Report: Strategic air base being readied for war on Iran

The key base used by the US military for air strikes in the Middle East is being made ready for a war against Iran, a Scottish newspaper reported Monday.

The Herald cited unnamed military officials as reporting that the Pentagon “is secretly upgrading special stealth bomber hangars on the British island protectorate of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

The air base on Diego Garcia was used by the US military for the “shock and awe” bombardment of Iraq in 2003 as well as the heavy bombardment of Afghanistan in 2001. It was also the only base used for air strikes against Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991.

The newspaper account indicates that the refurbishing of the aircraft hangars is tied to plans for the use of B-1 bombers deployed on the island to deliver new bunker-busting bombs known as Massive Ordinance Penetrators (MOP).

The MOP, a 30,000-pound bomb that packs 6,000 pounds of high explosives, is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the Air Force’s arsenal. It is capable of striking targets buried deeper than those that can be hit by existing nuclear bunker-busters. The Air Force reportedly conducted a successful test of one of the devices at the White Sands proving ground in New Mexico last March.

Military analysts have indicated that the bomb has been specifically designed for use against the Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz, about 200 miles south of Tehran, which is believed to be as much as 100 feet underground.

“It’s a powerful coincidence that (the Pentagon claims) it’s going to have this thing soon and we’re possibly going to be bombing Iran,” John Pike, the chief defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, told the Kansas City Star earlier this year. “There’s a mission made for this bomb.”

The report of the facility upgrade at the base on Diego Garcia follows the Pentagon’s inclusion in the supplementary funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan of an $88 million appropriation for the new weapon.

The request, included in a war-funding bill totaling nearly $200 million, includes $83.5 million for continuing to develop the MOP bomb itself and another $4.2 million to modify the B-52 bomber for use in launching the weapon.

The Pentagon described the MOP as an “urgently needed, critical global strike capability to fight the war on terrorism.”

The Bush administration said that the request for funding for the bomb and the reconfiguration of the bombers that will carry it came “in response to urgent operational need from theater commanders.”

While the administration gave no specifics as to the nature of this “urgent operational need,” a number of members of Congress suggested that the answer was obvious. Representative Jim Moran of Virginia, a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Reuters news agency, “My assumption is that it is Iran, because you wouldn’t use them in Iraq, and I don’t know where you would use them in Afghanistan, it doesn’t have any weapons facilities underground that we know of.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters at a weekly press briefing Sunday that US spy planes are carrying out stepped-up flights over Iran’s southern borders, violating the country’s air space.

The spokesman said that the country’s armed forces would take an “appropriate response” to continued violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Hosseini added, “Of course we believe that the Iraqi government is well informed of the importance of our bilateral relations and therefore it will not allow its country and territory to be used as an espionage base against neighboring countries.”

At a press briefing Tuesday, White House press spokesperson Dana Perino insisted, “There’s no reason for people to think that the president is about to attack Iran. I think that we need to make that clear.”

The claim came in response to a question from syndicated columnist Helen Thomas, who asked Perino, “Is the president aware that there is widespread fear and speculation around the country that he’s going to attack Iran?”

“Of course he doesn’t want people to fear that, because what he is doing is pursuing a diplomatic track,” Press Secretary Perino replied.

Whatever the US president may want, after weeks of escalating threats—including Bush’s own predictions about a “nuclear holocaust” and “World War III,” and Vice President Cheney’s warning of “serious consequences” if Iran fails to bow to Washington’s demands—fear of yet another US war of aggression is well founded.

Now reports are emerging of concrete steps being taken by the US military to make good on these threats with an onslaught of death and destruction.