U.S. intelligence and terrorism experts believe Iran would respond to American military strikes on its nuclear sites by deploying its intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Iran would mount attacks against U.S. targets inside Iraq, and target civilians in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, the Post quoted unidentified U.S. experts as saying.
U.S. officials declined to discuss what evidence they had indicating that Iran would carry out terrorist acts if Washington launched military strikes.
But they considered Iran-backed or -controlled groups - namely the country's Ministry of Intelligence and Security operatives, its Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah - to be better organized, trained and equipped than the al-Qaeda network that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Tehran views the Islamic Jihad, the name of Hezbollah's terrorist organization, "as an extension of their state.... operational teams could be deployed without a long period of preparation," Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, was quoted as saying.
The sharp contradiction between Washington and Tehran over nuclear issues has caused relations between the two countries to worsen in the past few months. The possibility of military confrontation has been raised only obliquely in recent months by U.S. President George W. Bush and Iran's government.
Bush says he is pursuing a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but he has added that all options are on the table for stopping Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.