An Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear installations would destabilise the entire region and open a new battlefront which could have a damaging effect on Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior American army commander said today.
In a highly unusual statement on the issue from the US Defence establishment the officer, who requested anonymity, stressed that a diplomatic solution was imperative to solve the crisis.
The commander, in the heart of US military policy-making, said that there was "a lot of rhetoric" over Israel's repeated threats to carry out air-strikes to stop Iran developing a nuclear arsenal.
However, he said, that an exercise by over 100 Israeli war planes in the skies above the Mediterranean in June showed the Israelis were practising for a possible offensive.
"But it would not be the right thing to do, it will open up another front and this is not going to help the situation in the region, Iraq or Afghanistan," said the officer. "A diplomatic solution is the only logical answer to this."
However the commander described Iran as having a "malign presence" in the area in supplying conventional weapons into Iraq. He said that according to intelligence received by the US a number of "front companies" were being used to pass on arms and explosives to insurgents within Iraq.
There have been recurring reports that the Israelis are preparing to take action against the "Iranian nuclear threat" in conjunction with the US. But American military sources say that a strong body of opinion within the Pentagon have cautioned the Bush administration against such an assault.
The US military is concerned that Israeli strikes would lead to Iranian retaliation with American forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf in the line of fire. This in turn would drag the US into a conflict while they remained committed to Iraq and Afghanistan.