America's top military officer, after returning from a trip to the Middle East, said he was worried about the "unintended consequences" of an attack on Iran's nuclear program.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran's path toward building a nuclear weapon was an overarching concern from all the countries he visited. Those countries include Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
"Let me be clear: We owe [Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates] and [President Obama] a range of options for this threat. We owe the American people our readiness," Adm. Mullen said.
"But, as I have said many times, I worry a lot about the unintended consequences of any sort of military action. For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international power are, and ought to be, the levers first pulled."
Those words were part of at least a rhetorical escalation against Iran from the Obama administration in recent weeks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week said Iran was becoming a "military dictatorship." Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats are meeting with allies to prepare a new round of sanctions against Iran after offering talks with the country in Mr. Obama's first year in office.
In June 2008, Israel launched an air force exercise over Greek territorial waters about the same distance from Israel as Iran. At the time, the tension between Israel and Iran prompted the U.S. Intelligence Community to draft analysis on how Iran might respond to an Israeli strike. Those prospects included Iranian attacks on Saudi oil refineries and increased terror attacks in Iraq and Lebanon.
Israel has purchased from the United States special retrofitted F-16 aircraft that can be refueled in midair.
The shortest route from Israel to Iran, however, would be over Iraq, whose Shi'ite-led government has close ties to Iran. Iraq lacks any indigenous air defense system and relies on the U.S. for air defenses.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official who requested anonymity said the recent killing of a senior Hamas operative at a luxury hotel in the emirate of Dubai last month was a message from Israel to Iran.
"I think this is a clear signal from the Israelis to the Iranians that an aerial bombardment is not our only option."
The New York Times has reported that President George W. Bush in the last year of his presidency authorized an increase in sabotage operations against Iran's nuclear program. Such operations historically have included selling equipment on the nuclear black market that is rigged with a homing device.
Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist, has also written that Iranian computers used in nuclear sites have been infected with corrupting code known as a virus.