Hersh on Iran

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Seymour Hersh's monster piece on the Bush Administration's plans for Iran is required reading. Highlights:
A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do, and that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government. He added, I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, What are they smoking?


One of the militarys initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Irans main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Irans nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.


The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Theyre telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation, he said.


If the order were to be given for an attack, the American combat troops now operating in Iran would be in position to mark the critical targets with laser beams, to insure bombing accuracy and to minimize civilian casualties. As of early winter, I was told by the government consultant with close ties to civilians in the Pentagon, the units were also working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast. The troops are studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds, the consultant said. One goal is to get eyes on the groundquoting a line from Othello, he said, Give me the ocular proof. The broader aim, the consultant said, is to encourage ethnic tensions and undermine the regime.


The adviser went on, If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle. The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. (Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, has close ties to the leading Shiite parties in Iraq.) A retired four-star general told me that, despite the eight thousand British troops in the region, the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck.



Typical Hersh--a string of completely innocuous facts, interspersed with a few anonymously-sourced, otherwise unsubstantiated speculations, adding up to an utterly outlandish, completely unsupported, sensational-but-carefully-hedged conclusion.

Of course the US has plans for a nuclear strike on Iran. The Pentagon would be remiss if it didn't have those plans on file. They also no doubt have lots of different plans on file for varying levels of conventional strike on Iran. I'm already on record as predicting that those plans will stay on file. And if I'm right--and Hersh is wrong--then everybody (except maybe Jack Shafer) will already have forgotten Hersh's latest fit of ludicrous alarmism.

As for US troops having already infiltrated Iran and made contact with various anti-government elements--well, if it's true, it's wonderful news. At the very least, such efforts can provide leverage against the Iranian regime to get them to back off, for example, in Iraq, where they have their own massive infiltration efforts. But then, I'm highly skeptical of anything Hersh reports--including the good news.

Before the Iraq war, with a similar piece, I would agree with you Dan.

The problem is, this administration has shown an amazing recklessness and willing to fight, when they have known full well they are hitting the wrong targets and should know full well they are making the problem worse.

The notion of reducing the hunt for bin Laden in preparation for an attack on Iraq, in 2002/2003 would seem ridiculous. But indeed, thats what happened.

But there really is an issue of what to do if we're faced with choices along the lines of:

a. Iran with fission bombs

b. Israel bombing Iran to keep them from getting fission bombs

c. Us bombing Iran to keep Israel from bombing them, and to keep Iran from having fission bombs.

If we bomb Iran, does anyone have a notion about how we're going to keep the lid on Iraq? (I suppose this does offer an opportunity to get the Sunni and Shia fanatics on the same side of a fight, but maybe not in quite the way we'd hoped....)

Oh, and don't forget Iran's immediate oil embargo (which should skyrocket prices) and probable blocade of the Streights of Hormuz....

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