by Muhammad Cohen
May 28, 2008
Former broadcast news producer
Muhammad Cohen told America's story to the world as a US diplomat
and is author of Hong Kong On Air (www.hongkongonair.com),
a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love,
betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.
NEW YORK - The George W Bush administration
plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an
informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have
surfaced in the media in the United States recently.
Two key US senators briefed on the attack planned to go public with their
opposition to the move, according to the source, but their projected New
York Times op-ed piece has yet to appear.
The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of
state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously,
said last week that the US plans an air strike against the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The air strike would target
the headquarters of the IRGC's elite Quds force. With an estimated
strength of up to 90,000 fighters, the Quds' stated mission is to spread
Iran's revolution of 1979 throughout the region.
Targets could include IRGC garrisons in southern and southwestern Iran, near
the border with Iraq. US officials have repeatedly claimed Iran is aiding
Iraqi insurgents. In January 2007, US forces raided the Iranian consulate
general in Erbil, Iraq, arresting five staff members, including two Iranian
diplomats it held until November.
Last September, the US Senate approved a
resolution by a vote of 76-22 urging President
George W Bush to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization.
Following this non-binding "sense of the senate" resolution, the White House
declared sanctions against the Quds Force as a terrorist group in October.
The Bush administration has also accused Iran of
pursuing a nuclear weapons program, though most intelligence analysts say
the program has been abandoned.
Rockin' and a-reelin'
Senators and the Bush administration denied the resolution and terrorist
declaration were preludes to an attack on Iran. However, attacking Iran
rarely seems far from some American leaders' minds. Arizona senator and
presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain recast the
classic Beach Boys tune Barbara Ann as "Bomb Iran".
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton
promised "total obliteration" for Iran if it attacked Israel.
The US and Iran have a long and troubled history, even without the proposed
air strike. US and British intelligence were behind attempts to unseat prime
minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who nationalized Britain's Anglo-Iranian
Petroleum Company, and returned Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power in 1953.
President Jimmy Carter's pressure on the Shah to improve his dismal
human-rights record and loosen political control helped the 1979 Islamic
revolution unseat the Shah.
But the new government under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned the US as
"the Great Satan" for its decades of support for the Shah and its reluctant
admission into the US of the fallen monarch for cancer treatment. Students
occupied the US Embassy in Teheran, holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444
days. Eight American commandos died in a failed rescue mission in 1980.
The US broke diplomatic relations with Iran
during the hostage holding and has yet to restore them. Iranian President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad's rhetoric often sounds lifted from the Khomeini era.
The source said the White House views the proposed air strike as a limited
action to punish Iran for its involvement in Iraq. The source, an ambassador
during the administration of president H W Bush, did not provide details on
the types of weapons to be used in the attack, nor on the precise stage of
planning at this time.
It is not known whether the White House has
already consulted with allies about the air strike, or if it plans to do so.
Sense in the senate
Details provided by the administration raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill,
the source said. After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike,
Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New
York Times op-ed piece "within days", the source said last week, to
express their opposition.
Feinstein is a member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee and Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations
In a statement received by Asia Times Online from Feinstein's office,
the senator said she,
"has not received any briefing, classified
or unclassified, from the administration involving any plans to strike
Given their obligations to uphold the secrecy of
classified information, it is unlikely the senators would reveal the Bush
administration's plan or their knowledge of it. However, going public on the
issue, even without specifics, would likely create a public groundswell of
criticism that could induce the Bush administration reconsider its plan.
The proposed air strike on Iran would have huge implications for geopolitics
and for the ongoing US presidential campaign.
The biggest question, of course, is how would
Iran could flex its muscles in any number of ways. It could step up support
for insurgents in Iraq and for its allies throughout the Middle East. Iran
aids both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Israel's Occupied Territories.
It is also widely suspected of assisting Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.
Iran could also choose direct confrontation with the US in Iraq and/or
Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a long, porous border. Iran has a
fighting force of more than 500,000. Iran is also believed to have missiles
capable of reaching US allies in the Gulf region.
Iran could also declare a complete or selective oil embargo on US allies.
Iran is the second-largest oil exporter in the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries and fourth-largest overall. About 70% of its oil
exports go to Asia. The US has barred oil imports from Iran since 1995 and
restricts US companies from investing there.
China is Iran's biggest customer for oil, and Iran buys weapons from China.
Trade between the two countries hit US$20 billion last year and continues to
China's reaction to an attack on Iran is also a
troubling unknown for the US.
Three for the money
The Islamic world could also react strongly against a US attack against a
third predominantly Muslim nation. Pakistan, which also shares a border with
Iran, could face additional pressure from Islamic parties to end its
cooperation with the US to fight al-Qaeda and hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Turkey, another key ally, could be pushed
further off its secular base. American companies, diplomatic installations
and other US interests could face retaliation from governments or mobs in
Muslim-majority states from Indonesia to Morocco.
A US air strike on Iran would have seismic impact on the presidential race
at home, but it's difficult to determine where the pieces would fall.
At first glance, a military attack against Iran would seem to favor McCain.
The Arizona senator says the US is locked in battle across the globe with
radical Islamic extremists, and he believes Iran is one of biggest
instigators and supporters of the extremist tide. A strike on Iran could
rally American voters to back the war effort and vote for McCain.
On the other hand, an air strike on Iran could heighten public
disenchantment with Bush administration policy in the Middle East, leading
to support for the Democratic candidate, whoever it is.
But an air strike will provoke reactions far beyond US voting booths.
That would explain why two veteran senators, one
Republican and one Democrat, were reportedly so horrified at the prospect.