follow through on his statement that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”
“The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally, Israel,” Bush said. “That’s a threat, a serious threat. . . . I’ll make it clear again that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel.”
Bush has also been privately consulting with key senators about options on Iran as part of a broader goal of regime change, according to an account by Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker magazine.
The US government has taken some preliminary steps that go beyond planning. The Washington Post has reported that the military has been secretly flying surveillance drones over Iran since 2004 using radar, video, still photography and air filters to detect traces of nuclear activity not accessible to satellites. Hersh reported that US combat troops have been ordered to enter Iran covertly to collect targeting data, but sources have not confirmed that to The Post.
The British government has launched its own planning for a potential US strike, studying security arrangements for its embassy and consular offices, for British citizens and corporate interests in Iran and for ships in the region and British troops in Iraq. British officials indicate their government is unlikely to participate directly in any attacks.
Israel is preparing, as well. The government recently leaked a contingency plan for attacking on its own if the United States does not, a plan involving airstrikes, commando teams, possibly missiles and even explosives-carrying dogs. Israel, which bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 to prevent it from being used to develop weapons, has built a replica of Natanz, according to Israeli media, but US strategists do not believe Israel has the capacity to accomplish the mission without nuclear weapons.
Iran appears to be taking the threat seriously. The government, which maintains its nuclear activity is only for peaceful, civilian uses, has launched a program to reinforce key sites, such as Natanz and Isfahan, by building concrete ceilings, tunneling into mountains and camouflaging facilities. Iran lately has tested several missiles in a show of strength.
Israel points to those missiles to press their case in Washington. Israeli officials traveled here recently to convey more urgency about Iran. Although US intelligence agencies estimate Iran is about a decade away from having a nuclear bomb, Israelis believe a critical breakthrough could occur within months. They told US officials that Iran is beginning to test a more elaborate cascade of centrifuges, indicating that it is further along than previously believed.
“What the Israelis are saying is this year — unless they are pressured into abandoning the program — would be the year they will master the engineering problem,” a US official said. “That would be a turning point, but it wouldn’t mean they would have a bomb.”
But various specialists and some military officials are resisting strikes.
“The Pentagon is arguing forcefully against it because it is so constrained” in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East specialist. A former defense official who stays in touch with colleagues added, “I don’t think anybody’s prepared to use the military option at this point.”
As the administration weighs these issues, two main options are under consideration, according to one person with contacts among Air Force planners. The first would be a quick and limited strike against nuclear-related facilities accompanied by a threat to resume bombing if Iran responds with terrorist attacks in Iraq or elsewhere.
The second calls for a more ambitious campaign of bombing and cruise missiles leveling targets well beyond nuclear facilities, such as Iranian intelligence headquarters, the Revolutionary Guard and some in the government.
Any extended attack would require US forces to cripple Iran’s air defense system and air force, prepare defenses for US ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and move Navy ships to the Persian Gulf to protect shipping. US forces could launch warplanes from aircraft carriers, from the Diego Garcia island base in the Indian Ocean and, in the case of stealth bombers, from the United States. But if generals want land-based aircraft in the region, they face the uphill task of trying to persuade Turkey to allow use of the US air base at Incirlik.
Planners also are debating whether launching attacks from Iraq or using Iraqi airspace would exacerbate the political cost in the Muslim world, which would see it as proof that the United States invaded Iraq to make it a base for military conquest of the region.
Unlike the Israeli air attack on Osirak, a strike on Iran would prove more complex because Iran has spread its facilities across the country, guarded some of them with sophisticated antiaircraft batteries and shielded them underground.
Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices. The Natanz facility consists of more than two dozen buildings, including two huge underground halls built with six-foot walls and supposedly protected by two concrete roofs with sand and rocks in between, according to Edward N. Luttwak, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst. “Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it’s going to be very difficult to do.”
Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, an expert in targeting and war games who teaches at the National Defense University, recently gamed an Iran attack and identified 24 potential nuclear-related facilities, some below 50 feet of reinforced concrete and soil.
At a conference in Berlin, Gardiner outlined a five-day operation that would require 400 “aim points,” or targets for individual weapons, at nuclear facilities, at least 75 of which would require penetrating weapons. He also presumed the Pentagon would hit two chemical production plants, medium-range ballistic missile launchers and 14 airfields with sheltered aircraft. Special Operations forces would be required, he said.
Gardiner concluded that a military attack would not work, but said he believes the United States seems to be moving inexorably toward it. “The Bush administration is very close to being left with only the military option,” he said.
