Most observers think the threat of an American attack on Iran has passed due to the release of the NIE last fall.
Scott Ritter is not one of them. He sees the continued pursuit of sanctions against Iran as a sort of trap door through which the military option can be brought back on stage:
By continuing to label Iran's nuclear program as representing a threat to international peace and security worthy of Chapter VII attention, the Security Council helps sustain the fiction being promoted by the Bush administration of a dangerous nation which needs to be confronted at all costs. The day will come, in the not so distant future, when the United States will seek to cash in on the string of Chapter VII resolutions against Iran, building its case on the inevitability of Iranian non-compliance; Iran has already rejected the new draft sanctions as illegal, and has stated quite clearly its intent to push forward with its nuclear program in spite of the new sanctions. The Bush administration will be in a position to level a charge of global impotence in the face of a clearly defined threat, and to note that if the international community is unable or unwilling to confront this threat, then United States will have no choice but to take on this task in a unilateral fashion.
With the US military positioning itself operationally and logistically for action sometime this spring, and the level of rhetoric by President Bush and his advisors on Iran being hyped up to near fever pitch, the last thing the international community should be doing is facilitating conflict by helping sustain the logic of Iran as a threat at the very time Iran's status as a nation compliant with international law is being certified. But the tragic genius of the "sanctions trap" is that, once initiated, it is virtually impossible to shut off. By putting the credibility of the Security Council on the line in imposing the sanctions regime against Iran, the members of the Council who view UN action as a means of containing US ambition and aggression have themselves allowed the issue of defending the will of the Council in the face of continued Iranian rejection of the Council's decisions to become the central issue, and not the matter which led them to originally impose sanctions to begin with, that being Iran's nuclear program. The "sanctions trap" is built upon the principles of hubris and procedure, not reason and fact. This is the reason the Bush administration continues to invest so heavily in this process, and why in the end the "sanctions trap," if not prematurely sprung, will in the end lead us to war with Iran . The message is simple: stop the sanctions, stop the war.