The US was drawing up plans to attack sites where Iran is believed to be enriching uranium before President George W. Bush's candidacy comes to an end, the UK-based Times
reported on Wednesday.
According to the Times
, the Bush government has been inviting defense consultants and Middle East experts to the White House and Pentagon for tactical advice.
The Pentagon was reported to be considering ways for the US to destroy nuclear facilities such as Iran's main centrifuge plant at Natanz, despite the fact that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney hoped that diplomatic efforts to restrain Iran would succeed.
Senior Pentagon planners recently advised the White House, however, that they did not yet have accurate intelligence as to the whereabouts of all Iran's nuclear enrichment sites.
Iran's nuclear program has been generating world-wide tension in recent months, despite claims by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the research is for peaceful means. The UN has threatened to put sanctions on Iran if they do not abandon the program.
According to analyst Shmuel Bar of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, an American strike would only trigger the Iranian regime's primordial survival impulse. This would almost certainly result in a full-scale Iranian assault on Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields, in an attempt to exact a price that would dissuade the West from carrying its assault to the point of regime change, he told The Jerusalem Post
In addition, there is a 'real danger' that the Iranian regime could instigate labor strikes among the Shi'ites of southern Iraq, said Dr. Ian Bremer, president of the risk consultancy firm, Eurasia Group. This could drop oil production from over a million barrels per day, 'even to zero for short periods of time,' he warned.
Furthermore, as several analysts pointed out, any strike that was not dramatic enough to bring down the regime and discredit Ahmadinejad outright would trigger a surge of popular support for Ahmadinejad's faction in the regime, giving him a decisive advantage in the complex power struggles that characterize Iranian politics.
According to the Times
report, despite speculations and divided opinions, the favored US scenario is to attack the Iranian nuclear plant with a small number of ground attack aircraft flying out of the British dependency of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The British would however have to approve the use of the American base there for an attack and would be asked to play a supporting role by providing air-to-air re-fuelling or sending out surveillance aircraft, ships and submarines.
The British Foreign Office has insisted that a diplomatic solution is still possible.
Haviv Rettig contributed to this report.