A US air assault on Iranian nuclear and military facilities would likely kill thousands of people, spark a long-lasting war and push Iran to accelerate its atomic program, a British think tank predicted in a report published Monday.
The Oxford Research Group, which specializes in arms control and nonproliferation issues, said military action against Iran, "either by the United States or Israel, is not an option that should be considered under any circumstances."
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The Bush administration has refused to rule out the use of force if Iran does not comply with international diplomatic efforts to curb its contentious nuclear program. Iran says it is seeking only to generate electricity, but the United States alleges that the Islamic republic aims to build nuclear weapons.
The report by University of Bradford professor Paul Rogers said a US attack would likely consist of simultaneous air strikes on more than 20 key nuclear and military facilities, designed to disable Iran's nuclear and air-defense capabilities. Such strikes would probably kill several thousand people, including troops, nuclear program staff and "many hundreds" of civilians.
The report said a military attack would spur Iran to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, accelerate its nuclear programs and step up support to insurgents in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and would fuel anti-American sentiment around the world.
Escalating military confrontation would draw in other states in the region, it warned, making "a protracted and highly unstable conflict virtually certain."
"A state of war stretching over years would be in prospect," the group warned.
Nuclear-armed Israel views Iran as its biggest threat and has joined Washington in charging that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said last month that Israel was preparing for military action if diplomacy failed.
The Oxford Research Group report said an attack by Israeli forces, while on a smaller scale than a US strike, also would have negative consequences.
"Alternative ways must be found of defusing current tensions and avoiding an exceptionally dangerous confrontation, however difficult it might be," said the group's director, John Sloboda.