GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The US, Israel and Iran are playing a very dangerous game of chicken that could soon result in a new Mideast war.
To the chagrin of President George Bush and VP Dick Cheney, the combined US intelligence agencies concluded late last year that Iran was not working on nuclear weapons. UN nuclear weapons experts, who have been inspecting Iranís nuclear facilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty(NNPT), concur with US intelligence.
However, Israel, which refused to sign the NNPT, and has a large, undeclared nuclear weapons program, claims that Iran is within 18 months of developing a nuclear weapon and must be stopped at all costs.
The Bush administration and Israel, recently joined by France, are issuing increasingly loud threats of military action to frighten Iran into halting its nuclear enrichment program which they claim sets the stage for a possible Iranian break-out to develop nuclear weapons. To do so, Iran would have to boost enriching its uranium from 5-6% to over 93%.
Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely for civilian use to generate electrical power. Iranís once vast oil reserves have peaked and are going into decline while its population continues to rise. Washington dismisses Iranís need for civilian nuclear power as `preposterous,í though in the 1970ís Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney went to Tehran to try to sell 27 US nuclear reactors to the Shah of Iran.
Tehran is alternating between conciliatory statements and threats of inflicting economic chaos on the global economy in retaliation for any attack. Europe mostly fears the economic damage a war against Iran would bring far more than Iranís nuclear program.
Senior Israeli officials are openly threatening to attack Iranís nuclear installations before President George Bushís term expires. Early, this month, Israel staged a large, US-approved exercise using F-15ís and F-16ís to rehearse an attack over 900 miles Ė precisely the distance to Iranís nuclear facilities.
The highly regarded American journalist Seymour Hersh just confirmed that the US Congress authorized a $400 million plan to overthrow Iranís government and incite ethnic unrest. This column reported a year ago that US and British special forces were operating in Iran, preparing for a massive air campaign. Israelís destruction of an alleged Syrian reactor last fall was a warning to Iran.
This week, an unnamed senior Pentagon official claimed an Israeli attack on Iran was coming before year end. Other Pentagon and CIA sources say a US attack on Iran is imminent, with or without Israel.
The Bush administration is even considering using small tactical nuclear weapons against deeply buried Iranian targets.
Senior American officers Adm. William Fallon and Air Force chief Michael Mosley were recently fired for opposing war against Iran. According to Israelís media, President Bush even told Israelís prime minister Ehud Olmert that he could not trust Americaís intelligence community and preferred to rely on Israeli intelligence.
Intensifying activity is evident at US bases in Europe and the Gulf, aimed at preparing a massive air blitz that may include repeated attacks on 3,100 targets in Iran. These would include air defenses, nuclear installations and reactors, telecommunications, government and military HQ, transport nodes, airfields, naval bases and barracks, ports, military industries, pumping stations and oil terminals, and `high value government targetsí Ė ie. leadership. In short, a total air blitz delivered in successive waves over days if not weeks.
Other sources say Iranian Revolutionary Guards installations will be barraged by cruise missiles as a warning to Tehran.
In Washington, Congress, under intense pressure from the Israel lobby, is about to adopt a resolution calling for a naval blockade of Iran, an overt act of war. When Egypt closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping in 1956, Israel deemed this an act of war.
Interestingly, the same Congressional Democrats who claimed they were duped into supporting Bushís war against Iraq have all joined the rush to war against Iran. In Washington, wisdom only seems to come in hindsight.
Pro-Israel groups in Washington have been airing alarmist TV commercials claiming Iran is attacking American troops in Iraq and threatening the US.
The Bush administrationís last desperate act, its `Gotterdammerung,í could be war with Iran. Even though there is no proof Iran is working on nuclear arms, the neocon war party in Washington is determined to loose a final Parthian shaft by striking Iran.
Israel asserts the right to maintain its Mideast nuclear monopoly by destroying all fissile-producing reactors in the region. In return, Iran vows to retaliate against Israel with its inaccurate, conventionally-armed Shahab missiles. Israelís new anti-missile defense system could shoot down most of the Shahab warheads. But there is a danger that Israel could over-react and order its invulnerable triad of air, land and sea-based nuclear weapons to strike at Iran.
Should Iran be attacked, Tehran also threatens to shut the 23-mile wide strait of Hormuz, and mine the Gulf, producing worldwide financial panic, severe fuel shortages, and $400-500 dollars per barrel oil. Iran will likely attack US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, and strike Saudi and Kuwaiti oil facilities.
The embattled Bush administrationís bunker mentality is leading to war that will gravely damage long-term US Mideast interests. A single Iranian missile hit on Israelís reactor would do more damage to the Jewish state than all its previous wars. Besides, Israel cannot totally destroy Iranís nuclear infrastructure. A US or Israeli attack on Iran will absolutely guarantee that Tehran decides to build nuclear weapons. Israel and Iran have turned their regional rivalry into a deadly confrontation that now threatens all.
Iranís supreme leader, Ali Khomenei, who controls that nationís military, not its bombastic president, Mahmoud Ahamdinejad, insists Iran will not produce nuclear weapons. Israel claims it faces imminent attack. Iran counters that Israelís nuclear saber rattling threatens its existence. The dogs of war are being unleashed.