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Leak: Iran Attack Starts With Israeli Strike

Leak: Iran Attack Starts With Israeli Strike

Spiegel
October 26, 2007

Washington society has been chattering about the risk of war with Tehran. It’s an open secret that Vice President Dick Cheney has made bombing plans, but even high-ranking military experts think an attack would lead to world economic chaos, or even what George W. Bush calls ‘World War III.’


A member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard fires a rocket during a maneuver in a central desert area of Iran in 2006.

US Vice President Dick Cheney — the power behind the throne, the eminence grise, the man with the (very) occasional grandfatherly smile — is notorious for his propensity for secretiveness and behind-the-scenes manipulation. He’s capable of anything, say friends as well as enemies. Given this reputation, it’s no big surprise that Cheney has already asked for a backroom analysis of how a war with Iran might begin.

In the scenario concocted by Cheney’s strategists, Washington’s first step would be to convince Israel to fire missiles at Iran’s uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. Tehran would retaliate with its own strike, providing the US with an excuse to attack military targets and nuclear facilities in Iran.

This information was leaked by an official close to the vice president. Cheney himself hasn’t denied engaging in such war games. For years, in fact, he’s been open about his opinion that an attack on Iran, a member of US President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” is inevitable.

Given these not-too-secret designs, Democrats and Republicans alike have wondered what to make of the still mysterious Israeli bombing run in Syria on Sept. 6. Was it part of an existing war plan? A test run, perhaps? For days after the attack, one question dominated conversation at Washington receptions: How great is the risk of war, really?

Grandiose Plans, East and West

In the September strike, Israeli bombers were likely targeting a nuclear reactor under construction, parts of which are alleged to have come from North Korea. It is possible that key secretaries in the Bush cabinet even tried to stop Israel. To this day, the administration has neither confirmed nor commented on the attack.

Nevertheless, in Washington, Israel’s strike against Syria has revived the specter of war with Iran. For the neoconservatives it could represent a glimmer of hope that the grandiose dream of a democratic Middle East has not yet been buried in the ashes of Iraq. But for realists in the corridors of the State Department and the Pentagon, military action against Iran is a nightmare they have sought to avert by asking a simple question: “What then?”

The Israeli strike, or something like it, could easily mark the beginning of the “World War III,” which President Bush warned against last week. With his usual apocalyptic rhetoric, he said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could lead the region to a new world war if his nation builds a nuclear bomb.

Conditions do look ripe for disaster. Iran continues to acquire and develop the fundamental prerequisites for a nuclear weapon. The mullah regime receives support — at least moral support, if not technology — from a newly strengthened Russia, which these days reaches for every chance to provoke the United States. President Vladimir Putin’s own (self-described) “grandiose plan” to restore Russia’s armed forces includes a nuclear buildup. The war in Iraq continues to drag on without an end in sight or even an opportunity for US troops to withdraw in a way that doesn’t smack of retreat. In Afghanistan, NATO troops are struggling to prevent a return of the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists. The Palestinian conflict could still reignite on any front.

In Washington, Bush has 15 months left in office. He may have few successes to show for himself, but he’s already thinking of his legacy. Bush says he wants diplomacy to settle the nuclear dispute with Tehran, and hopes international pressure will finally convince Ahmadinejad to come to his senses. Nevertheless, the way pressure has been building in Washington, preparations for war could be underway.

In late September, the US Senate voted to declare the 125,000-man Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. High-ranking US generals have accused Iran of waging a “proxy war” against the United States through its support of Shiite militias in Iraq. And strategists at the Pentagon, apparently at Cheney’s request, have developed detailed plans for an attack against Tehran.

Instead of the previous scenario of a large-scale bombardment of the country’s many nuclear facilities, the current emphasis is, once again, on so-called surgical strikes, primarily against the quarters of the Revolutionary Guards. This sort of attack would be less massive than a major strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Conservative think tanks and pundits who sense this could be their last chance to implement their agenda in the Middle East have supported and disseminated such plans in the press. Despite America’s many failures in Iraq, these hawks have urged the weakened president to act now, accusing him of having lost sight of his principal agenda and no longer daring to apply his own doctrine of pre-emptive strikes.

