Obama's Iran options limited: U.S. lacks international support for large-scale military action

Oct 12, 2011 Issues: Counterterrorism

NY Daily News -- by Joseph Straw

WASHINGTON - Iran's bid to snuff out a Saudi diplomat on American soil is an ominous game-changer.

Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), head of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Iran has "crossed a red line," giving President Obama a blank check for the U.S. response.

"I would support whatever action the President feels is appropriate ... however severe," King told the Daily News.

But if war is the answer, all of President Obama's options are lousy, experts said.

While American forces flank Iran in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. lacks international support for large-scale military action in Iran.

Historically, measured retaliatory strikes - such as drone attacks - don't stop terror, added Daniel Byman, a 9/11 commission staffer now with the Brookings Institution.

He pointed to the 1986 U.S. attack on Libya, a response to the bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two American servicemen.

Two years later, Libyan terrorists bombed Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people.

Alireza Nader, a former U.S. Treasury official now with the Rand Corp., said the plot may give the U.S., Israel or both the opportunity to launch military strikes on Iran's nuclear program.

The allies' intelligence services reportedly already hit it with the Stuxnet computer virus last year.

The plot shows that Tehran's rogue regime, already the world's top state sponsor of terror, no longer limits itself to plots carried out overseas by third-party henchmen, Nader said.

Historically, such operations only have come with signoff from the highest levels of Tehran's government, Byman noted.

"My concern is that it's a harbinger, not an aberration," he said. "I think it shows that they're willing to take more risks."

Not all are convinced the plot came from the top.

Nader doubted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would risk further international isolation with a plan so bold.

"It's highly provocative. It's an act of war, in some regards, against Saudi Arabia and the United States," Nader said.

The unprecedented involvement of Iranians in the plot hints that it may have come from a faction in the country's fractious government, Nader said.