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'US could wipe out Iran nukes in 2 days'

YIGAL GRAYEFF / Jerusalem Post | March 22 2006

Another voice has been added to those who believe that air strikes should halt Iran's quest to develop nuclear weapons.

Gary Berntsen, the former senior CIA operative who led the search for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in late 2001, believes the United States has the ability to easily destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. He said the US could use bunker-buster bombs and other weapons to carry out the operation.

"We can dig those things out. We can destroy them," he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.

"We can take care of it in a couple of days with air strikes and they wouldn't be able to stop us," he added. "It wouldn't be difficult to plan. They'd be some dangers but I think the United States can do it." Berntsen, who left the CIA in June last year after more than 20 years of service, believes it will be difficult to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear program.

"I know the Iranians. I've worked against the Iranians for years. They are determined to get this no matter what, and they will lie and cheat and do whatever they have to do to get themselves a weapon," he said.

Berntsen ruled out covert action because of the scale of Iran's nuclear program.

"This is a huge system of facilities they have. This is not going to be a small sort of engagement. We are probably going to have to destroy 30 facilities in 30 locations. Or at least 15," he said.

Berntsen's comments came after former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle said earlier this month that Iran's prime nuclear facilities could be devastated in one night by a small fleet of US B-2 bombers.

In addition, Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's former chief of General Staff, said the IDF has the capabilities to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and could do it in conjunction with the US and some EU countries. However, Berntsen believes Israel should not carry out any operation.

"It's better for the United States to do it. If you (Israel) do it, we'll have all sorts of problems in the Middle East, all sorts of countries that will align themselves with the Iranians over this. Politically it makes more sense for the US to do it," he said.

Berntsen also ruled out a ground operation.

"This is huge country. There are 70 million people there. It's gigantic. We don't need to be getting into something like that," he said.

However, Berntsen believes that the US should first exhaust all the political options before carrying out a strike.

"We should do what we're doing right now. That means taking them to the United Nations and make this 'the world against Iran,' because the Iranians appear determined to create a weapon," he said.

"If by chance they disarm, then we can avoid this, but if they don't disarm we will need to take care of this ourselves," he said.

"The Iranians have to know that we mean business. They will either disarm or we will destroy their facilities. No ifs, ands, or buts. They present a threat to peace in the Middle East. They present a threat to Israel. We cannot accept that," he added.

Berntsen predicted that if Iran doesn't disarm, President George Bush would carry out an attack regardless of domestic opposition.

"I think that President Bush has demonstrated that he says what he means and he means what he says. A lot of people didn't think he would do Iraq. This is a guy who doesn't put his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. President Bush means business.

"The problem right now is that the Iranians are going to miscalculate. They are going to believe that because 2006 is an election year (in Congress), and due to all this political opposition to the president because of Iraq, they're going to think that he's weak in the knees, he can't do it and they're not going to negotiate.

"That would be a very serious mistake for them. They're going to miscalculate. They think he's politically weak and George Bush won't care. He's going to do it anyway when it comes down to it," Berntsen said.

"I believe that we'll get past the mid-term election in 2006 and then the Iranians ought to disarm themselves or suffer the consequences," he added.

Berntsen recently released a book called Jawbreaker, which is about the search for bin Laden after al-Qaida's attacks on the US in September 2001. The book has been on the best-seller lists in the US but has yet to be released in Israel.

 


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