Archive – CODIR Against the War

Whispers of war


By Carol Giacomo Published: November 3, 2008/IHT
It is a frightening notion, but it is not just the Bush administration discussing, if only theoretically, the possibility of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.


Of course, no president or would-be president ever takes the option of using the military off the table, and Barack Obama and John McCain are no exceptions.

What is significant is that inside Washington’s policy circles these days – in studies, commentaries, meetings, congressional hearings and conferences – reasonable people from both parties are seriously examining the so-called military option, along with new diplomatic initiatives.

One of the most thorough discussions is in a report by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by four former senators – Republicans Robert Dole and Howard Baker and Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell – to devise policy solutions both parties might embrace.

The report warns that the next administration “might have little time and fewer options to deal with this threat.” It explores such strategies as blockading Iran’s gasoline imports, but it also says that “a military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort.” Its authors include Dennis Ross, top Mideast adviser to Obama, and former Senator Dan Coats, a McCain adviser.

Ashton Carter, a senior Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, wrote a paper for the Center for a New American Security, a prestigious bipartisan think tank, that asserts military action must be seen as only one component of a comprehensive strategy “but it is an element of any true option.”

At a conference in September in Virginia sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “surrogates” for McCain and Obama insisted America must focus on preventing Iran from developing a bomb, not on allowing Iran to produce one and then deterring its use.

“John McCain won’t wait until after the fact,” declared the columnist Max Boot, from the McCain team. The Arizona senator has previously said risking military action may be better than living with an Iranian nuclear weapon (and to his regret jokingly sang a song about bomb, bomb, bombing Iran).

Richard Danzig, Obama’s surrogate, said his candidate believes a military attack on Iran is a “terrible” choice but “it may be that in some terrible world we will have to come to grips with such a terrible choice.”

Early in the primary campaign, Obama declared that as president he would sit down in his first year in office with – among others – Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (He has been reparsing that commitment ever since.)

Given the global economic meltdown and other crises, it is not surprising if the American public is largely unaware of this discussion. What makes me nervous is the similarity to what happened in the run-up to the Iraq war.

In those days Americans were reeling from the shock of 9/11 and completely focused on hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In Washington, though, talk quickly shifted to the next target – Iraq.

Bush administration officials drove the discussion, but the cognoscenti were complicit. The question was asked and answered in policy circles before most Americans knew what was happening. Would the United States take on Saddam Hussein? Absolutely.

As a diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in those days, I feel some responsibility for not doing more to ensure that the calamitous decision to invade Iraq was more skeptically vetted.

This time the debate is not so one-sided. Most experts acknowledge that military action poses big risks and offers no guarantee of destroying Iran’s nuclear program.

Both presidential candidates have also promised new diplomatic initiatives. McCain talks of tougher sanctions and Obama proposes a comprehensive approach involving sterner penalties, more compelling incentives and direct talks with Iran.

Ross, who was top Mideast negotiator for the first President George Bush and for President Bill Clinton, said that in the prelude to Iraq, nearly all of the talk focused on military action.

He says this time experts are taking a harder and more systematic look at all the options – including force – because diplomatic efforts have failed to slow Iran’s rush to master nuclear technology.

“I want to concentrate the mind and make people understand, ‘Look, this is serious and you don’t want to be left with only those two choices’ ” – war or living with an Iranian bomb, he said.

With Iran projected to produce enough fuel for a nuclear weapon by 2010, the next president is going to have to concentrate his mind quickly.

We hope he, unlike George W. Bush, will encourage a broader public debate about all of America’s options, and the high cost of another war. I will certainly be a lot more skeptical.

Carol Giacomo is a member of the New York Times editorial board.


The Bush Agenda


The debate over the possibility of a military strike against Iran continues to be played out on the international stage. Behind the scenes however, preparations are underway to bring such a scenario a step closer. Jamshid Ahmadi, CODIR’s Assistant General Secretary, reviews Preparing the battlefield: The Bush administration steps up its secret moves against Iran by Seymour M. Hersh published in The New Yorker, 7th July 2008.


The analysis published by Hersh in The New Yorker recently is revealing in a number of respects regarding the position of the Bush administration in relation to Iran. The article also provides some insight into the position of some leading Democrats, suggesting that the election of a Democratic president from 2009 may not be the panacea some have suggested, in terms of the prospects for a change in foreign policy towards Iran.

Hersh initially outlines the recent contribution of an additional $400m for covert operations against Iran. US Special Operations Forces have been conducting covert operations in Iran since last year but the latest injection of cash heralds a major escalation of such activities. The aim of the additional funds, according to sources cited by Hersh, is to focus on “undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change.”

While such action is routinely expected of the Bush regime it is interesting to note that authorisation could not be cleared without the agreement of key democrats as Congress has been under Democratic control since 2006. The authorisation also came at a time when the National Intelligence Estimate, released in December 2007, suggested that Iran had halted work on nuclear weapons in 2003. This was not an outcome that the Bush administration welcomed or sought to publicise widely.

The tension between the administration and the intelligence community is mirrored by tension with the military over appropriate command structures for conducting US operations. Hersh reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were resisting administration pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran. Hersh quotes a well placed Pentagon source as suggesting that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders have weighed in on that issue.”

Such divisions in US ruling circles do not necessarily reflect a desire to step back from asserting US hegemony in the region. The commitment to keeping all options on the table remains and the use of covert operations to destabilise the region is not one that is contested in principal. Nevertheless, Hersh identifies a tactical division in the US which could have unintended consequences if not resolved.

For example, the blurring of lines between clandestine military activities and covert CIA operations mean that presidential accountability to Congress is unclear. The president’s constitutional right to command combat forces in the field means that decisions can be taken without congressional �interference’. As Hersh points out, “There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.” The danger of political authorisation for military action, flying in the face of advice from the military themselves, is clearly increased significantly in such a scenario.

With the current heightening of tension around the so-called threat of Iran’s nuclear programme the military strike option cannot be ruled out. With the Bush regime entering its final days the more hawkish elements may see it as a last chance to strike before Bush leaves office. This could have a double edged purpose. An increase in tension could serve the Republican presidential campaign based on the assessment that the ruling party is better placed to deal with a crisis. Alternatively, the hawks could argue that action now could tie an incoming Democratic president to a course of action they would be unable to influence. It is interesting to note that the commander of the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards recently indicated a change of policy in Iran by suggesting that the US threat should be taken seriously.

The lack of coherent command structures in the world’s major superpower opens up the alarming prospect of maverick action and the potential to spark widespread conflagration without it even being clear who has given the go ahead.

One balancing factor which Hersh fails to take into account is the growing movement for peace inside Iran and the support it is getting from the peace movement internationally. Representation at the International Conference Against War in London in December and the World Peace Conference in Venezuela recently have helped reach a wider audience. The establishment of a non-governmental “National Peace Council” inside Iran, involving internationally known figures such as Nobel laureate Shirin Ebaddi and opposition politician, Dr Habibullah Peyman, and other respected political figures have ensured that the peace issue is on the agenda.

These initiatives are aimed at promoting popular campaigns against US interference as well as opposing the adventurist polices of the Iranian regime. Continued support for CODIR’s campaigns and solidarity with the popular movement for peace and democracy remain essential elements of the struggle for peace internationally and for democracy inside Iran.

Jamshid Ahmadi is the Assistant General Secretary of CODIR, Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights. For further information on developments in Iran visit or contact
This article was published in the Morning Star, 9 July 2008

No war, no peace no good for the Middle East


Key players in the Middle East continue to walk the fine line between a tentative ‘peace’ and all out conflagration. Israel’s large scale military exercise in the Mediterranean in June sent shock waves across the region. Jane Green considers recent developments and assesses the prospects for preventing all out war in the Middle East.


To suggest that there is peace in the Middle East is to fly in the face of the reality of life for many people in that part of the world. For over 40 years the people of Palestine have suffered an illegal occupation at the mercy of Israeli tanks. Six years on the war in Iraq continues without any immediate prospect of resolution. In Afghanistan, the West continues to struggle with the demons it created to oppose the Soviet presence in that country; far from defeat, the Taliban appear resurgent in many parts of the country, with ‘president’ Hamad Kharzi, largely confine to Kabul.

As bad as this situation is, and it is very bad, there is the very real danger that it could degenerate further. Sabre rattling by the Bush regime in relation to Iran is not a recent phenomenon. One of the original ‘axis of evil’ states, as defined by George Bush, Iran has long been regarded as a pariah state by the West, albeit one with massive natural resource and economic potential.

However, it has long been assumed that any strike upon Iran would not necessarily come from Washington directly but from its proxy in the region, Israel. In this context the recent military exercise involving more than 100 Israeli F-16s and F-15s flying more than 900 miles, roughly the distance to Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant, looks particularly ominous.

Sources in Washington were quick to shrug off the exercise quipping that the Israeli’s lived in a “tough neighbourhood.” A more serious response came from Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who suggested that any attack would turn the region into a “fireball.” ElBaradei added that he would resign if there were a military strike.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, entered the fray to comment that he hoped that any “actions would be based upon international law. And international law clearly protects Iran’s and anyone else’s territorial integrity.”

Recent activity is part of a period of diplomatic cat and mouse between the West and Iran. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, offered a deal to Tehran recently to stop uranium enrichment. Two days later, before any considered response from Iran, Gordon Brown announced tougher financial sanctions against Iran. At best this sends mixed messages to Tehran and at worst confirms the Iranian view that the West does not set any real store by the process of negotiation. The claim by Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, last week that Iran remained the biggest threat in the region and his view that, “I don’t think we deserve to live under the threat of a nuclear Iran”, will have done little to dampen the volatility of the Ahmadinejad regime.

Commentators inside Iran are viewing the position of the country as one of “no-war, no peace”. In a recent interview writer and peace activist, Taghi Rahmani, suggested that “during the last 30 years of no war, no peace the deterioration of the national potential has reached its climax. This worsening of conditions can unleash wide destruction around the country and if followed by a military strike, can cause even more destruction.”

In addition to the position of the West the response of the Iranian government is also vital. Having made the issue of backing down over uranium enrichment one of ‘principle’, the Iranian regime is in danger of finding itself backed into a corner by those elements in the West pressing for conflict. The prospect of a ‘nuclear Iran’ clearly holds powerful sway in the imaginations of Western governments. Given the illusory ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pretext, which led to the invasion of Iraq, the reality of uranium enrichment in Iran could as easily provide another pretext for military action. As Rahmani suggests of the Iranian regime, “If we do not move towards reconciliation we have to understand that because of international prestige issues America and Europe would not back down from the position of suspending enrichment.”

Although the situation remains finely balanced there are warning voices, often from the most unlikely sources. Writing in the journal Global Research last month, David DeBatto considered the Pentagon’s scenario planning process in relation to a military strike against Iran. DeBatto concludes that, unlike the relatively low level of resistance met in Iraq, any strike on Iran would have dramatic consequences, not only in drawing the wider region into conflagration but in an unacceptable number of US casualties.

As the Bush presidency draws to its conclusion pressure upon Western governments must be sustained to ensure that ‘neo-con’ hawks in the US administration do not press for Bush to go out with a ‘bang’ rather than a ‘whimper’. The inheritance of such a position would not only be unacceptable for an incoming US president but a calamity for the Middle East and the prospects for world peace.


‘If you want to help Iran, don’t attack’ – By David Batty
Friday June 13 2008


The Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi is not a woman easily stopped in her tracks – she has been held in jail and faced repeated death threats, but continues to speak out against the abuses of the theocratic regime. On the doorstep of the BBC’s Bush House in central London, though, an American tourist waves the Nobel peace laureate and her entourage aside, complaining loudly: “Do you mind? We’re trying to take a picture!”

It serves, perhaps, as a reminder for Ebadi – who has spent the day being treated like a VIP by the BBC World Service – of the challenge she faces in attracting western interest to her cause.

With the international community fixated on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Ebadi says there is dwindling scrutiny of human rights in her homeland, and the hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has taken advantage of this to increase repression.

“Since the world started focusing on the nuclear programme, the human rights situation in Iran has worsened every day,” says Ebadi, who won the Nobel prize in 2003.

Dozens of activists have been prosecuted and condemned to prison, the lash or both. Arrests, detention and judicial harassment are increasing, with journalists, lawyers, students and trade unionists particularly targeted.

“The morality police interfere more in people’s everyday lives,” she says. “They recently announced they would carry out inspections in private homes and companies. In Tehran there was also a plan to target hooligans on the streets, but it led to a lot of innocent young people and women being arrested.”

Ebadi, 60, has been relatively lucky. She was born in 1947 to a non-traditional Muslim family. She was treated as an equal with her brother and encouraged to go to college. In 1975, aged 23, she became Iran’s first woman judge. She lost her position after the Islamic revolution in 1979 when conservative clerics insisted that Islam prohibits women from holding such an office. She was allowed to practice law again in 1992, and since then has turned her legal skills against the Islamic republic she once supported but now opposes due to its human rights abuses.

