'US doubts IAF can destroy Iran sites'

Telegraph says US commanders fear Israel may only be able to slow Teheran's nuclear development.

michael mullen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
michael mullen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US military commanders fear that Israel may feel forced to strike Iran by the end of the year, though it may ultimately prove unable to do more than merely slow the development of Teheran's nuclear program, The Sunday Telegraph in London reported. The paper quoted an official well acquainted with recent discussions between Israeli generals and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that there were differences in the respective intelligence possessed by Jerusalem and Washington on Iran's nuclear facilities. The Telegraph reported that a former Mossad agency head had told the paper that Israel had only a year to act before Iran would acquire nuclear arms. The paper also quoted an official as saying that while "the Israelis have a real sense of urgency" regarding a strike, "both sides are worried about the other's lack of intelligence." Specifically, the source said that "the Americans had spies in Iran until they were rounded up in 2003 and now they do not have much by way of HUMINT (human intelligence) on the ground. The Israelis have better information. But the Americans went away from the meetings unconvinced that the Israelis have enough intelligence on where to strike, and with little confidence that they will be able to destroy the nuclear program." Mullen announced on Monday that, in his opinion, it would be "extremely stressful" to "open a third front" in the war on terror. The admiral's statement is, according to the Telegraph "at odds with hawks in the Bush administration," especially Vice President Dick Cheney. The Telegraph further reported that according to a former CIA officer and Iran specialist, the hawks believe "the US would get the blame from Iran whether or not [it played] a major role in any attack so [they] might as well do the job properly," suggesting that the US ought to take steps beyond those certain reports have claimed they are already taking - ie. the alleged recent increase in US special forces' covert operations in Iran. The former CIA officer told the UK newspaper that possibilities ranged from a full, overt strike on 2,000 sites inside the Islamic Republic to operational and intelligence assistance for a possible IAF strike. In addition to considering the possible results of various degrees of US involvement, considerations are also being made on how to deal with Iranian retaliatory measures aimed at disrupting oil supplies by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, or assaults on American naval vessels in the Persian Gulf or on bases in Bahrain, the officer added. According to the Telegraph, the US Navy has altered its rules of engagement such that ships in the Gulf may be better able to prevent "swarming attacks" by groups of smaller boats, which are used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The paper also quoted former director general of the Foreign Ministry Alon Liel as saying that Syria was prepared to cut its ties with Iran if the US provides it with financial and military backing. According to Liel, who the newspaper said has been engaged in low-key "second-track" discussions with Syrian representatives, Syrian President Bashar Assad was open to a deal which would weaken Iranian influence in the Middle East. Liel said prospects of peace with Syria had increased, though a new US president may need to be elected before a deal could be reached. "They are asking not only for the Golan Heights but a change in Washington that will break the Syrian isolation internationally," said Liel. "But I also think they will not do it unless they are assured they have an alternative to Iran." Liel went on to say that "months" of negotiations still lay ahead to bridge the gaps between the two sides. Nevertheless, progress has been reported on issues including borders and water. "The Golan Heights is considered our Tuscany. Israelis fell in love with the Golan - and it's a very easy conflict for us. That's why it's so difficult to convince Israel to withdraw," Liel continued. Israeli officials have confirmed that Turkey will host a fourth round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria later this month.