Rumours are ablaze of an imminent attack on Iran by the United States. It seems that everyone has decided that the question isn’t if America will attack Iran, but when.

Writing this from somewhere a few kilometres away from both US Central Command and the al-Jazeera newsroom, the spectre of war is very real. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have already threatened that if the US attacked Iran, they would turn it the Persian Gulf into hell.

How likely is an attack on Iran?

Dan Plesch and Martin Butcher have just released their 80-page report Iran: A Discussion Paper on WMD in the Middle East which is a detailed and thorough analysis of the current situation and the likely outcomes. Basically,

The study concludes that the US has made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days, if not hours, of President George Bush giving the order.

The report goes on to say that

  • Any attack is likely to be on a massive, multifront scale but avoiding a ground invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little force and leave the regime intact.
  • US bombers and long-range missiles are ready today to destroy 10 000 targets in Iran in a few hours.

The US cannot afford another war?

The report discusses many of the reasons why the war is unlikely, and seems to conclude that most of them are myths. The US has more than enough military power available to hit Iran. It can easily defend the Straits of Hormuz and keep the shipping lanes open, and the short-term effect on the oil price will be shadowed by the long-term control of resources.

Limited strike on nuclear facilities unlikely

It seems highly unlikely that the US would only attack key Iranian nuclear facilities in some sort of targeted strike. While such a tactical strike may significantly set back Iran’s nuclear programme, it would leave the US open to Iranian retaliation. This retaliation could be focused on US interests in the region, the neighbouring Gulf countries or even strikes in the US itself.

Once the US commits to attack Iran, it would have no other option than to go the full way and change the regime.

Not just about WMD

It would be naive to think that the drive to attack Iran is purely based on Iran’s nuclear programme. While the US, Israel and possibly the Sunni Gulf States cannot tolerate Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, the build-up to this war is not unlike that of the Iraq war. All indicators point to a large-scale attack that will lay the basis for regime change. Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, has been warning about the Iran plans for some time:

One former defence official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government”. He added: “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’” …

“People think Bush has been focused on Saddam Hussein since 9/11,” but, “in my view, if you had to name one nation that was his focus all the way along, it was Iran.”

In his memoirs, At the Centre of the Storm, George Tenet, the former director of the CIA, reveal that

“While we at CIA were intensely focused on al-Qaeda, and others in the administration were obsessed with Iraq, there was a third subset of people who seemed to have Iran on their minds …”

And we know what people can do once they put their minds to it. The real issue now is not if Iran can be hit; it is what will happen once it has been hit.


Mohamed Nanabhay

Mohamed Nanabhay

Mohamed Nanabhay is the Head of New Media at the AlJazeera Network based in Doha, Qatar. He joined Al Jazeera in 2004 and...

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