WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Is a spring offensive by the United States against Iran to shatter the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions in the offing? Or will diplomacy and common sense prevail?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to dealing with Iran; those who favor the diplomatic tract, saying the United States should open a dialogue with Tehran and those who believe dialogue is useless, that it is simply buying time for Iran.
Estimates as to when Iran would be capable of developing a nuclear weapon vary from two to five years. Israel's Mossad spy agency believes Iran could have its first atomic bomb within three or four years if its nuclear weapons program continues at its current pace.
Would Israel intervene?
Addressing a group of about 300 Arab students in Qatar, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres ruled out an Israeli attack on Iran. Speaking at a Doha Debates Special event Jan. 30, Peres said Israel had no intention of intervening in Iran's internal affairs.
"We don't have any problems with Iran. The problem is Ahmadinejad. It's a problem for the Iranian people because he does not carry either a promise or a solution." Peres added: "Israel does not intend to use military action."
But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has on a number of occasions said Israel will "not tolerate" an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.
Events of the last few months seem to indicate those favoring strong-arm action to stop Iran from proceeding with its nuclear development program -- among them President Bush -- may win the argument. But if it ever came down to a military confrontation, an argument is about the only thing any side will win. Opening a second front in the Middle East at this juncture would be most unwise, to put it mildly.
Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, speaking on National Public Radio Thursday said he does not believe that a military conflict with Iran is inevitable.
"I think that if we're patient and we're skillful, we can have a diplomatic solution to these problems. We are trying for that diplomatic solution," said Burns.
But meanwhile, the United States is dispatching a second carrier task force to the Gulf -- the USS John C. Stennis -- to back up the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. It will be the first time since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that the United States has two carrier battle groups in the Gulf region. Burns, however, played down Washington's gunboat diplomacy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the deployment is aimed to impress on Iran that the four-year war in Iraq has not made America vulnerable.
"It's not reasonable to suggest that because the United States has put carrier battle groups into the Gulf, we are being provocative," said Burns. "You know, we've defended Gulf security for six decades. Our carriers have been there throughout that time. So it's not us who are being provocative or raising the stakes here. We're simply trying to protect our interests in Iraq, the security of the Gulf Arab states and of the wider Middle East.
"We're trying to convince the Iranians that it's in their best interest to sit down and talk with the United States. That is the basis of American policy," said Burns.
But talks between Washington and Tehran are unlikely to take place any time soon as both sides continue to hold firm on their positions.
An Iranian lawmaker, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said Iran was currently installing the 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility, although other officials later denied this report.
Two other developments worthy of note: in Washington President George W. Bush authorized American forces in Iraq to pursue Iranian operatives involved in aiding Iraqi insurgents involved in hostile actions against American forces in Iraq. And earlier this week the Bush administration said it would prevent Iran from acquiring spare parts for its ageing U.S.-made F-14 fighter planes, the backbone of the Iranian air force. The F-14, made famous in the film "Top Gun," was retired from the U.S. Navy fleet on Sept. 22, 2006, and replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking on Iranian state television earlier this week said, "the United States is incapable of inflicting serious damage on Iran.
"They (U.S.) are not really in a position to carry out this action (of attacking Iran). I believe there are many wise people in the United States who would not let it happen."
Ahmadinejad is also facing serious pressure at home from both ends of the country's political spectrum who accuse him of accenting the crisis with the United States by pursuing his nuclear desires.
One should hope that there might well be wise people in Iran -- and Washington -- who would not let the situation reach the point of no return.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)