Sheer Lunacy?

The notion of war with Iran has spilled over into other circles, too. Last Monday Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, made it clear that the president would first need Congressional approval to launch an attack. Meanwhile, Republican candidates for the White House have debated whether they would even allow such details to get in their way. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said he would consult his attorneys to determine whether the US Constitution does, in fact, require a president to ask for Congressional approval before going to war. Vietnam veteran John McCain said war with Iran was “maybe closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.”

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has also adopted a hawkish stance, voting in favor of the Senate measure to classify the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Her rivals criticized Clinton for giving the administration a blank check to go to war.

The US military is building a base in Iraq less than 10 kilometers (about six miles) from Iran’s border. The facility, known as Combat Outpost Shocker, is meant for American soldiers preventing Iranian weapons from being smuggled into Iraq. But it’s also rumored that Bush authorized US intelligence agencies in April to run sabotage missions against the mullah regime on Iranian soil.

Gary Sick is an expert on Iran who served as a military adviser under three presidents. He believes that such preparations mark a significant shift in the government’s strategy. “Since August,” says Sick, “the emphasis is no longer on the Iranian nuclear threat,” but on Iran’s support for terrorism in Iraq. “This is a complete change and is potentially dangerous.”

It would be relatively easy for Bush to prove that Tehran, by supporting insurgents in Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. It might be harder to prove that Iran’s nuclear plans pose an immediate threat to the world. Besides, the nuclear argument is reminiscent of an embarrassing precedent, when the Bush administration used the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction — which he didn’t — as a reason to invade Iraq. Even if the evidence against Tehran proves to be more damning, the American public will find it difficult to swallow this argument again.

The forces urging a diplomatic resolution also look stronger than they were before Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants the next step to be a third round of even tighter sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council. Rice has powerful allies at the Pentagon: Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral William Fallon, head of US Central Command, which is responsible for American forces throughout the region.

Rice and her cohorts all favor diplomacy, partly because they know the military is under strain. After four years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US lacks manpower for another major war, especially one against a relatively well-prepared adversary. “For many senior people at the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department, a war would be sheer lunacy,” says security expert Sick.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and now a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, agrees. A war against Tehran would be “a disaster for the entire world,” says Riedel, who worries about a “battlefield extending from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent.” Nevertheless, he believes there is a “realistic risk of a military conflict,” because both sides look willing to carry things to the brink.

On the one hand, says Riedel, Iran is playing with fire, challenging the West by sending weapons to Shiite insurgents in Iraq. On the other hand, hotheads in Washington are by no means powerless. Although many neoconservative hawks have left the Bush administration, Cheney remains their reliable partner. “The vice president is the closest adviser to the president, and a dominant figure,” says Riedel. “One shouldn’t underestimate how much power he still wields.”

‘Is it 1938 Again?’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran last week also played into the hands of hardliners in Washington, who read it as proof that Putin isn’t serious about joining the West’s effort to convince Tehran to abandon its drive for a nuclear weapon. Moreover, the countries bordering the Caspian Sea, including Central Asian nations Washington has courted energetically in recent years, have said they would not allow a war against Tehran to be launched from their territory.

Cheney derives much of his support from hawks outside the administration who fear their days are as numbered as the President’s. “The neocons see Iran as their last chance to prove something,” says analyst Riedel. This aim is reflected in their tone. Conservative columnist Norman Podhoretz, for example — a father figure to all neocons — wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he “hopes and prays” that Bush will finally bomb Iran. Podhoretz sees the United States engaged in a global war against “Islamofascism,” a conflict he defines as World War IV, and he likens Iran to Nazi Germany. “Is it 1938 again?” he asks in a speech he repeats regularly at conferences.

Podhoretz is by no means an eccentric outsider. He now serves as a senior foreign-policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani. President Bush has also met with Podhoretz at the White House to hear his opinions.