Ebadi recently took her campaign to the mid-west United States, where she found sympathy among ordinary Americans upset by bellicose rhetoric about Iran. She is perturbed at how contestants in the US presidential race have cited their preparedness to attack Iran. In April, Hillary Clinton said she would “obliterate” the country if it attacked Israel.

“It is very concerning,” she says. “Undoubtedly a military attack on Iran would worsen human rights in the country. Look at Iraq – now the fundamentalists have a pretext for their extremism. No one talks about freedom of speech or human rights. People just want a safe shelter.

“Do you think that since the US troops arrived in Iraq that the Iraqi people have become prosperous? As a human rights activist I tell the people of the world that if you want to help people in Iran the solution is not to launch an attack.”

There is little sign that western leaders are listening. This week, George Bush once again raised the possibility of military action, warning that “all options are on the table”. A US-EU summit in Slovenia threatened new sanctions against Iran if it fails to end uranium enrichment.

Ebadi says the nuclear standoff has made the Iranian regime attractive to disaffected young people elsewhere in the Middle East whose governments are unelected.

“Disenchanted young people have turned to Iran for inspiration, a country that takes every opportunity to burn the American flag. But can the Iranian government represent a good system of government? No.”

The world needs to know that every day the lives of Iranians are “getting poorer and more impoverished” due to the regime’s internal oppression and confrontational foreign policy, she says.

“There are close to 10 million people under the poverty line. That’s one out of every seven. And that is according to official government figures, so let’s imagine the reality.

“The consequences of Iranian policies domestically should be revealed around the world, so [young people in the Middle East] understand that just opposing the US isn’t going to solve the problems they face. We’ve been saying ‘death to America’ for years but our people have been getting hungrier.”

Ebadi says that to tackle the surge in support for Iran among the young in the region, the US must stop supporting its undemocratic regimes. “What is interesting is almost all the undemocratic regimes in the Middle East � Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates � is they’re all friends of the United States,” she says.

“If the US were to stop supporting their governments they would fall immediately. So the people of those countries don’t feel good about American foreign policy and view it suspiciously.”

Ebadi was always unconvinced by the Bush administration’s view that regime change in Iraq would create a domino effect bringing democracy across the Middle East. “It was a flawed argument from the start. If a country genuinely believes in democratic reform it’s not going to wait for another country to reform before taking action.”

Her hopes hinge on obliging the regime to adhere to the international human rights conventions it has ratified. She is in London to promote a new book on the rights of refugees in Iran that sets out how international and Islamic law can be used to protect them.

Iran signed the United Nations declaration of human rights in 1975. Activists say the government is in violation of the treaty. But last year the much-criticised UN human rights council removed Iran from a list of countries that were being closely monitored.

There have been six visits to Iran by investigators since the council was established in 2006, but their recommendations have not been implemented. Ebadi says abuses have gone unchecked, and she is calling on the council to reappoint a special rapporteur to bring the regime to account.

At a conference in Geneva this week, Ebadi called on the international community to strengthen the council, as it remains a last resort for many victims.

“Unfortunately the Iranian government has not followed the recommendations of the UN rights agencies,” she says. “But the fact the recommendations are recognised by the government shows that the Iranian people do have rights and have the confidence to demand that they are respected. So though the UN reports may not have practically led to results, psychologically it has been a great boost to the morale of the Iranian people.”

Ebadi remains optimistic that reform is achievable. Her hope lies in Iran’s youthful population � almost 70% aged under 30 � which is hungry for change and prepared to fight for its freedom.

She cites the example of one of her clients, 32-year-old Maryam Hossienkhah, a journalist and member of the One Million Signatures Campaign for equal rights for Iranian women.

Hossienkhah was arrested in November for writing articles demanding respect for women’s rights under the Islamic constitution. Her bail was set at the equivalent of £75,000.

Ebadi says: “She told the judge, ‘I refuse to do that. I’m innocent but I’ll go to jail.’ As soon as she arrived in the jail, she started giving advice to the women about how to defend their cases.

“She sent a message out to her friends and colleagues that the prison library didn’t have a good book collection. So other members of the campaign brought in books and in less than 20 days the prison had a full library. Finally the judge said to the prosecutor, ‘You’ll have to get this woman out otherwise she will cause chaos!'”

Hossienkhah was released in January after her bail was reduced to just over �3,500. There are many similar cases before the courts, says Ebadi. “I’m glad to say that the more harsh women’s lives become, the more determined they are to overcome them. The will of these women is very powerful and that poses a challenge for the government.”


Threats of War Hurt Democratic Aspirations of Iranians


ZNet – By Faramarz Farbod
May, 19 2008


Let’s pause and take a quiz question on the Iraq War:
(a)The occupation is brutal, illegitimate, and must end immediately.
(b)We must pull out in accord with the wishes of large majorities of Iraqis and North Americans.
(c)We must never again go to war without seriously examining the official reasons given for going to war.
(d)We must stay the course to fix what we’ve broken.
(e)We must stay the course because withdrawal now means victory for
(f)If the war is not going well we ought to spread it.

If you are a principled anti-war reader you are likely to choose (a), (b), and (c). If you opposed the decision to go to war but are now troubled by the mess it has created, you may choose (d) based on the seemingly innocuous refrain that “if we broke it, we must fix it.” Note that the alternative metaphorical exhortation that “if you raped her, you must now marry her” may lead one to an entirely different conclusion. On the other hand, if you picked either (e) or (f), then you are in agreement with the resurgent Washington hawks that are busy grooming the dogs of war once more, but this time against Iran.


The release of the late 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 disappointed the intransigent real-men-want-to-go-to-Tehran neocons and for a while seemed to lessen the risk of a new war and pave the way for new diplomatic possibilities for resolving tensions with Iran. However, in recent weeks the Bush administration has instead gone on a new offensive against Iran. In April, President Bush identified Iran alongside al-Qaeda as “two of the greatest threats to America in this new century.” Other top officials have accused Iran of “killing American servicemen and women in Iraq” and of being behind “73 percent of fatal and other harmful attacks on American troops in the past year.” Pentagon has admitted planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran to combat her “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq and has altered its force posture in the Persian Gulf by deploying a second aircraft carrier as a “reminder” to Iran of the US resolve to defend its interests.


Other influential voices have joined this anti-Iran campaign of fear and disinformation. Recently Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) remarked irresponsibly that as president she would “obliterate”Iran with nuclear weapons if Iran were to absurdly initiate a nuclear assault on the heavily nuclear-armed Spartan state of Israel. She was adamant later that Tehran needed to hear this message of obliteration presumably because the evil Iranians understand only force and are not susceptible to diplomacy as suggested subversively by the 2007 NIE. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who had last week called airstrikes against Iran “a distinct possibility” appeared on Bill Bennett’s nationally broadcast radio show Morning in America on May 14 and said that bombingIran “does have an appeal to it.” (


At this point some readers might entertain the thought that surely the Fourth Estate shall hold back the drive towards another ruinous war of aggression. But have the mass media learnt from their fateful blunders in the run-up to the Iraq War? A reality check suggests otherwise. During the most recent escalation of threats against Iran the media were by and large preoccupied with such vital issues as whether or not presidential candidates should wear flag pins. With a few exceptions, the Fourth Estate has acted more as a cheerleader for the state than a watchdog over the state.


The corporate media have as yet to seriously examine Washington’s multi-narrative propaganda campaign against Iran. The Washington hawks persist in their claim that Iran is secretly building a Shiite nuclear bomb notwithstanding the contrary conclusion reached to date by the US intelligence community and the UN nuclear watchdog. Washington claims that Iran is waging a bloody proxy war against the US in Iraq without so far providing any evidence that could meet minimum standards of judgment, all the while glossing over the fact that Tehran and Washington are de facto allies in Iraq as they are the key backers of the same Shiite factions that presume to rule in Iraq – or what is left of it anyhow.


Bush claims that Iran is now the new al-Qaeda-like anti-American terror state in the heart of the Middle East, and is destabilizing Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Putting aside the phantasmagoric nature of the idea that all roads in the region lead to Iran, one can argue that the alleged strategic centrality of Iran in the region is greatly exaggerated and is part of the larger campaign of demonization of Iran with the view to keep the military option on the table. The fact is Iraq is in ruins (not just destabilized) as a result of the US invasion and occupation and not of Iran’s actions. Given the calamity that is Iraq it is in fact not an exaggeration to refer to the Bush Iraq policy as “leaving-no-Iraq-behind.” As for Lebanon and Gaza, it is quite true that Iran backs Hezbollah and Hamas. However, both of these organizations operate within their own localized and national contexts. They are not lifeless instruments of Iranian policies as imagined in the Washington discourse. It is more complicated than that.  Lastly, Iran has been predictably the major strategic beneficiary of the current Iraq War. The neocons at the time ignored this because they imagined Ahmad Chalabi, an exiled secular Shiite Iraqi and a neocon, would replace Saddam Hussein and that at any rate the US would soon after the fall ofBaghdad get on with its mission of regime change in Tehran. Hence they were not going to worry about Iran gaining any significant long-term strategic depth in Iraq. It is ironic that the US is now traversing the capitals of its Sunni Arab allies in the region to mobilize them against what they warned Washington in the run-up to the Iraq War.   Washington also claims that the US/Israeli policies are sensible and are in accord with the requirements of peace, democracy, and justice in the region. However, just regarding Iran, there is evidence that the US itself has been covertly destabilizing Iran. In fact the corporate media have as yet to focus on the significance of a March 2008 signing of a secret directive by President Bush authorizing a covert offensive against Iran throughout a vast geographic area from Lebanon to Afghanistan, with full support for violent oppositional groups both inside and outside of Iran as well as stepped up operations against Iran’s regional allies. (


We may ask what Bush wishes to gain by its latest offensive against Iran. It may be designed to pave the way for a new war, or to justify the continued occupation of Iraq and blame failure there on Iran, or to appease Israeli and Sunni Arab allies of the US, or simply to put pressure on Tehran before the next round of US/Iran negotiations on stability in Iraq.


What is certain, however, and covered least of all by the mass media, is that the escalations of US threats of war and destabilization since 2002 have already hurt the people of Iran by empowering the hard-line theo-conservative and paramilitary factions inside of Iran who have limited the space for dissent and moved Iran toward a politics of ultra-national security statism. The US media have covered extensively the decisive defeat, by 2004, of the limited official reformist movement of the late 1990s. However, much less is known regarding the heavy-handed state suppression of nascent movements by women and workers since 2005. In particular, the harsh treatment of labor activists by the state has revealed the insincerity of the class-based populist discourse of President Ahmadinejad.


Indeed it may be argued that a symbiotic relation exists between the Tehran and the Washington hawks in spite of their obvious differences. Iran’s rulers, as rulers everywhere, can best protect their power from internal challenges by battling foreign enemies real or imagined. They can argue more effectively that unity and security trump democracy and reformism in a time of national peril. Those who do not take heed properly end up in wretched dungeons. My guess is that the Washington hawks indeed welcome the outcome of this ghoulish dialectics as it makes their targeted regime more oppressive and thus more open to destabilization and transformational campaigns waged by Washington. Also Washington may welcome the suppression of at least some of the activists, in particular labor advocates, whose visions and actions also collide with the neoliberal ideology.


Ironically then, only a normalized US/Iran relation can provide the Iranian people with that calmer political space in which they could more securely pursue their century-long struggles for democracy and social justice at home. That is, only the realization of the seemingly impossible (in the US/Iran relations) can make possible a peaceful path towards greater democracy and justice in Iran. And this politics of the impossible itself can only be made possible by an aroused public demanding a just foreign policy here in the US. Thus the hope for democratic social changes in Iran depends on another kind of symbiosis, this one between the social movements for a democratic and humane foreign policy in the US and Iran’s democratic social movements. From this perspective progressives in the US carry a heavy burden on their shoulders. Yet that is what a serious humanistic cosmopolitanism demands of each of us. But first we must act to stop the Bush death train from moving onwards into new territories.


CODIR Supports the National Peace Council


The proposal to launch a National Council for Peace announced recently by Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi, is a welcome move towards uniting Iranians against the drive to war. On behalf of CODIR, Jane Green assesses the prospects for the new initiative.

Dec, 2, 2007

The message which Nobel Peace prize winner and human rights activist, Shirin Ebadi, has sent out to the world is a clear one,

“The United States cannot have the right to deal with Iran outside the framework of international law, and Iran cannot build a wall around itself and say, ‘I have nothing to do with international law’, and pay no attention to the (UN) Security Council resolutions.”

Both sides in the looming conflict are being urged to respect international law. Iranians in particular are being urged to take a stand against current danger as characterised by veteran political activist Ezatullah Sahabi that, “provocative statements from extreme right politicians are putting Iran in real danger.”

