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Israeli attack on Iran might pull U.S. into new war

By Robert Burns

AP National Security Writer

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 10:53 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2012


WASHINGTON >> An Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear sites could draw the U.S. into a new Mideast conflict, a prospect dreaded by a war-weary Pentagon wary of new entanglements.

That could mean pressing into service the top tier of American firepower — warplanes, warships, special operations forces and possibly airborne infantry — with unpredictable outcomes in one of the world's most volatile regions.

"Israel can commence a war with Iran, but it may well take U.S. involvement to conclude it," says Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

An armed clash with Iran is far from certain. Diplomacy backed by increasingly tough economic penalties is still seen by the United States and much of the rest of the world as worth pursuing for now, not least because the other options — going to war or simply doing nothing — are considered more risky.

Israel, however, worries that Iran soon could enter a "zone of immunity" in which enough of its nuclear materials are beyond the reach of Israeli air power so that Iran could not be stopped, or perhaps could be stopped only by superior American firepower.

If Israel's American-made strike planes managed to penetrate Iranian air space and bomb Iran's main nuclear facilities, some of which are underground, then Iran would be expected to retaliate in any number of ways. That possibly could include the firing of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles at Tel Aviv or other Israeli targets.

Iran might take a less direct approach, relying on its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon or Hamas militants in Gaza to hit Israel with missiles from closer range.

Iran also might block the Strait of Hormuz, a key transit route for the world's oil tankers. It could attack nearby Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. In either of these scenarios, the U.S. military almost certainly would hit back, possibly with strikes against the Iranian navy or land targets.

Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, sees a chance that the U.S. could largely stay out of the fight if Israel struck first. If Iran's air defenses managed to knock down an Israeli fighter pilot, however, U.S. special operations forces might be sent to rescue him, he said.

If the U.S. spotted Iran preparing to fire a ballistic missile at Israel in a retaliatory act, "it's possible we would decide to take that missile out," O'Hanlon said. "I would bet against most other direct American involvement."

Iran's response to an Israeli pre-emptive strike is unpredictable. Iran's defense minister, in a warning broadcast Saturday on state-run television, said a strike by "the Zionist regime will undoubtedly lead to the collapse of this regime." Gen. Ahmad Vahidi did not say what type of action Iran would take should Israel attack.

Uncertainty about Iranian retaliation, as well as the cascade of potential consequences if the U.S. got drawn into the conflict, is at the core of U.S. officials' rationale for publicly casting doubt on the wisdom of Israeli military action now.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bluntly made the point last weekend. He told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" that the retaliation equation is "the reason that we think that it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran" and "that's been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis, well-known, well-documented." He said he doubts Israel has been persuaded by Washington's pleadings.

Depending on the type and scale of the Iranian reaction to an Israeli strike, and whether it included attacks on U.S. forces or bases, President Barack Obama would be under enormous domestic political pressure to come to Israel's aid. His prospective Republican challengers for the White House have tried to portray Obama as insufficiently loyal to Israel and overly tolerant of Iran.

Obama could decide to provide Israel with extra missile defense systems, such as the Patriot, to help defend its cities. He could choose a more aggressive course, ordering follow-up air strikes on Iranian targets such as military bases and its remaining nuclear facilities.

"That's kind of the nightmare scenario," says Charles Wald, a retired Air Force general who argues nonetheless that the best hope for stopping Iran from getting the bomb is to strengthen the credibility of threats to use U.S. or Israeli military force. Such threats, he argues, could change Iran's course.

The U.S. has two aircraft carriers, the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Carl Vinson, and other warships near Iran's shores, as well as a wide array of warplanes at land bases on the Arabian Peninsula, and thousands of troops in Kuwait. It also has special operations forces near Iran's eastern border, in Afghanistan.

