There has been wide-ranging debate in Washington and the Middle East
recently regarding the possibility of a military attack on Iran's
nuclear program. The war of words between the United States, Israel
and Iran has escalated and has military and political experts
considering the consequences. VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel has more
in this background report from Washington.
Top officials in the
White House and Pentagon believe Iran is continuing on a path to build
nuclear weapons, but estimates vary on when Tehran could complete the
components for an actual bomb.
World powers have been pressing
Iran to stop its uranium-enrichment program and have offered a new set
of incentives for the Tehran government to back away from a plan that
could lead to nuclear weapons.
U.S. President George Bush has
repeatedly committed to diplomacy as the first choice to curb Iran's
nuclear program, but he has also consistently declined to rule out the
use of military force.
"I have always said that all options are
on the table," said President Bush. "But the first option for the
United States is to solve this problem diplomatically."
Debate on the issue of a military campaign against Iran skyrocketed in recent weeks and the rhetoric is getting hotter.
one is advancing a timetable for military action, but former State
Department official Elizabeth Cheney, a daughter of the vice president,
says the United States will not tolerate a nuclear Iran.
not live with it," she said. "It is an existential threat to Israel.
It is a significant threat to American national security."
While military action against Iran is being debated, other activity has been underway in the Middle East.
and allied naval forces just concluded a series of military exercises
in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet says
the drill was aimed at protecting oil installations.
Iranian official recently threatened to shutdown strategic oil shipping
lanes and Iran's Revolutionary Guards are also engaged in highly
visible training maneuvers.
Tehran is also testing ballistic
missiles and Iranian officials say some of those weapons could reach
Israel and other U.S. allies in the region.
Last month, the
Israeli Air Force carried out large-scale exercises that were believed
by many analysts to be a rehearsal for a possible attack against
Iranian nuclear facilities.
The Executive Director of the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert Satloff, says Iranian
nuclear weapons would be disastrous.
"It would inflame a
regional arms race," he said. "It would perhaps, lead to terrorists
getting nuclear weapons, it is a huge danger. For Israel, the danger
is exponentially worse. A regime whose leaders have publicly committed
to destroying the state of Israel are spending their national wealth to
acquire the means to implement that threat."
Iran denies it has a nuclear-weapons program and says it is enriching uranium to be used for generating electricity.
has responded to the incentives package presented by the European
Union, and E.U. representatives say they hope to resume negotiations
later this month.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki
says he does not believe there will be war between Iran and the United
States or Israel.
"The Israeli government is facing a political
breakdown within itself and within the region, so we do not foresee
such a possibility for that regime to resort to such craziness," he
said. "The United States, too, is not in a position where it can
engage in, take another risk, in the region."
say an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be complicated, quite
unlike the one-time strikes Israel did in Iraq in 1981 and more
recently in Syria.
Given the commitment of U.S. troops in Iraq
and Afghanistan, America's top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman Mike Mullen, says an attack on Iran would be difficult.
up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us," he
said. "That does not mean we do not have capacity or reserve, but that
would really be very challenging. And also the consequences of that
sometimes are very difficult to predict."
Those consequences are
likely to include retaliation from Iran. Officials say Israel and the
U.S. naval fleet in the Persian Gulf would be the first targets if the
country were attacked.
With President Bush in his last year in
office, Middle East experts like Rob Satloff say time may be running
out on definitive action.
"I think people are looking to
President Bush to see whether there will be any finality on the Iran
issue under his watch or whether he merely hands off the issue to a
successor," he said. "And finality, few things are more final than an
act of military force."
Military analysts say an attack on
Iran would require a sustained campaign that would target the
countries' retaliatory capabilities first and then strike the nuclear