MULLEN WARNS OF 'THIRD FRONT' FOR U.S.
By Daniel Dombey and Andrew Ward (Washington) and Harvey Morris (United Nations)
Financial Times (London)
July 3, 2008
The chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff warned on Wednesday that an Israeli strike on Iran could open up a “third front” for the U.S. in addition to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling instead for dialogue with Tehran.
In comments to the press, Admiral Michael Mullen, the senior U.S. military commander, also said he was “deeply troubled” by what he said was the increasing effectiveness of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Asked about speculation concerning an Israeli strike on Iran, Admiral Mullen appeared to side with commentators who have warned that the U.S. could be drawn into a broader conflict. He said: “From the U.S. perspective . . . opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us . . . that would really be very challenging.”
While violence in Iraq has declined, last month was the most deadly so far for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with 28 fatalities. “The Taliban and their supporters have, without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks,” Admiral Mullen said.
Israel has highlighted its concern that international policy on Iran -- which consists of sanctions and an offer of negotiations about an incentives package -- has proved unable to slow down Tehran’s nuclear program. Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli deputy prime minister, has warned that military action is “unavoidable” while several reports from the U.S. have raised the possibility of an Israeli airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Tehran insists its program is purely peaceful.
Admiral Mullen called for the use of “diplomatic, financial, and international pressure” to resolve the dispute. “There is a need for better clarity, even dialogue at some level,” he said. To date, the U.S. has refused to discuss the nuclear program with Iran unless Tehran first suspends uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material.
Amid the speculation of an Israeli attack, a senior Iranian adviser said this week that a U.S.-backed offer about Tehran’s nuclear program was acceptable “in principle.” On Wednesday, President George W. Bush said that the diplomatic approach was “making progress.”
Asked whether he had urged restraint on Israel, Mr. Bush said: “I have made it very clear to all parties that the first option ought to be to solve this problem diplomatically.”
On Wednesday Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, sounded a note of compromise. Speaking in New York, he did not specifically rule out a freeze on enrichment as part of a “multi-faceted” agreement leading to a compromise on the dispute.
He said talks last month between Iran and European, Chinese, and Russian representatives had been constructive, adding that Tehran’s response to the package of incentives they had offered would come very soon.
Part of the international offer was a “freeze-for-a-freeze” in which Iran would suspend uranium enrichment and the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, would freeze further imposition of sanctions.
Mr. Mottaki discounted the possibility of an attack by the U.S. or Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.
U.S. PLAYS DOWN CHANCES OF ISRAEL STRIKE ON IRAN
By Kim Landers
ABC News (Australia)
July 3, 2008
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W Bush and his top military adviser are being drawn into potentially dangerous speculation that Israel is preparing to launch a military strike against Iran.
Mr. Bush is doing his best to play down the chances of that happening before he leaves office, but America's most senior military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, is being far blunter, warning that an Israeli strike inside Iran would be a high risk move that could destabilize the Middle East.
Admiral Mullen has just returned from Israel and is refusing to reveal what the country's leadership has told him about any intentions for a military strike on the Islamic republic.
"I won't discuss the details of the concerns they expressed nor will I comment one way or another about the speculation surrounding Israeli intentions," he said upon his return.
He has made it very clear though what he would not like to see happen.
"From the United States's perspective, the United States' military perspective in particular, opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us," he said.
"That doesn't mean we don't have capacity or reserve, but that would really be very challenging and also the consequences of that sometimes are very difficult to predict."
Asked if he has strongly discouraged Israel from launching a military attack on Iran, President George W. Bush is stressing his first option in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions is diplomacy.
"The best way to solve it diplomatically is for the United States to work with other nations to send a focused message, and that is that you will be isolated and you will have economic hardship if you continue trying to enrich."
As for whether the U.S. will launch an attack, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has told reporters in New York that he does not believe the U.S. will "resort to such craziness."
He says with America bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not in a position to "take another risk in the region."
He also says Israel has too much political turmoil to launch an attack of its own.
