Iran Nuclear 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US is probably incapable of completely destroying the Iranian nuclear program, but as a last resort it could attempt to knock out "some of the components" in order to "delay and deter it," Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate and a serving member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has told The Jerusalem Post.
Speaking at a time of almost daily declarations from Teheran concerning both progress in the nuclear program and hostility to Israel, Lieberman said he knew of no "set war plans" being drawn up by the Bush Administration and, "I don't think anyone's yearning for military action against Iran."
Nonetheless, he said, there was skepticism in Congress about the likelihood of the UN Security Council taking "economic or diplomatic action." As a next step, that left the option of an "economic coalition of the willing," outside the UN framework, to try and deter the Iranians. And failing that, the only two remaining courses of action were intensified efforts "to encourage the reformist and opposition elements in Iran" to the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a resort to military force, he said.
Military action was "probably the last choice, but it has to be there," stressed Lieberman, who has been visiting Israel over the Pessah festival. He said there was now "active discussion" of the options for such action.
Lieberman indicated that the US had learned a lesson, from both Osama bin Laden and from Adolf Hitler, to the effect that "sometimes when people say really extreme things, which at some level a lot of people don't want to even believe... they may actually mean it. They may intend to do it. So I do think that the statements of Ahmadinejad are taken very seriously, both with regard to [speaking of a world without] the US and with regard to Israel."
Asked what last-resort military option was available, Lieberman said: "I don't think anyone is thinking of this as a massive ground invasion, as in Iraq, to topple the government." Rather, he said, he envisaged "an attempt to hit some of the components of the nuclear program," primarily from the air, with some potential for covert ground assistance.
"I think the only justifiable use of military power would be an attempt to deter the development of their nuclear program if we felt there was no other way to do it," he said. "And I use the word 'deter' because I'm skeptical of our ability - because they've spread their nuclear program and some of it is underground - to knock it out completely."
The goal of such action, he continued, would be "to delay it, to deter it, hoping that you set the program off course, so that by the time they catch up back to where they were, there's been a change in the government. That's the limited objective that I would see."
The senator said the Armed Services Committee had not been briefed on plans for a strike, "but we keep hearing that the administration is considering these options."
Lieberman, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, added, "The very fact that there is active discussion of the potential - this is not, you know, sort of set war plans, but the discussion of options - does say something. We've come some distance here with regard to Iran, fairly quickly, and I'm not saying that it says without doubt that there'll be military action, but there's been movement... We're taking this very seriously."
Lieberman also told the Post he did not intend to be part of another presidential campaign, but the fact that "Al Gore and I did get a half million more votes than the other ticket" demonstrated that "America is ready for somebody Jewish in national office, president or vice president."
(The full interview with Senator Lieberman will appear in Friday's Jerusalem Post.)