Excerpts only. For the complete text, see the original article at Global Public Media.

For the past two years or so informed commentators (including Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter, among others) have been predicting a US air attack on Iran. MuseLetter for March 2005, titled “Onward to Iran,” summarized relevant information available at that time. In recent months concern over America’s intentions has grown even more intense, to the point that it has become the fulcrum of nearly every discussion about the future of world affairs.

As many have pointed out, an attack could have cataclysmic implications for the region, for the world economy, and not least for the oil import-dependent and nearly bankrupt US. Recently Rolling Stone magazine convened a panel of experts to assess the situation in Iraq (“Leaving Iraq: The Grim Truth,” by Tom Dickinson, March 7, ). The panel, which included such policy luminaries as Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor) and Richard Clarke (counter-terrorism advisor to four presidents), concluded that the war in Iraq is lost. In the course of the discussion, Bob Graham, former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the following comment: “This administration seems to be getting ready to make—at a much more significant, escalated level—the same mistake we made in Iran that we made in Iraq. If Iraq has been a disaster, this would be multiple times Iraq. The extent to which this could be the horror of the twenty-first century is hard to exaggerate.”

Recent crucial events include the passing of the UN-imposed deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, the stationing by the US of two aircraft carrier battle groups—the Eisenhower and the Stennis—in the Persian Gulf, a meeting in Baghdad attended by delegations from both Iran and the US, and the imposition of toughened economic sanctions by the UN Security Council.

…The arguments against such an attack are overwhelming. It would solve nothing strategically: it would not end Iran’s nuclear program and would not result in regime change. While arguably it would be of short-term political benefit to the administration (which could use the event to rally the public, crack down on dissent, and lash out at the political opposition in Congress), in order to actually mount an attack it would be necessary to persuade many outside the president’s and vice president’s offices of the need for such action. Cheney can’t fly the planes himself; indeed, several branches of government would have to participate in—or at least refrain from sabotaging—the attack plans. And to sell those plans to senior officers in the armed forces, as well as high officials in the CIA and the State Department, there would need to be some perceived benefit or threat sufficiently compelling so as to override the general war-weariness and Cheney-wariness that has gripped Washington.

Meanwhile, however, it appears that the preparations for such an attack continue. On this score, Seymour Hersh’s ongoing reportage in The New Yorker is essential reading.

…Perhaps the most ominous bits of recent news concern Russia: for the past few weeks that nation has been delaying delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran, and is now withdrawing all 2000 of its technicians at the Bushehr nuclear plant.

…So, we are faced with three questions: whether a US air attack on Iran will occur; and, if that is now inevitable, how it will be justified and how it will unfold.

…In order for the attack to proceed, a pretext will be necessary, and the nature and strength of the pretext will reveal a great deal about the behind-the-scenes strengths and weaknesses of the various players, and give clues to how events might proceed. Here are the main possibilities: …

Currently events are unfolding very quickly. Things to watch over the days ahead include the resolution of the matter of the seized British sailors; Iran’s response to the new UN sanctions; and the fate of the second round of official discussions, scheduled for early April in Turkey, which is expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.

If an attack does ensue, the immediate consequences could be moderate to catastrophic—with the moderate effects being more likely, since everyone has had time to think through the various scenarios and is likely to follow through on scripted actions and responses. The longer-term prognosis is not as favorable, as those scripted responses go only so far. The US, Europe, Russia, China, and India all have vital interests in the region, and a general explosion of Sunni-Shia violence could draw these interested parties into conflict. At the very least, we are likely to see an expansion of the chronic violence in Iraq spreading outward throughout the Middle East and perhaps Central Asia as well, with an arc of chaos extending from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. The worst case is painful to contemplate. If the US and/or Israel follow through on their implied threats to deal militarily with Iran, this may constitute the most dangerous and fateful international gamble in decades.

Some late-breaking stories that give credence to Heinberg’s fears:

Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border

RIA Novosti (Russia)
Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran’s borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday.

“The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran,” the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

He said the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran “that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost.”

He also said the U.S. Naval presence in the Persian Gulf has for the first time in the past four years reached the level that existed shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said last week that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran’s military infrastructure in the near future.
(27 March 2007)

U.S. launches show of force in Persian Gulf

Associated Press vis MSNBC
Aircraft carriers, warplanes feature in maneuvers off the coast of Iran
The U.S. Navy on Tuesday began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

The maneuvers bring together two strike groups of U.S. warships and more than 100 U.S. warplanes to conduct simulated air warfare in the crowded Gulf shipping lanes.

The U.S. exercises come just four days after Iran’s capture of 15 British sailors and marines who Iran said had strayed into Iranian waters near the Gulf. Britain and the U.S. Navy have insisted the British sailors were operating in Iraqi waters.
(27 March 2007)

U.S. Navy: Iran did not fire at U.S. warship

Associated Press vis USA Today
The U.S. military denied reports Tuesday that Iran fired a missile at a U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf.

The rumors of an attack had sent oil prices soaring, but Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown of the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet said all ships in the Gulf had been checked and the rumors were untrue.

Crude oil futures had jumped nearly eight percent Tuesday in a matter of minutes, topping $68.00 as rumors of a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf spurred panic buying, Dow Jones reported.
(27 March 2007)

Traders on hair-trigger, oil spikes more than $5

Shawn McCarthy, Globe and Mail Update
OTTAWA — Anxious energy traders displayed a hair-trigger reaction Tuesday to tight crude oil markets, driving prices sharply higher on a mere rumour of military confrontation between Iran and the United States and its British ally.

And analysts said North Americans motorists face the potential for much higher prices in the coming driving season if the standoff over Iran threatens to disrupt crude oil shipments in the Middle East.

In after-hours trading, U.S. crude oil futures Tuesday spiked more than $5 (U.S.) per barrel to briefly top $68 (U.S.) – the highest mark since last September – after rumours surfaced of military action over Iran’s seizure of 15 British marines and sailors.
(27 March 2007)