Topographical map of Iran shows rugged, inhospitable terrain, with Persian Gulf at bottom, Iraq to the left, Afghanistan at right.

Democrat leaders in Congress vow they’ll move to block President Bush from invading Iran, but Pentagon officials say that won’t be necessary, because they have no active plans for a ground attack.

In fact, officials tell WND they have war-gamed a full-blown invasion and ruled it out because of the difficult terrain in Iran, a mountainous fortress compared to Iraq.

“It’s a non-starter,” said one official.

He explains Iran is ringed virtually 360 degrees by towering mountains, and even if they were passable by artillery units, unstable salt flats and high desert wastelands stand between those mountains and Tehran, the capital.

“The Great Salt Desert outside Tehran is hundreds of miles of dry lakebeds that ooze a black sticky mud that’s a lot like quicksand,” he said. “It won’t support tanks and artillery.”

It was in the Great Salt Desert, known locally as the Dasht-e Kavir, that the 1980 military mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran was aborted. Dust storms blinded pilots and caused a U.S. helicopter to crash into a C-130 transport plane, killing eight crew members.

The surface in the Dasht-e Kavir salt desert outside Tehran was partly responsible for the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw hostage rescue attempt in 1980.

On the other side of Tehran lie the steep, jagged Elburz Mountains, which include Mount Damavand, the highest peak in Europe and Asia west of the Hindu Kush. The average elevation of that northern range protecting Tehran is twice that of mile-high Denver.

Critics of Bush’s saber-rattling over Iran – which he accuses of arming insurgents in Iraq while developing a nuclear-weapons program – worry the president is looking for a pretext to also invade Iran and carry out regime change in Tehran.

“Congress should make it very clear that there is no previous authority for the president to go into Iran,” warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

But even strong promoters of the war in Iraq are not talking seriously about going “into” Iran.

“I do not think anyone in the U.S. is talking about invasion,” said Josh Muravchik, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute who has argued for air strikes on Iran. “We have been chastened by the experience of Iraq, even a hawk like myself.”

If the initial march to Baghdad was a cake walk, a march to Tehran would be a logistical nightmare, experts agree.

Tehran, in the center of this NASA space photo, is protected by the rugged Elburz Mountains

Iran is more than twice the area of Iraq. And a wall of mountains essentially surrounds a high plateau of inhospitable terrain pocked by salt domes and sand dunes. Supply lines would be next to impossible to establish because needle-eye mountain passes are barely wide enough for one-way traffic during mild weather. Bottlenecks are common even on roads between Iran and Iraq, officials note.

Logistics teams were able to readily supply U.S. forces marching to Baghdad thanks to Iraq’s flatlands and easy-access ports in the Persian Gulf.

“Iran is a different story altogether,” even along its rugged Gulf coast, another Pentagon official pointed out. “We couldn’t convoy big daily loads into the interior. We’d have to airlift them in.” But those smaller deliveries wouldn’t be enough to supply full divisions, he added.

And unlike Iraq, Iran lacks any sizable rivers, leaving most of the country arid and dry. (The Lut Desert, for example, experiences some of the world’s hottest summers.) U.S. artillery forces would not have any indigenous means to keep engines cool.

That leaves air assault, which is a much more viable military option.

Officials say the Pentagon has outlined a plan using satellite and laser-guided missiles to attack targets inside Iran in a preemptive action to destroy Iran’s dual-use nuclear facilities or punish Iran for arming Shiite militias in Iraq, or both.

Some of Iran’s installations are underground, however, and protected by hardened bunkers, which may require nuclear-tipped “bunker-busters” to knock them out, officials say.

Israel, which recently was directly threatened by Tehran, also has such weapons and has been sharing intelligence on Iran with U.S. Central Command, sources say. Israel would need U.S. permission to fly over Iraqi air space to hit targets inside Iran, however.

There are several signs the U.S. is preparing to launch an air campaign against Iran, including:

  • Ordering a second battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS John Stennis to the Gulf in support of the USS Eisenhower. A third carrier may also be on the way.

  • Shipping additional Patriot missiles and minesweepers to the Gulf.

  • Ordering more oil reserves to be stockpiled in the U.S. strategic supply.

  • Deploying more troops on the other side of Iran in Afghanistan, which would help guard U.S. and coalition bases there against a flood of Iranian suicide bombers.

  • Cutting a surprise deal with North Korea to cool tensions on that front in the “axis of evil.”

At the same time, Bush has nominated an Iranian expert to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan native, has worked with Iranian dissidents on plans to bring about regime change in Tehran.

Republicans in Congress also are reaching out to such groups – including the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK, an armed faction that could provide an internal opposition to the Ayatollah’s Revolutionary Guard.

“If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops, we will respond firmly,” Bush warned in a recent interview with National Public Radio.

In a press conference earlier this week, Bush ratcheted up the tough talk, asserting, “We’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.”

Still, Iran has fundamentally different geography and nearly three time more people than Iraq, and therefore does not present the soft conventional military target that its neighbor originally presented.

“There isn’t a particularly good, direct way to neutralize the Iranian threat,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged.

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