Ebadi has made it clear that participation in the Peace Council requires only two criteria; to be Iranian and to say ‘no to war’. On this basis the initiative has already attracted the support of the poet Simia Behbahani, filmmaker Rakhshan Banietemad, veteran activist Ebrahim Yazdi and university lecturer Hussein Rafiei. Organisationally the support of the ‘Iran Participation Front’, close to former president Khatami, the Teachers Union and university lecturers have been pledged.

With Ebadi in the forefront the new initiative has the backing of the Centre for Defenders of Human Rights in Iran and is aimed at uniting Iranian civil society against the prospect of war as well as educating the public about the potential consequences. The existing body sees itself as a transitional one with a formal organisation being launched at a National Peace Conference which will elect officers and determine the organisation’s structure.

The urgency of extending the message of the organisation was stressed recently by human rights activist Narges Mohammadi who stated that the success of the organisation will,

“…rely on the power of the people. We have to spread this message however small the movement. We want to rely on the help of popular organisations and international peace movements to raise the sensitivity of the Iranian public to this issue.”

The new movement has already shown sensitivity to the popular mood that Iran has the right to develop civilian nuclear energy and has stressed that this right should be acknowledged. However it has been equally clear that this right should not prevail over that of the right to peace and security. To that end calls from the influential student’s movement, the Office to Foster Unity, have focussed upon steps which will build trust in the international community. The right-wing oppositionist stance taken by President Ahmadinejad is regarded as being a barrier to meaningful negotiations and a route to international isolation for Iran.

Under such circumstances the National Peace Council initiative is one which must be welcomed as an attempt to send a different message to the international community and to the people of Iran. The voice of the Iranian government is not representative of the whole country and the opposition of many within Iran must be taken into account in the deliberations of Western governments. As importantly, the peace movements and human rights organisations must show active support for the new organisation, both to put pressure on the West and to show the Iranian regime that its views do not represent the majority view in Iran.

As the longest standing human rights and solidarity movement with the Iranian people internationally, CODIR welcomes the formation of the National Peace Council. As its leaders have made clear, the success of the Council will rely both on internal and international support. For this reason the open commitment of the peace and human rights organisations internationally is vital in order to send a message of solidarity to the Peace Council itself, but also to send a message to the warmongers that the momentum for peace is growing.

Such declarations of support will assist those inside Iran to step forward and add their voices to those calling for negotiation over conflict and will ensure that with elections scheduled in the coming months in Iran, peace will be one of the main issues of debate. Jane Green is CODIR’s Campaign Organiser.


Distorting the IAEA Report on Iran


By Jamie Stern-Weiner
The Heathlander

November 20, 2007

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) yesterday published its latest report (.pdf) into Iran’s nuclear activities. Interestingly, the U.S. has claimed that the report confirms what it has been saying all along � that it “makes clear that Iran seems uninterested in working with the rest of the world” � and is using it to justify a renewed push for further sanctions. Meanwhile, Israel has denounced the same report for “fail[ing] to expose Ahmadinejad’s intentions”. It seems the warmongers can’t get their story straight.

In a nutshell, the report concluded that:

“The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.”

Iran was praised for its cooperation with the investigation:

“Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan.”

The IAEA further added that, whilst all declared nuclear materials have been verified, the organisation is not in a position to confidently confirm the absence of any undeclared nuclear material � not because there is any evidence that such material exists (on the contrary: the Agency has “no concrete information” to that effect), but simply because Iran is not currently operating under the optional Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and so the IAEA’s access is limited. Of course, it is worth recalling that Iran had been implementing the Additional Protocol until the IAEA, under pressure from the U.S., referred it to the UN Security Council on extremely flimsy grounds.

The report also confirmed that Iran has continued to enrich uranium, in “defiance” of a UN Security Council resolution but in accordance with its legal rights under the NPT.

This last point is hardly a revelation � Iran hasn’t exactly been hiding its enrichment programme. On the contrary: it has very possibly been exaggerating it. Yet, this is the angle through which most newspapers seem to have approached the story.

Consider the Guardian’s take on the report � entitled “Decision time for US over Iran threat”, and subtitled “UN nuclear report heightens tension”, Julian Borger’s article begins:

“Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium � enough to begin industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel and build a warhead within a year, the UN’s nuclear watchdog reported last night.”

Now firstly, as other readers have noted, the IAEA report says nothing whatsoever about 3,000 centrifuges being “enough to�build a warhead within a year”. That seems to be Borger’s own contribution, though it is presented as if it came from the IAEA. Secondly, the whole tone of the article is one that implies increased threat and danger, suggesting that the IAEA report has somehow brought us closer to a war. In Borger’s words,

“The IAEA says the uranium being produced is only fuel grade (enriched to 4%) but the confirmation that Iran has reached the 3,000 centrifuge benchmark brings closer a moment of truth for the Bush administration, when it will have to choose between taking military action or abandoning its red line, and accepting Iran’s technical mastery of uranium enrichment.”

This is a ludicrous angle to take on a report that affirms, once again, that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The entire piece is written from the perspective of the Bush administration, and is positively dripping with bias from start to finish � note, for example, how the British Foreign Office spokesman “said” and Gordon Brown “called for”, while President Ahmadinejad “seized on”.

The Times was no better, carrying the headline: “Iran could build atom bomb within one year, says watchdog”. The first paragraph is very similar to Julian Borger’s in the Guardian:

“Iran has expanded its capacity to enrich uranium and now has 3,000 centrifuges operating � enough potentially to produce an atom bomb within a year � the United Nations nuclear watchdog reported yesterday.”

Again, as noted above, the report says no such thing � the bit about it being “enough�to produce an atom bomb within a year” is an extrapolation made by The Times, yet presented as if it was contained within the IAEA report. Astonishingly, The Times article fails to even mention the IAEA’s most significant conclusion � that all declared nuclear material has been accounted for, and that no concrete evidence exists suggesting the presence of undeclared nuclear material. This suppression enables The Times to present the IAEA report as implicating Iran and pointing towards an Iranian nuclear bomb, thus turning the truth completely on its head.

The Independent was equally shambolic. In an article entitled “Iran nuclear report fails to convince the West” (why not: “The West fails to convince the IAEA”?), it maintained that,

“the document will do nothing to ease tensions between the West and Iran nor quell speculation of eventual military action. Rather, it will provide new ammunition to Western governments seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran, notably the United States, Britain and France.” vHow, exactly? By affirming once again the total lack of evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, and thus utterly undermining the U.S.-led campaign of intimidation against Iran? Alas, The Independent does not explain � indeed, like The Times, it inexplicably fails to mention this aspect of the IAEA report at all.

The Associated Press managed to run a piece entitled, “IAEA: Iran Not Open About Nuke Program”, which was then immediately contradicted in the first paragraph, where it was acknowledged that the IAEA report in fact “said the Tehran regime has been generally truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities”. CNN published an article headlined “U.N. losing grip on Iran nuke plan” (’nuff said), while the Washington Post emphasised the IAEA’s “diminishing” information about Iran’s current nuclear activities (because, as explained above, Iran is no longer implementing the Additional Protocol), while failing to mention the report’s conclusion that all of Iran’s declared nuclear material has been verified and accounted for by the IAEA.

A recurring theme has been the idea that Iran is being “punished” by the West for its “defiance” � see, for example, this from Reuters. This conception relies upon two assumptions � a) that Iran is doing something wrong, and b) that “the West” has the right or is in some moral position to “punish” countries that disobey it. Neither premise is supported by the evidence, and the second in particular betrays the fundamental belief in the supremacy and benevolence of Western power that underpins so much of mainstream reporting.

As sampled above, most media coverage of the IAEA report has served to distort and, in many cases, totally invert the IAEA’s actual findings. Far from reporting the IAEA’s conclusion that there is no evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons programme, the press have tended instead to portray the report as evidence of a growing Iranian nuclear threat. For the media to misrepresent the facts so thoroughly and to regurgitate Pentagon press releases so unquestioningly at a time when the U.S. is openly pushing for war with Iran is the height of irresponsibility. As with Iraq, it is precisely this kind of media propagandising for power that could enable an attack to take place. If it does, the press will surely bear significant responsibility for the disaster that ensues.

For a more reality-based take on the IAEA report and the facts about Iran’s nuclear programme, see here and here.


Preventing the Impending War on Iran


by Marjorie Cohn
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the President of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law.” Her columns are archived at

November 26, 2007

Rhetoric flowing out of the White House indicates the Bush administration is planning a military attack on Iran. Officials in Saudi Arabia, a close Bush ally, think the handwriting is on the wall. “George Bush’s tone makes us think he has decided what he is going to do,” according to Rihab Massoud, Prince Bandar ben Sultan’s right-hand man. Saudi Social Affairs Minister Abdel Mohsen Hakas told Le Figaro, “We are getting closer and closer to a confrontation.”

As Bush and Cheney try to whip us into a frenzy about the dangers Iran poses, their argument comes up short. They say Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says there is “no evidence” of this. They say Iran is sending deadly weapons into Iraq to kill U.S. troops, but those devices can be manufactured in any Iraqi machine shop. Now the New York Times reports most of the foreign fighters in Iraq come, not from Iran, but from two Bush allies — Saudi Arabia and Libya. An estimated 90 percent of suicide bombings are carried out by foreign fighters. And senior U.S. military officials believe the financial support for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia comes primarily from Saudi Arabia.

Yet the Bush/Cheney polemics about Iran continue to escalate. In light of the lack of evidence Iran is actually developing nukes, Bush equated Iranian “knowledge” to make nuclear weapons with World War III. “If you’re interested in avoiding World War III,” he said recently, “it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” This substantially lowers the bar for a U.S. attack on Iran.

A few days after Bush warned of World War III, Cheney called Iran “the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism,” adding, “The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences . . . We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” These threats are eerily reminiscent of his rants in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In an unprecedented move, the Bush administration labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. It appears the administration applied that label in an effort to trigger language in the 2002 Congressional authorization for the use of military force in Iraq. That authorization says, “The President has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States.”

Like Bush’s invasion of Iraq, an attack on Iran would violate international and U.S. law. The U.N. Charter prohibits the use of military force except in self-defense or with the approval of the Security Council. Iran, which has not attacked any country for 2,000 years, hasn’t threatened to invade the United States or Israel. Rather than protecting Israel, U.S. or Israeli military force against Iran will endanger Israel, which would invariably suffer a retaliatory attack.

In making its case against Iran, the administration points to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s alleged comment that Israel should be wiped off the map. But this is an erroneous translation of what he said. According to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole and Farsi language analysts, Ahmadinejad was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, who said the “regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” Cole said this “does not imply military action or killing anyone at all.” Journalist Diana Johnstone points out the quote is not aimed at the Israeli people, but at the Zionist “regime” occupying Jerusalem. “Coming from a Muslim religious leader,” Johnstone wrote, “this opinion is doubtless based on objection to Jewish monopoly of a city considered holy by all three of the Abramic monotheisms.”

It seems significant that support for Ahmadinejad may be waning among the real power brokers in Iran, particularly the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Jomhouri Eslami daily in Iran, which has close ties to Khamenei, has denounced Ahmadinejad’s characterization of those opposed to his nuclear program as traitors.

If the United States attacks Iran, the results would be catastrophic. Three Europeans, including former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard and Yehuda Atai, a member of the Israeli Committee for a Middle East without Weapons of Mass Destruction, wrote in Lib�ration, “We are being warned about it from all sides: The United States is at the brink of war, ready to bombard Iran. The only thing lacking is the presidential order.” Drawing parallels with the U.S. war in Iraq, they caution, “An attack against Iran, whatever its targets, its methods and its initial scope, will significantly aggravate the situation, achieving similar results, without even talking about the disastrous impact on the global economy.” They add, “It would be still worse if the insane idea of using tactical nuclear weapons — which exist — to prevent Iran from building, in spite of its denials, the nuclear weapons that recent IAEA inspections have found no trace of, were implemented.”

The threats against Iran appear to be politically motivated. Seymour Hersh’s extensive research has convinced him that Bush/Cheney will invade Iran. They likely think embroiling us in Iran will ensure a GOP victory in 2008. It will certainly make it harder for the next President to withdraw from Iraq once we are mired in Iran.

If Hillary Clinton becomes that next President, she will likely continue Bush’s foreign policy. Clinton, who favors leaving a large contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq, says nothing about disbanding the huge U.S. military bases there. Clinton is also rattling the sabers in Iran’s direction. She voted to urge Bush to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and she, too, misquotes Ahmadinejad about Israel.

As we go to the polls in the coming months, it is imperative we scrutinize the candidates’ positions on Iraq and Iran. The security of the United States, as well as the Middle East, is hanging in the balance.


The talking cure

by Jamshid Ahmadi, Assistant General Secretary of Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR).

