US ‘Iran attack plans’ revealed

US aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis (file picture)

USS John C Stennis is being deployed to the Persian Gulf

US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country’s military infrastructure, the BBC has learned. It is understood that any such attack – if ordered – would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

The US insists it is not planning to attack, and is trying to persuade Tehran to stop uranium enrichment.

The UN has urged Iran to stop the programme or face economic sanctions.

But diplomatic sources have told the BBC that as a fallback plan, senior officials at Central Command in Florida have already selected their target sets inside Iran.

That list includes Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Facilities at Isfahan, Arak and Bushehr are also on the target list, the sources say.

Two triggers

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the trigger for such an attack reportedly includes any confirmation that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon – which it denies.

Natanz, Iran

The Natanz plant is buried under concrete, metal and earth

Alternatively, our correspondent adds, a high-casualty attack on US forces in neighbouring Iraq could also trigger a bombing campaign if it were traced directly back to Tehran.

Long range B2 stealth bombers would drop so-called “bunker-busting” bombs in an effort to penetrate the Natanz site, which is buried some 25m (27 yards) underground.

The BBC’s Tehran correspondent France Harrison says the news that there are now two possible triggers for an attack is a concern to Iranians.

Authorities insist there is no cause for alarm but ordinary people are now becoming a little worried, she says.

Deadline

Earlier this month US officials said they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shia militias. At the time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the accusations were “excuses to prolong the stay” of US forces in Iraq.

Middle East analysts have recently voiced their fears of catastrophic consequences for any such US attack on Iran.

Britain’s previous ambassador to Tehran, Sir Richard Dalton, told the BBC it would backfire badly by probably encouraging the Iranian government to develop a nuclear weapon in the long term.

Last year Iran resumed uranium enrichment – a process that can make fuel for power stations or, if greatly enriched, material for a nuclear bomb.

Tehran insists its programme is for civil use only, but Western countries suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons.

The UN Security Council has called on Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium by 21 February.

If it does not, and if the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms this, the resolution says that further economic sanctions will be considered.

US Democrats warn Bush on Iran

Nancy Pelosi

Ms Pelosi says it is time for Congress to exert its authority

Top Democrats in the US Congress have warned President George W Bush that he does not have the authority to go to war with Iran. Washington is in dispute with Iran over its nuclear programme, and senior US officials have accused it of supplying weapons to Shia insurgents in Iraq.

The warning came ahead of a House of Representatives vote likely to condemn the recent surge of US troops in Iraq.

The Senate is due to vote on the troop plan in an unusual Saturday session.

Iran rhetoric

There has been concern recently over the president’s rhetoric on Iranian activity in Iraq.

House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged Mr Bush has said he wants a diplomatic solution to the rift with Iran, saying: “I take him at his word.”

There is no previous authority for the president, any president, to go into Iran

Nancy Pelosi

But she also said that Congress should assert itself “and make it very clear that there is no previous authority for the president, any president, to go into Iran”.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is on Friday expected to vote on a non-binding resolution opposing Mr Bush’s decision to send an extra 21,500 US troops to Iraq to try to restore stability.

The vote comes after days of fierce debate on the issue in what has been the first full debate in the House since the Democrats took control of Congress in November.

Double threat

The resolution states that the House “will continue to support and protect” troops in Iraq but that it “disapproves” of the troop increase.

The Senate is holding its own vote – in an unusual Saturday session – on whether to begin debate on the resolution.

Two US marines in western Iraq

Mr Bush plans to send 21,500 additional US troops to Iraq

Previous Senate attempts to debate the anti-troop surge resolution have been met with delaying tactics from Republican members.

Mr Bush faces the possibility that both chambers of Congress will repudiate his Iraq policy says the BBC’s Justin Webb in Washington.

Although the upcoming Congressional votes are non-binding, the president needs the legislators to support his $93bn (£48bn) emergency troop funding measure.

“Our men and women in uniform are counting on their elected leaders to provide them with the support they need to accomplish their mission,” he said on Thursday.

“Republicans and Democrats have a responsibility to give our troops the resources they need.”

But in the debate, Ms Pelosi said there should be “no more blank cheques”.

Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner criticised the Democrats’ attempts to derail Mr Bush’s plans for Iraq.

“While American troops are fighting radical Islamic terrorists thousands of miles away,” he said, “it is unthinkable that the United States Congress would move to discredit their mission, cut off their reinforcements and deny them the resources they need to succeed and return home safely”.

Iran drones ‘can attack US ships’

An Iranian website close to the Revolutionary Guard has said they have drones that can launch attacks on American warships in the Persian Gulf. This comes as the US has sent a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf in a move it says is intended to warn Iran that it intends to have a regional presence.

Both sides have increased the talk of war readiness in recent weeks.

This comes as concerns mount internationally about Iran’s nuclear programme and its involvement in Iraq.

The Baztab website quotes the acting commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s land forces as saying that Iran has unmanned aircraft that can fly long distances and launch attacks on American warships.

The commander reportedly said this would make the Americans leave the region in shame.

He added Iran had all US activity, including the slightest changes of the enemy, under constant surveillance.

And the website also quoted the commander claiming that Iran had managed to put the logo of the Revolutionary Guards on the side of an American warship in the Gulf to demonstrate how insecure they were in this region.

There is no independent confirmation of these Iranian assertions, but they show how Tehran is trying to counter what it says is the psychological warfare of the Americans with claims of military superiority.

Every few weeks, there are new Iranian war games and state television shows pictures of fresh military hardware like missiles and torpedoes being tested.