Despite repeated denials by the US administration, preparations for a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites are in "advanced" stages, according to informed sources in Washington quoted by The Guardian on Saturday. According to the London-based Guardian report, the deployment of forces to the Persian Gulf would allow the opening of an Iranian front by the spring, however the sources said an attack would most likely only come next year before US President George W. Bush finishes his term in office.
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The sources said Bush had yet to make a final decision on the matter, but Vice-President Dick Cheney and Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, were reportedly pushing the need for action against Teheran for continuing to develop their nuclear capabilities.
Iran insists its ambitions to enrich uranium were strictly for peaceful ends. However, Israel remains convinced Iran's belligerent leader President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seeking a nuclear device to make good on in his vision of the Jewish nation "wiped off the face of the map."
The Bush administration has said the build-up of forces in the gulf were aimed at containing Iran and to force it to agree to diplomatic concessions and ditch efforts to become a nuclear state, which could potentially upset the fragile balance of powers in the volatile region.
The Guardian report comes one day after the new US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated that the US was not planning a strike.
"I don't know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran," Gates said.
But Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst quoted by The Guardian, said the assessment of the source in Washington was more accurate. "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates," he said.
"Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place."
He added: "We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous." Mr Cannistraro stressed that an ultimate decision had not been made.