April 3, 2007

The crisis triggered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ arrest of British sailors is just the sort of “incident” that can ignite an already tense region. In this perilous standoff it is critical, as the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (of which I am assistant general secretary) has argued, that reason come before rhetoric.

In the buildup to the United Nations vote on March 24, which further tightened sanctions against Iran for failing to cease uranium enrichment activities, an escalation in the war of words over Iran’s nuclear capability was always likely.

However, even the most seasoned observers were surprised by the news that 15 British sailors had been arrested, for allegedly trespassing in Iranian territorial waters on the morning of the March 23 and were being held in Iran for questioning. The timing of the arrests and the dramatic headlines generated worldwide have ensured that the Iranian regime remains in the international spotlight.

The unfolding of the crisis has inevitably led to comparisons with the Tehran embassy crisis in 1979 and recent protests outside the UK embassy in Tehran have clearly been orchestrated by rightwing Basiji student groups (closely associated with the Revolutionary Guards and security forces) to reinforce that reminder in the west. Less well publicised in the west, but equally resonant with many Iranians, will be the televised “confessions” of Iranian democratic leaders opposed to the regime, broadcast in the 1980’s, and clearly the outcome of torture in the Islamic Republic’s prisons.

It is unlikely that any of the Royal Navy or Marine personnel currently under investigation have suffered such a fate, but the televised “confessions” are a significant indicator of how far the Iranian regime is prepared to go in order to flex its muscles in the region. Even if we were to accept, for the sake of argument, that the British sailors did cross into Iranian waters, the response to such an act would clearly still be disproportionate to the “crime”.

It is ironic that the recent foreign policy of the west has almost given Iran its regional “superpower” status by default. Having reduced Afghanistan to a mass of warring factions and plunged Iraq into virtual civil war, Iran is rivalled only by Saudi Arabia for the leadership of the Muslim world. The actions of the regime must be seen in this context and while not excusable are easier to understand against the ongoing threat of military action from the west. In part the Iranian regime is sending a message to that any action will meet with resistance; in part the arrests are an attempt by the most conservative faction of the regime to build a spirit of “national unity” in opposition to any attack on Iran.

Not surprisingly the debate in some sections of the western media has focussed less on the culpability of US and UK foreign policy in the region and more on the internal dynamics of the Iranian regime and how the sanctioning of the arrests took place. This is undoubtedly a factor and adds to the volatility of the Iranian regime as a negotiating partner. The election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laid bare the conflict between the reformist and more conservative elements of the regime. While Ahmadinejad represents the more conservative tendency within the the theocratic regime opposition from the reformist tendency is coalescing around the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

It is however Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, to whom the Revolutionary Guards are answerable, who is likely to have the final say over the release of the sailors. It is unfortunate that the western media pay so little attention to the fact that most ordinary Iranians are strongly against any escalation of the current tensions. In fact beyond the immediate ruling circles the Iranian people themselves are little heard and the regime uses the current crisis as a pretext to silence any democratic opposition or dissent. The danger of further such actions, in the name of national unity, cannot be ruled out.

The latest signals given out by chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, an ally of Khamenei, suggest that Iran is looking for a diplomatic way out of the current situation. It is likely that a degree of pragmatism will prevail in Iranian ruling circles as little immediate advantage can be gained from pressing the crisis further.

However, the hardliners will be satisfied that a warning shot has been sent across western bows. That a relatively minor incident can escalate to such a level may be a sign of things to come. It is to be hoped that both sides can not only maintain a dialogue which can result in the current situation being defused but that the wider issues of nuclear enrichment and Iran’s engagement with the international community can be addressed.


Iranian Opposition: No more war


Feb 26, 2007
Morning Star

” We publish here the text a feature article appeared in the Morning Star, 26 February 2007 about the opposition of the Iranian people and their progressive political forces to pro-war policies of the US administration and the leadership of the theocratic regime.”

ANN DOUGLAS explains why Iran’s opposition is against a new invasion.
IN A strongly worded statement issued this week, the left-wing Tudeh Party of Iran has reasserted its opposition to a new military adventure in the Middle East.

Any intensification of military or political conflict in the region will be against the interests of the people of Iran, the Middle East region and global peace, it argues.

As the United States continues to build its “case” for the need to take military action against Iran, the Tudeh Party is calling for opposition to both the threat of war and the repressive, theocratic Iranian regime. Tudeh Party international department spokesman Navid Shomali stresses the parallels between Washington’s current sabre-rattling and the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.

“The similarity between the events taking place in recent months with those in the period between August 2002 and March 2003 is terrifying,” he says.

“The discredited evidence presented by the US Secretary of State in September 2002 about the existence of Iraqi biological weapons laboratories in order to justify preparation for a military offensive against Iraq should not be forgotten. Let’s make no mistake. The US is known for fabricating convenient ‘evidence’ to justify its criminal policies.” The US recently accused Iran of directly backing terrorist activities in Iraq, costing the lives of 170 US military personnel. The Tudeh Party argues that this is merely an attempt to convince public opinion in the US and Europe that George Bush and his neocon allies are justified in targeting Iran for military action.

These pronouncements came hot on the heels of much-publicised visits to the region by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cobble together an alliance of Arab countries to support Bush’s discredited plans. This “new” US policy in the region stands in stark contrast to the high-profile report published by the Iraq Study Group in December.

The Bush administration has ditched the recommendations contained within the report, whose authors included former US secretary of state James Baker. While it argued for constructive engagement with Iran, Washington has instead adopted a confrontational appr-oach aimed at forcing the Iranian government to accept US hegemony in the Middle East. UN security council resolution 1737, regarding Tehran’s civil nuclear programme, has been cited by the Tudeh Party as an important part of the strategy to escalate hostilities with Iran.

It accuses the Iranian regime of pursuing a reckless and provocative foreign policy which, rather than winning international acceptance of its right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, has advanced Washington’s strategy in the region.

“Despite the regime’s propaganda, achieving nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which is an inalienable right of our nation, has now been jeopardised due to the regime’s reactionary policies. It has become an excuse for colonialists to meddle in the internal affairs of our nation,” it said.

The Tudeh Party likens recent exchanges between the US and the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a “game of chicken.” It is a game which could produce frightening results.

The US administration and its European allies have already shown on Iraq that they have little interest in telling the truth or observing international law.

But Tehran’s position seems to be based on the miscalculation that the US is too busy in Iraq to be able to open a new theatre of conflict.

The Tudeh Party argues that this has stopped the Iranian regime listening to reason about the urgent need to pursue policies that avoid military confrontation.

The current tense conditions have led Ahmadinejad’s government to justify the suppression of all opposition. It has imposed even greater censorship of an already tightly gagged media and has staged demonstrations backing its policies to mislead international and local public opinion.

The situation has also seriously undermined the peace movement inside Iran and prevented it from linking up with the international anti-war movement.

Shomali sets out the Tudeh position. “We have called upon all the progressive and democratic forces in our country to unite and to step up their efforts to defend the sovereignty and democratic development of the country.

“We have also called upon them to oppose and confront provocative, interventionist and militaristic policies of any force from within the country or from outside,” he says.

The solution to the current crisis is not escalation of the crisis, says the Tudeh Party, which argues that no amount of evidence could justify a military solution. The only way forward is through negotiations and dialogue, it says, adding that the imposition of sanctions against Iran would only harm ordinary Iranians.

The party has long argued that a peaceful regional and global environment is needed in order for the opposition to replace the current theocratic regime with a democratic, progressive and modern Iran representing the true will of the people. It is calling for all progressive and democratic forces to echo its demand for an end to US intervention in the region and to show support for the democratic forces opposing the current Iranian regime.


Iran: the case for peace


Feb 4, 2007
Morning Star

TRADE unions, former ministers, charities and religious groups will join forces on Monday to press Prime Minister Tony Blair to do everything in his power to avert a war on Iran.

In a report entitled Time to Talk: The Case for Diplomatic Solutions on Iran, trade unions UNISON, GMB and Amicus, Oxfam, the Muslim Parliament and Christian Solidarity Worldwide all urge the government to secure face-to-face talks between Washington and Tehran.

Speaking before its launch, former Labour minister Stephen Twigg, who is director of the Foreign Policy Centre, said: “Even according to the worst estimates, Iran is still years away from having a nuclear weapon.

“There is still time to talk and the Prime Minister must make sure our allies use it.”

The report is being issued in light of Washington’s dispatch of a second carrier task force to the Gulf, marking the first time since the 2003 invasion of Iraq that the US has had two carrier battle groups in the region. And President George W Bush’s criticism of alleged Iranian involvement in Iraq has revived concerns that his administration is gearing up for imminent aggression.

The report warns that military action could further destabilise the region and provoke retaliatory attacks against British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Military action is not likely to be a short, sharp engagement but could have a profound effect on the region, with shock waves felt far beyond,” the report says.

Former British ambassador to Iran Sir Richard Dalton, who is to launch the report, said: “Recourse to military action – other than in legitimate self-defence – is not only unlikely to work but would be a disaster for Iran, the region and, quite possibly, the world.”

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German noted that the report “expresses what large sections of the population and the International Atomic Energy Agency has thought for some time – that Iran does not pose a real and present danger.”

And Labour Against the War chairman Alan Simpson MP said that, rather than pouring more fuel on the Middle East fire, Britain and the US need to work for a diplomatic solution, “at the core of which must be an end to attempts to push through a draft Iraq oil law that would transfer ownership of Iraq’s oil to international oil companies for 20 to 30 years.”

If they do not, Mr Simpson warned, “Iraqis will wage a ceaseless war to reclaim their oil.”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Moore MP said: “The lessons of Iraq must be learnt.

“The key players in this dispute must not rush to judgement but must consider the consequences of their actions for the security of the region and of the world,” Mr Moore added.

Writing in the Sunday Times, an array of former top US military officers warned that a war with Iran would be “disastrous.” They added that the British government “has a vital role to play in securing a renewed diplomatic push and making it clear that it will oppose any recourse to military force.”

And Action Iran activist Professor Abbas Edalat rubbished US accusations of Iranian involvement in Iraq.

“The Bush administration is now blaming Iran for the catastrophe that the US-led illegal invasion of Iraq has created,” Mr Edalat observed.

“Like the charges about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction which provided the false premise to invade that county, the allegations levelled against Iran have not been supported by any facts.

“Such statements are being used to soften up the public for military intervention against Iran,” he warned.


Not-So-Strange Bedfellow


January 31, 2007 Op-Ed Columnist
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times

Here’s a little foreign policy test. I am going to describe two countries � “Country A” and “Country B” � and you tell me which one is America’s ally and which one is not.

Lets start: Country A actively helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and replace it with a pro-U.S. elected alliance of moderate Muslims. Country A regularly holds sort-of-free elections. Country As women vote, hold office, are the majority of its university students and are fully integrated into the work force.

On 9/11, residents of Country A were among the very few in the Muslim world to hold spontaneous pro-U.S. demonstrations. Country As radical president recently held a conference about why the Holocaust never happened � to try to gain popularity. A month later, Country A held nationwide elections for local councils, and that same president saw his candidates get wiped out by voters who preferred more moderate conservatives. Country A has a strategic interest in the success of the pro-U.S., Shiite-led, elected Iraqi government. Although its a Muslim country right next to Iraq, Country A has never sent any suicide bombers to Iraq, and has long protected its Christians and Jews. Country A has more bloggers per capita than any country in the Muslim Middle East.

The brand of Islam practiced by Country A respects women, is open to reinterpretation in light of modernity and rejects Al Qaedas nihilism.

Now Country B: Country B gave us 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. Country B does not allow its women to drive, vote or run for office. It is illegal in Country B to build a church, synagogue or Hindu temple. Country B helped finance the Taliban. Country Bs private charities help sustain Al Qaeda. Young men from Country Bs mosques have been regularly recruited to carry out suicide bombings in Iraq. Mosques and charities in Country B raise funds to support the insurgency in Iraq. Country B does not want the elected, Shiite-led government in Iraq to succeed. While Country Bs leaders are pro-U.S., polls show many of its people are hostile to America � some of them celebrated on 9/11. The brand of Islam supported by Country B and exported by it to mosques around the world is the most hostile to modernity and other faiths.

Question: Which country is America’s natural ally: A or B?

Country A is, of course. Country A is Iran. Country B is Saudi Arabia.

Don’t worry. I know that Iran has also engaged in terrorism against the U.S. and that the Saudis have supported America at key times in some areas. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that the hostility between Iran and the U.S. since the overthrow of the shah in 1979 is not organic. By dint of culture, history and geography, we actually have a lot of interests in common with Iran’s people. And I am not the only one to notice that.

Because the U.S. has destroyed Irans two biggest enemies � the Taliban and Saddam � “there is now a debate in Iran as to whether we should continue to act so harshly against the American’s,” Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Irans former ambassador to London, told me at Davos. “There is now more readiness for dialogue with the United States.”

