Obama Seeks to Distance U.S. from Israeli Attack

by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in intense maneuvering over Netanyahu's aim of entangling the United States in an Israeli war against Iran.

Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress on matters related to Israel in order to maximise the likelihood that the United States would participate in an attack on Iran.

Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United States from any Israeli attack.

New evidence surfaced in 2011 that Netanyahu has been serious about dealing a military blow to the Iranian nuclear programme. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left his job in September 2010, revealed in his first public appearance after Mossad Jun. 2 that he, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin had been able to "block any dangerous adventure" by Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

The Hebrew language daily Maariv reported that those three, along with President Shimon Peres and IDF Senior Commander Gadi Eisenkrot, had vetoed a 2010 proposal by Netanyahu to attack Iran.

Dagan said he was going public because he was "afraid there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak". Dagan also said an Israeli attack on Iran could trigger a war that would "endanger the (Israeli) state's existence", indicating that his revelation was not part of a psywar campaign.

It is generally agreed that an Israeli attack can only temporarily set back the Iranian nuclear programme, at significant risk to Israel. But Netanyahu and Barak hope to draw the United States into the war to create much greater destruction and perhaps the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

In a sign that the Obama administration is worried that Netanyahu is contemplating an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta tried and failed in early October to get a commitment from Netanyahu and Barak that Israel would not launch an attack on Iran without consulting Washington first, according to both Israeli and U.S. sources cited by The Telegraph and by veteran intelligence reporter Richard Sale.

At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and the new head of CENTCOM, Gen. James N. Mattis, expressed their disappointment that he had not been firm enough in opposing an Israeli attack, according to Sale.

Obama responded that he "had no say over Israel" because "it is a sovereign country."

Obama's remark seemed to indicate a desire to distance his administration from an Israeli attack on Iran. But it also made it clear that he was not going to tell Netanyahu that he would not countenance such an attack.

Trita Parsi, executive director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), who has analysed the history of the triangular relationship involving the United States, Israel and Iran in his book "Treacherous Alliance", says knowledgeable sources tell him Obama believes he can credibly distance himself from an Israeli attack.

In a Dec. 2 talk at the Brookings Institution, while discussing the dangers of the regional conflict that would result from such an attack, Panetta said the United States "would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases."

Panetta's statement could be interpreted as an effort to convince Iran that the Obama administration is opposed to an Israeli strike and should not be targeted by Iran in retaliation if Israel does launch an attack.

Parsi believes Obama's calculation that he can convince Iran that the United States has no leverage on Israel without being much tougher with Israel is not realistic.

"Iran most likely would decide not to target U.S. forces in the region in retaliation for an Israeli strike only if the damage from the strike were relatively limited," Parsi told IPS in an e-mail.

The Obama administration considers the newest phase of sanctions against Iran, aimed at reducing global imports of Iranian crude oil, as an alternative to an unprovoked attack by Israel. But what Netanyahu had in mind in proposing such an initiative was much more radical than the Obama administration or the European Union could accept.

When Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is closely aligned with Netanyahu's Likud Party, pushed the idea of sanctions against any financial institution that did business with Iran's Central Bank, the aim was to make it impossible for countries that import Iranian crude to continue to be able to make payments for the oil.

Dubowitz wanted virtually every country importing Iranian crude except China and India to cut off their imports. He argued that reducing the number of buyers to mainly China and India would not result in a rise in the price of oil, because Iran would have to offer discounted prices to the remaining buyers.

Global oil analysts warned, however, that such a sanctions regime could not avoid creating a spike in oil prices.

U.S. officials told Reuters Nov. 8 that sanctions on Iran's Central Bank were "not on the table". The Obama administration was warning that such sanctions would risk a steep rise in oil prices worldwide and a worsening global recession, while actually increasing Iranian oil revenues.

But Netanyahu used the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over Congressional action related to Israel to override Obama's opposition. The Senate unanimously passed an amendment representing Netanyahu's position on sanctions focused on Iran's oil sector and the Central Bank, despite a letter from Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner opposing it. A similar amendment was passed by the House Dec. 15.

The Obama administration acquiesced and entered into negotiations with its European allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on reducing imports of Iranian crude oil while trying to fill the gaps with other sources. But a number of countries, including Japan and Korea, are begging off, and the EU is insisting on protecting Greece and other vulnerable economies.

The result is likely to be a sanctions regime that reduces Iranian exports only marginally - not the "crippling sanctions" demanded by Netanyahu and Barak. Any hike in oil prices generated by sanctions against Iran's oil sector, moreover, would only hurt Obama's re- election chances.

In an interview with CNN in November, Barak warned the international community that Israel might have to make a decision on war within as little as six months, because Iran's efforts to "disperse and fortify" its nuclear facilities would soon render a strike against facilities ineffective.

Barak said he "couldn't predict" whether that point would be reached in "two quarters or three quarters or a year". The new Israeli "red line" would place the timing of an Israeli decision on whether to strike Iran right in the middle of the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Netanyahu, who makes no secret of his dislike and distrust of Obama, may hope to put Obama under maximum pressure to support Israel militarily in a war with Iran by striking during a campaign in which the Republican candidate would be accusing him of being soft on the Iranian nuclear threat.

If the Republican candidate is in a strong position to win the election, on the other hand, Netanyahu would want to wait for a new administration aligned with his belligerent posture toward Iran.

Meanwhile, the end of U.S. Air Force control over Iraqi airspace with the final U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq has eliminated what had long been regarded as a significant deterrent to Israeli attack on Iran using the shortest route.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

Copyright © 2012 IPS-Inter Press Service
http://ipsnews.net/

Iran: Avoiding Another Long War

Avoiding Another Long War
January 4, 2012

Exaggerated coverage of a dubious report by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program has spurred a rush toward a new war in the Middle East, but ex-U.S. intelligence officials urge President Obama to resist the pressures and examine the facts.

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Avoiding Another Long War

As professionals with collectively hundreds of years of experience in intelligence, foreign policy, and counterterrorism, we are concerned about the gross misrepresentation of facts being bruited about to persuade you to start another war.

We have watched the militarists represent one Muslim country after another as major threats to U.S. security. In the past, they supported attacks on Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Afghanistan, as well as Israel’s attacks on Syria and Lebanon — nine Muslim countries – and Gaza.

This time, they are using a new IAEA report to assert categorically that Iran is building a nuclear weapon that allegedly poses a major threat to the U.S. Your intelligence and military advisors can certainly clarify what the report really says.

As you know, the IAEA makes regular inspection visits to Iran’s nuclear facilities and has TV cameras monitoring those facilities around the clock. While there is reason to question some of Iran’s actions, the situation is not as clear-cut as some allege.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former IAEA director-general, said recently, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” He is not alone: All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded “with high confidence” in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program as of 2003.

We are seeing a replay of the “Iraq WMD threat.” As Philip Zelikow, Executive Secretary of the 9/11 Commission said, “The ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.”

Your military and intelligence experts can also provide information on unpublicized efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program and on the futility of attempting to eliminate that program – which is dispersed and mostly underground – through aerial bombing.

Defense Secretary [Leon] Panetta and other experts have stated that an air attack would only delay any weapons program for a year or two at most.

Former Mossad head Meir Dagan said that an air force strike against Iran’s nuclear installations would be “a stupid thing,” a view endorsed in principle by two other past Mossad chiefs, Danny Yatom and Ephraim Halevy. Dagan added that “Any strike against [the civilian program] is an illegal act according to international law.”

Dagan pointed out another reality: bombing Iran would lead it to retaliate against Israel through Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of Grad-type rockets and hundreds of Scuds and other long-range missiles, and through Hamas.