Iran insists its nuclear program is only aimed at generating electricity.
Mr. Mottaki expects Tehran will respond in less than a fortnight to an international package of incentives seeking to end Iran's nuclear enrichment program.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad has said he is optimistic Iran will respond to the incentives, but the White House remains sceptical.
--Based on a report by Washington correspondent Kim Landers for AM.
MILITARY CHIEF WARNS AGAINST STRIKING IRAN
By Aamer Madhani
July 3, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The words Wednesday from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were notable for their blunt pragmatism: An Israeli airstrike on Iran would be high-risk and could further destabilize the region, leading to political and economic chaos.
On Iran's western border, the U.S. military is more than five years into a war in Iraq that has taken 4,113 American lives and cost U.S. taxpayers more than $600 billion. And on Iran's eastern border, American commanders are now openly questioning whether they have lost their way in the fight against a resurgent Taliban.
Israel, the United States' closest ally in the Middle East, has refused to rule out a strike against Iranian nuclear sites, and this week's New Yorker magazine reported that the U.S. has stepped up its covert operations inside Iran.
While President George W. Bush repeated Wednesday that a military strike remains an option, Mullen's words of caution underscored the Pentagon's belief that a move against Iran -- by the U.S. or one of its allies -- would have an undeniable effect on the ongoing U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us," Mullen acknowledged during a Pentagon news conference. He added moments later, "This is a very unstable part of the world, and I don't need it to be more unstable."
The White House, Israel, and Western powers say Iran continues to work toward producing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is intended only for generating electricity. This week, Iran's foreign minister struck a conciliatory tone when speaking to reporters about the possibility of Tehran agreeing to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
DEATHS IN AFGHANISTAN UP
Mullen's comments come in the wake of the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the 7-year-old war, with 27 American service members killed in June. About 32,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan, compared with 144,000 in Iraq.
Mullen said the possibility of sending more U.S. forces to Afghanistan hinges on the security situation improving in Iraq. Only then, he said, could a stretched U.S. military shift more troops to Afghanistan.
"We're on an increasingly positive path in Iraq in lots of dimensions," Mullen said. "And so I'm hopeful toward the end of this year, opportunities like that would be created."
A potential airstrike against Iran is further complicated by a rapidly changing political scene in Washington, Jerusalem, and Tehran. The Bush administration has less than seven months remaining in office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is embroiled in a bribery scandal, and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lost clout among Iran's influential clerics.
There also has been much hand-wringing among Sunni Arab leaders about Iran's influence over a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. And the U.S. military has charged that Iran is responsible for arming Shiite militias that have killed hundreds of U.S. service members in Iraq.
An Israeli airstrike on its nuclear reactor sites might not be as damaging for Iran as it would be to the United States and Israel, said Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University.
"The upside could be a political bonanza for Iran," Nasr said. "Just as Hezbollah became so popular [in the aftermath of the war between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006], Iran could gain credibility in the Arab street."
NO SURPRISE FOR ISRAEL
The ratcheting up of tensions between Iran and Israel echoes Israel's 1981 bombing of an Iraqi plant near Baghdad that was designed to make nuclear weapons. But in this standoff, Israel does not have the element of surprise, and some military experts said that Israel's potential desire to launch an airstrike is muddied by the U.S. presence in Iraq.
P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel who was a special assistant to President Bill Clinton for national security affairs, said Israel presumably would have to inform the U.S. military that it would be flying in airspace that is largely American-controlled.
"From a strategic standpoint, it's hard to see what you gain [from an airstrike] and easy to see what harm you could do to both Israel and U.S. interests," Crowley said.
In his comments Wednesday, Mullen appeared to veer away from the administration's stated policy of refusing direct talks when he said there needs to better dialogue on the issue.
"They remain a destabilizing factor in the region," Mullen said. "But I'm convinced a solution still lies in using other elements of national power to change Iranian behavior, including diplomatic, financial, and international pressure. There is a need for better clarity, even dialogue at some level."
