According to the report, senior CIA and US defense officials believe that the White House was taking steps to ensure military confrontation with Iran, for fear that diplomatic efforts to slow the country’s nuclear weapons program are doomed to fail.
According to a senior US intelligence officer, the escalation to military confrontation could begin with a public denunciation of Iran’s suspected meddling in Iraq, the report said. The US claims Iran is arming and training Shiite militants; a denunciation of such activity could lead to cross-border raids on Iranian training camps and bomb factories.
The official told the Sunday Telegraph that a prime target for such a raid would be the Fajr base run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force in southern Iran, where Western intelligence agencies say armor-piercing projectiles used against British and US troops are manufactured.
The report said according to the theory, which was “gaining credence in Washington security circles”, US action could provoke a major Iranian response, possibly in the form of cutting off Gulf oil supplies, a move that could trigger air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and even its armed forces.
According to the report, the intelligence officer said the US military had "two major contingency plans" for air strikes on Iran.
"One is to bomb only the nuclear facilities. The second option is for a much bigger strike that would - over two or three days - hit all of the significant military sites as well. This plan involves more than 2,000 targets," he said.
"A strike will probably follow a gradual escalation. Over the next few weeks and months the US will build tensions and evidence around Iranian activities in Iraq," the US intelligence official explained.
The intelligence source added that no one outside a tight circle knew what was going to happen. However, he said that within the CIA "many if not most officials believe that diplomacy is failing" and that "top Pentagon brass believes the same".
A source in the US State Department told the Sunday Telegraph that pressure from senior counter-proliferation officials have caused US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to acknowledge that military action might be necessary in order to stop Iran’s nuclear plan.
The source added that Rice had begun working with Vice President Dick Cheney to find a way to reconcile their positions and present a united front to President George W Bush.