We are already spending as much as the rest of the world combined on National Security and $100 billion per year on a Long War in Afghanistan. The Israel lobby has been beating the drums for us to attack Iran for years, led by people with confused loyalties like Joe Lieberman, who once made the claim that it is unpatriotic for Americans not to support Israel.

Another Long War is not in America’s or Israel’s interests, whatever Israel’s apologists claim. Those are the same people who claim that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad said he would “wipe Israel off the map.” Persian specialists have pointed out that the original statement in Persian actually said that Israel would collapse: “This occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the arena of time.”

What we have is a situation where Israel’s actions, for example in sending 300,000 settlers into the West Bank and 200,000 settlers into East Jerusalem, are compromising U.S. security by putting us at risk for terrorist retaliation.

We have provided Israel with $100 billion in direct aid since 1975. Since this is fungible, how has funding settlements contributed to our security? You agreed to provide $3 billion in F-35s to Israel in exchange for a 90-day freeze on settlements. What you got was 90 days of stonewalling on the peace process and then more settlers. What more do we owe Israel?

Certainly not a rush to war. We have time to make diplomacy and sanctions work, to persuade Russia and China to make joint cause with us.

James Madison once wrote that “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.… War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. …No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

We are currently winding down what you labeled a “dumb war;” we should not undertake another dumb war against a country almost three times larger than Iraq, that would set off a major regional war and create generations of jihadis. Such a war, contrary to what some argue, would not make Israel or the U.S. safer.

Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Phil Giraldi, Directorate of Operations, CIA
Ray McGovern, US Army Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA
Coleen Rowley, Special Agent and Minneapolis Division Counsel, FBI
Ann Wright, Col., US Army Reserve (ret.), Foreign Service Officer, Department of State
Tom Maertens, Foreign Service Officer and NSC Director for Non-Proliferation under two presidents
Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council
David MacMichael, former history professor and CIA and National Intelligence Council analyst

http://consortiumnews.com/2012/01/04/avoiding-another-long-war/

NY Times Misleads Readers on Iran Crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 6, 2012
1:11 PM

CONTACT: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

NYT Misleads Readers on Iran Crisis
Paper disappears some inaccurate reporting

NEW YORK - January 6 - In two articles yesterday (1/5/12), the New York Times misled readers about the state of Iran's nuclear program. [The story as it appeared in the print edition.] The story as it appeared in the print edition.

On the front page, the Times' Steven Erlanger reported this:
The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign.

There is no such International Atomic Energy Agency assessment. The IAEA report the Times is mischaracterizing raised questions about the state of the Iranian program, and presented the evidence, mostly years old, that Iran's critics say points towards a weapons program. (This evidence has been challenged by outside analysts--see FAIR Media Advisory, 11/16/11.) But the IAEA report made no firm conclusion that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, and noted that its inspections of Iran's facilities continue to show no diversion of uranium for military purposes.

Elsewhere in the Times, readers saw this in a piece by Clifford Krauss about a potential conflict over the Strait of Hormuz:
Various Iranian officials in recent weeks have said they would blockade the strait, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, if the United States and Europe imposed a tight oil embargo on their country in an effort to thwart its development of nuclear weapons.

Again, Iran has said repeatedly and emphatically that they are doing no such thing.

Interestingly, the Times has changed the Web version of the Erlanger article, removing the relevant paragraph--but without noting the error.

Overstating the case on Iran isn't a new problem at the Times. One story last month (12/8/11) referred matter-of-factly to the "recent public debate in Israel about whether time is running out for a military strike to slow Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon."

With tensions between Iran and the United States rising, and Republican presidential candidates agitating for a more confrontational stance, it is imperative that outlets like the New York Times get the story right. If the Times wishes to do better than it did during the run-up to the Iraq War, it should be more careful.

ACTION:
Contact the New York Times and ask it to investigate and explain the editing of the January 5 front-page article, and to correct both misleading assertions about Iran and nuclear weapons.

CONTACT:
New York Times
Public Editor Arthur Brisbane
Email: public@nytimes.com
Phone: 212-556-7652

###

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) Links:
http://www.fair.org/

On Iran IAEA Reporting, NYT Public Editor Rules for Plaintaffs

Responding to complaints over a New York Times report that purported to cite "a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective," New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane has written that the complaints were just, and that the New York Times should correct the story.The story as it appeared in the January 5th NYT print edition.

Brisbane wrote:

I think the readers are correct on this. The Times hasn't corrected the story but it should because this is a case of when a shorthand phrase doesn't do justice to a nuanced set of facts. In this case, the distinction between the two is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli.

In other words: it's important to get this right, because getting it wrong unjustly promotes the cause of war.

As of this writing - eight hours after the Public Editor's post, six days after the original article appeared, and people first complained about it - there is still no correction.

You can't find the article, as it originally appeared, on the New York Times website, because the Times deleted the paragraph with the offending claim from the version now on the web, without running a correction or publishing a note explaining the change. But you can see the article as it originally ran here.

Note that in other contexts - not linked to the fervent desire of some people for military confrontation with Iran - the Times purports to be quite punctilious about corrections, as when it corrected a misidentified character from an animated children's TV show.

Although it is unacceptable that the Times is still refusing to run a correction of its erroneous and dangerously misleading story, it is unquestionably a very good thing that at least there is a place associated with the Times where you can complain about its reporting and get a public response that acknowledges the justice of your complaint.

We complained to NBC's Meet the Press about the fact that David Gregory did not challenge Rick Santorum on his claim that there aren't UN nuclear inspectors in Iran, and did not even receive any acknowledgement of the complaint, let alone a response.

We complained to the Washington Post when it used the headline "Iran's quest to possess nuclear weapons." The Washington Post did the right thing. They corrected the headline, and they added an editor's note explaining the change. In addition, the Washington Post Ombudsman wrote in his column that the complaints about the headline were just and important.

So, to the Washington Post, full marks. To the New York Times, partial credit. To NBC's Meet the Press, zero.

Now, let's engage in a little experiment. Some people see PBS and NPR as publicly funded alternatives to commercial media. Others see them as the "Pentagon Broadcasting System" and "National Pentagon Radio."

If we complain to PBS and NPR when they report allegations that Iran has a nuclear weapons program as if they are known facts, how will they respond? Will they be more like the Washington Post, the New York Times, or NBC?

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Panetta told Face the Nation that Iran is not now trying to develop nuclear weapons. "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No."

AP reported this straight: "US: Iran has not yet decided to build nuclear bomb."

But as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting noted, on Monday, PBS NewsHour deceptively edited Panetta's comments to exclude his statement that Iran is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and then used his comments to try to suggest the opposite, that Iran is now pursuing a nuclear weapon.

You can write to NewsHour here. You can write to the PBS Ombudsman here.

On NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, reporter Tom Gjelten said, "The goal for the U.S. and its allies ... [is] to convince Iran to give up a nuclear weapons program," thereby implying that Iran already has a nuclear weapons program, which is certainly not a known fact.

You can ask for a correction from NPR here. You can write to the NPR Ombudsman here.

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

 

War Clouds Darken: Russia Warns of US Strike on Iran

Ahmadinejad: 'Heartless capitalism is the root cause of war'
-Common Dreams Staff Report

UPDATE: The White House says President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked today amid tensions over the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran. Iranian authorities blame Israel for the attack on the scientist, who was killed by a bomb attached to his car. The U.S. has denied any role.

A White House statement on Thursday's phone call didn't say whether they discussed the scientist's death. It said Obama and Netanyahu "discussed recent Iran-related developments," including efforts to hold Iran accountable for failures to meet international obligations. "The President reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and the President and the Prime Minister promised to stay in touch in the coming weeks on these and other issues of mutual concern."
* * *
Russia Warns of US Strike on Iran

Agence France-Presse reports:

Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev warned that military escalation is likely in Iran, with “real danger” of a US strike, in an interview published on Thursday.

