Has a War With Iran Already Begun?

Violent incidents between Iran and the West have been increasing

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Protesters storm the British embassy in Tehran / AP

Two incidents that occurred on Sunday--Iran's claim of a shoot-down of a U.S. drone, and an explosion outside the British embassy in Bahrain--may have been unrelated. But they appear to add to growing evidence that an escalating covert war by the West is under way against Iran, and that Tehran is retaliating with greater intensity than ever.

Asked whether the United States, in cooperation with Israel, was now engaged in a covert war against Iran's nuclear program that may include the Stuxnet virus, the blowing-up of facilities and the assassination or kidnapping of scientists, one recently retired U.S. official privy to up-to-date intelligence would not deny it. 

"It's safe to say the Israelis are very active," the official said, adding about U.S. efforts:  "Everything that [GOP presidential candidate] Mitt Romney said we should be doing--tough sanctions, covert action and pressuring the international community  -- are all of the things we are actually doing." Though the activities are classified, a senior Obama administration official also would not deny that such a program was under way. He indicated that the U.S. was not involved in every action, referring to recent alleged explosions at Isfahan and elsewhere. But, he added: "I wouldn't assume that everything we do is coordinated."

Former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, who oversaw America's Iran engagement during the Bush administration, asked Sunday about reports that the U.S. program began under George W. Bush, said he could not comment on intelligence matters.

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Photos of an Iranian military base near Bid Kaneh in before (top) and after (bottom) a large explosion reportedly occurred, apparent damage from which can be seen / Institute for Science and International Security

In September, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, accused Great Britain, Israel and the U.S. of conducting attacks on him and other Iranian scientists."Six years ago the intelligence service of the UK began collecting information and data regarding my past, my family, the number of children," Abbasi-Davani told a news conference at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. Abbasi-Davani, who was said to have been wounded in 2010 car bomb explosion, said the attacks were carried out by Israel with the "support of the intelligence services of the United States and England."

Last week, Iranian protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran. Dominick Chilcott, Britain's ambassador to Iran, later said the attack occurred  "with the acquiescence and the support of the state." Then, on Sunday, Bahrain's interior ministry announced that an explosion occurred inside a minibus parked near the British Embassy. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.


U.S. officials alleged in October that agents acting for Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which has increasingly exerted control over the Tehran regime, were involved in a plot to kill that Saudi ambassador to Washington in a restaurant. Iran denied the allegations. Then, on Sunday, in what have been another escalation, Iran's news agency reported that Iranian armed forces shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane that illegally crossed the country's eastern border.

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Michael Hirsh is chief correspondent for National Journal.

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