Cheney seeks pretext for war as US reestablishes elite Air Force wing
John Byrne
Published: Sunday September 23, 2007

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The US Air Force has reestablished the elite fighting force which planned the 1991 Gulf War's air campaign and tasked them with "fighting the next war" as US-Iran tensions bloom, the London Sunday Times reports Sunday.

The news came on the heels of another Sunday report in Newsweek, which confirmed a quotation from a Cheney advisor who said that the Vice President "had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz - and perhaps other sites - in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out."

Such a strike would then give the US the ability to launch a strike in response.

Democratic foreign policy expert Steve Clemons, who said this week that President George W. Bush had ruled out a first-strike on Iran, voiced concern that the Cheney team might seek use an "accident" as a casus belli.

"I'm not saying there won't be any war but nothing in Bush's posture suggests he's really with the Cheney gang yet," Clemons told RAW STORY. "But I do worry about the Cheney gang and the [Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps]/Ahmadinejad crowd in Iran trying to precipitate a spark that produces a very fast escalation that circumvents most of Bush's national security decisionmaking structure -- and that kind of war is something we should worry about. That's what I think could happen."

The London Sunday Times, meanwhile, reports that an elite Air Force unit called "Project Checkmate" was resurrected in June. The unit reports directly to US Air Force chief Gen. Michael Moesely and "consists of 20-30 top air force officers and defence and cyberspace experts with ready access to the White House, the CIA and other intelligence agencies."

"Detailed contingency planning for a possible attack on Iran has been carried out for more than two years by Centcom (US central command)," says the Times's Sarah Baxter. "Checkmate's job is to add a dash of brilliance to Air Force thinking by countering the military's tendency to 'fight the last war' and by providing innovative strategies for warfighting and assessing future needs for air, space and cyberwarfare."

The group is led by Brigadier-General Lawrence Stutzriem, and assisted by a former Israeli military officer and cyberwarfare expert.

Strike force could target other states

Bush faces strong opposition to military action among his own staff, Baxter says. Clemons has said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all oppose a strike.

"None of them think it is a good idea, but they will do it if they are told to," a 'senior defense source' told the Times.

According to Baxter, Checkmate's mission isn't limited to Iran, but rather "to provide planning inputs to warfighters that are strategically, operationally and tactically sound, logistically supportable and politically feasible." Targets might also include China or North Korea.

Checkmate was originally formed in the 1970s to counter Soviet threats but fell derelict in the 80s; it was revived to plan for the first Gulf war.

On Saturday, Iran tested a longer-range missile in public for the first time and ran the gamut of anti-Israeli slogans in a military parade marking the start of Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq.

The missile is said to put US bases and Israel within Tehran's reach.

According to AP, "the parade was marked by a litany of slogans calling for "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

"The Iranian nation is ready to bring any oppressive power to its knees," a slogan from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei read.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad heads for New York today amid a storm of controversy and angry protests over his appearances at the United Nations and Columbia University.

The outspoken Iranian leader, who has openly called for the destruction of Israel and questioned the Holocaust, is due to speak at Columbia Monday, a day before addressing the UN General Assembly.

The trip comes at a low point in relations between Iran and the United States, which have not had formal diplomatic ties since revolutionary students stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.

With wire services.