He added that Syria, which has refused to break its ties with Tehran, could also be a target for Western intervention.

“There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, and Israel is pushing the Americans towards it,” Mr Patrushev said in an interview published on the website of the daily Kommersant.

“There is a real danger of a US military strike on Iran,” the senior Russian security official said.

“At present, the US sees Iran as its main problem. They are trying to turn Tehran from an enemy into a supportive partner, and to achieve this, to change the current regime by whatever means,” he added.

“They use both economic embargo and massive help to the opposition forces.”

Mr Patrushev said that “for years we have been hearing that the Iranians are going to create an atomic bomb, (but) still nobody has proved the existence of a military component of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Iran said on Wednesday it had firm evidence that “foreign quarters” were behind the killing of four Iranian nuclear experts and demanded UN Security Council condemnation of the deaths.

Meanwhile, a second US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, has arrived in the Gulf region, the Pentagon has said, calling the move "routine" and denying any link to mounting tensions with Iran.

Backed by a cruiser, destroyer and with almost 80 planes and helicopters on board, the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group "arrived in the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR)" on January 9," a Fifth Fleet statement said.
* * *
Assassination Blowback?

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Iran Warns of 'Cross-Border' Bombing Response

Iranian security official is quoted as saying those responsible for killing scientist "will never feel safe."

Iran's response to the assassination of a nuclear scientist in Iran Wednesday will be harsh and reach beyond borders, a website aligned with the regime in Tehran quoted a senior security source as saying Thursday.

Those who gave the order for the assassination, the source was quoted by "RajaNews" as saying, "will never feel safe," adding that Iran has a cross-border, cross-regional strategy for striking back. He said that the West and Israel were behind the attacks in Iran.

Agence France-Presse reports:

Furious Iran Wants Action over Scientist's Killing

The assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist sparked deep fury in Tehran on Thursday against prime suspect Israel and against the United States, which said it had nothing to do with the murder.

Some hardline newspapers even called for retaliatory action, with one, Keyhan, saying in an editorial that "assassinations of Israeli officials and military are achievable." [...]

The latest attack dominated Iran's media on Thursday, with many outlets criticizing what they said was the silence of the West over the killings. More conservative titles urged tit-for-tat covert action against Israel.

"The only way to finish with the enemy's futile actions is retaliation for the assassination of Iran's scientist," said the newspaper Resalat.

"It is legal under international law to retaliate for the killing of the nuclear scientist," the daily Keyhan said. "The Islamic republic has gathered much experience in 32 years, thus assassinations of Israeli officials and military members are achievable."
* * *
Assassinations Won't Work

Debora MacKenzie writing in the New Scientist today:

Costs of Killing Iran's Nuclear Scientists

The Doomsday Clock – the famous gauge of the world's risk of nuclear annihilation, run by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) – moved a minute closer to midnight on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, another nuclear physicist was assassinated in Iran. Both events reveal a global nuclear situation that seems to be worsening fast.

On Wednesday morning a motorcycle rider stuck a magnetic bomb onto the car of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan Behdast, a chemist at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant who was working on gas separation membranes. The scientist was killed by the blast.[...]

"Nuclear scientists are not terrorists," says Tobey in the BAS this week. Killing them at best delays bomb development, by removing key people and perhaps deterring young scientists from careers in nuclear science. But it will not stop bomb development.

These slim advantages are far outweighed, Tobey says, by the downsides: possible retaliation, reduced chances for diplomacy, tighter security around nuclear installations and a pretext for Iran to hamper IAEA monitoring.

Iran has already accused the IAEA of abetting the assassinations by publicizing confidential Iranian lists of key nuclear scientists and engineers.

The New York Times today quotes Gary Sick, a specialist on Iran at Columbia, who said he believed that the covert campaign, combined with sanctions, would not persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear work.

“It’s important to turn around and ask how the U.S. would feel if our revenue was being cut off, our scientists were being killed and we were under cyberattack,” Mr. Sick said. “Would we give in, or would we double down? I think we’d fight back, and Iran will, too.”

And John Hudson, writing for The Atlantic says:

The preponderance of evidence suggests Israel carried out the attack, with the possible assistance of the US. [...]

In an odd move, raising more questions than answers, Israel's chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai wrote on his Facebook page "Don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but for sure I am not shedding a tear.” According to The Washington Post, the comment "sparked a debate on his page, with some readers saying he should be more discreet."
* * *
'Merely Targeted Killings' or Terrorism?

Glenn Greenwald writing today on Salon:

In the few venues which yesterday denounced as “Terrorism” the ongoing assassinations of Iranian scientists, there was intense backlash against the invocation of that term. That always happens whenever “Terrorism” is applied to acts likely undertaken by Israel, the U.S. or its allies — rather than its traditional use: violence by Muslims against the U.S. and its allies — because accusing Israel and/or the U.S. of Terrorism remains one of the greatest political taboos (even when the acts in question involve not only assassinations but also explosions which kill numerous victims whose identities could not have been known in advance). But the case of these scientist assassinations particularly highlights how meaningless and manipulated this term is.

The prime argument against calling these scientists killings “Terrorism” is that targeted killings — as opposed to indiscriminate ones — cannot qualify. After Andrew Sullivan wrote a post entitled “The Terrorism We Support” and rhetorically asked: “is not the group or nation responsible for the murder of civilians in another country terrorists?”, and then separately criticized the NYT for failing to describe these killings as Terrorism, numerous readers objected to the use of this term on the ground that a targeted killing cannot be Terrorism. Similarly, after I noted yesterday that Kevin Drum had denounced as “Terrorism” a right-wing blogger’s 2007 suggestion that Iran’s scientists be murdered and asked if he still applies that term to whoever is actually doing it now, he wrote a post (either coincidentally on his own or in response) strongly implying that this is Terrorism; thereafter, commenter after commenter at Mother Jones vehemently disagreed, on the same ground, with Drum’s suggestion that this is Terrorism (many agreed the term did apply). Meanwhile, Jason Pontin, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Technology Review, actually claimed that my use of the term Terrorism to describe these scientist killings is “what turns sober, hardnosed people from the Left” (he’s apparently been elected the spokesman for “sober hardnosed people” turning away from the Left), and then proceeded to insist over and over that these are merely targeted killings, not Terrorism.
* * *
Iran Leader Rails Against 'Heartless' US Capitalism

FoxNews Latino reports on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Cuba on Wednesday on the third leg of a four country Latin America tour.

At the university, the Iranian leader railed against the United States and its allies and said heartless capitalism is the root cause of war.

"Thankfully we are already witnessing that the capitalist system is in decay," Ahmadinejad said. "On various stages it has come to a dead end — politically, economically and culturally."

"You see that when it lacks logic, they turn to weapons to kill and destroy," he added.

http://www.commondreams.org/

Herding Americans to War with Iran

by Robert Parry

For many Americans the progression toward war with Iran has the feel of cattle being herded from the stockyard into the slaughterhouse, pressed steadily forward with no turning back, until some guy shoots a bolt into your head.

Any suggestion of give-and-take negotiations with Iran is mocked, while alarmist propaganda, a ratcheting up of sanctions, and provocative actions – like Wednesday’s assassination of yet another Iranian scientist – push Americans closer to what seems like an inevitable bloodletting.

Even the New York Times now acknowledges that Israel, with some help from the United States, appears to be conducting a covert war of sabotage and assassination inside Iran. “The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour,” Times reporter Scott Shane wrote in Thursday’s editions.

