WASHINGTON (Reuters) â€” US contingency planning for military action against Iranâ€™s nuclear programme goes beyond limited strikes and would effectively unleash a war against the country, a former US intelligence analyst said on Friday.
â€œIâ€™ve seen some of the planning… Youâ€™re not talking about a surgical strike,â€ said Wayne White, who was a top Middle East analyst for the State Departmentâ€™s bureau of intelligence and research until March 2005.
â€œYouâ€™re talking about a war against Iranâ€ that likely would destabilise the Middle East for years, White told the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank.
â€œWeâ€™re not talking about just surgical strikes against an array of targets inside Iran. Weâ€™re talking about clearing a path to the targetsâ€ by taking out much of the Iranian air force, Kilo submarines, anti-ship missiles that could target commerce or US warships in the Gulf, and maybe even Iranâ€™s ballistic missile capability, White said.
â€œIâ€™m much more worried about the consequences of a US or Israeli attack against Iranâ€™s nuclear infrastructure,â€ which would prompt vigorous Iranian retaliation, he said, than civil war in Iraq, which could be confined to that country.
President George W. Bush has stressed he is seeking a diplomatic solution to the dispute over Iranâ€™s nuclear programme.
But he has not taken the military option off the table and his recent rhetoric, plus tougher financial sanctions and actions against Iranian involvement in Iraq, has revived talk in Washington about a possible US attack on Iran.
The Bush administration and many of its Gulf allies have expressed growing concern about Iranâ€™s rising influence in the region and the prospect of it acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Middle East expert Kenneth Katzman argued â€œIranâ€™s ascendancy is not only manageable but reversibleâ€ if one understands the Islamic republicâ€™s many vulnerabilities.
Tehranâ€™s leaders have convinced many experts Iran is a great nation verging on â€œsuperpowerâ€ status, but the country is â€œvery weak … [and] meets almost no known criteria to be considered a great nation,â€ said Katzman of the Library of Congressâ€™ Congressional Research Service.
The economy is mismanaged and â€œquite primitiveâ€, exporting almost nothing except oil, he said.
Also, Iranâ€™s oil production capacity is fast declining and in terms of conventional military power, â€œIran is a virtual non-entityâ€, Katzman added.
The administration, therefore, should not go out of its way to accommodate Iran because the country is in no position to hurt the United States, and at some point â€œit might be useful to call that bluffâ€, he said.
But Katzman cautioned against early confrontation with Iran and said if there is a â€œgrand bargainâ€ that meets both countriesâ€™ interests, that should be pursued.