by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane
August 29, 2007
Larisa Alexandrovna is
managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story and
regularly reports on intelligence and national security
Muriel Kane is research director for Raw Story.
Larisa Alexandrovna is a frequent contributor to Global
The United States has the capacity for
and may be prepared to launch without warning a massive assault on
Iranian uranium enrichment facilities, as well as government
buildings and infrastructure, using long-range bombers and missiles,
according to a new analysis.
The paper, "Considering
a War with Iran - A Discussion Paper on WMD in the Middle East"
– written by well-respected British scholar and arms expert Dr.
Dan Plesch, Director of the
Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy
of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
at the University of London, and Martin Butcher, a former
Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC)
and former adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the
European Parliament – was exclusively provided to
Friday under embargo.
"We wrote the report partly as we
were surprised that this sort of quite elementary analysis had
not been produced by the many well resourced Institutes in the
United States," wrote Plesch in an email to
Raw Story on
Plesch and Butcher examine "what the
military option might involve if it were picked up off the table and
put into action" and conclude that based on open source analysis and
their own assessments, the US has prepared its military for a
"massive" attack against Iran, requiring little contingency planning
and without a ground invasion.
The study concludes that the US has
made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear
energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic
infrastructure within days if not hours of President
George W. Bush giving the
order. The US is not publicizing the scale of these preparations
to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely.
The US retains the option of
avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall
strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.
Any attack is likely to be on a
massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground invasion.
Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many
retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the
charge of using too little force and leave the regime
US bombers and long range
missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran
in a few hours. US ground, air and marine forces already in
the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian
forces, the regime and the state at short notice.
Some form of low level US and
possibly UK military action as well as armed popular
resistance appear underway inside the Iranian provinces or
ethnic areas of the Azeri, Balujistan, Kurdistan and
Khuzestan. Iran was unable to prevent sabotage of its
offshore-to-shore crude oil pipelines in 2005.
Nuclear weapons are ready, but
most unlikely, to be used by the US, the UK and Israel. The
human, political and environmental effects would be
devastating, while their military value is limited.
Israel is determined to prevent
Iran acquiring nuclear weapons yet has the conventional
military capability only to wound Iran’s WMD programmes.
The attitude of the UK is
uncertain, with the Brown government and public opinion
opposed psychologically to more war, yet, were Brown to
support an attack he would probably carry a vote in
Parliament. The UK is adamant that Iran must not acquire the
The US is not publicizing the
scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make
confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of
avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall
strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.
When asked why the paper seems to
indicate a certainty of Iranian WMD, Plesch made clear that,
"our paper is not, repeat not, about
what Iran actually has or not." Yet, he added that "Iran
certainly has missiles and probably some chemical capability."
Most significantly, Plesch and
Butcher dispute conventional wisdom that any US attack on Iran
would be confined to its nuclear sites. Instead, they foresee a
"full-spectrum approach," designed to either instigate an overthrow
of the government or reduce Iran to the status of "a weak or failed
Although they acknowledge potential
risks and impediments that might deter the Bush administration from
carrying out such a massive attack, they also emphasize that the
administration's National Security Strategy includes as a major goal
the elimination of Iran as a regional power.
They suggest, therefore, that:
This wider form of air attack would
be the most likely to delay the Iranian nuclear program for a
sufficiently long period of time to meet the administration’s
current counter-proliferation goals. It would also be consistent
with the possible goal of employing military action is to
overthrow the current Iranian government, since it would
severely degrade the capability of the Iranian military (in
particular revolutionary guards units and other ultra-loyalists)
to keep armed opposition and separatist movements under control.
It would also achieve the US objective of neutralizing Iran as a
power in the region for many years to come.
However, it is the option that contains
the greatest risk of increased global tension and hatred of the
United States. The US would have few, if any allies for such a
mission beyond Israel (and possibly the UK). Once undertaken, the
imperatives for success would be enormous.
Butcher says he does not believe the US would use nuclear
weapons, with some exceptions.
"My opinion is that [nuclear
weapons] wouldn't be used unless there was definite evidence
that Iran has them too or is about to acquire them in a matter
of days/weeks," notes Butcher.
"However, the Natanz facility has
been so hardened that to destroy it MAY require nuclear weapons,
and once an attack had started it may simply be a matter of
following military logic and doctrine to full extent, which
would call for the use of nukes if all other means failed."
The bulk of the paper is devoted to a detailed analysis of specific
military strategies for such an attack, of ongoing attempts to
destabilize Iran by inciting its ethnic minorities, and of the
considerations surrounding the possible employment of nuclear
In particular, Plesch and Butcher examine what is
known as Global Strike – the capability to project military
power from the United States to anywhere in the world, which was
announced by STRATCOM as having initial operational capability in
December 2005. It is the that capacity that could provide strategic
bombers and missiles to devastate Iran on just a few hours notice.
