Until recently, I thought the odds that the United States would attack Iran were less than fifty-fifty, but the chances of a military confrontation are clearly growing (as my colleague Scott Horton has been reporting on for some time). Earlier this year, I asked a former CIA official, who was stationed in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War and served in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, if he though the administration was planning a military strike. “I don’t think the administration is about to carry out military action,” he told me. “The military does not want to do this. We will lose planes if there is a massive air strike over Iran. We’ll have pilots killed and captured.”
Yesterday, I called the official—who speaks with me only off the record—and he now believes a military strike is likely. Here are his comments, which I offer not as an endorsement of an invasion, but because of his knowledge and insights into what might lay ahead:
It looks like a military strike is in the works and I base that on two things: observable fact and the rhetoric emanating from the White House. There’s a lot of movement of troops and materiel into the region–it’s stuff the United States can’t hide. It’s a huge expense to put Navy battle groups in the Gulf and we’ve got three of them there. We’ve also moved new fighter planes to Guam amidst much public fanfare. You can plainly see the upturn in US Naval activity in and around the Norfolk Naval installations. The movement of ships, re-supply, ammunition loading and general level of activity is high.
The Naval facilities and the ammunition loading areas are well known, and the activity is readily visible, especially at night. There’s a stream of ships coming in to load up and when they take off new ones come in. There’s only one part of the world where all that stuff is heading. Also, everyone I know who would be involved in an attack on Iran–pilots and other air assets–is gone. Normally some of them are around but now all of them are away at the same time.
The other evidence of a likely strike is all the harsh talk from the White House. President Bush has been talking about Iran a lot more recently, and he put the Revolutionary Guard on the list of terrorist groups. Whatever you think of the president, he has said he won’t let Iran move forward with its nuclear program. I’d take him at his word.
And it’s doable. The only part of the military that’s not stretched to the limits in Iraq is the Air Force. It will be a multi-day, multi-target air campaign–not ‘Shock and Awe,’ which wasn’t shocking and didn’t awe anyone, but a savage blow struck against President Ahmadinejad. We shouldn’t hit Iran’s Navy or Air Force but target the nuclear sites and the Revolutionary Guard. A measured response helps Ahmadinejad because he’s saying the Americans won’t attack, or can’t hurt, Iran. A disproportionate response will be hard for him to explain to the Iranian public.