Statements by US and Israeli officials in recent days on the possibility of attacking Iran have been met with increased posturing on both sides, warnings of retaliation from Tehran, and worries by the head of the international nuclear watchdog of a "brewing confrontation."
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut suggested that the US should consider attacking Iran to keep them from training and supplying insurgents and foreign fighters in Iraq, as well as to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
"I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq…. And to me, that would include a strike into... over the border into Iran, where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers."
Senator Lieberman, a former Democrat who lost his party's support before regaining his seat in Congress as an Independent, also said that if the US fails to take action against Iran, "they'll take that as a sign of weakness on our part and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region and ultimately right here at home."
"We can tell them we want them to stop that, but if there's any hope of the Iranians living according to the international rule of law and stopping, for instance, their nuclear weapons development, we can't just talk to them…. If they don't play by the rules, we've got to use our force, and to me that would include taking military action to stop them from doing what they're doing."
The Financial Times notes that Lieberman appears to be the first high-ranking US politician to openly suggest attacking Iran. A White House statement addressing Lieberman's remarks said that the US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker gave Iran a "strong message" to play a constructive role in the region during meetings last month on Iraq, and that President Bush "has made it clear we want to do everything to protect our troops," according to the Financial Times.
In an interview with the Center For American Progress, a progressive think tank, Senator Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said of Lieberman's comments, "I know Joe means well, but I don't agree with him." Reid suggested the US should listen to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and pursue diplomacy with Iraq, adding that "the invasion of [Iran] is only going to destabilize that part of the world more."
Reuters writes that Lieberman's comments are seen by analysts as an "escalation of official US rhetoric."
"This takes it across the border," said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"But it would not be a surgical limited strike. It could potentially escalate into a much more serious confrontation between the two countries, and if that's the direction Lieberman wants to go, he has to be very honest about the potential pitfalls."
Over the weekend, Israel officials indicated that a strike against Iran was an option being considered if diplomacy fails. The Associated Press reports that Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said the US and Israel would review the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran at the end of the year, and that the two allies share a strategy on dealing with Tehran.
"The strategy shared by the U.S. and Israel has three elements," Mofaz told Israel Radio. "One is a united international front against the Iranian nuclear program. Secondly, at this time, sanctions are the best way to act against the aspirations of Iran."
He said the third element is "a very, very clear signal and a clear statement that all options are on the table." Mofaz added: "I never said there is no military option, and the military option is included in all the options that are on the table, but at this time it's right to use the path of sanctions, and to intensify them."
Ynetnews reports that Iran filed a complaint to the UN Security Council of Mofaz's remarks, as well as similar remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which he said "it would take 10 days and 1,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles" to critically damage Iran's nuclear program.
According to the Jerusalem Post, unnamed "senior American military officers" told the paper that they support military action against Iran to prevent the country from becoming a nuclear power, and that the US Navy and Air Force "would play the primary roles in any military action."
A high-ranking American military officer told the Post that senior officers in the US armed forces had thrown their support behind Bush and believed that additional steps needed to be taken to stop Iran.
Predictions within the US military are that Bush will do what is needed to stop Teheran before he leaves office in 2009, including possibly launching a military strike against its nuclear facilities.
Meanwhile, Iran has not let the increasingly hostile posturing by Israel and the US go unnoticed. Agence France-Presse reports that Gholam Ali Hadad Adel, a member of Iran's parliament, told reporters during a visit to Kuwait on Sunday that Iran would attack US military bases in the Gulf if they were used to stage an attack on the country. Mr. Haddad Adel added that Iran's neighbors in the Gulf had "learned many lessons from the US invasion of Iraq," and that "officials in the region are not likely to link their fate with US mistakes" by allowing them to stage attacks in their countries. In a report on Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency, Haddad Adel, after returning to Iran, added that "it is unlikely that US will try its chance in the region for the third time after its defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan."
AFP also reports that Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, the interior and defense minister of Kuwait, a US ally, said his country would not allow the US to launch an attack on Iran from Kuwaiti territory..
The US journal Defense News reported that former Iranian defense minister Adm. Ali Shamkhani indicated that Iran would target any Gulf states that help US in such a way.
"Allegations by some Arab gulf states that the Iranian nuclear program poses an environmental threat to the area and that it would spark a nuclear arms race are aimed at helping the U.S. establish legitimacy for its anticipated aggression against Iran," Shamkhani said.
U.S. military action threatens Iran's existence, he said, "but most of those who speak about the war option are well aware that Iran has the capability to face this choice."
However, in a report by the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), Mr. Shamkhani said that he never gave an interview with Defense News, and that "the news is fake and unreal ."
Finally, Bloomberg reports that IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said on Monday that he is "increasingly disturbed by the current stalemate and the brewing confrontation" between Iran and the West over its nuclear program, adding the situation "urgently needs to be broken" and "must be diffused."