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An accelerating covert war with Iran: Could it spiral into military action?

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"We've been intermittently fighting a cold war with Iran for three decades, and the covert aspect of it has increased substantially in the last few years," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Both President Bush and President Obama seemed to calculate that covert means can be effective in delaying Iran's nuclear progress, and at a fraction of the political and economic costs of a military attack."

Yet as incidents in an intensifying cold war multiply, with Iran appearing to ratchet up its response, more experts and former intelligence officers who specialize in Iran are cautioning that a spiraling tit-for-tat covert war risks becoming a hot conflict.

"I'm skeptical about any meaningful impact these kinds of actions have, except perhaps the significant effect of making the people involved more hard-line and determined than they were before," says Matthew Bunn, a nuclear proliferation expert at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in Cambridge, Mass. "It's hard to see how this kind of covert activity is really going to change anything, except for the worse."

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