Sunday, August 26, 2007

Terror label 'paves way for air strikes

Sunday Telegraph

The White House's plans to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organisation are intended to give the Bush administration cover if it launches military strikes on the Islamic republic, according to a prominent former CIA officer.

Robert Baer, who was a high-ranking operative in the Middle East, said last week that senior government officials had told him the administration was preparing for air strikes on the guards' bases and probably also on Iran's nuclear facilities within the next six months.

The US is expected to list the guards as a terror group in the coming weeks. Washington accuses them of backing attacks on American and British forces in Iraq, as well as supporting the Hezbollah faction in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The designation will make it easier to target international financial transactions by the guards' lucrative business operations, which The Sunday Telegraph disclosed last week had made multi-millionaires of many senior commanders. It will also bolster American calls for tougher sanctions on Iran over its illicit nuclear programme at the United Nations next month.

But among President George W Bush's closest advisers, there is a fierce debate about whether to take unilateral military action independently of any UN security council moves.

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set on diplomacy, Vice-President Dick Cheney is understood to favour air strikes.

The justification for any attack, according to Mr Baer, would be claims - denied by Iran - that the guards are responsible for the sophisticated armour-penetrating improvised explosive devices that are exacting a heavy toll on US forces in Iraq.

Mr Baer said: "The feeling in the administration is that we should have taken care of the guards a long, long time ago. We won't see American troops cross the border. If this is going to happen, it is going to happen very quickly and it is going to surprise a lot of people."

The White House has publicly insisted there are no preparations for military action against Iran.

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