Wald is co-leader of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which warned in a Feb. 8 report that Iran is "fast approaching the nuclear threshold." While not advocating an Israeli pre-emptive strike, Wald's group said the U.S. should provide Israel with 200 advanced GBU-31 bombs capable of reaching targets buried deep underground and three KC-135 refueling planes to extend the range of Israel's strike jets.

The US has no immediate plans to provide Israel with new military aid.

The consensus view among U.S. intelligence agencies is that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb now but is developing a capability to do so in the future. A critical question is how long it would take Iran to assemble a bomb, once a decision was made to proceed, and how much additional time it would need to affix the bomb to a missile or other means of delivering it beyond its own borders.

.Obama has not ruled out using force to stop Iran from building a bomb. But his administration, joined by many allied nations, has counseled Israel to hold off. Several senior administration officials have been to Israel in recent days to emphasize caution, including Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon.

Obama is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5. The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, is meeting Wednesday at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and has invited the U.S. and four other powers to sit down for nuclear talks. But in recent weeks tensions have grown amid Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for Western penalties and debate in Israel about a pre-emptive strike.

Adding to a sense of urgency was a Feb. 2 Washington Post report that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will attack Iran in April, May or June. Panetta has not disputed the report but has said he doesn't think Israel has yet decided to act.

In the U.S. view, any Israeli attack could set back the Iranian nuclear program a few of years at most, while giving Iranian leaders extra incentive and domestic support for rebuilding a clandestine program out of reach of U.N. inspectors.







