Middle East Times
Middle East Times
August 10, 2006
WASHINGTON -- US President George W. Bush and his vice president abandoned a plan to include "the possible use of a nuclear device" to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz over Pentagon opposition, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has said.
"Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," a former senior intelligence official told Hersh. But Joint Chiefs of Staff's Chairman Marine General Peter Pace "stood up to them," he said. "Then the word came back: 'Okay, the nuclear option is politically unacceptable."
Hersh termed this a "major victory" for the military, but one that has left "bad feelings" between it and the civilian hierarchy in Washington.
In an article published in The New Yorker magazine, Hersh reported senior commanders inside the Pentagon "increasingly challenged the president's plans" on grounds the nuclear attack likely would not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program and "could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences" for the United States.
The possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Natanz's buried laboratories was held to be "politically untenable" as the device could "vent fatal radiation for miles [kilometers]," Hersh wrote. Natanz is about 300 kilometers (roughly 200 miles) south of Tehran.
Instead, the US Air Force has proposed dropping large "bunker-buster" conventional bombs in quick succession on Natanz to "generate sufficient concussive force to accomplish what a tactical nuclear warhead would achieve, but without provoking an outcry over what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki," Hersh wrote.
This approach, however, might fail because the enormous heat generated by the first bomb would liquefy the soil, one Pentagon consultant said. "It will be like bombing water, with its currents and eddies. The bombs would likely be diverted."
Besides, as Hersh noted, over the past two years "the Iranians have been shifting their most sensitive nuclear-related materials and production facilities, moving some into urban areas in anticipation of a bombing raid."
Robert Pape, a University of Chicago professor who has taught at the air force's School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, is quoted as saying Natanz is "a very large underground area, and even if the roof came down we won't be able to get a good estimate of the bomb damage without people on the ground."
"We don't even know where it goes underground, and we won't have much confidence in assessing what we've actually done. Absent capturing an Iranian nuclear scientist and documents, it's impossible to set back the program for sure," Pape said.
One Pentagon adviser told Hersh America's allies fear a US assault against Iran would place them in jeopardy. The Iranians, he said, "have agents all over the Gulf, and the ability to strike at will."
Last May, the emir of Qatar learned during a visit to Iran that his country, the site of the US Central Command's regional headquarters, "would be its first target in the event of an American attack," Hersh wrote. Qatar, a leading gas exporter, operates offshore oil platforms which would be extremely vulnerable in the event of war.
Some Pentagon officers oppose an attack against Iran as it could heighten the risks to US forces in Iraq. "What if 100,000 Iranian volunteers came across the border?" retired Army Major General William Nash asked. And Navy officers worry about "suicide water bombers" attacking US aircraft carriers in the Gulf.
Nash, now a senior fellow at the council on Foreign Relations, said US bombing of Iran "would be seen not only as an attack on Shiites but as an attack on all Muslims. Throughout the Middle East, it would likely be seen as another example of American imperialism. It would probably cause the war to spread."
The US military has also dissented from a bombing campaign against Iran in the absence of specific intelligence evidence "of clandestine activities or hidden facilities," the magazine article said. One high-ranking general told Hersh, "We built this big monster (WMD) with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq."
Sherwood Ross is an American columnist and magazine writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org