Tuesday, September 21, 2004

If at First You Don't Succeed 

From Newsweek (via Cursor):
The Iran crisis is more immediate in the eyes of the Bush administration, in part because Iran is among the president's "Axis of Evil." Israel, which has long regarded Iran as a more dire threat than Iraq, is making thinly veiled threats of a unilateral pre-emptive attack, like its 1981 airstrike against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. "If the state decides that a military solution is required, then the military has to provide a solution," said Israel's new Air Force chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Elyezer Shkedy, in a newspaper interview last week. "For obvious reasons," he added, "we aren't going to speak of specifics." U.S. defense experts doubt that Israel can pull it off. Iran's facilities (which it insists are for peaceful purposes) are at the far edge of combat range for Israel's aircraft; They're also widely dispersed and, in many cases, deep underground.

But America certainly could do it—and has given the idea some serious thought. "The U.S. capability to make a mess of Iran's nuclear infrastructure is formidable," says veteran Mideast analyst Geoffrey Kemp. "The question is, what then?" NEWSWEEK has learned that the CIA and DIA have war-gamed the likely consequences of a U.S. pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. No one liked the outcome. As an Air Force source tells it, "The war games were unsuccessful at preventing the conflict from escalating."

Instead, administration hawks are pinning their hopes on regime change in Tehran—by covert means, preferably, but by force of arms if necessary. Papers on the idea have circulated inside the administration, mostly labeled "draft" or "working draft" to evade congressional subpoena powers and the Freedom of Information Act. Informed sources say the memos echo the administration's abortive Iraq strategy: oust the existing regime, swiftly install a pro-U.S. government in its place (extracting the new regime's promise to renounce any nuclear ambitions) and get out. This daredevil scheme horrifies U.S. military leaders, and there's no evidence that it has won any backers at the cabinet level.

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