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butinski wrote:
Why are we so hell bent as to support Israel in every issue? Israel is so anxious to draw us in with them and to let us do the dirty work. Ron Paul has it correct. We need to mind our own business and bring the troops home. We have enough of our own problems.
on February 25,2012 | 09:13AM
OldDiver wrote:
I agree, this is plain insanity.
on February 25,2012 | 09:31AM
Changalang wrote:
Shows how much influence the Israeli gov't has in Congress. IAEA reports missing Uranium from Iran. A dirty bomb in Tel Aviv is a real threat because of the half life and the impossibility of scrubbing a City. Without a proper isotope signature, the Iranians have plausible deniability as to being the source of such an attack in a post event investigation. Israel is going to hit 'em without question. The U.S. is in the precarious position of making sure it is done right; or trying to create as much distance as possible even though the Shiite world will blame us either way. The House of Saad wants Iran set back, so they don't have to advance their nuclear program to keep up. I am afraid it is on, gentlemen.
on February 25,2012 | 10:20AM
allie wrote:
Israel is a curse upon the USA. Can't we do waht is in OUR interest for a change. Israel owns Congress and it is really hurting America
on February 25,2012 | 12:23PM
peanutgallery wrote:
You libs are so dangerous it's incredible. Hopefully, you're a minority, and we will all get to see our children and grandchildren grow up. Naive doesn't even begin to describe your comments.
on February 26,2012 | 03:44AM
Changalang wrote:
Shows how much influence the Israeli gov't has in Congress. IAEA reports missing Uranium from Iran. A dirty bomb in Tel Aviv is a real threat because of the half life and the impossibility of scrubbing a City. Without a proper isotope signature, the Iranians have plausible deniability as to being the source of such an attack in a post event investigation. Israel is going to hit 'em without question. The U.S. is in the precarious position of making sure it is done right; or trying to create as much distance as possible even though the Shiite world will blame us either way. The House of Saad wants Iran set back, so they don't have to advance their nuclear program to keep up. I am afraid it is on, gentlemen.
on February 25,2012 | 10:20AM
Changalang wrote:
Shows how much influence the Israeli gov't has in Congress. IAEA reports missing Uranium from Iran. A dirty bomb in Tel Aviv is a real threat because of the half life and the impossibility of scrubbing a City. Without a proper isotope signature, the Iranians have plausible deniability as to being the source of such an attack in a post event investigation. Israel is going to hit 'em without question. The U.S. is in the precarious position of making sure it is done right; or trying to create as much distance as possible even though the Sh!ite world will blame us either way. The House of Saad wants Iran set back, so they don't have to advance their nuclear program to keep up. I am afraid it is on, gentlemen.
on February 25,2012 | 10:21AM
allie wrote:
Lingle will ensure we do waht Israel deamnds.
on February 25,2012 | 12:23PM
Changalang wrote:
Lingle can't even ensure the Hawaii GOP does what Israel demands.
on February 25,2012 | 01:33PM
kailua1980 wrote:
Why? Because Iran having nuclear capability is not a regional problem...it is a worldwide problem. Iran and her allies have proven in the past that they are not countries capable of participating on the same playing field as the other powers in the region. BTW you might be interested in reading "Bullseye Iraq" by Dan McKinnon. Israel did the world a favor before by taking out a nuclear facility Saddam Hussein was developing, back in 1981. This was an absolutely fantastic air strike done with no help or assistance from any other countries. Perhaps missed or forgotten by many, Israel was publically condemned...but earned tongue-in-cheek praise from virtually every government in the free world for this brave action. It is a truly great story about a great service Israel did for the world. Iran needs to be reminded of this, and needs to voluntarily cease all nuclear technologies development or face the wrath they are about to bring upon themselves. Bullseye TWO! Go Israel!
on February 25,2012 | 10:24AM
Changalang wrote:
Israel is surrounded. AQ is all over Egypt and Al Zawahiri's original organization; Islamic Brotherhood just won majority in the new gov't parliament. Hez from up North with all the land to land rocket threat and Hamas down South carrying c4 fortified vest in. Israel should just lease out a chunk of Florida, relocate, and call it a day. The U.S. just gave Iraq over to Muqtada Al Sadr and Malaki couldn't be happier. The SAM 7s from West Libya are enroute to Afghanistan for the next fighting season and will bring birds down better than the Stingers that sent the Soviets packing supplied by Black Hand Bob to Mujahadeen in the 80's. The U.S. needs forces on the Southern border in our own Continent yesterday. Forget the Muslim world. Maybe over time of us being gone; we can rebuild relationships from afar. Read some work Michael F. Scheuer. His mindset is where America has to be to win the WOT.
on February 25,2012 | 10:59AM
allie wrote:
Israel is a rogue nation hon. They oppress the Palestinians and are loaded with nuclear weapons. Odd that iran should be blamed for wanting even one when israel has 300 nukes according to news.
on February 25,2012 | 12:21PM
Changalang wrote:
Israel was a bad plan from the beginning. Read some of Mikey's literary contributions. He is an ex-Company man who headed the Bin Laden unit under two Presidents, and finally left when there was so much resistance from the State Department to listen to logic. Hamas and Hez are no angels and are in fact terror!st scum; but one must ask regarding who started it and what came first, the chicken or the egg? Centuries of combat, tribal wranglings, and culture clash will not be solved by a nuclear arms race. Israel has proven that it can hold its nukes for about 50 years. Iran is already hiding Uranium from the IAEA. The only logical reason is to conceal the isotope signature and mask the source where the enriched Uranium was produced when it shows up in the world's atmosphere.
on February 25,2012 | 01:41PM
1local wrote:
Israel fought Iran before and shut them up in less than a week. Time for Iran to go the way of iraq and egypt - back into obscurity...
on February 25,2012 | 12:19PM
Changalang wrote:
Iran is a chief sponsor of global terror and attack Israel via Hez rocket attacks from Lebanon.
on February 25,2012 | 01:42PM
d1shima wrote:
Maybe McCain had it right 4 years ago after all! "Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bomb bomb Iran."
on February 25,2012 | 09:18AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
The Iranians (actually their political hierarchy) is playing a high stakes game! Acting crazy as a bedbug can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings and really, really loud bangs. If indeed Iran is a rational actor it better step up and start acting like one. Telling your much more heavily armed neighbor that you don't recognize his right to exist and will wipe the earth of him isn't really helpful.
on February 25,2012 | 09:45AM
Changalang wrote:
They will just use Hezb0llah with isotope blinded material to do their dirty work. Look at how effective Hez has been in raising capital in the drug trade from the Venezuelan embassy of Iran. Deeply embedded with Mexican drug cartels. Believe it or not, Hez got the idea by having their agents sell illegal cigarettes in the U.S. for cash flow in North Carolina over a decade ago. At least North Korea just prints 100 dollar bills to fund their operations; but then again so does Ben Bernanke.
on February 25,2012 | 10:26AM
saveparadise wrote:
Damned if you do and damned if you don't. This threat is real.
on February 25,2012 | 10:16AM
saveparadise wrote:
This is a no win situation regardless of what transpires. Armaggeddon in the making. Is this Iranian the Antichrist?
on February 25,2012 | 10:18AM
false wrote:
Please, not another war! Israel needs to fight this battle without our help.
on February 25,2012 | 10:36AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
This article is a fairly good summary of the situation, but nothing new. And certainly nothing urgent. If this newspaper wants to print it in the regular edition on Sunday, that's fine. But why does it get the "breaking news" treatment, getting everyone all riled up as though something urgently newsworthy is happening right now? POSTED: 09:30 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2012 LAST UPDATED: 10:53 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2012. Wow. Makes me think I'd better run to the bomb shelter. If the writer has a hiccup in a few more minutes, I wonder if we'll get yet another "update."
on February 25,2012 | 11:05AM
Kapakahi wrote:

