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Showdown With IranFRONTLINE
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Is Iran Next?

Iranians and Americans on the probability -- and consequences -- of U.S. military action against Iran.

Richard Armitage
U.S. deputy secretary of state, 2001-05

To take action, unless it was imperative, would both leave the administration with, I think, a really negative taste in the mouth of most Americans and would lead to perhaps the worst of all worlds, where a new administration then might have to make a decision to immediately cease it, so we'd be sort of caught midstream.

I don't know the situation but from what I know, we have some time. There are a lot of factors at play, to include the fact that our European friends are involved helpfully and usefully in this endeavor. We've got to satisfy ourselves more on Afghanistan and try to leave Iraq in a better situation before we take on Iran. That would be my view.

Now, that could change tomorrow if there were an immediate impending threat from Iran, but that's something that should be visible at least to the eyes of the U.S. Congress, both the Senate and the House, so we could get the necessary support to carry this through.

Just to be clear, that would have to be more than what [Iran is] doing now in Iraq.

From my point of view it would, yes. I mean, is it a surprise to anyone that they're involved in Iraq? No, of course not. Now, I think there's a question about the level of their involvement. I can't measure it, but the last time I looked at the unclassified [National Intelligence Estimate] they were involved, but they were not ... the central cause of all of our troubles. ...

Robin Wright
The Washington Post

photo of Wright

... There's enormous frustration within the administration that all the sanctions it's imposed on Iran itself and through the United Nations have not had serious impact. The dialogue with Iranian diplomats in Baghdad has been followed only by increased engagement or intervention in Iraq. There continues to be a flow of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, despite a U.N. resolution. They've discovered a Hezbollah operative in Iraq working for Iran, training Shi'ite militias.

... Why not just kick it back to the next administration?

I think there's a basic feeling within the administration that they don't trust the Democrats to be able to be tough enough on Iran. There's also a feeling that this is the moment to move, and if the United States doesn't, that Iran may make so much [nuclear] progress that it will be very difficult. ...

Mohammad Jafari
Iranian National Security Council

It's clear that over the past three decades the Islamic Republic has left no attack without a response. ... You will not find a single instance in which a country has inflicted harm on us and we have left it without a response. So if the United States makes such a mistake, they should know that we will definitely respond. And we don't make idle threats. Our past has demonstrated this. Just as we made Saddam Hussein forever sorry he attacked Iran, anyone else who attacks Iran will be very sorry. ...

Hillary Mann
Iran director, U.S. National Security Council, 2001-03

photo of Mann

I don't think the limited talks we're having with Iran are going to amount to that much and this administration is going to be left -- I think by the end of 2007, early 2008 -- with the choice of accepting an Iran that has a nuclear weapons capacity. And the only thing they're going to be able to do about it are targeted strikes inside Iran.

What's wrong with that?

What's wrong with that? I don't think it's going to be very effective, and I think the backlash could be quite significant. I think for even Iranians that can be very, very critical of their own government, there's not going to be many Iranians who are not going to rally around the Iranian flag and support the Iranian government if it is seen as coming under attack from the United States. That's the first thing. ...

The Iranians have an asymmetric warfare capacity. ... They could cut off supplies to U.S. troops very quickly. They have an incredible infrastructure and network in southern Iraq, and our troops are supplied from Kuwait, essentially. ... And that's just inside Iraq. That doesn't even deal with their own networks in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, worldwide. ...

Reuel Marc Gerecht
American Enterprise Institute

photo of Gerecht

I think it's fair to say [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad really does believe the United States is too weak to respond to him now, and I think [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei thinks probably the same way. But whether others think that way in the regime is not clear. We'll see. That's why I think it's very, very important that every time [Seymour] Hersh writes a piece in The New Yorker saying the Americans are getting ready to bomb -- you know, great! It is the best psychological ops the Americans could possibly have. ...

So I think it is in our interest to have the clerical elite believe that George W. Bush, yes, he could in fact bomb those facilities. I actually think he could. I don't think the planning on this or the intention on this is nearly what has been rumored in certain quarters, but I do think it is possible.

But he could also punt it. I think it largely depends on what you're wanting to do. If they continue to kill Americans in Iraq, if they continue to thumb their nose at the European Union, if they continue to stall on the nuclear weapons program, on the enrichment program, it's possible that in 14 months time, or before, you could see military action.

If they do, what are the likely consequences?

The Iranians will certainly respond with terrorism. That's one of the reasons [they] want to have nuclear weaponry anyway, is because they have terrorism in their DNA. I would expect them to try to cause trouble in Iraq. Now, the one thing you're not going to see is Iranian Revolutionary Guards taking on American soldiers; they'd be slaughtered. ...

Now, will the Iranians be patient and try to figure out ways to strike the Americans? Absolutely. But again, is that damage less or more than allowing a regime with the history that the clerics have to have nuclear weaponry? I would say no. I'd rather take a risk. ...

