NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite the Bush administration’s insistence it has no plans to go to war with Iran, a Pentagon panel has been created to plan a bombing attack that could be implemented within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from President George W. Bush, The New Yorker magazine reported in its latest issue.
The special planning group was established within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in recent months, according to an unidentified former U.S. intelligence official cited in the article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in the March 4 issue.
The panel initially focused on destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and on regime change but has more recently been directed to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq, according to an Air Force adviser and a Pentagon consultant, who were not identified.
The consultant and a former senior intelligence official both said that U.S. military and special-operations teams had crossed the border from Iraq into Iran in pursuit of Iranian operatives, according to the article.
In response to the report, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous.
“The United States has been very clear with respect to its concerns regarding specific Iranian government activities. The president has repeatedly stated publicly that this country is going to work with allies in the region to address those concerns through diplomatic efforts,” Whitman said.
Pentagon officials say they maintain contingency plans for literally dozens of potential conflicts around the world and that all plans are subject to regular and ongoing review.
The article, citing unnamed current and former U.S. officials, also said the Bush administration received intelligence from Israel that Iran had developed an intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads that could reach Europe. It added the validity of that intelligence was still being debated.
The article also included an interview conducted in December with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who said that while he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel, he was anticipating and preparing for another Israeli attack sometime this year.
Israel launched a cross-border offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon last July.
Nasrallah also said he was open to talks with Washington if such discussions “can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region,” but they would be waste of time if the purpose was to impose policy.