Others forecast a more surgical strike aimed at knocking out a single “choke point” that would disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. “The process can be broken at any point,” a senior administration official said. “But part of the risk is: We don’t know if Natanz is the only enrichment facility. We could bomb it, take the political cost and still not set them back.”
Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said a more likely target might be Isfahan, which he visited last year and which appeared lightly defended and above-ground. But he argued that any attack would only firm up Iranian resolve to develop weapons. “Whatever you do,” he said, “is almost certain to accelerate a nuclear bomb program rather than destroy it.”
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
Is Washington Planning a Military Strike against Iran?
Der Spiegel Online
GERMANY (December 31, 2005) — It’s hardly news that US President George Bush refuses to rule out possible military action against Iran if Tehran continues to pursue its controversial nuclear ambitions. But in Germany, speculation is mounting that Washington is preparing to carry out air strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear sites perhaps even as soon as early 2006.
German diplomats began speaking of the prospect two years ago — long before the Bush administration decided to give the European Union more time to convince Iran to abandon its ambitions, or at the very least put its civilian nuclear program under international controls. But the growing likelihood of the military option is back in the headlines in Germany thanks to a slew of stories that have run in the national media here over the holidays
The most talked about story is a Dec. 23 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. The story has generated controversy not only because of its material, but also because of the reporter’s past
Critics allege that Ulfkotte in his previous reporting got too close to sources at Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND. But Ulfkotte has himself noted that he has been under investigation by the government in the past (indeed, his home and offices have been searched multiple times) for allegations that he published state secrets — a charge that he claims would underscore rather than undermine the veracity of his work
According to Ulfkotte’s report, “western security sources” claim that during CIA Director Porter Goss’ Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possible 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission
DDP also reported that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan have been informed in recent weeks of Washington’s military plans. The countries, apparently, were told that air strikes were a “possible option,” but they were given no specific timeframe for the operations.
In a report published on Wednesday, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel also cited NATO intelligence sources claiming that Washington’s western allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options.
Of course, Bush has publicly stated for months that he would not take the possibility of a military strike off the table. What’s new here, however, is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year
According to DDP, during his trip to Turkey, CIA chief Goss reportedly handed over three dossiers to Turkish security officials that purportedly contained evidence that Tehran is cooperating with Islamic terror network al-Qaida. A further dossier is said to contain information about the current status of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
Sources in German security circles told the DDP reporter that Goss had ensured Ankara that the Turkish government would be informed of any possible air strikes against Iran a few hours before they happened. The Turkish government has also been given the “green light” to strike camps of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iran on the day in question
The DDP report attributes the possible escalation to the recent anti-Semitic rants by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose belligerent verbal attacks on Israel (he described the Holocaust as a “myth” and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”) have strengthened the view of the American government that, in the case of the nuclear dispute, there’s little likelihood Tehran will back down and that the mullahs are just attempting to buy time by continuing talks with the Europeans
The German wire service also quotes a high-ranking German military official saying: “I would be very surprised if the Americans, in the mid-term, didn’t take advantage of the opportunity delivered by Tehran. The Americans have to attack Iran before the country can develop nuclear weapons. After that would be too late”.
Despite the wave of recent reports, it’s naturally difficult to assess whether the United States has any concrete plans to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. In a January 2005 report in the New Yorker, US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed that clandestine American commando groups had already infiltrated Iran in order to mark potential military targets.
At the time, the Bush administration did not dispute Hersh’s reporting — it merely sought to minimize its impact. In Washington, word circulated that the article was filled with “inaccurate statements.” But no one rejected the core reporting behind the article. Bush himself explicitly stated he would not rule out the “option of war.”
So is the region now on the verge of a military strike or even a war? In Berlin, the issue is largely being played down. During his inaugural visit with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington last week, the possibility of a US air strike against Iran “hadn’t been an issue,” for new German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Spiegel Online.
But the string of visits by high-profile US politicians to Turkey and surrounding reports are drawing new attention to the issue. In recent weeks, the number of American and NATO security officials heading to Ankara has increased dramatically. Within a matter of only days, the FBI chief, then the CIA chief and, most recently, NATO General Secretary Jaap De Hoop Scheffer visited the Turkish capital. During her visit to Europe earlier this month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also traveled to Turkey after a stopover in Berlin.
Leading the chorus of speculation are Turkish newspapers, which have also sought to connect these visits to plans for an attack on Iran. But so far none of the speculation has been based on hard facts. Writing about the meeting between Porter Goss and Tayyip Erdogan, the left-nationalist newspaper Cumhuriyet wrote: “Now It’s Iran’s Turn.” But the paper didn’t offer any evidence to corroborate the claims.