Hossein Shariatmadari
Editor, Kayhan newspaper, Iran

I'm not saying that we would not get hurt by such an attack, but at the same time, we would not let Americans escape unhurt. ...

The first step would be that all areas in Israel are in reach of our missiles; I mean, there is not a single place in Israel outside the range of our missiles. Even some European countries are within the range of our missiles. Therefore, it won't be easy at all for the Americans to do something like that against us.

I think the Americans understand this. For eight years [during the Iran-Iraq war] we had all the world -- Americans, Europeans and Israelis -- fighting us. How was it during those eight years of an imposed war? They did not get any results out of it.

But whether Mr. Bush would do such a stupid thing in his last months of power, yes, that is not unlikely. That possibility is being discussed here, too. ... Fortunately, complete readiness for that is in place.

Uzi Arad
Former director of intelligence, Mossad

photo of Arad

... If it came to it, would Israel have to act on its own?

Well, Israel at the moment is looking to the international community to take the necessary action and to U.S. leadership with its allies. The threat is to the international community, to the international economy, to the region. It's not Israel's problem alone.

Well, yes, but the regime's president is saying he wants to eliminate your country.

But you know, we could say that we could cope with our problem by ourselves. One possibility is simply to dissuade that government from ever thinking about it and by providing a very effective and robust deterrent. That may resolve our problem. But will it resolve the region's problem with a nuclear Iran and with nuclear proliferation all over the place? That is the issue. ...

John Bolton
U.S. ambassador to the U.N., 2005-06

photo of Bolton

The president has said repeatedly that it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and if he means unacceptable, then I assume he would take military action if he had to. Whether that will in fact occur, I don't know.

If I were to predict today, I would bet diplomacy would be going on right up until noon on Jan. 20, 2009, and I predict that it will be just as much a failure then as it is now.

So some action needs to be taken.

I think if action is not taken in terms of regime change or, if need be, the use of military force, the question of when Iran achieves nuclear weapons is entirely in Iran's own hands. And that is extraordinarily undesirable. ...

Vali Nasr
Author, The Shia Revival

photo of Nasr

... Iran and the U.S. are now locked in a very dangerous game of each trying to appear harder than the other side and get the other side to blink first. But the more the other side won't blink and keeps retaliating you feel pressure to keep escalating. And there could always be the danger that then would translate into a direct confrontation.

Some people have said to me in this town that they wouldn't mind that if there's a spark that sets a bigger confrontation in motion. Do you think that's actually the intention?

I think the Iranians actually believe that that's the case and believe that that's the dominant voice in Washington. ... A number of them have said that they look at U.S. policies towards Hezabollah, Hamas, against Iranian assets in Iraq, the escalation of tensions in Afghanistan between Iran and the U.S., as very clear signals that Washington is egging for exactly that kind of a confrontation. ...

Hamid Reza Asefi
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, 1999-'07

photo of Asefi

... From your perspective do you believe the U.S. administration is proceeding toward conflict with Iran?

We are hearing different voices. ... All in all, the majority in America do not believe in that approach. I think the wisdom at the end of the day will prevail in America and American foreign policy because the Americans knows that by conflict they cannot gain anything.

Of course, the president is able to order strikes on his own. Do you think there's a possibility of that?

I do not believe that will happen at the end of the day, but if that happens that is bad for the American president because he will suffer.

How?

We are capable of defending ourselves. I'm not going to tell you how because that is something which one should not speak before the press. But definitely if the Americans make such a bad mistake it is not in their own interest.

There have been reports that elements within the Iranian government have issued some kind of warning to governments in the region here that there might be a problem.

No, no, that is not true. ... Why should we threaten these countries? ... We consider the countries in the region our brothers, our friends, and we are not going to harm them. ...

Flynt Leverett
Middle East director, U.S. National Security Council, 2002-03

photo of Leverett

... I think Secretary [of State Condoleeza] Rice and the people who work with her don't believe that it's in America's interest to get into a shooting war with Iran. Now, they have no strategic vision when it comes to putting U.S.-Iranian relations on a more positive trajectory; they are, I think, feckless in that sense. But they do have a sense that it's not in America's interest to get into a military confrontation and they're using essentially unproductive diplomacy as a way of killing enough time that President Bush doesn't have to face a decision whether to use military force.

On the other side, I think you still have important power centers in the administration, Vice President Cheney first among them, who believe that a military confrontation with Iran is both inevitable and necessary. And you have these two dynamics within the administration playing themselves out against each other. The result is a policy that looks internally contradictory, even schizophrenic in public. ...

Update, Oct. 25, 2007: On Oct. 25, 2007, the Bush administration announced new unilateral sanctions against Iran. Most notably, the administration named Iran's Revolutionary Guard and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics "entitites of proliferation concern" regarding weapons of mass destruction. It also targeted the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force for "providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations." Washington Post writer and longtime Iran observer Robin Wright called the sanctions "the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy" and "the first time the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country's military."

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posted october 23, 2007

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