More important, when people say, “The most important thing America could do today to stabilize the Middle East is solve the Israel-Palestine conflict,” they are wrong. Its second. The most important thing would be to resolve the Iran-U.S. conflict. That would change the whole Middle East and open up the way to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, because Iran is the key backer of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Syria. Irans active help could also be critical for stabilizing Iraq.

This is why I oppose war with Iran. I favor negotiations. Isolating Iran like Castros Cuba has produced only the same result as in Cuba: strengthening Irans Castros. But for talks with Iran to bear fruit, we have to negotiate with Iran with leverage.

How do we get leverage? Make it clear that Iran cant push us out of the gulf militarily; bring down the price of oil, which is key to the cockiness of Irans hard-line leadership; squeeze the hard-liners financially. But all this has to be accompanied with a clear declaration that the U.S. is not seeking regime change in Iran, but a change of behavior, that the U.S. wants to immediately restore its embassy in Tehran and that the first thing it will do is grant 50,000 student visas for young Iranians to study at U.S. universities.

Just do that � and then sit back and watch the most amazing debate explode inside Iran. You can bet the farm on it.


Bush’s Nuclear Apocalypse


Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges was a reporter for The New York Times for 15 years as a war correspondent in Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans. He speaks Arabic and spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times. Hedges was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998 and has taught at Columbia and NYU. He is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. r.Posted on Oct 9, 2006

Editor’s Note: The former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and author of the bestseller “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” reports on Bush’s plan for Iran, and how a callous war, conceived by zealots, will lead to a disaster of biblical proportions.

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower, accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, guided-missile destroyer USS Mason and the fast-attack submarine USS Newport News, is, as I write, making its way to the Straits of Hormuz off Iran. The ships will be in place to strike Iran by the end of the month. It may be a bluff. It may be a feint. It may be a simple show of American power. But I doubt it.

War with Iran�a war that would unleash an apocalyptic scenario in the Middle East�is probable by the end of the Bush administration. It could begin in as little as three weeks. This administration, claiming to be anointed by a Christian God to reshape the world, and especially the Middle East, defined three states at the start of its reign as “the Axis of Evil.” They were Iraq, now occupied; North Korea, which, because it has nuclear weapons, is untouchable; and Iran. Those who do not take this apocalyptic rhetoric seriously have ignored the twisted pathology of men like Elliott Abrams, who helped orchestrate the disastrous and illegal contra war in Nicaragua, and who now handles the Middle East for the National Security Council. He knew nothing about Central America. He knows nothing about the Middle East. He sees the world through the childish, binary lens of good and evil, us and them, the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And it is this strange, twilight mentality that now grips most of the civilian planners who are barreling us towards a crisis of epic proportions.

These men advocate a doctrine of permanent war, a doctrine which, as William R. Polk points out, is a slight corruption of Leon Trotsky’s doctrine of permanent revolution. These two revolutionary doctrines serve the same function, to intimidate and destroy all those classified as foreign opponents, to create permanent instability and fear and to silence domestic critics who challenge leaders in a time of national crisis. It works. The citizens of the United States, slowly being stripped of their civil liberties, are being herded sheep-like, once again, over a cliff.

But this war will be different. It will be catastrophic. It will usher in the apocalyptic nightmares spun out in the dark, fantastic visions of the Christian right. And there are those around the president who see this vision as preordained by God; indeed, the president himself may hold such a vision.

The hypocrisy of this vaunted moral crusade is not lost on those in the Middle East. Iran actually signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has violated a codicil of that treaty written by European foreign ministers, but this codicil was never ratified by the Iranian parliament. I do not dispute Iran’s intentions to acquire nuclear weapons nor do I minimize the danger should it acquire them in the estimated five to 10 years. But contrast Iran with Pakistan, India and Israel. These three countries refused to sign the treaty and developed nuclear weapons programs in secret. Israel now has an estimated 400 to 600 nuclear weapons. The word “Dimona,” the name of the city where the nuclear facilities are located in Israel, is shorthand in the Muslim world for the deadly Israeli threat to Muslims’ existence. What lessons did the Iranians learn from our Israeli, Pakistani and Indian allies?

Given that we are actively engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian regime by recruiting tribal groups and ethnic minorities inside Iran to rebel, given that we use apocalyptic rhetoric to describe what must be done to the Iranian regime, given that other countries in the Middle East such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are making noises about developing a nuclear capacity, and given that, with the touch of a button Israel could obliterate Iran, what do we expect from the Iranians? On top of this, the Iranian regime grasps that the doctrine of permanent war entails making “preemptive” and unprovoked strikes.

Those in Washington who advocate this war, knowing as little about the limitations and chaos of war as they do about the Middle East, believe they can hit about 1,000 sites inside Iran to wipe out nuclear production and cripple the 850,000-man Iranian army. The disaster in southern Lebanon, where the Israeli air campaign not only failed to break Hezbollah but united most Lebanese behind the militant group, is dismissed. These ideologues, after all, do not live in a reality-based universe. The massive Israeli bombing of Lebanon failed to pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen when we begin to pound a country of 70 million people? As retired General Wesley K. Clark and others have pointed out, once you begin an air campaign it is only a matter of time before you have to put troops on the ground or accept defeat, as the Israelis had to do in Lebanon. And if we begin dropping bunker busters, cruise missiles and iron fragmentation bombs on Iran this is the choice that must be faced�either sending American forces into Iran to fight a protracted and futile guerrilla war or walking away in humiliation.

“As a people we are enormously forgetful,” Dr. Polk, one of the country’s leading scholars on the Middle East, told an Oct. 13 gathering of the Foreign Policy Association in New York. “We should have learned from history that foreign powers can’t win guerrilla wars. The British learned this from our ancestors in the American Revolution and re-learned it in Ireland. Napoleon learned it in Spain. The Germans learned it in Yugoslavia. We should have learned it in Vietnam and the Russians learned it in Afghanistan and are learning it all over again in Chechnya and we are learning it, of course, in Iraq. Guerrilla wars are almost unwinnable. As a people we are also very vain. Our way of life is the only way. We should have learned that the rich and powerful can’t always succeed against the poor and less powerful.”

An attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with Silkworm missile attacks by Iran on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send oil soaring to well over $110 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a huge, global depression. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey will turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We will see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and the widespread sabotage of oil production in the Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for American troops as Shiites and Sunnis, for the first time, unite against their foreign occupiers.

The country, however, that will pay the biggest price will be Israel. And the sad irony is that those planning this war think of themselves as allies of the Jewish state. A conflagration of this magnitude could see Israel drawn back in Lebanon and sucked into a regional war, one that would over time spell the final chapter in the Zionist experiment in the Middle East. The Israelis aptly call their nuclear program “the Samson option.” The Biblical Samson ripped down the pillars of the temple and killed everyone around him, along with himself.

If you are sure you will be raptured into heaven, your clothes left behind with the nonbelievers, then this news should cheer you up. If you are rational, however, these may be some of the last few weeks or months in which to enjoy what is left of our beleaguered, dying republic and way of life.


Israel War on Hezbollah was a practice run for the war on Iran



Washingtons interests in Israel’s war.
Issue of 2006-08-21
Posted 2006-08-14
The New Yorker

In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s a moment of clarification,” President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why we don’t have peace in the Middle East.” He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the “root causes of instability,” and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until “the conditions are conducive.”

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American pre�mptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country’s immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, “We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it.”

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat�a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel. According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah�and shared it with Bush Administration officials�well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, “The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.”

Administration officials denied that they knew of Israel’s plan for the air war. The White House did not respond to a detailed list of questions. In response to a separate request, a National Security Council spokesman said, “Prior to Hezbollah’s attack on Israel, the Israeli government gave no official in Washington any reason to believe that Israel was planning to attack. Even after the July 12th attack, we did not know what the Israeli plans were.” A Pentagon spokesman said, “The United States government remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program,” and denied the story, as did a State Department spokesman.

The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military co�peration for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force�under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities�began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force. “The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,” the former senior intelligence official said. “Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? Its not Congo�it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’ ” The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.” A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a pre�mptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.” (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term�and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”�Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region�the Israel Defense Forces�can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East told me that Israel viewed the soldiers’ kidnapping as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hezbollah. “Hezbollah, like clockwork, was instigating something small every month or two,” the U.S. government consultant with ties to Israel said. Two weeks earlier, in late June, members of Hamas, the Palestinian group, had tunnelled under the barrier separating southern Gaza from Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. Hamas also had lobbed a series of rockets at Israeli towns near the border with Gaza. In response, Israel had initiated an extensive bombing campaign and reoccupied parts of Gaza. The Pentagon consultant noted that there had also been cross-border incidents involving Israel and Hezbollah, in both directions, for some time. “They’ve been sniping at each other,” he said. “Either side could have pointed to some incident and said ‘We have to go to war with these guys’�because they were already at war.”

David Siegel, the spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said that the Israeli Air Force had not been seeking a reason to attack Hezbollah. “We did not plan the campaign. That decision was forced on us.” There were ongoing alerts that Hezbollah “was pressing to go on the attack,” Siegel said. “Hezbollah attacks every two or three months,” but the kidnapping of the soldiers raised the stakes. In interviews, several Israeli academics, journalists, and retired military and intelligence officers all made one point: they believed that the Israeli leadership, and not Washington, had decided that it would go to war with Hezbollah. Opinion polls showed that a broad spectrum of Israelis supported that choice. “The neocons in Washington may be happy, but Israel did not need to be pushed, because Israel has been wanting to get rid of Hezbollah,” Yossi Melman, a journalist for the newspaper Ha’aretz, who has written several books about the Israeli intelligence community, said. “By provoking Israel, Hezbollah provided that opportunity.”

“We were facing a dilemma,” an Israeli official said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “had to decide whether to go for a local response, which we always do, or for a comprehensive response�to really take on Hezbollah once and for all.” Olmert made his decision, the official said, only after a series of Israeli rescue efforts failed.

The U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel told me, however, that, from Israel’s perspective, the decision to take strong action had become inevitable weeks earlier, after the Israeli Army’s signals intelligence group, known as Unit 8200, picked up bellicose intercepts in late spring and early summer, involving Hamas, Hezbollah, and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader now living in Damascus. One intercept was of a meeting in late May of the Hamas political and military leadership, with Meshal participating by telephone. “Hamas believed the call from Damascus was scrambled, but Israel had broken the code,”the consultant said. For almost a year before its victory in the Palestinian elections in January, Hamas had curtailed its terrorist activities. In the late May intercepted conversation, the consultant told me, the Hamas leadership said that “they got no benefit from it, and were losing standing among the Palestinian population.” The conclusion, he said, was ” ‘Let’s go back into the terror business and then try and wrestle concessions from the Israeli government.’ ” The consultant told me that the U.S. and Israel agreed that if the Hamas leadership did so, and if Nasrallah backed them up, there should be “a full-scale response.” In the next several weeks, when Hamas began digging the tunnel into Israel, the consultant said, Unit 8200 “picked up signals intelligence involving Hamas, Syria, and Hezbollah, saying, in essence, that they wanted Hezbollah to ‘warm up’ the north.” In one intercept, the consultant said, Nasrallah referred to Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz “as seeming to be weak,” in comparison with the former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, who had extensive military experience, and said “he thought Israel would respond in a small-scale, local way, as they had in the past.”

Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, “to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear.” The consultant added, “Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council.” After that, “persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board,” the consultant said. The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week. (David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that Israel had targeted only sites connected to Hezbollah; the bombing of bridges and roads was meant to prevent the transport of weapons.)

The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was “the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran.” (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.)

Uzi Arad, who served for more than two decades in the Mossad, told me that to the best of his knowledge the contacts between the Israeli and U.S. governments were routine, and that, “in all my meetings and conversations with government officials, never once did I hear anyone refer to prior coordination with the United States.” He was troubled by one issue�the speed with which the Olmert government went to war. “For the life of me, I’ve never seen a decision to go to war taken so speedily,” he said. “We usually go through long analyses.” The key military planner was Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the I.D.F. chief of staff, who, during a career in the Israeli Air Force, worked on contingency planning for an air war with Iran. Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, and Peretz, a former labor leader, could not match his experience and expertise.

In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. “Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model,” the government consultant said. “The Israelis told Condi Rice, ‘You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that�thirty-five days.’ ” There are, of course, vast differences between Lebanon and Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the military in 2000 and unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took issue with the analogy: “If its true that the Israeli campaign is based on the American approach in Kosovo, then it missed the point. Ours was to use force to obtain a diplomatic objective�it was not about killing people.” Clark noted in a 2001 book, “Waging Modern War,” that it was the threat of a possible ground invasion as well as the bombing that forced the Serbs to end the war. He told me, “In my experience, air campaigns have to be backed, ultimately, by the will and capability to finish the job on the ground.”

Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli officials and journalists since the war began. On August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding to European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese civilians, said, “Where do they get the right to preach to Israel? European countries attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single rocket. I’m not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But please: don’t preach to us about the treatment of civilians.” (Human Rights Watch estimated the number of civilians killed in the NATO bombing to be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the number between twelve hundred and five thousand.)

Cheney’s office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials. (A spokesman for the N.S.C. denied that Abrams had done so.) They believed that Israel should move quickly in its air war against Hezbollah. A former intelligence officer said, “We told Israel, ‘Look, if you guys have to go, we’re behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later�the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.’ ”

Cheney’s point, the former senior intelligence official said, was “What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it’s really successful? It’d be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon.” The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top�at the insistence of the White House�and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”

The long-term Administration goal was to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition�including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt�that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran. “But the thought behind that plan was that Israel would defeat Hezbollah, not lose to it,” the consultant with close ties to Israel said. Some officials in Cheney’s office and at the N.S.C. had become convinced, on the basis of private talks, that those nations would moderate their public criticism of Israel and blame Hezbollah for creating the crisis that led to war. Although they did so at first, they shifted their position in the wake of public protests in their countries about the Israeli bombing. The White House was clearly disappointed when, late last month, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, came to Washington and, at a meeting with Bush, called for the President to intervene immediately to end the war. The Washington Post reported that Washington had hoped to enlist moderate Arab states “in an effort to pressure Syria and Iran to rein in Hezbollah, but the Saudi move . . . seemed to cloud that initiative.”

The surprising strength of Hezbollah’s resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, “is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back.” Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. “There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this,” he said. “When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.”

In the White House, especially in the Vice-President’s office, many officials believe that the military campaign against Hezbollah is working and should be carried forward. At the same time, the government consultant said, some policymakers in the Administration have concluded that the cost of the bombing to Lebanese society is too high. “They are telling Israel that it’s time to wind down the attacks on infrastructure.”

Similar divisions are emerging in Israel. David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that his country’s leadership believed, as of early August, that the air war had been successful, and had destroyed more than seventy per cent of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range-missile launching capacity. “The problem is short-range missiles, without launchers, that can be shot from civilian areas and homes,” Siegel told me. “The only way to resolve this is ground operations�which is why Israel would be forced to expand ground operations if the latest round of diplomacy doesn’t work.” Last week, however, there was evidence that the Israeli government was troubled by the progress of the war. In an unusual move, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, Halutz’s deputy, was put in charge of the operation, supplanting Major General Udi Adam. The worry in Israel is that Nasrallah might escalate the crisis by firing missiles at Tel Aviv. “There is a big debate over how much damage Israel should inflict to prevent it,” the consultant said. “If Nasrallah hits Tel Aviv, what should Israel do? Its goal is to deter more attacks by telling Nasrallah that it will destroy his country if he doesn’t stop, and to remind the Arab world that Israel can set it back twenty years. We’re no longer playing by the same rules.”

A European intelligence officer told me, “The Israelis have been caught in a psychological trap. In earlier years, they had the belief that they could solve their problems with toughness. But now, with Islamic martyrdom, things have changed, and they need different answers. How do you scare people who love martyrdom?” The problem with trying to eliminate Hezbollah, the intelligence officer said, is the group’s ties to the Shiite population in southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and Beirut’s southern suburbs, where it operates schools, hospitals, a radio station, and various charities.

PV: This issue can lead to decisions that would endanger Iran’s national interests. We must note that before challenging the decisions of world powers we must improve our international standing and not make the world confront us so we can improve the disastrous lot of the Iranian nation. To be a real regional power we must improve the conditions in the nation whose largest population chunk lives under the poverty line. Only then can we be in a position to be taken seriously on regional issues which would not harm our national interests.

A high-level American military planner told me, “We have a lot of vulnerability in the region, and we’ve talked about some of the effects of an Iranian or Hezbollah attack on the Saudi regime and on the oil infrastructure.” There is special concern inside the Pentagon, he added, about the oil-producing nations north of the Strait of Hormuz. “We have to anticipate the unintended consequences,” he told me.”Will we be able to absorb a barrel of oil at one hundred dollars? There is this almost comical thinking that you can do it all from the air, even when you’re up against an irregular enemy with a dug-in capability. You’re not going to be successful unless you have a ground presence, but the political leadership never considers the worst case. These guys only want to hear the best case.” There is evidence that the Iranians were expecting the war against Hezbollah. Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiite Muslims and Iran, who is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and also teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, said, “Every negative American move against Hezbollah was seen by Iran as part of a larger campaign against it. And Iran began to prepare for the showdown by supplying more sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah�anti-ship and anti-tank missiles�and training its fighters in their use. And now Hezbollah is testing Iran’s new weapons. Iran sees the Bush Administration as trying to marginalize its regional role, so it fomented trouble.” Nasr, an Iranian-American who recently published a study of the Sunni-Shiite divide, entitled “The Shia Revival,” also said that the Iranian leadership believes that Washington’s ultimate political goal is to get some international force to act as a buffer�to physically separate Syria and Lebanon in an effort to isolate and disarm Hezbollah, whose main supply route is through Syria. “Military action cannot bring about the desired political result,” Nasr said. The popularity of Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a virulent critic of Israel, is greatest in his own country. If the U.S. were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Nasr said, “you may end up turning Ahmadinejad into another Nasrallah�the rock star of the Arab street.”

Donald Rumsfeld, who is one of the Bush Administration’s most outspoken, and powerful, officials, has said very little publicly about the crisis in Lebanon. His relative quiet, compared to his aggressive visibility in the run-up to the Iraq war, has prompted a debate in Washington about where he stands on the issue. Some current and former intelligence officials who were interviewed for this article believe that Rumsfeld disagrees with Bush and Cheney about the American role in the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said that “there was a feeling that Rumsfeld was jaded in his approach to the Israeli war.” He added, “Air power and the use of a few Special Forces had worked in Afghanistan, and he tried to do it again in Iraq. It was the same idea, but it didn’t work. He thought that Hezbollah was too dug in and the Israeli attack plan would not work, and the last thing he wanted was another war on his shift that would put the American forces in Iraq in greater jeopardy.”

A Western diplomat said that he understood that Rumsfeld did not know all the intricacies of the war plan. “He is angry and worried about his troops” in Iraq, the diplomat said. Rumsfeld served in the White House during the last year of the war in Vietnam, from which American troops withdrew in 1975, “and he did not want to see something like this having an impact in Iraq.” Rumsfeld’s concern, the diplomat added, was that an expansion of the war into Iran could put the American troops in Iraq at greater risk of attacks by pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on August 3rd, Rumsfeld was less than enthusiastic about the war’s implications for the American troops in Iraq. Asked whether the Administration was mindful of the war’s impact on Iraq, he testified that, in his meetings with Bush and Condoleezza Rice, “there is a sensitivity to the desire to not have our country or our interests or our forces put at greater risk as a result of what’s taking place between Israel and Hezbollah. . . . There are a variety of risks that we face in that region, and it’s a difficult and delicate situation.”

The Pentagon consultant dismissed talk of a split at the top of the Administration, however, and said simply, “Rummy is on the team. He’d love to see Hezbollah degraded, but he also is a voice for less bombing and more innovative Israeli ground operations.” The former senior intelligence official similarly depicted Rumsfeld as being “delighted that Israel is our stalking horse.” There are also questions about the status of Condoleezza Rice. Her initial support for the Israeli air war against Hezbollah has reportedly been tempered by dismay at the effects of the attacks on Lebanon. The Pentagon consultant said that in early August she began privately “agitating” inside the Administration for permission to begin direct diplomatic talks with Syria�so far, without much success. Last week, the Times reported that Rice had directed an Embassy official in Damascus to meet with the Syrian foreign minister, though the meeting apparently yielded no results. The Times also reported that Rice viewed herself as “trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties” within the Administration. The article pointed to a divide between career diplomats in the State Department and “conservatives in the government,” including Cheney and Abrams, “who were pushing for strong American support for Israel.”

The Western diplomat told me his embassy believes that Abrams has emerged as a key policymaker on Iran, and on the current Hezbollah-Israeli crisis, and that Rice’s role has been relatively diminished. Rice did not want to make her most recent diplomatic trip to the Middle East, the diplomat said. “She only wanted to go if she thought there was a real chance to get a ceasefire.” Bush’s strongest supporter in Europe continues to be British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but many in Blair’s own Foreign Office, as a former diplomat said, believe that he has “gone out on a particular limb on this”�especially by accepting Bush’s refusal to seek an immediate and total ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. “Blair stands alone on this,” the former diplomat said. “He knows he’s a lame duck who’s on the way out, but he buys it”�the Bush policy. “He drinks the White House Kool-Aid as much as anybody in Washington.” The crisis will really start at the end of August, the diplomat added, “when the Iranians”�under a United Nations deadline to stop uranium enrichment�”will say no.” Even those who continue to support Israel’s war against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals�to rally the Lebanese against Hezbollah. “Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it,” John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights terrorism. “The warfare of today is not mass on mass,” he said. “You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.”


Varjavand: Dangerous Decisions Loom Over Iran

Soheil Asefi

(ROOZ)20 Jul 2006

As the G8 summit progresses, Rooz Online talked with Iranian international affairs expert Parviz Varjavand. He believes that the streamlining of the views and positions of China and Russia with those of the US would lead to harsher decisions over Iran regarding its nuclear stand off at the meeting. In view of the new Middle East crises and Tehran’s diplomatic and domestic postures, decisions at the summit could be very threatening to the national security of Iran, he added. Read on for excerpts of the interview.

Rooz (R ): What direction do you think decisions over Iran will take at the G8 summit?

Parviz Varjavand (PV): China and Russian will most likely get even closer to the US. The Americans are expected now to provide even greater assistance to the Russians. The net result of the decisions at the G8 will not be in the interests of the Islamic regime and instead will lead to a greater streamlining of the positions of the international community against it. This will place Iran in a more unfavorable position.

R: With the return of Iran’s case to the UN Security Council, what can be the next step at that forum?

PV: In view of Iran’s position regarding the peace process in the Middle East and the crises that erupted there last week, the West’s finger of blame is now more poignantly pointing towards Iran. Regardless of whether these accusations against Iran are true or fabrications, they have placed Iran in a dangerous situation. This coupled with the inappropriate remarks and statements by apparently responsible authorities of the Islamic Republic has created a very negative view of Iran throughout the world. All the evidence seems to suggest that if a consensus emerges at the G8 – and signs indicate that it is very possible � then Iran will be in even a more unfavorable position at the UN Security Council.

R: So this ‘dangerous situation’ for Iran will be reflected in the Security Council resolution? Especially as this was reflected in the previous resolution as well.

PV: Yes. The next resolution will be much harsher and more explicit. It may even contain an ultimatum requiring that Iran completely end its uranium enrichment activities. That by itself could bring about more crises.

R: Do you think the new crises in the Middle East will involve Iran as well?

TPV: What is very clear is that the West, and particularly the US has been for years trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some steps have been taken in this regard and the finger of blame whenever things have gone wrong has always pointed to Iran and Syria as saboteurs of the peace process. They contend that by supporting such groups as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Lebanese Hezbollah, etc, these two regimes are not interested in promoting the peace process. The Arab regimes on the other hand strongly desire to end the crisis that has loomed over the region for years.

R: What is the likelihood that the accusations that the Islamic regime fuels the regional crises will lead to harsher decisions against it at the G8 summit?

PV: This issue can lead to decisions that would endanger Iran’s national interests. We must note that before challenging the decisions of world powers we must improve our international standing and not make the world confront us so we can improve the disastrous lot of the Iranian nation. To be a real regional power we must improve the conditions in the nation whose largest population chunk lives under the poverty line. Only then can we be in a position to be taken seriously on regional issues which would not harm our national interests.


Last Stand

By Seymour M. Hersh

09 July 2006
The New Yorker

On May 31st, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced what appeared to be a major change in U.S. foreign policy. The Bush Administration, she said, would be willing to join Russia, China, and its European allies in direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program. There was a condition, however: the negotiations would not begin until, as the President put it in a June 19th speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, “the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.” Iran, which has insisted on its right to enrich uranium, was being asked to concede the main point of the negotiations before they started. The question was whether the Administration expected the Iranians to agree, or was laying the diplomatic groundwork for future military action. In his speech, Bush also talked about “freedom for the Iranian people,” and he added, “Iran’s leaders have a clear choice.” There was an unspoken threat: the U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the President’s direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran.

Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President’s plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

A crucial issue in the military’s dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities; the war planners are not sure what to hit. “The target array in Iran is huge, but it’s amorphous,” a high-ranking general told me. “The question we face is, When does innocent infrastructure evolve into something nefarious?” The high-ranking general added that the military’s experience in Iraq, where intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, has affected its approach to Iran. “We built this big monster with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq,” he said.