Why, if an Israel jet is shot down while attacking Iran, is it assumed the United States would send in a special ops team to rescue him? How is that any of our business or a "vital national interest"?

The US government clearly does not want to go to war. The intelligence agencies, despite all the misleading rhetoric we are seeing in the media, have reported Iran is NOT close to developing a nuclear weapon and that they do not appear to have decided to do so. Yet there is a war fever being deliberately orchestrated in the media by groups within the US aligned with the Israeli government.

It is not clear to me whether the Israelis are as crazy as they appear or if they believe, like th US Republicans, that the best way to negotiate with Obama is to take an extreme stance and rely upon him buckling to meet most of your demands. The current US sanctions regime is in itself, an act of war. If another power were to launch a publicly announced strategy to "make the US economy scream," while surrounding our country with aircraft carriers, battleships and military bases, we would go to war against them.

It is possible the Israelis will commit an act of military aggression against Iran with the full expectation the US will jump in to save their bacon. Do we have enough independence to refuse to let them take us into war? Why does this pipsqueak country have us by the shorthairs? It is highly likely there will be a "terrorist attack" on some US military, diplomatic or corporate target either immediately before or shortly after any planned Israeli attack if the Obama administration is wavering. The attack will have the effect of either causing the US military to carry out the attack instead of Israel, or to jump in on their side once the fighting starts. In "the fog of war," there will not be enough time to determine whether the attack comes from forces aligned with Iran, Israeli agents or a third party, like Al Qaida, who are hostile to Iran, but would love to see the US and Israel get drawn even deeper into an unwinnable and costly war with Muslims.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians are kowtowing to insane Christian fundamentalist who actually WANT a appocalyptic, Armageddonesque war involving Israel because they have this delusion it will bring about the return of Jesus and usher in paradise on earth! At least the Islamic fundamentalist's suicidal delusion provides us with 72 virgins. And we call the Muslims fundamentalist crazy?

