TARGET IRAN: US ABLE TO STRIKE IN THE SPRING

Despite denials, Pentagon plans for possible attack on nuclear sites are well advanced

Ewen MacAskill in Washington, THE GUARDIAN, Saturday February 10, 2007

A second battle group has been ordered to the Gulf and extra missiles have already been sent out. Meanwhile oil is being stockpiled. US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. The state department and the Pentagon are opposed, as are Democratic congressmen and the overwhelming majority of Republicans. The sources said Mr Bush had not yet made a decision.

The Bush administration insists the military build-up is not offensive but aimed at containing Iran and forcing it to make diplomatic concessions. The aim is to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear weapons programme and abandon ambitions for regional expansion.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, said yesterday: “I don’t know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran.” But Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst, shared the sources’ assessment that Pentagon planning was well under way. “Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place.” He added: “We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous.”

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