WASHINGTON – U.S. officials are still trying to find a diplomatic resolution over Iran's interest in creating nuclear facilities. But if diplomacy fails, the Bush administration is also looking at its military options.
FOX News spoke with two retired generals and a military expert, who outlined some of the options on the table for the Pentagon.
Covert Action: The Bush administration might send CIA agents or commandos to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“There were no smoking guns, no fingerprints,” said Walter Russell Mead (search), with the Council on Foreign Relations. “We wouldn’t be faced with that ugly, ugly choice of, we have a war or they get a weapon.”
Naval Blockade: U.S. warships would be sent into the Strait of Hormuz (search) to stop the export of Iranian oil. This would pressure the mullahs to give up enriching uranium and allow intrusive inspections.
One downside is that Iran is OPEC (search)’s second largest oil producer, so a blockade could also put a stranglehold on the economies of many U.S. allies. Other potential problems are that it may not work fast enough and it would leave Iran’s existing nuclear facilities intact.
“So the question is not whether we could do it. We could. The question is, at what cost?” Mead said.
Surgical Strikes: U.S. forces could zero in on Iranian nuclear targets, hitting the country’s highest-risk sites — such as Bushier, Natanz, Arak, Isfahan and a dozen or more others — using cruise missiles launched from land or sea.
“We are moving some aircraft carrier groups into the Persian Gulf as we speak," said retired Army Major Gen. Paul Vallely (search). "They will be positioned to launch any aircraft from the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.”
Next, F-117 stealth fighter jets could take out a radar system by firing missiles and anti-aircraft guns at Isfahan or surface-to-air missiles around the Bushier reactor (search). B-2 bombers carrying eight 5,000-pound laser-guided bunker busters would hit buried targets like the Natanz (search) enrichment site or the deep tunnels in Isfahan (search).
Surgical strikes would also aim to hurt Iran's ability to counterattack while limiting civilian casualties, according to Vallely.
“We're not after the population,” he said. “We're not after blowing down bridges anymore. We're trying to disrupt command and control, their ability to use their forces on the ground, their forces in the air, as well as their naval forces. ... Bring them to their knees early. That's the key.”
All-Out Assault: A huge American military effort, involving hundreds of thousands of troops, would be needed to get “boots on the ground.” But the experts FOX News spoke with consider that to be the least likely scenario.
The U.S. military is already stretched thin with its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq (Iran is four times the size of Iraq, with almost three times as many people). A ground war could kill thousands, maybe tens of thousands, and the cost could run well into the billions. And assembling a broad coalition would be even more difficult than it was for the Iraq war.
“For one thing, the British don’t sound very willing. And let’s face it, without the British, we don’t have a coalition,” Mead said.
Vallely said that while the United States has the ability to launch a major ground invasion, it wouldn’t have to.
“We can take a country down with just our air assets,” he said. “We don't have put boots on the ground all the time if we're after specific targets.”
Iranian Response: Iran has threatened bloody retaliation if attacked, so the Pentagon’s military planners are conducting war games to be prepared for any number of Iranian responses — from attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq to missile strikes on Israel.
“I do not believe that Iran will take on the United States in a major confrontation,” said retired Air Force Gen. Tom McInerney (search).
Without a direct military response from Iran, the possibility exists for an “asymmetrical response” — terror attacks on Americans throughout the world and in the United States.
“Could they use part of the Al Qaeda network to launch a terrorist attack on the United States?" McInerney speculated. "I believe they could. That's probably going to happen to us anyhow. The real question is, will it be a nightmare scenario? … Will it be nuclear?"
The fear of a nuclear response is exactly why the experts FOX News spoke with say the United States must do what it takes to stop Iran.
FOX News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.