There is growing consensus within the defense establishment that the United States will not attack Iran, and that Israel might be forced to act independently to stop the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons, a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
According to sources within the defense establishment, the Bush administration does not have political support for launching a strike against Iran’s nuclear sites. “America is stuck in Iraq and cannot go after Iran militarily right now,” the official said.
The defense official blasted the US for “not doing enough” to stop Teheran’s race to the bomb. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he said, was leading the State Department in the direction of “appeasement.”
“The only way, besides military action, to stop Iran is through tough economic sanctions,” the official said. “But the only way to do that is for the US to overcome Russian opposition in the Security Council and to pass a resolution calling for sanctions against Iran.”
Israel, meanwhile, was carefully watching international reaction to Iran’s failure earlier this week to react positively to the incentives offered to discontinue uranium enrichment. In recent days, sources in Jerusalem have said Israel “could not abide” a nuclear Iran and might have to act to disrupt Teheran’s nuclear program if the international community did not act.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on a visit to Nahariya, said Israel “must be prepared for every scenario.” It was not clear whether the reference was to another round of fighting with Hizbullah or to some future confrontation with Iran.
There is no consensus among policymakers on whether the US will act militarily against Teheran, with some ruling out the possibility, and others saying that US President George W. Bush doesn’t want to leave the world stage in 2009 with the legacy of a nuclear Iran.
According to sources in Jerusalem, among the key lessons the country needs to learn from the war against Hizbullah was how to better prepare the home front to deal with rocket attacks.
One senior source, asked whether he thought the IDF could take on Iran alone, said it was not necessarily a matter of choice. A nuclear Iran represented an existential threat, he warned, and Israel might have no choice but to prepare for long-range missile attacks from Iran.
Another official warned of the consequences of a nuclear Iran even if Israel was not bombed. “We would have our hands tied,” the official said. “They would constantly be threatening us with their nuclear weapons and we would not be able to initiate military operations against Hamas in Gaza or Hizbullah in Lebanon.”
Military analysts say the US, whose military is finding it more and more difficult to assemble the forces needed in Iraq, would prefer to avoid a military confrontation with Iran. At the same time, a new report suggests that the US lacks sufficient intelligence on Iran’s intentions and nuclear abilities.
This week, the US decided to call 2,500 Marines back to active service, to fill the troop shortfall in Iraq. “It is no secret that we are very busy,” said US Gen. Michael Barbero, referring to the move.
The US has not formally ruled out military action against Iran if negotiations fail to put an end to Teheran’s nuclear program, but senior administration officials have been stressing for months the need to focus on diplomacy and the US is putting all its effort into building an international coalition that would act diplomatically against Iran.
A report compiled by the US House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee and made public Wednesday stresses that if Iran is allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons, Israel might decide to take on Iran militarily. “A nuclear armed Iran would likely exacerbate regional tensions. Israel would find it hard to live with a nuclear armed Iran and could take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities,” the report states.
It also says that “a deliberate or miscalculated attack by one state on the other could result in retaliation, regional unrest and an increase in terrorist attacks.”
The report pointed to “significant gaps” in the information the US has on Iran and its nuclear ambitions and called on the American intelligence community to improve the quality of the information about Iran it provides to policy makers.
“The United States lacks critical information needed for analysts to make many of their judgments with confidence about Iran and there are many significant information gaps,” the report reads. It pointed to weapons of mass destruction and Iran’s support for terrorism as issues on which the US should have better intelligence.
“American intelligence agencies do not know nearly enough about Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the report concluded. It calls on US intelligence agencies to acquire more information from sources in Iran and to recruit more Farsi speakers to try and decipher Iran’s intentions and capabilities.
The scathing report draws conclusions similar to those US committees have reached regarding the Iraq war – a lack of reliable intelligence and over-reliance on electronic information gathering instead of human intelligence.
Such criticism, especially in light of America’s intelligence failures in Iraq, may further dissuade US policymakers from taking military action against Iran if the diplomatic track proves unfruitful.
Israel Prepares for the Next War