Australia, Britain and Israel have reportedly “expressed interest” in a US campaign to launch surgical bombing raids on Iran targeting Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities.
A report in The New Yorker by the journalist Seymour Hersh said the Bush Administration had stopped trying to justify a campaign against Iran on the basis of curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It is instead redefining the war in Iraq as a strategic battle between the US and Iran.
Hersh said the bombing plan has had its most positive reception from Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. While Hersh did not mention Australia in the article, he told CNN: “There have been expressions of interest from Australia, and other countries. The Israelis, of course, have gone bananas. They’re very upset about the idea of not going … They want us to go. And they want us to hit hard.”
The Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, was in the US a month ago for briefings with defence officials and a meeting with the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. Dr Nelson told reporters at the time that he had discussed Iran, but declined to elaborate.
A spokesman for Dr Nelson declined to comment yesterday.
A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, referred to his comments in New York last week after a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, and said the position had not changed.
He said Iran needed to be put under pressure by the UN Security Council, but consideration should also be given to other measures such as financial sanctions.
Hersh said the revised bombing plan, with its tightened focus on counter-terrorism, was gathering support among the generals and admirals in the Pentagon who had been apprehensive about an earlier, broader plan to bomb Iran.
“The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps supply depots and command-and-control facilities,” Hersh wrote. He said there were also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile sites.
He said a Pentagon consultant on counter-terrorism had told him that if the bombing campaign took place, it would be accompanied by a series of what he called “short, sharp incursions” by American Special Forces into suspected Iranian training sites.
Sources have told the Herald the plan is likely to be put into action only if there were significant US casualties in Iraq that could be attributed to Iranian activity. Hersh also floats this scenario, suggesting a significant attack on American servicemen from across the border could trigger US action.
Hersh pointed to a speech made by the US President, George Bush, in August to the American Legion in which Mr Bush said: “The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased … The Iranian regime must halt these actions, and until it does I will take actions necessary to protect our troops.
“I have authorised our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”
But since then Mr Bush has made a number of other comments suggesting that the Administration may still be hopeful of a diplomatic solution, and in recent weeks has prevailed upon France to assist in dealing with Tehran.
In response to the Hersh article, a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said: “The President believes this issue can be solved diplomatically. And the Administration is working with the international community through the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany to bring diplomatic measures to bear on Iran to put an end to its enrichment and reprocessing activities.”
But Hersh’s article detailed conversations with numerous sources in the Department of Defence, the CIA and former Administration officials who have heard talk of the strike plans and who claim the option is gaining momentum.