White House Wants A Wider Mid-East War
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This former official said the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they're shouted down," the ex-official said. [ New Yorker, April 17, 2006]
By late April, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically unacceptable, Hersh reported.
"Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," one former senior intelligence official said.
But -- even without the nuclear option -- senior military officials still worried about a massive bombing campaign against Iran. Hersh wrote:
"Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States."
Hersh quoted a retired four-star general as saying, "The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don't want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, 'We stood up.' " [ New Yorker, July 10, 2006]
The most immediate concern of U.S. military leaders was that air strikes against Iran could prompt retaliation against American troops in Iraq. U.S. military trainers would be especially vulnerable since they work within Iraqi military and police units dominated by Shiites who are sympathetic to Iran.
Iran also could respond to a bombing campaign by cutting off oil supplies, sending world oil prices soaring and throwing the world economy into chaos.
While the Joint Chiefs may have had success in getting the White House to remove the use of nuclear weapons from its list of options on Iran, the rising tensions between Israel and Iran may have put the nuclear option back on the table -- since Israel has the largest and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the Middle East.
As Hersh reported, "The Israelis have insisted for years that Iran has a clandestine program to build a bomb, and will do so as soon as it can. Israeli officials have emphasized that their 'redline' is the moment Iran masters the nuclear fuel cycle, acquiring the technical ability to produce weapons-grade uranium."
In spring 2006, Iran announced that it had enriched uranium to the 3.6 percent level sufficient for nuclear energy but well below the 90-percent level for making atomic bombs. The U.S. intelligence community believes that Iran is still years and possibly a decade away from the capability of building a nuclear bomb.
Still, Iran's technological advance convinced some Israeli strategists that it was imperative to destroy Iran's program now. Yet to do so, Israel faces the same need for devastating explosive power, thus raising the specter again of using a nuclear bomb.
One interpretation of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict is that Bush and Olmert seized on the Hezbollah raid as a pretext for a pre-planned escalation that will lead to bombing campaigns against Syria and Iran, justified by their backing of Hezbollah.
In that view, Bush found himself stymied by U.S. military objections to targeting Iran's nuclear facilities outside any larger conflict. However, if the bombing of Iran develops as an outgrowth of a tit-for-tat expansion of a war in which Israel's existence is at stake, strikes against Iranian targets would be more palatable to the American public.