TEHRAN, IRAN - From Washington, the rhetoric calls for diplomatic solutions to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But Tehran also hears a growing drumbeat for war that echoes the build-up to US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In preparation for any strike on its budding nuclear facilities, Iran is making clear that the price will be high - burnishing its military forces, boosting its missile program, and warning of a painful response against US and Israeli targets in the region.
“They see a fight coming, regardless of what they do, so they are getting ready for it,” says a European diplomat in Tehran, referring to ideologues who think a US invasion is a “very real prospect.” President Bush, who included Iran in his “axis of evil,” has called speculation about a strike “ridiculous,” but says all options are open. Many experts agree that a military attack aimed at nuclear sites could propel Iran’s leadership to kick out UN inspectors and withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has the largest military in the region, with 540,000 active troops and 350,000 more in reserves. In addition to more than 1,600 battle tanks and 1,500 other armored vehicles, Mr. Cordesman writes, “there is considerable evidence that [Iran] is developing both a long-range missile force and a range of weapons of mass destruction.”