Iran has a weak air force and anti
aircraft capability, almost all of it is 20-30 years old and it
lacks modern integrated communications. Not only will these
forces be rapidly destroyed by US air power, but Iranian ground
and air forces will have to fight without protection from air
British military sources stated on condition of anonymity, that
"the US military switched its whole focus to Iran" from March
2003. It continued this focus even though it had infantry bogged
down in fighting the insurgency in Iraq.
Global Strike could be combined
"regional operational plans for
limited war with Iran, such as Oplan 1002-04, for an attack on
the western province of Kuzhestan, or Oplan 1019 which deals
with preventing Iran from closing the Straits of Hormuz, and
therefore keeping open oil lanes vital to the US economy."
The Marines are not all tied down
fighting in Iraq. Several Marine forces are assembling in the Gulf,
each with its own aircraft carrier. These carrier forces can each
conduct a version of the D-Day landings. They come with landing
craft, tanks, jump-jets, thousands of troops and hundreds more
cruise missiles. Their task is to destroy Iranian forces able to
attack oil tankers and to secure oilfields and installations. They
have trained for this mission since the Iranian revolution of 1979
as is indicated in this battle map of Hormuz illustrating an advert
for combat training software.
Special Forces units – which are believed to already be operating
within Iran – would be available to carry out search-and-destroy
missions and incite internal uprisings, while US Army units in both
Iraq and Afghanistan could mount air and missile attacks on Iranian
forces, which are heavily concentrated along the Iran-Iraq border,
as well as protecting their own supply lines within Iraq:
A key assessment in any war with
Iran concerns Basra province and the Kuwait border. It is likely
that Iran and its sympathizers could take control of population
centers and interrupt oil supplies, if it was in their interest
to do so.
However it is unlikely that they could make any
sustained effort against Kuwait or interrupt supply lines north
from Kuwait to central Iraq. US firepower is simply too great
for any Iranian conventional force.
Experts question the
Former CIA analyst and Deputy Director for Transportation
Security, Antiterrorism Assistance Training, and Special Operations
in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism, Larry
Johnson, does not agree with the report’s findings.
"The report seems to accept without
question that US air force and navy bombers could effectively
destroy Iran and they seem to ignore the fact that US use of air
power in Iraq has failed to destroy all major military,
political, economic and transport capabilities," said Johnson
late Monday after the embargo on the study had been lifted.
"But at least in their conclusions they still acknowledge that
Iran, if attacked, would be able to retaliate. Yet they are
vague in terms of detailing the extent of the damage that the
Iran is capable of inflicting on the US and fairly assessing
what those risks are."
There is also the situation of US
soldiers in Iraq and the supply routes that would have to be
protected to ensure that US forces had what they needed. Plesch
"firepower is an effective means of
securing supply routes during conventional war and in
conventional war a higher loss rate is expected."
"However as we say do not assume that the Iraqi Shiia will rally
to Tehran – the quietist Shiia tradition favored by Sistani may
regard itself as justified if imploding Iranian power can be
argued to reduce US problems in Iraq, not increase them."
Director of Global Security, a
Washington-based military, intelligence, and security clearinghouse,
says that the question of Iraq is the one issue at the center of any
questions regarding Iran.
"The situation in Iraq is a wild
card, though it may be presumed that Iran would mount attacks on
the US at some remove, rather than upsetting the apple-cart in
its own front yard," wrote Pike in an email.
Plesch and Butcher write with concern about the
political context within the United States:
This debate is bleeding over into
the 2008 Presidential election, with evidence mounting that
despite the public unpopularity of the war in Iraq, Iran is
emerging as an issue over which Presidential candidates in both
major American parties can show their strong national security
The debate on how to deal with Iran is thus occurring in a
political context in the US that is hard for those in Europe or
the Middle East to understand. A context that may seem to some
to be divorced from reality, but with the US ability to project
military power across the globe, the reality of Washington DC is
one that matters perhaps above all else....
We should not underestimate the Bush
administration's ability to convince itself that an "Iran of the
regions" will emerge from a post-rubble Iran. So, do not be in
the least surprised if the United States attacks Iran. Timing is
an open question, but it is hard to find convincing arguments
that war will be avoided, or at least ones that are convincing
Plesch and Butcher are
also interested in the attitudes of the current UK government, which
has carefully avoided revealing what its position might be in the
case of an attack. They point out, however,
"One key caution is that regardless
of the realities of Iran’s programme, the British public and
elite may simply refuse to participate – almost out of bloody
minded revenge for the Iraq deceit."
And they conclude that even,
"if the attack is 'successful' and
the US reasserts its global military dominance and reduces Iran
to the status of an oil-rich failed state, then the risks to
humanity in general and to the states of the Middle East are