“There is a war about the war going on inside the building,” a Pentagon consultant said. “If we go, we have to find something.”

In President Bush’s June speech, he accused Iran of pursuing a secret weapons program along with its civilian nuclear-research program (which it is allowed, with limits, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). The senior officers in the Pentagon do not dispute the President’s contention that Iran intends to eventually build a bomb, but they are frustrated by the intelligence gaps. A former senior intelligence official told me that people in the Pentagon were asking, “What’s the evidence? We’ve got a million tentacles out there, overt and covert, and these guys” – the Iranians – “have been working on this for eighteen years, and we have nothing? We’re coming up with jack shit.”

A senior military official told me, “Even if we knew where the Iranian enriched uranium was – and we don’t – we don’t know where world opinion would stand. The issue is whether it’s a clear and present danger. If you’re a military planner, you try to weigh options. What is the capability of the Iranian response, and the likelihood of a punitive response – like cutting off oil shipments? What would that cost us?” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides “really think they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary,” he said.

In 1986, Congress authorized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to act as the “principal military adviser” to the President. In this case, I was told, the current chairman, Marine General Peter Pace, has gone further in his advice to the White House by addressing the consequences of an attack on Iran. “Here’s the military telling the President what he can’t do politically” – raising concerns about rising oil prices, for example – the former senior intelligence official said. “The J.C.S. chairman going to the President with an economic argument – what’s going on here?” (General Pace and the White House declined to comment. The Defense Department responded to a detailed request for comment by saying that the Administration was “working diligently” on a diplomatic solution and that it could not comment on classified matters.)

A retired four-star general, who ran a major command, said, “The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don’t want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, ‘We stood up.’ ”

The military leadership is also raising tactical arguments against the proposal for bombing Iran, many of which are related to the consequences for Iraq. According to retired Army Major General William Nash, who was commanding general of the First Armored Division, served in Iraq and Bosnia, and worked for the United Nations in Kosovo, attacking Iran would heighten the risks to American and coalition forces inside Iraq. “What if one hundred thousand Iranian volunteers came across the border?” Nash asked. “If we bomb Iran, they cannot retaliate militarily by air – only on the ground or by sea, and only in Iraq or the Gulf. A military planner cannot discount that possibility, and he cannot make an ideological assumption that the Iranians wouldn’t do it. We’re not talking about victory or defeat – only about what damage Iran could do to our interests.” Nash, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “Their first possible response would be to send forces into Iraq. And, since the Iraqi Army has limited capacity, it means that the coalition forces would have to engage them.”

The Americans serving as advisers to the Iraqi police and military may be at special risk, Nash added, since an American bombing “would be seen not only as an attack on Shiites but as an attack on all Muslims. Throughout the Middle East, it would likely be seen as another example of American imperialism. It would probably cause the war to spread.”

In contrast, some conservatives are arguing that America’s position in Iraq would improve if Iran chose to retaliate there, according to a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders, because Iranian interference would divide the Shiites into pro- and anti-Iranian camps, and unify the Kurds and the Sunnis. The Iran hawks in the White House and the State Department, including Elliott Abrams and Michael Doran, both of whom are National Security Council advisers on the Middle East, also have an answer for those who believe that the bombing of Iran would put American soldiers in Iraq at risk, the consultant said. He described the counterargument this way: “Yes, there will be Americans under attack, but they are under attack now.”

Iran’s geography would also complicate an air war. The senior military official said that, when it came to air strikes, “this is not Iraq,” which is fairly flat, except in the northeast. “Much of Iran is akin to Afghanistan in terms of topography and flight mapping – a pretty tough target,” the military official said. Over rugged terrain, planes have to come in closer, and “Iran has a lot of mature air-defense systems and networks,” he said. “Global operations are always risky, and if we go down that road we have to be prepared to follow up with ground troops.”

The U.S. Navy has a separate set of concerns. Iran has more than seven hundred undeclared dock and port facilities along its Persian Gulf coast. The small ports, known as “invisible piers,” were constructed two decades ago by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to accommodate small private boats used for smuggling. (The Guards relied on smuggling to finance their activities and enrich themselves.) The ports, an Iran expert who advises the U.S. government told me, provide “the infrastructure to enable the Guards to go after American aircraft carriers with suicide water bombers” – small vessels loaded with high explosives. He said that the Iranians have conducted exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel linking the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and then on to the Indian Ocean. The strait is regularly traversed by oil tankers, in which a thousand small Iranian boats simulated attacks on American ships. “That would be the hardest problem we’d face in the water: a thousand small targets weaving in and out among our ships.”

America’s allies in the Gulf also believe that an attack on Iran would endanger them, and many American military planners agree. “Iran can do a lot of things – all asymmetrical,” a Pentagon adviser on counter-insurgency told me. “They have agents all over the Gulf, and the ability to strike at will.” In May, according to a well-informed oil-industry expert, the Emir of Qatar made a private visit to Tehran to discuss security in the Gulf after the Iraq war. He sought some words of non-aggression from the Iranian leadership. Instead, the Iranians suggested that Qatar, which is the site of the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, would be its first target in the event of an American attack. Qatar is a leading exporter of gas and currently operates several major offshore oil platforms, all of which would be extremely vulnerable. (Nasser bin Hamad M. al-Khalifa, Qatar’s ambassador to Washington, denied that any threats were issued during the Emir’s meetings in Tehran. He told me that it was “a very nice visit.”)

A retired American diplomat, who has experience in the Gulf, confirmed that the Qatari government is “very scared of what America will do” in Iran, and “scared to death” about what Iran would do in response. Iran’s message to the oil-producing Gulf states, the retired diplomat said, has been that it will respond, and “you are on the wrong side of history.”

In late April, the military leadership, headed by General Pace, achieved a major victory when the White House dropped its insistence that the plan for a bombing campaign include the possible use of a nuclear device to destroy Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. The huge complex includes large underground facilities built into seventy-five-foot-deep holes in the ground and designed to hold as many as fifty thousand centrifuges. “Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “And Pace stood up to them. Then the world came back: ‘O.K., the nuclear option is politically unacceptable.’ ” At the time, a number of retired officers, including two Army major generals who served in Iraq, Paul Eaton and Charles Swannack, Jr., had begun speaking out against the Administration’s handling of the Iraq war. This period is known to many in the Pentagon as “the April Revolution.”

“An event like this doesn’t get papered over very quickly,” the former official added. “The bad feelings over the nuclear option are still felt. The civilian hierarchy feels extraordinarily betrayed by the brass, and the brass feel they were tricked into it” – the nuclear planning – “by being asked to provide all options in the planning papers.”

Sam Gardiner, a military analyst who taught at the National War College before retiring from the Air Force as a colonel, said that Rumsfeld’s second-guessing and micromanagement were a fundamental problem. “Plans are more and more being directed and run by civilians from the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Gardiner said. “It causes a lot of tensions. I’m hearing that the military is increasingly upset about not being taken seriously by Rumsfeld and his staff.”

Gardiner went on, “The consequence is that, for Iran and other missions, Rumsfeld will be pushed more and more in the direction of special operations, where he has direct authority and does not have to put up with the objections of the Chiefs.” Since taking office in 2001, Rumsfeld has been engaged in a running dispute with many senior commanders over his plans to transform the military, and his belief that future wars will be fought, and won, with airpower and Special Forces. That combination worked, at first, in Afghanistan, but the growing stalemate there, and in Iraq, has created a rift, especially inside the Army. The senior military official said, “The policymakers are in love with Special Ops – the guys on camels.”

The discord over Iran can, in part, be ascribed to Rumsfeld’s testy relationship with the generals. They see him as high-handed and unwilling to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong in Iraq. A former Bush Administration official described a recent meeting between Rumsfeld and four-star generals and admirals at a military commanders’ conference, on a base outside Washington, that, he was told, went badly. The commanders later told General Pace that “they didn’t come here to be lectured by the Defense Secretary. They wanted to tell Rumsfeld what their concerns were.” A few of the officers attended a subsequent meeting between Pace and Rumsfeld, and were unhappy, the former official said, when “Pace did not repeat any of their complaints. There was disappointment about Pace.” The retired four-star general also described the commanders’ conference as “very fractious.” He added, “We’ve got twenty-five hundred dead, people running all over the world doing stupid things, and officers outside the Beltway asking, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”

Pace’s supporters say that he is in a difficult position, given Rumsfeld’s penchant for viewing generals who disagree with him as disloyal. “It’s a very narrow line between being responsive and effective and being outspoken and ineffective,” the former senior intelligence official said.

But Rumsfeld is not alone in the Administration where Iran is concerned; he is closely allied with Dick Cheney, and, the Pentagon consultant said, “the President generally defers to the Vice-President on all these issues,” such as dealing with the specifics of a bombing campaign if diplomacy fails. “He feels that Cheney has an informational advantage. Cheney is not a renegade. He represents the conventional wisdom in all of this. He appeals to the strategic-bombing lobby in the Air Force – who think that carpet bombing is the solution to all problems.”

Bombing may not work against Natanz, let alone against the rest of Iran’s nuclear program. The possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons gained support in the Administration because of the belief that it was the only way to insure the destruction of Natanz’s buried laboratories. When that option proved to be politically untenable (a nuclear warhead would, among other things, vent fatal radiation for miles), the Air Force came up with a new bombing plan, using advanced guidance systems to deliver a series of large bunker-busters – conventional bombs filled with high explosives – on the same target, in swift succession. The Air Force argued that the impact would generate sufficient concussive force to accomplish what a tactical nuclear warhead would achieve, but without provoking an outcry over what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki.

The new bombing concept has provoked controversy among Pentagon planners and outside experts. Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who has taught at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told me, “We always have a few new toys, new gimmicks, and rarely do these new tricks lead to a phenomenal breakthrough. The dilemma is that Natanz is a very large underground area, and even if the roof came down we won’t be able to get a good estimate of the bomb damage without people on the ground. We don’t even know where it goes underground, and we won’t have much confidence in assessing what we’ve actually done. Absent capturing an Iranian nuclear scientist and documents, it’s impossible to set back the program for sure.”

One complicating aspect of the multiple-hit tactic, the Pentagon consultant told me, is “the liquefaction problem” – the fact that the soil would lose its consistency owing to the enormous heat generated by the impact of the first bomb. “It will be like bombing water, with its currents and eddies. The bombs would likely be diverted.” Intelligence has also shown that for the past two years the Iranians have been shifting their most sensitive nuclear-related materials and production facilities, moving some into urban areas, in anticipation of a bombing raid.

“The Air Force is hawking it to the other services,” the former senior intelligence official said. “They’re all excited by it, but they’re being terribly criticized for it.” The main problem, he said, is that the other services do not believe the tactic will work. “The Navy says, ‘It’s not our plan.’ The Marines are against it – they know they’re going to be the guys on the ground if things go south.”

“It’s the bomber mentality,” the Pentagon consultant said. “The Air Force is saying, ‘We’ve got it covered, we can hit all the distributed targets.’ ” The Air Force arsenal includes a cluster bomb that can deploy scores of small bomblets with individual guidance systems to home in on specific targets. The weapons were deployed in Kosovo and during the early stages of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Air Force is claiming that the same techniques can be used with larger bombs, allowing them to be targeted from twenty-five thousand feet against a multitude of widely dispersed targets. “The Chiefs all know that ‘shock and awe’ is dead on arrival,” the Pentagon consultant said. “All except the Air Force.”

“Rumsfeld and Cheney are the pushers on this – they don’t want to repeat the mistake of doing too little,” the government consultant with ties to Pentagon civilians told me. “The lesson they took from Iraq is that there should have been more troops on the ground” – an impossibility in Iran, because of the overextension of American forces in Iraq – “so the air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force.”

Many of the Bush Administration’s supporters view the abrupt change in negotiating policy as a deft move that won public plaudits and obscured the fact that Washington had no other good options. “The United States has done what its international partners have asked it to do,” said Patrick Clawson, who is an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative think tank. “The ball is now in their court – for both the Iranians and the Europeans.” Bush’s goal, Clawson said, was to assuage his allies, as well as Russia and China, whose votes, or abstentions, in the United Nations would be needed if the talks broke down and the U.S. decided to seek Security Council sanctions or a U.N. resolution that allowed for the use of force against Iran.

“If Iran refuses to re-start negotiations, it will also be difficult for Russia and China to reject a U.N. call for International Atomic Energy Agency inspections,” Clawson said. “And the longer we go without accelerated I.A.E.A. access, the more important the issue of Iran’s hidden facilities will become.” The drawback to the new American position, Clawson added, was that “the Iranians might take Bush’s agreeing to join the talks as a sign that their hard line has worked.”

