Monday, January 24, 2005

How loyal will Blair be if U.S. struck Iran?

How loyal will Blair be if U.S. struck Iran?: "

How loyal will Blair be if U.S. struck Iran?
1/24/2005 10:30:00 AM GMT

How loyal will Blair be to George Bush if the U.S. pushes for a military strike on Iran?

Amidst all the troubles that have occurred following the invasion of Iraq, the one thing the Bush administration could always depend on to be constant and present is Britain's unswerving loyalty to the United States. But it seems that relationship is about to hit a very rocky patch.

Tony Blair's relationship with George Bush is coming under considerable strain especially with the recent murmurings from the White House about a possible military strike on Iran.

British officials are increasingly concerned that months of patient European initiated diplomacy aimed at lessening any Iranian nuclear ambitions may end if the U.S. pursues its preferred military option.

British concerns weren't lessened following Syemour Hersh's report on American commandoes already being in place inside Iran scouting for possible nuclear sites. In fact this covert action has intensified concerns that London and Washington are possibly heading to an embarrassing split over the issue.

Washington is becoming increasingly convinced that the EU-3 Iran initiative is failing to produce the desired results. European negotiators were recently described by David Kay, the former U.S. weapons inspector, as "impotently manipulable". A prominent Washington defence hawk warned: "At some point the Americans are going to turn to the Europeans and say, 'The goal is disarmament but all we are getting is arms control. It's time for a bigger stick'."

Some within the British government feel that Dick Cheney is the one driving the American administration's policy on Iran, his recent statement that if one is to "…look around at potential trouble spots. Iran is right at the top of the list," didn't allay any fears.

Furthermore, there's concern that the Pentagon could act on the basis of flawed intelligence provided by satellite photos - the same source of evidence the Americans used when declaring Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. British sources have described these photographs as "alarmingly inconclusive."

"They tell us, 'Look, bulldozers have been down this road three times. Something's going on'," said one well informed source. "They are very dismissive when European humint (human intelligence) suggests something different."

Israel's 'bit' role

Yet British and other officials warn that intelligence on Iranian nuclear development is far from complete. While Iranian leaders have boasted about some of their nuclear assets, American experts are divided over whether a parallel, clandestine programme is being developed in hardened bunkers out of sight of U.S. satellites.

"We just don't know where all the stuff is," said one British official. "We don't know how far they have dispersed or duplicated facilities and we don't know how much of what we can see is dummy or decoy construction. In short, we can't be sure we've got all the targets to stop them from building a weapon."

Further complicating the Iranian issue is Israel, which has vowed to act if Tehran's nuclear development continues. Shaul Mofaz, Israel's defence minister, warned two years ago that "under no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian possession".

A point U.S. Vice-President Cheney acknowledged last week when he said that Israel "might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards".

Despite reports in Israel that Washington is secretly encouraging Tel Aviv to strike, many U.S. analysts believe that the limited range of Israeli air force bombers would make the mission exceptionally perilous.

A former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack, stated, "I know we would all like the Israelis to take care of this problem for us, but that is why you are hearing them shout so loudly. They are deathly afraid that the Iranians are getting close. They know they can't take care of it and they want us to do so."

But the Iranian leadership doesn't appear to be overly worried by the U.S.'s military threats. "They do not have accurate information about our military capabilities," Ali Shamkhani, Iran's defence minister, retorted last week.

Another government spokesman dismissed reports of American special force activity in Iraq as "a ridiculous bluff" and "psychological warfare".

Behind the Iranian leaderships statements lies what British officials believe is a persuasive argument against a military attack: far from encouraging Iranian reformers to rise up against their government, any form of U.S. intervention might actully unite the country behind Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader."

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