ANALYSIS: Is the USA preparing to bomb Iran's nuclear sites?

Why did US President focus on vow to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in response to Iranian attacks on US forces in Iraq?

Yochanan Visser ,

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Reuters

Is Iran standing down in the ever-escalating conflict with the United States?

President Trump seems to think so he indicated during his televised address to the American people after Iran struck two American bases in Iraq.

On Wednesday night, Iran launched 22 missiles from Iranian territory at the Ain al-Assad base in the western Anbar Province in Iraq and an airbase in the vicinity of the Kurdish city of Irbil in north Iraq.

There were no casualties as the Iranians claimed – they said 80 US soldiers had died and those who were wounded were flown to Israel – because the US army received exact intelligence the Iranians were preparing to launch missiles at US bases in Iraq.

US personnel at the bases hid in bunkers during the missile onslaught while soldiers at the Ain al-Assad base were deployed elsewhere to avoid becoming sitting ducks.

Trump had earlier warned Iran that the US military had selected 52 sites in Iran that would be attacked by the US air force in the case Iran would make good on its promises to attack the American army after a US drone killed its top-commander Qassem Soleimani last Friday.

The fact that there were no casualties among the US servicemen might have been the reason, Trump, after long deliberations with his security brass decided not to respond for now.

Another reason the President didn’t order retaliatory strikes to hold up deterrence vis a vis the Iranians might be that the US is still in the process of deploying additional troops and planes to the Gulf region and other areas in the vicinity of Iran.

Trump’s behavior after the assassination of Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis indicated there could be a third reason he waited with attacks on the selected Iranian sites.

On Monday, Trump suddenly fired off a Tweet warning Iran would not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Here’s what the President wrote:

“IRAN WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON!”

Then on Wednesday morning after Iran struck the two American bases in Iraq Trump began his address to the American nation with a similar phrase.

“As long as I am President Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Trump said before the actual speech began.

The remark appeared out of place because the whole speech was dedicated to the missile strikes and threats and the current stand-off with Iran.

If one takes a good look at the recent deployments of additional troops and warplanes one stands out as illogical.

This was the deployment of 6 additional B-52 bombers to an American air force base on the island of Diego Garcia in The Indian Ocean roughly 3,000 miles from the southern edge of Iran.

A US official told CNN that the deployment was related to the current tensions with Iran and that the Stratofortress bombers could be used against Iran but that there was currently no order to use them.

Retired Gen. Hawk Carlisle — the former head of the US Air Combat Command and head of the National Defense Industrial Association — told the Air Force Times “there would be several advantages to stationing B-52s at Diego Garcia. It would free up space at bases inside the Middle East to station other aircraft, such as fighters or ISR aircraft, that don’t have the B-52’s 8,800-mile range or might have to quickly respond to an emergency.”

Another reason to station the B-52’s on Diego Garcia and not in Qatar would be that they are out of range there for most of Iran’s ballistic missiles.

The considered use of the B-52’s could indicate the US military is planning to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites if Trump decides to carry out his promised “disproportional response” once Iran crosses his red lines again.

B-52’s are the only aircraft in use by the US army capable of delivering two large types of so-called bunker busters: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) and the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB).

These bunker busters are able to destroy, in a single strike, Iran’s fortified underground nuclear facilities such as the uranium enrichment plant Fordow in central Iran.

To bomb the Fordow nuclear facility the US will need the B-52 because the MOP and MOAB have a weight varying from 21,000 to 30,000 pounds and the F-35 stealth bomber, for example, can only carry up to 18,000 pounds of ordinance.

The weight of the MOP and MOAB is probably also the reason Israel hasn’t asked the US for the supply of the weapon since the IAF doesn’t have an aircraft to use them.

Iran’s nuclear threat has significantly increased since the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

After the killing of the Quds Force commander Iran announced it would abandon any further limits on its uranium enrichment program.

The former deputy director-general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Olli Heinonen says that this new breach of the nuclear deal means that Iran will very soon be able to break-out to a nuclear weapon.

Iran started to use its new IR-4 and IR-2 centrifuges at the end of 2019 and it is now rapidly approaching the amount of 1000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, it needs to convert it into 25 kg weapon-grade uranium needed for building a nuclear weapon.

Heinonen, a former IAEA inspector, thinks that at the end of this month Iran reaches this point and then it will take another two months to prepare a nuclear weapon since the Islamic Republic has all the required designs for building a nuclear weapon.

The Iranians, meanwhile, are saying they will not back down and that the attack on the US bases was only a prelude to something much bigger.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Force of the IRGC, said on Thursday that the attacks were just the beginning of what he dubbed “Operation Martyr Soleimani”.

The operation would “continue throughout the region” and would involve the use of “hundreds of missiles,” according to Hajizadeh.

To deter the US, Iran has, furthermore, threatened to flatten the Israeli port city of Haifa and the Gulf state Dubai.

The Iranian leadership is showing increasingly signs it has embarked on a very dangerous path that could end in the destruction of Iran’s nuclear program and the demise of Khamenei’s regime.

This is especially true after Pentagon and Iraqi officials confirmed that Iran was responsible for shooting down a Ukrainian civil aircraft with 176 passengers aboard on Wednesday.



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