In a separate development, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the Navy's 5th Fleet, warned Iran on Wednesday that the U.S. would take action if Tehran tried to cut the sea lane through the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point in the flow of much of the world's oil supply. Cosgriff's comments were in response to Iranian officials' threats against Hormuz if there is a Western attack on Iran.
When asked about the threat by Iran to disrupt oil shipments at a White House news conference Wednesday, Bush reiterated that military strikes remain an option but one he preferred not to take.
FACING AN IRANIAN WINTER
By Ari Shavit
July 3, 2008
Here is the wild scenario: In November, after Senator Barack Obama becomes the president-elect of the United States, outgoing President George W. Bush will launch a strike at Iran. The strike might be a naval siege, a military show of muscle or a comprehensive aerial assault on the Iranian nuclear program.
In reasonable times, reasonable people would dismiss this wild scenario out of hand. The American public is not in favor of opening a second front in the Middle East. The political establishment, the military establishment, and the intelligence establishment are all worried. A combative move, even a semi-combative one, by a president who is about to leave office is an act without precedent and without legitimacy. It will be perceived as the final, delusional trumpet blast of a raving religious administration.
But the times are not reasonable ones, and the men involved are not reasonable men. The logic that guides Bush and Dick Cheney is one that Western public opinion and its shapers cannot always understand. That logic might lead the president and his second-in-command to the conclusion that if they do not act, neither will Obama. If Obama does not act, Iran will become a nuclear power. And if Iran goes nuclear, evil will win.
Therefore, the dialogue that the present administration has with history might cause it to do what only few people believe it really will do. There is a genuine possibility that Bush will end his miserable presidency not with a whimper, but with a bang. The scenario is a wild one.
If John McCain is elected, it will be unnecessary. Obama has committed himself to preventing such a scenario, and if he is elected, the chances of its realization will lessen. The powers-that-be in Washington D.C. may also block the thwarting of Iran's nuclear power. Bush and Cheney may ultimately get cold feet, give it up and dissolve into oblivion.
This wild scenario, therefore, is low-probability. But low probability is not zero probability. When it comes to fateful issues, even unlikely possibilities need to be addressed.
In the long run, the wild scenario is good for Israel, as it is good for the United States. A nuclear Iran will endanger Israel's existence, the stability of the Middle East, and the welfare of the West. An Iran stripped of nuclear ability will allow the Middle East to become more moderate; it will enable the West to uphold its values and perpetuate its way of life for a long time to come. In the short term, however, the wild scenario is multi-risk. There might be an intelligence failure or a military one. In any case, the Iran of the ayatollahs is a sophisticated and strong religious power. If it is backed into a corner, Iran, too, will prefer to go out with a bang and not a whimper. No one today knows for sure what the nature and impact of such a bang would be.
A serious state must regard seriously any scenario liable to shape its future, for better or worse. When so much is at stake, even low-probability scenarios must be given solemn consideration. It is far from certain and far from likely that the coming winter will be an Iranian winter. But Israel must treat this summer as though the possibility of an Iranian winter were not a distant one.
On the political level, the implications are clear -- a swift decision. Israel cannot risk the chance of having a leader deprived of his moral authority be in charge at a moment of supreme national trial. Nor can Israel take the chance of having such a trial catch it in the midst of an election campaign. The decision, therefore, must be sharp and clear: elections now, or an alternative government now. We must ensure that before November, Israel will have a new and responsible leadership that enjoys the public's trust.
A new leadership, however, is not sufficient. Israel also needs a new agenda. An agenda of preparation and fortification, of reconciliation and unity. In order to face the unlikely, wild scenario, Israel needs to mend itself. But even to face less wild, more likely, scenarios, Israel needs to mend itself. The road to a better future is lined with difficult trials; the road to peace may prove to be bloody. The concluding tone of the Olmert era must therefore be that of a new beginning.
After two years of spin, it is time for action. After two years of bile, it is time to extinguish hatreds and bandage wounds. Israel is not as hollow and degenerate as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes. But to face Ahmadinejad, Israel must come to its senses.