Though U.S. officials emphatically denied any role in the murder, Israeli officials did little to discourage rumors of an Israeli hand in the bombing. Some even expressed approval. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said he didn’t know who killed the scientist but added: “I am definitely not shedding a tear.”

The latest victim, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was the fifth scientist associated with Iran’s nuclear program to be killed in the past four years, with a sixth scientist narrowly escaping death in 2010, Fereydoon Abbasi, who is now head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

As might be expected, Iran has denounced the murders as acts of terrorism. They have been accompanied by cyber-attacks on Iranian centrifuges and an explosion at a missile facility late last year killing a senior general and 16 others.

While this campaign has slowed Iran’s nuclear progress, it also appears to have hardened its resolve to continue work on a nuclear capability, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes only. Iranian authorities also have responded to tightening economic sanctions from Europe and the United States with threats of their own, such as warnings about closing the oil routes through the Strait of Hormuz and thus damaging the West’s economies.

Target: USA

Another front in Israel’s cold war against Iran appears to be the propaganda war being fought inside the United States, where the still-influential neoconservatives are deploying their extensive political and media resources to shut off possible routes toward a peaceful settlement, while building support for future military strikes against Iran.

Fitting with that propaganda strategy, the Washington Post’s editorial page, which is essentially the neocons’ media flagship, published a lead editorial on Wednesday urging harsher and harsher sanctions against Iran and ridiculing anyone who favored reduced tensions.

Noting Iran’s announcement that it had opened a better-protected uranium enrichment plant near Qom, the Post wrote: “In short, the new Fordow operation crosses another important line in Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapons capability.

“Was it a red line for Israel or the United States? Apparently not, for the Obama administration at least. In a television interview Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: ‘Our red line to Iran is: do not develop a nuclear weapon.’ He asserted that Tehran was not trying to develop a weapon now, only ‘a nuclear capability.’ The Revolutionary Guard, which controls the nuclear program, might well take that as a green light for the new enrichment operation.”

While portraying Panetta as an Iranian tool, the Post suggested that anyone who wanted to turn back from an Iran confrontation was an Iranian useful fool. The Post wrote:

“The recent flurry of Iranian threats has had the intended effect of prompting a new chorus of demands in Washington that the United States and its allies stop tightening sanctions and instead make another attempt at ‘engagement’ with the regime. The Ahmadinejad government itself reportedly has proposed new negotiations, and Turkey has stepped forward as a host.

“Almost certainly, any talks will reveal that Iran is unwilling to stop its nuclear activities or even to make significant concessions. But they may serve to stop or greatly delay a European oil embargo or the implementation of sanctions on the [Iranian] central bank — and buy time for the Fordow centrifuges to do their work.”

The Post’s recommended instead “that every effort must be made to intensify sanctions” and to stop Iranian sale of oil anywhere in the world. In other words, continue to ratchet up the tensions and cut off hopes for genuine negotiations.

A Vulnerable Obama

The escalating neocon demands for an ever-harder U.S. line against Iran — and Israel’s apparent campaign of killings and sabotage inside Iran — come at a time when President Barack Obama and some of his inner circle appear to be looking again for ways to defuse tensions. But the Post’s editorial – and similar neocon propaganda – have made clear that any move toward reconciliation will come with a high political price tag.

Already, a recurring Republican talking point is that Obama’s earlier efforts to open channels of negotiation with Iran and other foreign adversaries proved his naivete and amounted to “apologizing” for America. Obama also has faced resistance within his own administration, especially from neocon-lites such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

For instance, in spring 2010, a promising effort – led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil’s then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – got Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to agree to relinquish Iranian control of nearly half the country’s supply of low-enriched uranium in exchange for isotopes for medical research.

The Turkish-Brazilian initiative revived a plan first advanced by Obama in 2009 – and the effort had the President’s private encouragement. But after Ahmadinejad accepted the deal, Secretary Clinton and other U.S. hardliners switched into overdrive to kill the swap and insist instead on imposing harsher sanctions against Iran.

At the time, Clinton’s position was endorsed by editors at the Washington Post and the New York Times, who mocked Erdogan and Lula da Silva as inept understudies on the international stage. If anything, the Post and Times argued, the United States should take an even more belligerent approach toward Iran, i.e. seeking “regime change.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “WPost, NYT Show Tough-Guy Swagger.”]

As Clinton undercut the uranium swap and pushed instead for a new round of United Nations’ sanctions, Lula da Silva released a private letter from Obama who had urged the Brazilians to press forward with the swap arrangement. However, with Washington’s political momentum favoring another confrontation with a Muslim adversary, Obama retreated and lined up behind the sanctions.

Over the next nearly two years, the sanctions have failed to stop Iran’s work on enriched uranium which it claims is needed for medical research. Israel, the neocons and other American hardliners have responded by demanding still more draconian sanctions, while promoting anti-Iran propaganda inside the United States and winking at the murder of Iranian scientists inside Iran.

In this U.S. election year, Israel and the neocons may understand that their political leverage on Obama is at its apex. So, if he again searches for openings to negotiate with Iran, he can expect the same kind of nasty disdain that the Washington Post heaped on Panetta on Wednesday.

The Carter-Begin Precedent

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud leaders appear to fear a second Obama term – when he’d be freed from the need to seek reelection – much as their predecessors feared a second term for President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Then, Prime Minister Menachem Begin thought that Carter in a second term would team up with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in forcing Israel to accept a Palestinian state.

Begin’s alarm about that prospect was described by Israeli intelligence and foreign affairs official David Kimche in his 1991 book, The Last Option. Kimche wrote that Begin’s government believed that Carter was overly sympathetic to the Palestinians.

“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Extensive evidence now exists that Begin’s preference for Ronald Reagan led Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back and delay release of the 52 American hostages then being held in Iran until after Reagan defeated Carter in November 1980. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com’s “The Back Story on Iran’s Clashes.”]

Today, Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu seems as strained as Carter’s relationship with Begin was three decades ago. And already many American neocons have signed up with Obama’s Republican rivals, including with GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney whose foreign policy white paper was written by prominent neocons.

So the question now is: Will the President of the United States take his place amid the herd of cattle getting steered into the slaughterhouse of another war?

© 2012 Consortiumnews.com
http://consortiumnews.com/2012/01/12/herding-americans-to-war-with-iran/

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth'.

Iran and the Threat of Not Having Future Wars

by Peter Hart

The conventional understanding you get from the media is that Israel is worried that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a serious threat to the country's existence.

Is that really what's happening, though? Another interpretation is that Iran might want nuclear weapons not to launch any such an attack but to prevent an attack on its country--nuclear deterrence, in other words. (Of course, it's important to note that there is currently no evidence that Iran is pursuing a weapons program.)

I was struck when I heard Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman bring up some of these ideas on NPR's Talk of the Nation on January 30. Bergman is no outsider critic of Israeli policy; when he appeared recently on the NewsHour (1/12/12) and was asked about the assassination of Iranian scientists, his answer was: "I don't know. And even if I knew, I would tell you that I don't know."

Here's what he said on NPR, appearing to talk about his New York Times magazine piece on Israel and Iran:

NEAL CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call. Israel itself possesses, what, 300 nuclear weapons we believe, maybe more? Why does not deterrence work? Israel, of course, would retaliate if Iran were to use a nuclear weapon.

BERGMAN: I would assume that--oh, I know that most of Israel's leaders do not believe that Iran is going to use nuclear weapons against Israel. The problem is not the nuclear threat. The Iranians are not stupid. They want to live.... And I think that most leaders, and me personally as well, see that there are only a few people who believe that Iran would be hesitant enough to--sorry, brutal enough and stupid enough to use nuclear weapon against Israel.

