[Marxism] Talk of tactical nuclear strikes against Iran more than bluff

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Sun Apr 9 06:16:49 MDT 2006

U.S. Is Studying Military Strike Options on Iran
Any Mix of Tact, Threats Alarms Critics

By Peter Baker, Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 9, 2006; A01

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 U.S.
officials and independent analysts.

No attack appears likely in the short term, and many specialists inside and
outside the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

U.S. 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

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.
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 U.S. strategists do not
believe Israel has the capacity to accomplish the mission without nuclear

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
U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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

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 U.S. forces to cripple Iran's air defense
system and air force, prepare defenses for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan and move Navy ships to the Persian Gulf to protect shipping.
U.S. 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 U.S. 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

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."

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