Nevertheless, most experts in Washington warn against attacking Tehran. They assume the Iranians would retaliate. “It would be foolish to believe surgical strikes will be enough,” says Riedel, who believes that precision attacks would quickly escalate to war.

Former presidential adviser Sick thinks Iran would strike back with terrorist attacks. “The generals of the Revolutionary Guard have had several years to think about asymmetrical warfare,” says Sick. “They probably have a few rather interesting ideas.”

According to Sick, detonating well-placed bombs at oil terminals in the Persian Gulf would be enough to wreak havoc. “Insurance costs would skyrocket, causing oil prices to triple and triggering a global recession,” Sick warns. “The economic consequences would be enormous, far greater than anything we have experienced with Iraq so far.”

Because the catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran are obvious, many in Washington have a fairly benign take on the current round of saber rattling. They believe the sheer dread of war is being used to bolster diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis and encourage hesitant members of the United Nations Security Council to take more decisive action. The Security Council, this argument goes, will be more likely to approve tighter sanctions if it believes that war is the only alternative.

 

Pentagon Chief Calls Iran Planning Routine

Reuters
October 25, 2007

OVER THE NORTH SEA (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday characterized U.S. military planning for a strike on Iran as “routine”.

“I would characterize it as routine,” Gates told reporters on a flight en route to Washington, when asked about any U.S. planning for military action against Iran.

The Pentagon plans for hundreds of potential scenarios that could involve military force in a variety of roles ranging from offensive operations to disaster response.


Tensions between Washington and Iran have climbed this year. The United States and others accuse Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons under cover of a peaceful nuclear energy program.

The United States also accuses Iran of providing weapons, training and other support to insurgents in Iraq.

Iran has denied those charges.

Gates said the United States was focused on diplomatic and economic pressure against Iran.

“The focus that we all have is on using diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to persuade the Iranian government that they are isolated, they need to alter their policies and ambitions,” he said.

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NY Sun: ’Attack On Iran Said To Be Imminent’

Right-Wing New York Sun Declares: ‘Attack On Iran Said To Be Imminent’

Think Progress
September 28, 2007

The New York Sun, a reliable neoconservative outlet that has advocated for a Dick Cheney presidential campaign, declares today: “Attack on Iran Said To Be Imminent.” The article’s lead states:

In a sign that U.N. Security Council-based diplomacy is losing steam, a number of sources are reporting that a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities may be imminent. France and America also are pushing for tighter economic sanctions against Tehran, without U.N. approval.

Yesterday’s edition of Le Canard Enchaîné, a French weekly known for its investigative journalism, reported details of an alleged Israeli-American plan to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The frontpage headline read: “A report sent to the Elysée — Putin tells Tehran: They’re going to bomb you!”

Ironically, the right-wing clamor for war is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here’s why:

– The success of the right-wing’s push for military action hinges on establishing that the U.N. Security Council can’t stop Iran’s nuclear program. As the Sun notes, the U.S. and French are already considering an effort to proceed “without U.N. approval,” in essence forming a “coalition of the willing” that ignores the U.N. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

– Russia and China, both members of the permanent five, have rebuffed efforts to increase sanctions on Iran, fearing that they “will be exploited to support a U.S. policy of regime change or military action.”

– That fear, precipitated by right-wing rhetoric, then inhibits the U.N.’s ability to agree on sanctions that could be used “to increase the pressure on Tehran to comply with the Security Council’s demand to suspend uranium enrichment.” The failure to instill a new sanctions regime then allows the administration to push for confrontation.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said this week: “Definitely what we are seeing is a confrontation in the making.”

And if the Bush administration can’t establish the need to go to war based on the threat of a nuclear Iran, it appears appears ready to claim that Iran’s cross-border activity in Iraq may justify military action. On that front, Congress — not wanting to appear weak — is facilitating the administration’s case.

Glenn Greenwald writes the “virtual refusal of senior military officials to permit a war with Iran” may be all that stands in the Bush administration’s way.