The problem is that once Iran acquires this ability, it would change the balance of power in the Middle East. And a country that possesses nuclear weapon is a different country when it comes to support proxy jihadist movement. And these Israeli leaders afraid would significantly narrow down the variety of options from the point of view of Israel, just to quote one example coming from Minister of Defense Barak, when he said, just imagine--he told me in a meeting we had on the 13th of January in his house--said, just imagine, Ronen, that tomorrow we go into another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon like we did in 2006, and this time we are determined to take them out. But Iran comes forward and say, to attack Hezbollah is like attacking Iran, and we threaten you with nuclear weaponry.

Now, Minister of Defense Barak says it's not necessarily that we would be threatened not to attack, and we would decide to cancel the war, but it would certainly make us think twice.

In other words, Israel's position might be that an nuclear-armed Iran could make it harder to have future wars. That's a very different discussion from the one we're having now.

© 2012 Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
http://www.fair.org/

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

Return of Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine

Just as happened before the Iraq War, those who want to bomb Iran are scaring the American people with made-up scenarios about grave dangers ahead, new warnings as ludicrous as the “mushroom cloud” tales that panicked the U.S. public a decade ago
by Robert Parry

A weak point in the psyches of many Americans is that they allow their imaginations to run wild about potential threats to their personal safety, no matter how implausible the dangers may be. Perhaps, this is a side effect from watching too many scary movies and violent TV shows.

But this vulnerability also may explain why the current war hysteria against Iran is reviving the sorts of fanciful threats to the United States last seen before the Iraq War. Since right-wing Israelis and their neocon allies are having trouble selling the U.S. public on a new preemptive war in the Middle East, they have again resorted to dreaming up hypothetical scenarios to scare easily frightened Americans.

For instance, in a New York Times Magazine article on Jan. 29 by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman – which essentially laid out Israel’s case for attacking Iran – Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, is quoted as explaining the need to make Americans very afraid of Iran. Bergman wrote:

“It is, of course, important for Ya’alon to argue that this is not just an Israeli-Iranian dispute, but a threat to America’s well-being. ‘The Iranian regime will be several times more dangerous if it has a nuclear device in its hands,’ he went on. ‘One that it could bring into the United States. It is not for nothing that it is establishing bases for itself in Latin America and creating links with drug dealers on the U.S.-Mexican border.

“‘This is happening in order to smuggle ordnance into the United States for the carrying out of terror attacks. Imagine this regime getting nuclear weapons to the U.S.-Mexico border and managing to smuggle it into Texas, for example. This is not a far-fetched scenario.’”

But it is a far-fetched scenario. Indeed, there is zero intelligence to support this fear-mongering about such an Iranian plan. That the New York Times would publish such a provocative assertion without a countervailing pushback from serious U.S. intelligence analysts represents the kind of irresponsible journalism that the Times, the Washington Post and much of the mainstream U.S. news media displayed during the run-up to war with Iraq.

The fact is that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded – and the Israeli Mossad apparently agrees – that Iran has NOT even decided to build a nuclear bomb, let alone that it would do something as nutty as give one to people outside its direct control to attack the United States, thus guaranteeing Iran’s own annihilation. [For more on the intelligence, see Consortiumnews.com’s “US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes.”]

Bergman’s article, which covers nine pages, also manages to avoid any mention of the fact that Israel has a real – and undeclared – nuclear arsenal. The Times might have regarded this as a relevant point to include both to explain why Iran might feel it needs a nuclear deterrent and to put into context the actual strategic balance in the Middle East. Instead, the Times article poses the nuclear threat to the region as emanating entirely from Iran.

In a New York Times report on Friday, Ya’alon was back again, pushing the claim that Iran had been developing an intercontinental missile that could travel 6,000 miles and strike the United States. “That’s the Great Satan,” he said, using Iran’s epithet for the United States. “It was aimed at America, not at us.”

In response to that claim, even the Times felt obliged to add some factual counterweight, noting that “the assertions went far beyond what rocket experts have established about Iran’s missile capabilities, and American officials questioned its accuracy.” There is also the point that such a hypothetical missile attack on the United States would be detected immediately and ensure a devastating counterattack on Iran.

‘One Percent Doctrine’

But it should be clear what the game is. Israeli hardliners and American neocons want a return to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s “one percent doctrine,” as described by author Ron Suskind. That is, if there is even a one percent chance that a terrorist attack might be launched against the United States, it must be treated as a certainty, thus justifying any preemptive military action that U.S. officials deem warranted.

That was the mad-hatter policy that governed the U.S. run-up to the Iraq War, when even the most dubious – and dishonest – claims by self-interested Iraqi exiles and their neocon friends were treated as requiring a bloody invasion of a country then at peace.

In those days, not only was there a flood of disinformation from outside the U.S. government, there also was a readiness inside George W. Bush’s administration to channel those exaggerations and lies into a powerful torrent of propaganda aimed at the American people, still shaken from the barbarity of the 9/11 attacks.

So, the American people heard how Iraq might dispatch small remote-controlled planes to spray the United States with chemical or biological weapons, although Iraq was on the other side of the globe. The New York Times hyped bogus claims about aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. Other news outlets spread false stories about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger and about supposed Iraqi links to al-Qaeda terrorists.

There was a stampede of one-upsmanship in the U.S. news media as everyone competed to land the latest big scoop about Iraq’s nefarious intentions and capabilities. Even experienced journalists were sucked in . In explaining one of these misguided articles, New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges told the Columbia Journalism Review that “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said, ‘these guys are full of shit.’”

Based in Paris, Hedges said he would get periodic calls from his editors asking that he check out defector stories originating from Ahmed Chalabi’s pro-invasion Iraqi National Congress. “I thought he was unreliable and corrupt, but just because someone is a sleazebag doesn’t mean he might not know something or that everything he says is wrong,” Hedges said. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Iran/Iraq ‘Defectors’ and Disinformation.”]

More Scary Talk

Even after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the eventual realization that the fear-mongering was based on falsehoods, President Bush kept up the scary talk with claims about Iraq as the “central front” in the “war on terror” and al-Qaeda building a “caliphate” stretching from Indonesia to Spain and thus threatening the United States.

Fear seemed to be the great motivator for getting the American people to line up behind actions that, on balance, often created greater dangers for the United States. Beyond the illegality and immorality of attacking other countries based on such fabrications, there was the practical issue of unintended consequences.

Which is the core logical fallacy of Cheney’s “one percent doctrine.” Overreacting to an extremely unlikely threat can create additional risks that also exceed the one percent threshold, which, in turn, require more violent responses, thus cascading outward until the country essentially destroys itself in pursuit of the illusion of perfect security.

The “one percent doctrine” is like the scene in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” as the lazy helper enchants a splintering broom to carry water for him but then cannot control the ensuing chaos of a disastrous flood.

The rational approach to national security is not running around screaming about imaginary dangers but evaluating the facts carefully and making judgments as to how the threats can be managed without making matters worse.

But Israel’s right-wing leadership and the American neocons apparently believe that the U.S. public is not inclined to rush off into another costly war if a realistic assessment prevails. Americans might be even less supportive if they understood that what Israel is actually after is a continued free hand to launch military campaigns against Palestinians in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

At more candid moments, that is what Israeli leaders actually indicate. For instance, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Bergman that the real worry was not that Iran would hurl a nuclear bomb at Israel but that a nuclear-armed Iran could offer some protection to the Palestinians and the Lebanese when Israel next decides it must inflict military punishment on them, as occurred in 2006 and 2008-2009.

“From our point of view,” Barak said, “a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations.”

