Intel: Iran not likely to attack if not provoked

Iran is not likely to attack the United States abroad or domestically if it is not provoked, according to a top military intelligence official.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told senators Thursday that Iran is prepared to retaliate against the United States and its allies in the Middle East if it is attacked, but is unlikely to do so if not provoked.

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“Iran can close the Strait of Hormuz — at least temporarily — and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region if it is attacked,” Burgess said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Iran could also attempt to employ terrorist surrogates worldwide — however, the agency assesses [that] Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.”

Burgess and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers that Israel has not decided whether to attack Iran at this time.

Clapper stressed that intelligence reports indicate that, though very close to being fully nuclear-capable, Iran has not decided to manufacture a nuclear warhead. The nation’s supreme leader would likely make that judgment call and could possibly spur an arms race in the Middle East with Iran’s neighboring countries, he said. 

Testifying before a separate Senate committee last month, Clapper warned that a 2011 plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States — which U.S. officials said was hatched in Iran — indicates that Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his government are willing to launch attacks in the United States.

Officials are investigating bomb attacks in India and Thailand, as well as another failed attempt in Georgia. Israel has blamed Hezbollah and Iran, which has been labeled by the United States as a key financial backer of the group.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told "60 Minutes in a recent interview that “there are no options that are off the table” when it comes to stopping Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, including taking military steps.

One of the main concerns for U.S. officials is that Iran could share its nuclear technologies with Hezbollah if it’s allowed to fully enrich uranium.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Thursday expressed his worry about the escalating tensions in the region.

“The threat posed by the Iranian regime could soon bring the Middle East to the brink of war, if it’s not there already,” McCain said.