There is a possibility that the United States may launch a military attack on Iran in a few weeks.
The US Government sees the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons as greater than the threat presented by any other country in the world. If the US administration had any concrete confirmation that the Iranian Government is developing nuclear weapons, or proof that any high-casualty attack on US forces in Iraq could be blamed on Iran, then some say Bush may attack within 24 hours. Others, such as former United Nation’s Chief Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter, believe there is an 80 per cent chance the United States will go to war with Iran by June. According to US President Bush’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates, “all options are on the table”.
Yet Bush denies that he has plans for war. Salient feature writer Dave Crampton finds that not everyone believes Bush. Some consider that a war in Iran is imminent. Others say that talk of war is alarmist and it is unlikely that America will overtly use military force after the fiasco in Iraq.
The Pentagon has always maintained that there are no plans to attack Iran. “To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous”, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters last month. Yet at the same time military sources told the New Statesman, on condition of anonymity, that the US military switched its focus to Iran as soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of Baghdad. The New Statesman also revealed that the US army, navy, air force and marines have all prepared battle plans and spent four years building bases and training for “Operation Iranian Freedom”. Admiral Fallon, the new head of US Central Command, has inherited computerised plans under the name TIRANNT (Theatre Iran Near Term). This involves examining both long and short term scenarios for war with Iran, including all aspects of a major combat operation; from mobilisation and deployment of forces to post-war stability operations after the regime change.
Ritter, who was involved in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said that it will be a repeat performance unless Congress steps in and stops the funding. “Don’t believe the BS that you get out of Washington. [Robert Gates] says all options are on the table, but the president has already made up his mind.”
Bush may or may not have made up his mind, but indications point to an impending war. He has said that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq in order to kill US soldiers. In a press conference on February 14, Bush said the Quds force, a paramilitary arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was supplying weapons to Iraq. “Whether [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds force to do this, I don’t think we know. But we do know that they’re there, and I intend to do something about it.”
Raymond Tanter of the Iran Policy Group responded “President Bush tends to speak hot rhetoric, and not follow up with cool actions. I think he’s going to have to close that gap, he’s losing credibility.”
Seymour Hersh, an influential yet controversial investigative reporter at the New Yorker, believes that Bush should come clean about his intentions. Hersh revealed a few weeks ago that a special planning group was established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to create a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within 24 hours. Secret operations are being funded by Saudi Arabia to avoid scrutiny by Congress.
“There are many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions”, says Hersh, reportedly quoting a Pentagon consultant. He has alleged – almost entirely through anonymous Government sources – that the US has formulated plans for an air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The Bush administration publicly denied this.
Peter Cozens, Director of Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Studies, believes Hersh’s ideas are not always factual. “He’s an extremely provocative journalist who must cause the President a great deal of heartburn. He is very persuasive and offers some alarmist views.”
Cozens believes that there is no evidence that the Iranians are supporting the Shiite insurgency in Iraq and says it is highly unlikely that America would overtly attack Iran. “It would cause such an outrage among US citizens. American people are so hostile to what’s happening in Iraq; if the current administration were to attack Iran – it would bring the Government down.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly proclaimed last month, that Iran has obtained the technology to produce nuclear fuel. However Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quickly responded that Iran would face growing sanctions and international isolation if it continues on its present course.
According to a January 10 speech delivered by Bush (where he also announced a “surge” of 21,500 troops to Iraq), any attacks on Iran will be to stabilise and defend the territorial integrity of Iraq in the face of extremist challenges. They are not alone as Syria is also high on Bush’s hit list. “These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria and we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq”.
In other words, the US is justified in attacking Iran, in the name of self-defence. Yet offensive military action against Iran would be illegal, as the US is bound under the United Nations Charter to settle international disputes by peaceful means.
But will that stop Bush? Indications are that the extra troops sent to Iraq were not merely to boost troops, but to provide leverage in Iran. Just last week Bush’s administration announced that up to 9000 further troops were earmarked for Iraq. After the January speech National Broadcasting Corporation’s Washington bureau chief Tim Russert reported that Bush and his top advisers had told a small group of journalists that the US would not sit down with Iran until the US had gained “leverage”.
Flynt Leverett, a former Bush administration National Security Council official, told Hersh last month that there is nothing new, coincidental, or ironic about the strategy with regard to Iran. “The administration is trying to make a case that Iran poses a threat to American interests in Iraq, when – if you look at the actual casualty numbers – the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude.
This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the administration will have an open door to strike at them.”
But that does not mean an invasion, according to former Pentagon staffer and Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski.
“I don’t think there’s any intention to go into Iran,” she recently told Truthdig.com. The former air force worker does not think the army could support any type of invasion of Iran – nor would it want to. She considers any attack will be from the air.
“I’m sure that they’ve had enough with Iraq and our reserves are in terrible condition. We want to topple that government, [but] we’ll do it with bombs from a distance. There’ll be navy [attacks] from the sea and air force [attacks] from long range bombers. It will not be a surprise to the Iranians if we do it.”
Yet Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last month that he didn’t know how many times he, President Bush, and Condoleezza Rice have had to repeat that the US has no intention of attacking Iran. However, commentators like Hersh do not believe them – and why should they when Bush has spoken similarly about Iraq. “I have no plans to attack [Iraq] on my desk”, he said in April 2002. That’s because he reportedly put the plans on someone else’s desk – former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield – a few months earlier, but neglected to reveal that at the time. On 16 October 2002, President Bush told the American people that “I have not ordered the use of force. I hope that the use of force will not become necessary.” Yet by late August 2002, as Ritter revealed, Bush had signed off orders authorising the US military to begin active military operations inside Iraq.
Between March and April 2002 Bush asked Rumsfield what kind of war plans he had for Iraq. Now people are wondering what war plans he has for Iran. Is he planning a war in Iran to divert attention from the war in Iraq? Well, he may have been planning for a while. Seymour Hersh disclosed in the New Yorker last year that American bombers have been flying simulated nuclear weapons delivery missions for more than a year.
However, if the US were to invade Iran, that would give Iran the excuse it needs to state that these nuclear weapons were for defensive military purposes.
Some observers have said that Bush’s invasion of Iraq has actually spurred Iran to hasten development of their nuclear weapons programme to keep the US at arm’s length. Bush wants Iran to abandon its weapons manufacturing as much as Iran want to manufacture these weapons. Yet Bush can’t afford to invade Iran without consideration, particularly after facing severe internal criticism for attacking Iraq.
Parsons thinks the war in Iraq is bringing somewhat of a change on US policy and perception in what the US can and cannot achieve. “Take the fiasco that is Iraq, you’ve got a real weakening of hardline neocons in the US administration. They are being chastised by their experience in Iraq. They can invade Iran tomorrow but what would be the consequence; what would the fallout be? You can’t be certain that the Iran regime would be weakened – it could be strengthened.”
Parsons believes that Bush wants Iran to fear an attack, but do they? “That’s a good question, I think that the Iranians believe that the US has the capacity. The fiasco of Iraq has made the US pause for thought…but it could still happen.”