But Americans are not likely to favor getting dragged into another war so Israel can freely use its extraordinary military might to pummel lightly armed Arab militants and the surrounding civilian populations. For such a cause, would Americans be happy to see gas prices spike, the fragile economic recovery falter, the federal budget deficit swell, and more American soldiers be put in harm’s way?

Almost certainly not. So, the propaganda target again must be that weak point in the American psyche, that tendency to let the imagination run wild with movie-like scenarios of danger and violence.

© 2012 Consortium News
http://consortiumnews.com/2012/02/04/return-of-cheneys-one-percent-doctr...

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth'.

We've seen the threats against Iran before

by Phyllis Bennis

Here we go again with the Iran hysteria. It is tempting to think this time will be just like previous periods of sabre rattling against Iran. But there are significant new dangers. The Arab Spring, Israel's position, changes in the regional and global balance of forces, and national election campaigns, all point to this round of anti-Iranian hysteria posing potentially graver risks than five or six years ago.

We have seen all this before. The US ratchets up its rhetoric, Israel threatens a military attack, escalating sanctions bite harder on the Iranian people, Iran refuses to back down on uranium enrichment. But at the same time, top US military and intelligence officials actually admit Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, is not building a nuclear weapon, and has not decided whether to even begin a building process.

There is certainly a big dose of déjà vu. In 2004 Israel's prime minister denounced the international community for not doing enough to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. In 2005 the Israeli military was reported to "be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran". In 2006 the House Armed Services Committee issued a report drafted by one congressional staffer (an aide to hard-line pro-war John Bolton, then US ambassador to the UN), claiming that Iran was enriching uranium to weapons-grade 90 per cent. That same year a different Israeli prime minister publicly threatened a military strike against Iran. In 2008, George W Bush visited Israel to reassure them that "all options" remained on the table.

The earlier crisis saw a very similar gap between the demonisation, sanctions, threats of military strikes against Iran, and the seemingly contradictory recognition by US, Israeli, United Nations and other military and intelligence officials that Iran actually did not possess nuclear weapons, a nuclear weapons programme, or even a decision to try to develop nuclear weapons.

The 2005 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) determined that even if Iran decided it wanted to make a nuclear weapon, it was unlikely before five to ten years, and that producing enough fissile material would be impossible even in five years unless Iran achieved "more rapid and successful progress" than it had so far. By 2007, a new NIE had pulled back even further, asserting "with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme ... Tehran had not started its nuclear weapons programme as of mid-2007". The NIE even admitted "we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons". That made the dire threats against Iran sound pretty lame. So maybe it wasn't surprising that Newsweek magazine described how, "in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document".

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA - the UN's nuclear watchdog) issued report after report indicating it could find no evidence that Iran had diverted enriched uranium to a weapons programme. The UN inspection agency harshly rejected the House committee report, calling some of its claims about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons activities incorrect, and others "outrageous and dishonest". And outside of the Bush White House, which was spearheading much of the hysteria, members of Congress, the neo-con think tanks, hysterical talk show hosts, and much of the mainstream media went ballistic.

Then and now

All of that sounds very familiar right now. Military and intelligence leaders in Israel and the US once again admit that Iran does not have nukes. (Israel of course does, but no one talks about that.) Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asked and answered his own Iran question: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No." Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr. admitted the US does not even know "if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons". The latest 2011 NIE makes clear there is no new evidence to challenge the 2007 conclusions; Iran still does not have a nuclear weapons programme in operation. According to the Independent, "almost the entire senior hierarchy of Israel's military and security establishment is worried about a premature attack on Iran and apprehensive about the possible repercussions." Former head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said "it is quite clear that much if not all of the IDF leadership do not support military action at this point." But despite all the military and intelligence experts, the threat of war still looms.

Republican candidates pound the lecterns promising that "when I'm president..." Iran will accept international inspectors - as if the IAEA had not maintained an inspection team inside Iran for the last many years. We hear overheated rumours of Iranian clerics promising nuclear weapons to their people - as if Iran's leaders had not actually issued fatwas against nuclear weapons, something that would be very difficult to reverse.

Some strategic issues are indeed at stake, but the current anti-Iran mobilisation is primarily political. It doesn't reflect actual US or Israeli military or intelligence threat assessments, but rather political conditions pushing politicians, here and in Israel, to escalate the fear factor about Iranian weapons [however non-existent] and the urgency for attacking Iran [however illegal]. And the danger, of course, is that this kind of rhetoric can box leaders in, making them believe they cannot back down from their belligerent words.

Israel at the centre

One of the main differences from the propaganda run-up to the Iraq war is the consistent centrality of Israel and its supporters, particularly AIPAC in the US, in this push for war against Iran. Israel certainly jumped aboard the attack-Iraq bandwagon when it was clear that war was indeed inevitable, but US strategic concerns regarding oil and the expansion of US military power were first and primary. Even back then,Israel recognised Iran as a far greater threat than Iraq. And now, Israelis using that alleged threat to pressure US policymakers and shape US policy - in dangerous ways. During this campaign cycle, Obama is under the greatest pressure he has ever faced, and likely ever will face, to defend the Israeli position unequivocally, and to pledge US military support for any Israeli action, however illegal, dangerous, and threatening to US interests.

Iran simply is not, as former CIA analyst and presidential adviser Bruce Reidel makes clear, "an existential threat" to Israel. Even a theoretical future nuclear-armed Iran, if it ever chose that trajectory, would not be a threat to the existence of Israel, but would be a threat to Israel's longstanding nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. That is the real threat motivating Israel's attack-Iran-now campaign. Further, as long as top US political officials, from the White House to Congress, are competing to see who can be more supportive of Israel in its stand-off with Iran, no one in Washington will even consider pressure on Israel to end its violations of international law and human rights regarding its occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians. Israel gets a pass.

Israel is more isolated in the region than ever before. The US-backed neighbouring dictatorships Israel once counted on as allies are being challenged by the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Egypt's Mubarak was overthrown, the king of Jordan faces growing pressure at home, and the threats to Syria's regime mean that Israel could face massive instability on its northern border - something Bashar al-Assad and his father largely staved off since Israel occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967.

Syria moves to the centre - two struggles in one

The calamity underway in Syria is also directly linked to the Iran crisis. There are two struggles going on in Syria - and unfortunately one may destroy the potential of the other. First was Syria's home-grown popular uprising against a brutal government, inspired by and organically tied to the other risings of the Arab Spring, and like them calling first for massive reform and soon for the overthrow of the regime. Syria is a relatively wealthy and diverse country, in which a large middle class, especially in Damascus and Aleppo, had prospered under the regime, despite its political repression. As a result, unlike some other regional uprisings,Syria's opposition was challenging a regime which still held some public support and legitimacy. The regime's drastic military assault on largely non-violent protests led some sectors of the opposition to take up arms, in tandem with growing numbers of military defectors, which of course meant waging their democratic struggle in the terrain in which the regime remains strongest: military force. The government's security forces killed thousands, injuring and arresting thousands more, and in recent weeks even the longstanding support for Assad in Damascus and Aleppo began to waver. Simultaneously, attacks against government forces increased, and the internal struggle has taken on more and more the character of a civil war.

The further complication in Syria, and its link to Iran, is that it has simultaneously become a regional and global struggle. Syria is Iran's most significant partner in the Middle East, so key countries that support Israel's anti-Iran mobilisation have turned against Syria, looking to weaken Iran by undermining its closest ally. (Perhaps because the Assad regimes have kept the occupied Golan Heights and the Israeli-Syrian border relatively quiet, Israel itself has not been the major public face in the regionalisation of the Syrian crisis.) But clearly Saudi Arabia is fighting with Iran in Syria for influence in the region. The Arab League, whose Syria decision-making remains dominated by the Saudis and their allied Gulf petro-states (such as Qatar and the UAE), is using the Syria crisis to challenge Iran's rising influence in Arab countries from Iraq to Lebanon. And of course the US, France and other Western powers have jumped on the very real human rights crisis in Syria to try to further weaken the regime there - in the interest again of undermining Iran's key ally far more than out of concern for the Syrian people.

