Prelude to an Attack on Iran

Reports that the Bush Administration will put Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the terrorism list can be read in one of two ways: it’s either more bluster or, ominously, a wind-up for a strike on Iran. Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC, maybe within the next six months. And they think that as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities. An awe and shock campaign, lite, if you will. But frankly they’re guessing; after Iraq the White House trusts no one, especially the bureaucracy.

As with Saddam and his imagined WMD, the Administration’s case against the IRGC is circumstantial. The U.S. military suspects but cannot prove that the IRGC is the main supplier of sophisticated improvised explosive devices to insurgents killing our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most sophisticated version, explosive formed projectiles or shape charges, are capable of penetrating the armor of an Abrams tank, disabling the tank and killing the crew.

A former CIA explosives expert who still works in Iraq told me: “The Iranians are making them. End of story.” His argument is only a state is capable of manufacturing the EFP’s, which involves a complicated annealing process. Incidentally, he also is convinced the IRGC is helping Iraqi Shi’a militias sight in their mortars on the Green Zone. “The way they’re dropping them in, in neat grids, tells me all I need to know that the Shi’a are getting help. And there’s no doubt it’s Iranian, the IRGC’s,” he said.

A second part of the Administration’s case against the IRGC is that the IRGC has had a long, established history of killing Americans, starting with the attack on the Marines in Beirut in 1983. And that’s not to mention it was the IRGC that backed Hizballah in its thirty-four day war against Israel last year. The feeling in the Administration is that we should have taken care of the IRGC a long, long time ago.

Strengthening the Administration’s case for a strike on Iran, there’s a belief among neo-cons that the IRGC is the one obstacle to a democratic and friendly Iran. They believe that if we were to get rid of the IRGC, the clerics would fall, and our thirty-years war with Iran over. It’s another neo-con delusion, but still it informs White House thinking.

And what do we do if just the opposite happens — a strike on Iran unifies Iranians behind the regime? An Administration official told me it’s not even a consideration. “IRGC IED’s are a casus belli for this Administration. There will be an attack on Iran.”

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com’s intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down

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