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Pentagon plans bomb blitz on Iran's nuclear sites

Philip Sherwell / The Age | February 12 2006

STRATEGISTS at the Pentagon are drawing up plans for devastating bombing raids backed by submarine-launched ballistic missile attacks against Iran's nuclear sites as a "last resort" to block Tehran's efforts to develop an atomic bomb.

Command planners are identifying targets, assessing weapon loads and working on logistics for an operation, London's Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend.

They are reporting to the office of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the US updates plans for action if the diplomatic offensive fails to thwart the Islamic republic's nuclear bomb ambitions. Tehran claims it is developing only a civilian energy program.

"This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment," said a senior Pentagon adviser. "This has taken on much greater urgency in recent months."

The prospect of military action could put Washington at odds with Britain, which fears an attack would spark violence across the Middle East, reprisals in the West and may not cripple Tehran's nuclear program. But the steady flow of disclosures about Iran's secret nuclear operations and the virulent anti-Israeli threats of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has prompted the fresh assessment of military options by the US.

The most likely strategy would involve aerial bombardment by long-distance B2 bombers, each armed with up to 18,000 kilograms of precision weapons, including the latest bunker-busting devices. They would fly from bases in Missouri with mid-air refuelling.

The Bush Administration has recently announced plans to add conventional ballistic missiles to the armoury of its nuclear Trident submarines within the next two years. If ready in time, they would also form part of the plan of attack.

Tehran has dispersed its nuclear plants, burying some deep underground, and has recently increased its air defences, but Pentagon planners believe the raids could seriously set back Iran's nuclear program.

Iran was last weekend reported to the United Nations Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency for its banned nuclear activities. Tehran reacted by announcing that it would resume full-scale uranium enrichment, producing material that could arm nuclear devices.

The White House says it wants a diplomatic solution to the stand-off, but President George Bush has refused to rule out military action and reaffirmed that Iran's nuclear ambitions "will not be tolerated".

Senator John McCain, the Republican frontrunner to succeed Mr Bush in 2008, has advocated military strikes as a last resort. He said recently: "There is only only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option and that is a nuclear-armed Iran."

The increased tension coincides with a warning by US intelligence assessments and military specialists that Tehran is prepared to launch attacks using long-range missiles, secret commando units, and terrorist allies planted around the globe in retaliation for any strike on the country's nuclear facilities.

Military and intelligence analysts warn that Iran — described by a US intelligence report as "more confident and assertive" than it has been since the early days of the 1979 Islamic revolution — could unleash reprisals across the region, and perhaps even inside the US, if the hardline regime was attacked.

"When the Americans or Israelis are thinking about military force, I hope they will sit down and think about everything the ayatollahs could do to make our lives miserable and what we will do to discourage them," said John Pike, director of the think tank GlobalSecurity.org, referring to Iran's religious leaders.

"There could be a cycle of escalation."

Israel, which Mr Ahmadinejad has threatened to annihilate, asserts that Tehran is much closer to going nuclear and has been far more direct with its counter threats.

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