(Anyone uncertain about the hypocrisy of Washington's claimed human rights concerns, as well as its willingness to embrace the Assad regime in the wake of 9/11, need only look to the case of Maher Arar. A Canadian engineer arrested at JFK airport, Arar was accused of "links to terrorism" and subjected to extraordinary rendition by US security agencies that sent him to Syria for almost a full year of interrogation and torture. A two-year Canadian investigation found him innocent of any terror links, and paid him $10 million in compensation for Canada's role; but for the US, Arar remains a suspect prohibited from entering the country.)

Diminishing US power

Facing economic crisis, military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the loss or weakening of key client states in the Arab world, the US is weaker and less influential in the Middle East. But maintaining control of oil markets and US strategic capacity are still key regional goals for the US, which means that military power remains central. The nature of that military engagement is changing - away from large-scale deployments of ground troops in favour of rapidly expanding fleets of armed drones, Special Forces, and growing reliance on naval forces, navy bases and sea-based weapons. Thus the US backs Saudi intervention in Bahrain to insure the US Fifth Fleet maintains its Bahraini base; Washington's escalating sanctions give the West greater leverage in control of oil markets; the Iranian rhetorical threat to close the Strait of Hormuz (only in desperation since it would prevent Iran from exporting its own oil) is used to justify expansion of the US naval presence in the region. Along with the possibility of losing Syria as a major military purchaser and regional ally, concerns about those US strategic moves played a large part of Russia's veto of the UN resolution on Syria.

In Iran, the pressure is high and the sanctions are really starting to bite, with much greater impact felt by the Iranian population, rather than the regime in Tehran. The assassination of Iranian nuclear experts, particularly the most recent murder of a young scientist which was greeted by Israeli officials with undisguised glee and barely-disguised triumph, are more likely aimed at provoking an Iranian response than actually undermining Iran's nuclear capacity. So far, Iran has resisted the bait. But if Israel makes good on its threat of a military strike - despite the virtually unanimous opposition of its own military and intelligence leadership - there is little reason to imagine that Iran would respond only with words. The US and Israel are not the only countries whose national leaders face looming contests; Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and its president face huge political challenges as well.

The day after

The consequences of a strike against Iran would be grave - from attacks on Israeli and/or US military targets, to going after US forces in Iran's neighbours Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, to attacks on the Pentagon's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, to mining the Strait of Hormuz ... and beyond. An attack by the US, a nuclear weapons state, on a non-nuclear weapons state such as Iran, would be a direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran might kick out the UN nuclear inspectors. The hardest of Iran's hard-line leaders would almost certainly consolidate ever greater power - both at home and in the Arab countries, and the calls to move towards greater nuclearisation, perhaps even to build a nuclear weapon, would rise inside Iran. Indeed, the Arab Spring's secular, citizenship-based mobilisations would likely lose further influence to Iran - threatening to turn that movement into something closer to an "Islamic Spring".

Negotiations and a nuclear weapons-free zone

At the end of the day the crisis can only be solved through negotiations, not threats and force. Immediately, that means demanding that the White House engage in serious, not deliberately time-constrained negotiations to end the current crisis - perhaps based on the successful Turkish-Brazilian initiative that the US scuttled last year. That means that Congress must reverse its current position to allow the White House to use diplomacy - rather than continuing to pass laws that strip the executive branch of its ability to put the carrot of ending sanctions on the table in any negotiations. And it means an Iran policy based on the real conclusions of US intelligence and military officials, that Iran does not have and is not building a nuclear weapon, rather than relying on lies about non-existent nuclear weapons, like the WMD lies that drove the US to war in Iraq.

In the medium and longer term, we must put the urgent need for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East back on the table and on top of our agenda. Such a multi-country move would insure Iran would never build a nuclear weapon, that Israel would give up its existing 200 to 300 high-density nuclear bombs and the submarine-based nuclear weapons in its arsenal, and that the US would keep its nuclear weapons out of its Middle East bases and off its ships in the region's seas. Otherwise, we face the possibility of the current predicament repeating itself in an endless loop of Groundhog Day-style nuclear crises - each one more threatening than the last.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/02/201221510012473174.html

Does AIPAC Want War?

Does AIPAC Want War? Lieberman "Capability" Red Line May Tip AIPAC's Hand

by Robert Naiman

For all it has done to promote confrontation between the United States and Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to avoid the public perception that AIPAC is openly promoting war. In AIPAC's public documents, the emphasis has always been on tougher sanctions. (If you make sanctions "tough" enough - an effective embargo - that is an act of war, but it is still at one remove from saying that the U.S. should start bombing.)

But a new Senate effort to move the goalposts of U.S. policy to declare it "unacceptable" for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability - not a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one - gives AIPAC the opportunity to make a choice which all can observe. If the Lieberman resolution becomes an ask for AIPAC lobbyists at the March AIPAC policy conference, then the world will know: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war with Iran.

Sponsors of the Lieberman resolution deny that it is an "authorization for military force," and in a legal, technical sense, they are absolutely correct: it is not a legal authorization for military force. But it is an attempt to enact a political authorization for military force. It is an attempt to pressure the Administration politically to move forward the tripwire for war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo that exists today. If successful, this political move would make it impossible for the Administration to pursue meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran, shutting down the most plausible alternative to war.

The first "resolved" paragraph of the Lieberman resolution affirms that it is a "vital national interest" of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a "nuclear weapons capability."

The phrase "vital national interest" is a "term of art." It means something that the U.S. should be willing to go to war for. Recall the debate over whether the U.S. military intervention in Libya was a "vital national interest" of the United States (which Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it wasn't.) It was a debate over whether the bar was met to justify the United States going to war.

The resolution seeks to establish it as U.S. policy that a nuclear weapons capability - not acquisition of a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one - is a "red line" for the United States. If the U.S. were to announce to Iran that achieving "nuclear weapons capability" is a red line for the U.S., the U.S. would be saying that it is ready to attack Iran with military force in order to try to prevent Iran from crossing this "line" to achieve "nuclear weapons capability."

And this is reportedly being openly discussed by the bill's sponsors.

Senators from both parties said Thursday that a diplomatic solution was still the goal and they believed the sanctions on Iran were working, but that a containment strategy was less preferable than a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if all else fails.

So, what the Senators are reportedly saying is that if "all else fails" - that is, if diplomacy and sanctions appear to be "failing" to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability - according to these Senators, that's what "failure" would be - then they want war. That's not a legal "authorization of force," but it is a political one.

And it is not a political authorization of force in some far-off future. It is a political authorization of force today.

"Nuclear weapons capability" is a fuzzy term with no legal definition. But Joe Lieberman, a principal author of the bill, has said what he thinks this term means:

"To me, nuclear weapons capability means that they are capable of breaking out and producing a nuclear weapon -- in other words, that they have all the components necessary to do that," Lieberman said. "It's a standard that is higher than saying 'The red line is when they actually have nuclear weapons.'"

But many experts think that Iran already has the "components" necessary for "breaking out."

On Thursday, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies was quoted saying that the November report from the International Atomic Energy Agency

basically laid out the fact that Iran now has every element of technology needed to make a fission weapon.

On January 24, Helene Cooper reported in the New York Times:

Several American and European officials say privately that the most attainable outcome for the West could be for Iran to maintain the knowledge and technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon while stopping short of doing so.