Instead, the paper noted that the meeting between the CIA chief and Erdogan lasted longer than an hour — an unusual amount of time, especially considering Goss had previously met with the head of Turkey’s intelligence service, the MIT. The Turkish media concluded that the meetings must have dealt with a very serious matter — but they failed to uncover exactly what it was.
Most media speculated that Erdogan and Goss might have discussed a common initiative against the PKK in northern Iraq. It’s possible that Goss demanded secret Turkish intelligence on Iran in exchange. Regardless what the prospects are for a strike, there’s little chance a US air strike against Iran would be launched from its military base in the Turkish city of Incirlik, but it is conceivable that the United States would inform Turkey prior to any strike.
Until now the government in Ankara has viewed US military activities in the region at best with skepticism and at worst with open condemnation. At the beginning of 2003, Ankara even attempted to prevent an American ground offensive in northern Iraq against the Saddam regime. A still-irritated Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly blamed military problems in Iraq on the fact that this second front was missing.
Two weeks ago, Yasar Buyukanit, the commander of the Turkish army and probable future chief of staff of the country’s armed forces, flew to Washington. After the visit he made a statement that relations between the Turkish army and the American army were once again on an excellent footing. Buyukanit’s warm and fuzzy words, contrasted greatly with his past statements that if the United States and the Kurds in northern Iraq proved incapable of containing the PKK in the Kurd-dominated northern part of the country and preventing it from attacking Turkey, Buyukanit would march into northern Iraq himself.
At the same time, Ankara has little incentive to show a friendly face to Tehran — Turkish-Iranian relations have long been icy. For years now, Tehran has criticized Turkey for maintaining good relations with Israel and even cooperating with the Israeli army. Yet despite those ties to Israel, Ahmadinejad’s recent anti-Israeli outbursts were reported far less extensively in Turkey than in Europe.
Still, Erdogan has been demonstrably friendly towards Israel recently — as evidenced by Erdogan’s recent phone call to Ariel Sharon, congratulating the prime minister on his recent recovery from heart surgery. In the past, relations between Erdogan and Sharon have been reserved, but recently the two have grown closer. Nevertheless, Turkey’s government has distanced itself from Sharon’s threats to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon on his own if nobody else steps up to the task.
The Turkish government has also repeatedly stated that it opposes military action against both Iran and Syria. The key political motivation here is that — at least when it comes to the Kurdish question — Turkey, Syria and Iran all agree on one thing: they are opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. But if the United States moves forward with an attack against Iran, Turkey will have no choice but to jump on board — either as an active or passive partner.
It’s a scenario that has Erdogan and his military in a state of deep unease. After all, even experts in the West are skeptical of whether a military intervention against nuclear installations in Iran could succeed. The more likely scenario is that an attack aiming to stop Iran’s nuclear program could instead simply bolster support for Ahmadinejad in the region.
Pentagon Prepares for Military Strikes against Iran<
Peter Symonds / World Socialist Web Site
USA (14 February 2006) — An article in last weekend’s edition of the Sunday Telegraph in Britain confirms that the US is drawing up plans for air and missile strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. Long-distance B2 bombers, each carrying up to 20 tonnes of precision bombs and flying from bases in the US, would “most likely” be involved.
“Central Command and Strategic Command planners are identifying targets, assessing weapon-loads and working on logistics for an operation, the Sunday Telegraph has learned. They are reporting to the office of Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, as America updates plans for action if the diplomatic offensive fails to thwart the Islamic republic’s nuclear bomb ambitions,” the article stated.
According to the senior Pentagon adviser, who spoke to the newspaper, the strikes would be “a last resort” to prevent Tehran proceeding with its nuclear programs. But he made clear that the military planning was not simply routine. “This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment. This has taken on much greater urgency in recent months,” he said.
The Sunday Telegraph report has not been denied by the White House, indicating that the information was probably leaked deliberately. Questioned about the article on ABC News, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated: “The President never takes any of his options off the table… But there is a diplomatic solution. Now we are in the [UN] Security Council, there are many steps that the Security Council can take… to help enforce IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] requirements on Iran.”
The IAEA governing council voted on February 4 to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible punitive measures over its alleged breaches of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, any discussion in the Security Council was delayed until early March to allow for further negotiations with Tehran.