UPDATE: The AP writes today, “In a setback for the United States, Iran won a two-month reprieve from new U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program on Friday. The Bush administration and its European allies ceded to Russian and Chinese demands to give Tehran more time to address international concerns. … The decision marks another blow for Washington in its diplomatic struggle to toughen existing U.N. sanctions on Iran.”

 

‘Combat Outpost Shocker:’ The base that could spark Iran conflict

Raw Story
September 28 2007

The US military is building a base in Iraq just five miles from the border with Iran to prevent cross-border arms smuggling. The base, called “Combat Outpost Shocker,” will be manned by 200 soldiers, along with agents from the US Border Patrol, and will monitor truck traffic and cellphone conversations among Shi’ite pilgrims.

“Obviously, [the Iranians] probably won’t be very happy about it,” Col. Mark Mueller, the commander of the border transition team, told ABC News.

Border security has been essentially ignored since the US invasion of Iraq, but the establishment of the base at this time is also seen as targeting what the US claims are Iranian attempts to smuggle advanced arms to Iraqi insurgents. The Associated Press, however, concludes that it is likely to be a drop in the bucket when dealing with a 900-mile long border where smuggling is a centuries-old way of life.

In a telephone conversation with RAW STORY earlier this month, Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at New America Foundation and publisher of The Washington Note said his gravest concern surrounding Iran was that the US might seize on an accidental incident — such as a collision between a US and Iranian ship or a border skirmish between Iraq and Iran — as a casus belli.

“A mistake in the Gulf where ships collide or US soldiers are attacked or Israel fires a low-level cruise missile attack against Natanz or there’s a border skirmish between Iraq and Iran that results in the death of a high-ranking military or diplomatic official – any of these could spark a conflict,” he said.

He also says Bush has deviated from a Cheney-laid track to launch a first-strike on Iran, citing, as examples, frustrations that the vice president’s aides are airing, a conversation with a journalist who sat in on a December 2006 strategy meeting, and private conversations with high-level foreign policy players.

The following video is from ABC’s World News, broadcast on September 25.

Watch Video

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Military Opens Camp on Iranian Border

Military Opens Camp on Iranian Border

ABC News
September 25, 2007

Iran’s role with the violence in Iraq remains a major preoccupation of the Bush administration, with the U.S. military now building a base, practically within shouting distance of Iran — an extraordinary step to curb what it says is the smuggling of advanced weapons into Iraq.

It will be called Combat Outpost Shocker, and it will hardly come as a pleasant surprise to Iran that the United States will have a new base just 5 miles from their border. Col. Mark Mueller, of the 3rd Infantry Division, said it is the first time the U.S. military will be that close to Iran.

“Obviously, they probably won’t be very happy about it,” Mueller told ABC’s Terry McCarthy.

The U.S. accuses Iran of fighting a proxy war in Iraq, as it smuggles sophisticated roadside bombs and long range rockets into the region that kill Iraqis and American troops.

“While claiming to support Iraq in its transition, Iran has actively undermined it by providing lethal capabilities to the enemies of the Iraqi state,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker said during his testimony on the state of the war to Congress Sept. 10.

Struggle for Influence in Iraq

The Shocker base will be home to about 200 soldiers, as well as to agents from the U.S. Border Patrol, at a location where about 300 trucks now cross the border each day.

At the moment, the United States can only fully search three or four of them each day, but with more manpower and technology, they will know better where to look for weapons transactions.

“As we get more coalition capability down here, we’ll be able to develop some of that capability,” explained Mueller. “We can get some of the cell phone conversations between the buyer and the seller, times, types of trucks. We’re getting better at that all the time.”

The new base is part of a bigger struggle for influence between the United States and Iran in Iraq.

In the past year, U.S. troops have detained at least 17 Iranians in Iraq for alleged weapons smuggling.

And while the United States and Iran are not engaged in a shooting war, a war of wills has already begun, and Combat Outpost Shocker will be right on the frontline.