This suggests two things. One, these U.S. and European officials believe that Iran already has "the knowledge and technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon"; two, these U.S. and European officials believe that inducing Iran not to use this knowledge and technology to build a nuclear weapon is the best outcome that the West can achieve.

If the experts and Western officials who believe that Iran already has "the knowledge and technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon" are right, then what that says is that Iran has already crossed the "red line" of the Lieberman bill. And therefore, the supporters of the Lieberman bill are saying that they are ready for war today. Or they are ready for war any time that they decide to join the experts and officials who say that Iran has already crossed the Lieberman "red line," which of course is something that the Lieberman supporters can do anytime they want.

It's as if someone wearing a bag over their head says, "I'm ready for war whenever I see light." All they have to do to see light is take the bag off their head, so they are saying that they are ready for war whenever it is convenient for them to say that they are.

Anyone who supports the Lieberman bill is declaring themselves for war. If AIPAC makes the Lieberman bill an ask for its March policy conference, then at least we'll be done with the pretense that AIPAC is doing anything besides trying to get the U.S. into another Middle East war.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him at: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/about/contact

New Israeli Deputy PM Undercuts Strategy of Pressure on Obama

by Gareth Porter

By staking out a policy line on Iran reflecting the views of the Israeli national security leadership, Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz has undercut the Benjamin Netanyahu government’s carefully planned strategy to get U.S. President Barack Obama to threaten war against Iran if it doesn’t give up its nuclear programme.

It could be the beginning of a process by which Netanyahu begins to climb down from a militarily aggressive policy that has provoked unprecedented dissent from high-ranking active and retired military and intelligence officials.

Mofaz, who brought his Kadima Party into the Netanyahu government in a May 9 deal, is a former Israeli chief of staff who had made threatening statements about Iran’s nuclear programme as minister of defence in Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government from 2003 to 2006.

The new coalition government, which increased its majority in the Knesset from 94 to 120 seats, was billed by the government’s supporters as a “war cabinet” that would strengthen Netanyahu’s hand in using force against Iran should that decision be made.

But instead Mofaz has publicly contradicted the whole thrust of Netanyahu’s strategy by downgrading the threat from Iran and suggesting that a peace settlement with the Palestinians is actually more important.

The role of Mofaz in suggesting a more moderate Israeli policy line on Iran is at least in part the result of more senior Israeli national security figures speaking out publicly against the Netayahu threat of war on Iran, according to Yossi Alpher, a former head of the Jaffee Center for Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a special adviser to then prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000.

In April, both former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and the present Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff joined former Mossad chief Meir Dagan in contradicting the official Israeli position that Iran was bent on obtaining nuclear weapons.

Alpher believes that the decision to bring Mofaz into the government reflects a policy adjustment by Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to the views of the Israeli national security elite.

Alpher told IPS in an interview he believes the criticism by those senior military and intelligence officials of Netayahu’s Iran policy had “reached a critical mass”.

“At some point it registered with Netanyahu and Barak,” said Alpher.

Netanyahu and Barak wanted to show the national security chiefs that they were being listened to by bringing someone who reflects their views into the leadership circle, Alpher said.

The result of that decision may be a much deeper shift in policy toward Iran than Netanyahu and Barak wish to acknowledge.

Ever since late 2011, the impression of a heightened threat of an Israeli attack on Iran has been central to the crisis atmosphere over the issue. It has been the premise on which Israel has tried to reduce progressively Obama’s freedom of action on Iran with the ultimate objective of maximising the likelihood of an eventual U.S. attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

The strategy of pressure on Obama was to be carried out through a combination of Israeli demands regarding U.S. diplomatic positions on Iran’s nuclear programme and pressure from the U.S. Congress at the prompting of the right-wing pro-Israel lobby organisation AIPAC, which operates in close consultation with the Likud government.

The tandem of Israeli and Congressional targets of AIPAC would push for U.S. demands in the negotiations with Iran that would ensure their failure.

Netanyahu would then seek to force a shift in Obama’s red line on the Iranian nuclear programme from evidence of intent to build nuclear weapons to evidence of determination to maintain a weapons nuclear capability. Allies of Netanyahu have suggested that the pressure on Obama to adopt a new red line would peak during the 2012 presidential election campaign.

Even after Mofaz joined the coalition government in May, the Netanyahu strategy continued to unfold according to plan. A resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives originating in AIPAC that rejected “any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons capable Iran…” was passed 401 to 11 on May 18.

The Jerusalem Post reported Jun. 7 that Israeli officials had revealed a three-pronged strategy to get Iran to halt its nuclear programme: stiffening economic sanctions, getting the U.S. and the P5+1 to demand a halt to all enrichment, and “upgrading the threat perception inside Iran” – an obvious reference to shifting Obama’s position on the use of force.

Just before the Moscow round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran on Jun. 18 and 19, a letter from 44 senators, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, urged Obama to “reconsider talks with Iran unless it agrees immediate steps to curb its enrichment activity”.

That letter, also drafted by AIPAC, called for a shift from further talks to “significantly increasing the pressure on Iran through sanctions and making it clear that a credible military option exists.”

The letter reiterated the demands that the Obama administration had already leaked to the news media in advance as its position in the talks with Iran: an end to 20 percent enrichment, shipment of all 20 percent enrichment uranium out of the country, and the closure of the Fordow enrichment site. But it also insisted that nothing should be offered to Iran in return for those concessions except further negotiation.

But as the third round talks with Iran were ending in Moscow, Mofaz, who was in Washington to consult with U.S. officials on the Palestinian issue, departed publicly and dramatically from Netanyahu’s policy on Iran.

In a speech at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy Jun. 19, Mofaz startled the audience by suggesting that the greatest threat to Israel did not come from Iran, as Netanyahu has insisted since becoming prime minister, but from its conflict with the Palestinians. Referring to the Palestinian issue – not the Iranian nuclear programme – Mofaz warned, “Time is not in favour of Israel” and added, “This year – next year – we have to decide.”

Mofaz sounded more like the Obama administration than the Netanyahu government on the question of an Israeli military option. “We should ask ourselves how much we would delay the Iran programme – for how many months, for many years,” he said, “and what will happen in our region on the day after.”

Even more significant, however, was his comment on the “time limit” on tolerance of Iran’s nuclear programme as being when “the Iranian leader will take the last step to having a bomb.” Mofaz thus appeared to align himself with Obama’s red line rather than the Netanyahu and Barak position, which is that Iran must not be allowed to have much more of its enrichment capabilities in an underground site protected from an Israeli strike.

Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, who was deputy national security adviser in 2000, told IPS that the position on Iran and Palestine expressed by Mofaz – and especially his position on the “time limit”- were potentially significant. If Mofaz has sufficient clout in the government, Brom said, it would “increase the probability of a more positive position of this government” on Iran.

The Mofaz position that a Palestinian settlement is crucial and urgent – and that Iran is not – effectively reshapes the priorities of Israeli security policy. Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009 with a position that the threat from Iran made a Palestinian settlement unlikely, if not impossible.

Even before adding Mofaz, Netanyahu was unable to muster a majority in the nine-member Israeli “security forum”, which must approve a decision to go to war, according to a May 31 Ynet News report.

Only Netanyahu, Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman were said to be supporting an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, at least in principle. The other six, including IDF Chief Gantz, Mossad Chief Pardo and Mofaz, were all opposed.

Netanyahu’s strategy of using AIPAC and Congress to pressure Obama may well continue, but the pretense that Israel may attack Iran if its enrichment programme continues is likely to be quietly phased out once the U.S. election campaign is over.

© 2012 Inter Press Service
http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/new-israeli-deputy-pm-undercuts-strategy-...

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005). He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.

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