Iran is coming under increasing pressure over its nuclear ambitions.
The West has offered new incentives to coax Iran into halting uranium
enrichment, while the European Union has levied new economic
sanctions. As VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports, hovering over the
diplomatic process is the implied threat of military action.
Bush administration continues to maintain the Iran nuclear issue can be
resolved diplomatically. But the threat of military action, while
never explicitly stated, appears to hang over the diplomatic
maneuvering. Talk of an attack on Iran, which seemed to ebb and flow
in recent months, has again surfaced.
Details of a recent
military exercise by the Israeli air force were leaked to U.S. and
British newspapers, and unnamed U.S. and Israeli officials were quoted
as saying the maneuvers appeared to be a possible dress rehearsal for
air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Some analysts believe the Israeli exercises were aimed at putting pressure on the United States to act against Iran.
Iran affairs analyst at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service,
Ken Katzman, says Israel is getting increasingly impatient over the
failure to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
Israel is getting progressively more serious by the day, and that has
to be factored in. I think, Israel is trying to say, 'Well, somebody
better do something. Otherwise, we are going to have to do it. So why
do not you all go ahead and do it?' I mean, I think Israel is
basically signaling that something is going to have to start working
very soon," he said.
Military analysts say Israel cannot strike
Iran without American cooperation. A former senior State Department
intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, Wayne White,
points out that Iran is out of the range of Israeli bombers, at least
without midair refueling.
"The Israelis at that range have a
problem. Their [air] strike package is limited. And they would be
able to hit certain key nodes of the nuclear infrastructure, but they
would not really be able to take it out to a degree that it would be
set back many years," he said.
An analysis by the private
intelligence firm Stratfor says midair refueling would in all
likelihood have to take place over Iraq, and Iraqi airspace is still
under U.S. control. That means, Stratfor says, that the United States
would be complicit, even if the official version was that it was a
unilateral Israeli strike.
Most analysts concur that attacking
Iran would not be a matter of a one-time strike against its nuclear
facilities, as Israel did in Iraq in 1981 and more recently in Syria.
U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen is
headed to Israel, where a Pentagon spokesman says he will discuss Iran
with Israeli officials, but that that would be one of many issues under
review. The spokesman emphasized a preference for diplomatic and
economic pressures over military options.
Institute for Near East Policy just published a paper called "The Last
Resort". It is the first policy paper by a major non-governmental U.S.
research institution to publicly examine the strategy and consequences
of what it calls preventive military action against Iran.
forum introducing the paper, co-author Michael Eisenstadt, emphasized
that they do not advocate what he calls "preventive military action"
against Iran. But should it occur, he added, it is likely to be a
"Prevention would entail significant
challenges, significant uncertainties, and probably would require
multiple strikes over time, if it is to impose significant damage and
delay on Iran's program, because different aspects of its
infrastructure are running on a different timeline, and because
presumably there is a good chance they will try to rebuild. And,
therefore, to ensure the success of the policy, you might have to hit
again," he said.
Wayne White, now with the Middle East
Institute, says hitting the nuclear facilities would not happen in a
"We know that the op [operations] plan calls for a huge
aerial campaign of 1,500 to 2,000 sorties [aerial missions], which
probably in its early stages would be not hitting the nuclear targets.
It would be taking out all of Iran's retaliatory capabilities in the
Gulf - anti-ship missiles, the air force, submarines, stuff like that -
in order to make sure they do not fire back and start hammering the
Gulf states or our fleet units and things like that," he said.
says success of an aerial campaign cannot be judged merely on the
physical damage inflicted. "To measure the success of the policy, the
criteria, the real factor, is whether Iran decides to rebuild or not.
That is really the crucial consideration," he said.
such an outcome is far from assured, and that an attack may only
re-inforce Iran's ambitions to be a nuclear-weapons power.
Iranians may be taking a lot of lab equipment, a lot of expertise,
planning, things that they can take away, and pocketing it somewhere
for the very purpose of reconstituting and going for a nuclear weapon
if they are hit," he said.
Analysts add that Iran could
retaliate in any number of ways, including through terrorist attacks on
U.S. and Israeli civilian targets and attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.