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. Potential US military strike against Iran full of risks
WASHINGTON, April 11 (AFP) Apr 11, 2006
The administration of US President George W. Bush would likely spark a costly and unpredictable conflict should it strike Iran's suspected nuclear sites, analysts said after reports that such strikes were under review.

According to Richard Haas, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), such strikes would be unlikely to remain "limited", as Tehran would also certainly retaliate.

"You cannot go into it assuming it will stay limited," Hass said at a CFR debate last week, adding "so very quickly, a limited military operation becomes a relatively unlimited military operation".

Separate articles in the New Yorker magazine and the Washington Post newspaper over the weekend re-sparked a controversial debate here over a potential US military strike against Iran, with the media reports talking of possible air strikes against Iran's nuclear sites.

President Bush sought to downplay the articles, telling an audience Monday that Washington wants to settle the Iran nuclear crisis through diplomacy and calling the reports "wild speculation".

Kenneth Pollack, an expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank, said it's "highly likely" there would be a "furious" Iranian response to such assaults.

"You can't assume that if you take out their nuclear facilities that they are going to take it lying down and quiver and shake. You have to assume that they will come back and try to hurt you," Pollack said, addressing the same CFR debate.

"We can talk about a surgical strike where all we do is go in with a bunch of airplanes and flatten a few buildings. That's effectively what Osama bin Laden did on September 11th. And look at how we reacted," Pollack said.

He also cast doubt that the US military could effectively destroy Iran's suspected nuclear facilities, saying the facilities could easily be rebuilt.

Reuel Gerecht, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said there would have to be an escalated bombing campaign targetting hundreds of sites.

"I think those who argue that you have to do 100 sites, 200 sites, I actually think they're being a little intellectually dishonest," Gerecht told the debate. "You're going to have to be prepared to absorb the Iranian respsonse to that," he said.

Other analysts attending the debate said any strikes could also have the knock-on effect of strengthening support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"I believe a military strike would consolidate the hold of the Islamic government, not loosen it. If you want to keep president Ahmadinejad in power for the next five years, launch a strike on an Iranian facility," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

According to Gerecht, a potential retaliation by the Iranian government could also lead the Bush administration into reviewing a possible invasion of Iran.

"Let's say they kill three thousand to four thousand Americans in some type of event, or they took down another airliner. I think the United States would need to respond to that with great force," Gerecht said.

"If the clerical regime were to come back and engage in more terrorism, you would eventually have to contemplate an invasion of the country. I don't think that's likely, but you should be prepared to think about that and talk about that," he said.

Pollack said the 130,000 US forces deployed across Iraq would be likely to face increased dangers if the US launches strikes against neighboring Iran.

"The Iranians have very significant assets inside Iraq, they have a much greater capacity to inflict damage on us, on the Iraqis, on anybody else inside of Iraq, than the current crop of insurgents there," Pollack said.

Other observers have said that Iran might also react by closing off oil exports to the West or by launching an attack on Israel, which is widely believed to already possess nuclear weapons. Israel's government has said it will not accept an Iranian nuclear capability.

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