Maneki says it is the Iranians who are acting crazy and playing a high stakes game. I disagree. Of all the parties, it is the Israelis who are egging this on, applying pressure and working to bring this to a boil. The Iranians are looking for a way out which does not insult their national pride or surrender their sovereignty. The Obama administration appears to be trying to resist the Israeli demands, but are being pulled along, against their will, on a choke chain grasped by Netanyahu.


on February 25,2012 | 11:19AM
Kuokoa wrote:
This time, Obama, your war cannot be blamed on Bush!
on February 25,2012 | 11:42AM
Larry01 wrote:
Unlike Bush, Obama has not yet gotten us into a war. Your comment seems a bit premature.
on February 25,2012 | 12:17PM
Changalang wrote:
Libya does count. AQ is being made stronger via the "Arab Spring". It is more like Sharia Extremist Spring.
on February 25,2012 | 01:45PM
UhhDuhh wrote:
Mossad is suspected of taking out three Iranian nuclear scientists in the past two years with a fourth surviving an attempt. They probably have the green light to take out Adolf Ahmejinadad but can't quite get to him. Yet. They also have to somehow neutralize Ayatollah Ali Khemenei who is the real leader of Iran. I would think if Israel was to assasinate him, it would stir up a hornet's nest with Muslim extremists for obvious religious reasons. Probably the only way to achieve the objective of a democratic Iran without US or Israeli involvement in a full scale war is arm the opposition and let them handle it. Judging from their last uprising, they would put up quite a fight if they had weapons. I believe the US and Israel is waiting for the situation in Syria to play itself out, more than likely with the ouster or death of al-Assad. After that, all that would be left is Adolf Amejinadad and he knows it. That's why he is stepping up his touting of their nuclear program and bringing his gunboats closer to US ships. Reminds me of how a big-mouthed mutt starts yappin' at the big dog right before he gets whupped.
on February 25,2012 | 12:38PM
Changalang wrote:
All U.S. ships in the region are being deck armed with Gatling guns. Soon all U.S. ships on Hormuz patrol will be armed with Phalanx CIWS; radar guided and so accurate it takes out multiple inbound cruise missiles and high speed gunboats without breaking a sweat. Phalanx is known in the business as R2-D2 because of the cylindrical round loaded tank; 20MM rounds fly burn quickly. Raytheon makes the best toys, still. The Iranian Navy and all water assets as well as shore emplacements would be neutralized in several hours. The Iranians aren't stupid, just crazy. Israel is going to hit 'em soon. P.S. The new bunker busters should be field tested as well. I am sure we will have a full assessment of their capability in a matter of months, if not weeks. :) No need to even think about whats going on under the waves. Nothing Iran has is as quiet or untrackable as they think; even electric motor subs.
on February 25,2012 | 02:01PM
HD36 wrote:
The Israel political lobbyst group owns most of our politicians. They control most of the main stream media and the banking system. If you don't support Israel, you get ignored or labeled a nut like Ron Paul. Did we ever find those weapons of mass destruction? The only thing we got out of it was more in debt, while the military industrial complex made out like bandits.
on February 25,2012 | 03:00PM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
I had to laugh when I read, "Iran could be stopped only by superior American firepower." Say WHAT? Where was superior American firepower in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? I believe the last example of superior American firepower was WWII, which we won. After that, we've dropped bombs, destroyed cities and infastructure, killed people (some enemy, some friendly) and lost. We don't need another stinkin' war.
on February 26,2012 | 12:52AM
Changalang wrote:
Agree. Nation building is an utter failure. Military strikes are only good for taking away assets of the enemy.
on February 26,2012 | 06:41AM
HD36 wrote:
We pay to destroy the cities, then we pay again to rebuild em.
on February 26,2012 | 07:25AM
akuman808 wrote:
Bibi Netanyahu is the John McCain of Israel. Thank goodness McCain was defeated and not the president. Obama's approach of increased drone attacks thereby less US casaulties and deaths, or the surgical seal team taking out Bin Laden. Israel has probably one of the most lethal military fighting machine in the world. Their intelligence agency is far more superior than our own CIA. They can if warranted inflict the type of damage they need to on Iran. Bibi needs to meet with the :President with the mutual interest in mind & not to ratchet up the timeline like Bush did with Iraq for political reasons at the expense of countless lives.
on February 26,2012 | 08:22AM
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