‘US doubts IAF can destroy Iran sites’

US military commanders fear that Israel may feel forced to strike Iran within the year, though it may ultimately prove unable to do more than merely slow the development of Teheran’s nuclear program, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

The UK paper quoted an official well acquainted with recent discussions between Israeli generals and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that there were differences in the respective intelligence possessed by Jerusalem and Washington on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that a former Mossad agency head told the paper that Israel had only a year to act before Iran would acquire nuclear arms. Also, the paper quoted an official as saying that while “the Israelis have a real sense of urgency” regarding a strike, “both sides are worried about the other’s lack of intelligence.”

Specifically, the source said that “the Americans had spies in Iran until they were rounded up in 2003 and now they do not have much by way of humint [human intelligence] on the ground. The Israelis have better information. But the Americans went away from the meetings unconvinced that the Israelis have enough intelligence on where to strike, and with little confidence that they will be able to destroy the nuclear program.”

Mullen announced on Monday that, in his opinion, it would be “extremely stressful” to “open a third front” in the war on terror, especially in the wake of possible intelligence gaps regarding the development of Teheran’s nuclear program. The admiral’s statement is, according to the Telegraph “at odds with hawks in the Bush administration,” especially Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Telegraph further reported that, according to a former CIA officer and Iran specialist, the hawks believe that “the US would get the blame from Iran whether or not [it played] a major role in any attack so [they] might as well do the job properly,” thereby suggesting that the US ought to take steps beyond what certain reports have said about a supposed recently-sanctioned increase in US special forces’ covert operations in Iran.

The former CIA officer told the UK newspaper that possibilities ranged from a full, overt strike on 2000 sites inside the Islamic republic to operational and intelligence assistance for a possible lone IAF strike.

In addition to considering the possible results of various degrees of US involvement, considerations are also being made on how to deal with Iranian retaliatory measures aimed at disrupting oil supplies by blocking the Strait of Hormuz or assaults on American naval vessels in the Persian Gulf or on bases in Bahrain, the officer added.

According to the Telegraph, the US Navy has altered its rules of engagement such that ships in the Gulf may be better able to prevent “swarming attacks” by groups of smaller boats, which are used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.