The immediate effect of the Pentagon’s provocative leak will be to further inflame tensions with Iran and make a negotiated end to the confrontation less likely. The Iranian regime has branded the IAEA decision illegal and declared it will restart uranium enrichment research. Tehran insists that its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes and asserts its right under the NPT to develop all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment.
But as Rice’s comments indicate, the purpose of the Sunday Times article is as much to put pressure on the other permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, France, Russia and China — as on Iran. The none-too-subtle message is: if the UN Security Council fails to take tough measures against Tehran, Washington is prepared to attack Iran, unilaterally if necessary.
Washington’s aggressive stance is not primarily motivated by concerns about Iran’s nuclear programs, but is aimed at asserting US predominance in the resource-rich region against its European and Asian rivals.
Economic sanctions or a military strike against Tehran would not directly impact on US interests as Washington has maintained an economic blockade since the fall of Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979. But the EU, Russia, China and Japan, which have developed significant economic relations with Iran, would all be seriously affected.
Any US military action would not only lead to the slaughter of innocent Iranian lives, but would further destabilise an already volatile Middle East. A study released yesterday by the British-based thinktank, Oxford Research Group, estimated that hundreds of civilians would be killed in the initial bombing wave on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It suggested that the Pentagon would deliberately aim “to kill as many of the technically competent staff as possible, therefore doing the greatest damage to longer-term [nuclear] prospects.”
The report entitled “Iran: Consequences of a War” made the obvious point that any US attack would not be limited to Iran’s nuclear facilities, but would have to include air defences, command and control centres and other military targets so as to weaken Iran’s ability to retaliate. It predicted that thousands of Iranian military personnel would be killed in the first wave of attacks.
Nor would it end there. If Iran sought to rebuild its nuclear facilities, the US would be compelled to attack again leading to “a highly dangerous cycle of violence” that could spread throughout the region. The study, which opposed a US military strike, warned of “a protracted military confrontation that would probably involve Iraq, Israel and Lebanon, as well as the United States and Iran, with the possibility of the west Gulf states being involved as well.”
All of these consequences are as evident to Pentagon planners as to the British thinktank. Yet that has not deterred Washington leaking plans for a military attack on Iran that would be just as reckless and criminal as the US-led invasion of neighbouring Iraq in 2003. Of course, such an assault is by no means certain, but there is a certain political logic to events.
The theocratic regime in Tehran, which is whipping up nationalist fervour to bolster its own weak position, has shown no signs of backing down. At a large rally in Tehran on Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted that Iran may pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether. Tehran has also indefinitely postponed talks in Moscow to discuss a compromise for a joint uranium enrichment plant on Russian soil, effectively scuttling Russian efforts to defuse the issue.
As a result, it is likely that Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council at the next meeting of the IAEA governing council on March 6. While military action is not on the agenda, the US is pushing for the UN to impose punitive economic sanctions. China, Russia and other European countries will no doubt attempt to stall, but as in the past are unlikely to risk a confrontation with the US. The Bush administration, on the other hand, has no qualms about threatening, and if need be carrying out, the most reckless actions to achieve its ends.
In Washington, news that the Pentagon is preparing plans for military strikes against Iran failed to provoke any critical comment from the Democratic Party, indicating its tacit acceptance of Bush’s stated position that all options — that is including the military one — are on the table.
The only criticism of the Bush administration’s stance comes from the extreme rightwing — the so-called neo-conservatives — who scathingly dismiss Rice’s diplomatic efforts and call for a democratic crusade to bring about “regime change” in Iran — as in Iraq.
In a comment entitled “It’s the Regime, Stupid” in the Washington Post on January 30, arch-conservative Robert Kagan dismissed an air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as ineffective. Pointing to the danger of Iranian retaliation, he declared: “Unless we were prepared to escalate, ultimately to the point of taking down the regime, we could end up in worse shape than when we began.”
Kagan’s solution was to covertly support opposition to bring down the regime—an Iranian version of the US-backed so-called colour revolutions in the Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon.
But, as he pointedly added: “if this or the next administration decides it is too dangerous to wait for political change, then the answer will have to be an invasion, not merely an air and missile strike, to put an end to Iran’s nuclear program as well as to its regime.”
Despite the quagmire that the American military has created in Iraq, there is clearly support in the US political establishment for another reckless military adventure in neighbouring Iran. The article in the Sunday Telegraph indicates that preparations are already well underway.
• US bullies IAEA into reporting Iran to the UN Security Council [6 February 2006]
• The political issues behind the Iranian nuclear confrontation [21 January 2006]
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