WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A military attack on Iran aimed at halting its nuclear program could have catastrophic consequences and only strengthen Tehran’s determination to make an atomic weapon, the former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services said on Tuesday.
“Such an act I think would be foolish and to undertake it I think would be tragic,” Prince Turki al-Faisal said at a Washington, D.C., appearance.
“If anything it will only make the Iranians more determined to produce an atomic bomb. It will rally support for the government among the population, and it will not end the program. It will merely delay it if anything.”
Tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions have increased this month since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a bomb and may still be conducting secret research to that end.
The United States has advocated increasing pressure on Tehran through additional sanctions.
But there has been speculation in the Israeli media that Israel might strike Iran’s nuclear sites, and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared in a debate on Saturday that he would be willing to go to war to stop Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.
Prince Turki, who retired in 2006 but remains an influential voice in Saudi Arabia’s ruling family, said prior military campaigns such as in Iraq had shown how unpredictable that route can be.
“An attack on Iran I think will have catastrophic consequences,” the prince said, citing both human costs and the fact that “the retaliation by Iran will be worldwide.”
“It will include a lot of U.S. and other interests throughout the world ...they can do harm in a lot of places,” he said.
Saudi Arabia remained concerned over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its “meddling” in other countries including an alleged Iran-backed assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington and a separate alleged plot to stage attacks in Bahrain.
Iran has rejected both accusations, saying they are aimed at stoking fears in the region.
The prince said that while Saudi Arabia did not favor a military option, it would continue to press Iran publicly, including possibly at the United Nations, in hopes of heading off future threats.
“We fully support tightening of the sanctions, assertive diplomacy and concerted action via the United Nations,” he said.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Cynthia Osterman