Clawson acknowledged that intelligence on Iran’s nuclear-weapons progress was limited. “There was a time when we had reasonable confidence in what we knew,” he said. “We could say, ‘There’s less time than we think,’ or, ‘It’s going more slowly.’ Take your choice. Lack of information is a problem, but we know they’ve made rapid progress with their centrifuges.” (The most recent American intelligence estimate is that Iran could build a warhead sometime between 2010 and 2015.)

Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council aide for the Bush Administration, told me, “The only reason Bush and Cheney relented about talking to Iran was because they were within weeks of a diplomatic meltdown in the United Nations. Russia and China were going to stiff us” – that is, prevent the passage of a U.N. resolution. Leverett, a project director at the New America Foundation, added that the White House’s proposal, despite offering trade and economic incentives for Iran, has not “resolved any of the fundamental contradictions of U.S. policy.” The precondition for the talks, he said – an open-ended halt to all Iranian enrichment activity – “amounts to the President wanting a guarantee that they’ll surrender before he talks to them. Iran cannot accept long-term constraints on its fuel-cycle activity as part of a settlement without a security guarantee” – for example, some form of mutual non-aggression pact with the United States.

Leverett told me that, without a change in U.S. policy, the balance of power in the negotiations will shift to Russia. “Russia sees Iran as a beachhead against American interests in the Middle East, and they’re playing a very sophisticated game,” he said. “Russia is quite comfortable with Iran having nuclear fuel cycles that would be monitored, and they’ll support the Iranian position” – in part, because it gives them the opportunity to sell billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear fuel and materials to Tehran. “They believe they can manage their long- and short-term interests with Iran, and still manage the security interests,” Leverett said. China, which, like Russia, has veto power on the Security Council, was motivated in part by its growing need for oil, he said. “They don’t want punitive measures, such as sanctions, on energy producers, and they don’t want to see the U.S. take a unilateral stance on a state that matters to them.” But, he said, “they’re happy to let Russia take the lead in this.” (China, a major purchaser of Iranian oil, is negotiating a multibillion-dollar deal with Iran for the purchase of liquefied natural gas over a period of twenty-five years.) As for the Bush Administration, he added, “unless there’s a shift, it’s only a question of when its policy falls apart.”

It’s not clear whether the Administration will be able to keep the Europeans in accord with American policy if the talks break down. Morton Abramowitz, a former head of State Department intelligence, who was one of the founders of the International Crisis Group, said, “The world is different than it was three years ago, and while the Europeans want good relations with us, they will not go to war with Iran unless they know that an exhaustive negotiating effort was made by Bush. There’s just too much involved, like the price of oil. There will be great pressure put on the Europeans, but I don’t think they’ll roll over and support a war.”

The Europeans, like the generals at the Pentagon, are concerned about the quality of intelligence. A senior European intelligence official said that while “there was every reason to assume” that the Iranians were working on a bomb, there wasn’t enough evidence to exclude the possibility that they were bluffing, and hadn’t moved beyond a civilian research program. The intelligence official was not optimistic about the current negotiations. “It’s a mess, and I don’t see any possibility, at the moment, of solving the problem,” he said. “The only thing to do is contain it. The question is, What is the redline? Is it when you master the nuclear fuel cycle? Or is it just about building a bomb?” Every country had a different criterion, he said. One worry he had was that, in addition to its security concerns, the Bush Administration was driven by its interest in “democratizing” the region. “The United States is on a mission,” he said.

A European diplomat told me that his government would be willing to discuss Iran’s security concerns – a dialogue he said Iran offered Washington three years ago. The diplomat added that “no one wants to be faced with the alternative if the negotiations don’t succeed: either accept the bomb or bomb them. That’s why our goal is to keep the pressure on, and see what Iran’s answer will be.”

A second European diplomat, speaking of the Iranians, said, “Their tactic is going to be to stall and appear reasonable – to say, ‘Yes, but . . .’ We know what’s going on, and the timeline we’re under. The Iranians have repeatedly been in violation of I.A.E.A. safeguards and have given us years of coverup and deception. The international community does not want them to have a bomb, and if we let them continue to enrich that’s throwing in the towel – giving up before we talk.” The diplomat went on, “It would be a mistake to predict an inevitable failure of our strategy. Iran is a regime that is primarily concerned with its own survival, and if its existence is threatened it would do whatever it needed to do – including backing down.”

The Iranian regime’s calculations about its survival also depend on internal political factors. The nuclear program is popular with the Iranian people, including those – the young and the secular – who are most hostile to the religious leadership. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, has effectively used the program to rally the nation behind him, and against Washington. Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics have said that they believe Bush’s goal is not to prevent them from building a bomb but to drive them out of office.

Several current and former officials I spoke to expressed doubt that President Bush would settle for a negotiated resolution of the nuclear crisis. A former high-level Pentagon civilian official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the government, said that Bush remains confident in his military decisions. The President and others in the Administration often invoke Winston Churchill, both privately and in public, as an example of a politician who, in his own time, was punished in the polls but was rewarded by history for rejecting appeasement. In one speech, Bush said, Churchill “seemed like a Texan to me. He wasn’t afraid of public-opinion polls…. He charged ahead, and the world is better for it.”

The Israelis have insisted for years that Iran has a clandestine program to build a bomb, and will do so as soon as it can. Israeli officials have emphasized that their “redline” is the moment Iran masters the nuclear fuel cycle, acquiring the technical ability to produce weapons-grade uranium. “Iran managed to surprise everyone in terms of the enrichment capability,” one diplomat familiar with the Israeli position told me, referring to Iran’s announcement, this spring, that it had successfully enriched uranium to the 3.6-per-cent level needed to fuel a nuclear-power reactor. The Israelis believe that Iran must be stopped as soon as possible, because, once it is able to enrich uranium for fuel, the next step – enriching it to the ninety-per-cent level needed for a nuclear bomb – is merely a mechanical process.

Israeli intelligence, however, has also failed to provide specific evidence about secret sites in Iran, according to current and former military and intelligence officials. In May, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Washington and, addressing a joint session of Congress, said that Iran “stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons” that would pose “an existential threat” to Israel. Olmert noted that Ahmadinejad had questioned the reality of the Holocaust, and he added, “It is not Israel’s threat alone. It is a threat to all those committed to stability in the Middle East and to the well-being of the world at large.” But at a secret intelligence exchange that took place at the Pentagon during the visit, the Pentagon consultant said, “what the Israelis provided fell way short” of what would be needed to publicly justify preventive action.

The issue of what to do, and when, seems far from resolved inside the Israeli government. Martin Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told me, “Israel would like to see diplomacy succeed, but they’re worried that in the meantime Iran will cross a threshold of nuclear know-how – and they’re worried about an American military attack not working. They assume they’ll be struck first in retaliation by Iran.” Indyk added, “At the end of the day, the United States can live with Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian nuclear bombs – but for Israel there’s no Mutual Assured Destruction. If they have to live with an Iranian bomb, there will be a great deal of anxiety in Israel, and a lot of tension between Israel and Iran, and between Israel and the U.S.”

Iran has not, so far, officially answered President Bush’s proposal. But its initial response has been dismissive. In a June 22nd interview with the Guardian, Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, rejected Washington’s demand that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment before talks could begin. “If they want to put this prerequisite, why are we negotiating at all?” Larijani said. “We should put aside the sanctions and give up all this talk about regime change.” He characterized the American offer as a “sermon,” and insisted that Iran was not building a bomb. “We don’t want the bomb,” he said. Ahmadinejad has said that Iran would make a formal counterproposal by August 22nd, but last week Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader, declared, on state radio, “Negotiation with the United States has no benefits for us.”

Despite the tough rhetoric, Iran would be reluctant to reject a dialogue with the United States, according to Giandomenico Picco, who, as a representative of the United Nations, helped to negotiate the ceasefire that ended the Iran-Iraq War, in 1988. “If you engage a superpower, you feel you are a superpower,” Picco told me. “And now the haggling in the Persian bazaar begins. We are negotiating over a carpet” – the suspected weapons program – “that we’re not sure exists, and that we don’t want to exist. And if at the end there never was a carpet it’ll be the negotiation of the century.”

If the talks do break down, and the Administration decides on military action, the generals will, of course, follow their orders; the American military remains loyal to the concept of civilian control. But some officers have been pushing for what they call the “middle way,” which the Pentagon consultant described as “a mix of options that require a number of Special Forces teams and air cover to protect them to send into Iran to grab the evidence so the world will know what Iran is doing.” He added that, unlike Rumsfeld, he and others who support this approach were under no illusion that it could bring about regime change. The goal, he said, was to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the I.A.E.A., said in a speech this spring that his agency believed there was still time for diplomacy to achieve that goal. “We should have learned some lessons from Iraq,” ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said. “We should have learned that we should be very careful about assessing our intelligence…. We should have learned that we should try to exhaust every possible diplomatic means to solve the problem before thinking of any other enforcement measures.”

He went on, “When you push a country into a corner, you are always giving the driver’s seat to the hard-liners…. If Iran were to move out of the nonproliferation regime altogether, if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon program, we clearly will have a much, much more serious problem.”


Not so nuts

Andrew Murray

April 10, 2006 The Guardian
“Regime change” in Tehran has been Bush administration policy ever since the “axis of evil” speech in 2002.Well-sourced reports insist that the US intends to attack Iran in the not-too-distant future, with the object of provoking regime change as well as destroying Iran’s nuclear programme. The use of nuclear weapons by the US has not been ruled out. Jack Straw says it’s “completely nuts”, but on past form that doesn’t mean much. There has been no such categorical denial from the business side of the Atlantic.

I would guess that the reports are well founded. “Regime change” in Tehran has been Bush administration policy ever since the “axis of evil” speech in 2002. It may be argued that the president is now too unpopular to risk an extension of his war – but the poll ratings may just fire up the neo-cons to get as much of their programme implemented in the next two years, while they still have the chance.

It is the view of all Iranians who I have had the chance to discuss the question with that any attack by the US will consolidate support for the regime rather than weaken it. The main Iranian forces Washington and Israel are working with – the son of the late Shah and the cult-like Mojahdeein-e-Khalq terror group – make even Iraq’s Ahmed Chalabi (no seats won in the December elections) look popular.

An attack would also most likely further complicate the position of the unwanted British occupying forces in southern Iraq where, as in Iran, most Muslims are Shia. And it would, of course, certainly lead to massive loss of life in Iran itself. Whatever most Iranians want, it is not “assistance” from those who strangled Iranian democracy in 1953 with the overthrow of Mossadeq, and subsequently kept the Shah and his torturers enthroned for a quarter century.

It is clear that Iran does not possess nuclear weapons, and could not develop them even if it wished to, for some years. It is just as clear that Israel to its west, Pakistan to its east, Russia to its north and the US sixth fleet to the south all have such weapons already. For Iran to seek them, if that is indeed what the regime is doing, would therefore scarcely seem surprising.

Never has the futility of the prevailing double standards over who can and cannot have nuclear weapons been more apparent. In the long term, the only way to prevent Iran and eventually other states seeking, ultimately successfully, to develop nuclear weapons, is to secure first regional and then worldwide nuclear disarmament. The British government appears poised to go in just the opposite direction, with the Trident replacement programme. Now that really is “nuts”.

Any attack on Iran must therefore be seen as part of the general US plan to reorder the Middle East to its specifications, which include ensuring that there is no military power in the region other than Israel and the US itself and that oil-producing states in particular must have compliant governments.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has done his bit to help this plan along with his brazen anti-semitism, including holocaust denial, which is both repugnant and moronic.

How should the anti-war movement approach the issue of a US attack against such a regime? Nameh Mardom, the newspaper of the Tudeh (Peoples) Party of Iran, recently interviewed me on this point. I cannot link to an English-language site with the text, so I reproduce a couple of the questions and answers below:

You and other leaders of the StWC recently issued a very important statement opposing the military threats by the US and its allies against Iran and at the same time expressing solidarity with the struggle of the Iranian people for democracy, human rights and peace. Do you think that another military adventurism in the region is imminent? And if so what is the role or duty of progressive forces?

There is clearly a danger of an attack against Iran. We do not anticipate a land invasion, as with Iraq. That is beyond the power of the US, particularly given the chaos in Iraq. However, a prolonged bombing campaign, allegedly aimed at the intention to produce “weapons of mass destruction” is a real danger. Such a move would broaden the conflict in the Middle East and suck new peoples and states into the horror of war. We believe there can be no justification for such a plan, which solely serves the strategic interests of the USA and Israel.

At the same time, the Iranian people have every claim on the solidarity and support of British progressives in their opposition to the prevailing regime in the Islamic Republic. It is important that we do not let this solidarity be hijacked by those who wish to stoke up a war psychosis against Iran. Such a war would, in the judgement of all Iranian democrats I speak to, do nothing to promote the cause of freedom and would probably result in a strengthening of the positions of the more reactionary elements in the regime.

Many campaigners against a US military adventurism against Iran have also been campaigning against the oppressive policies of the regime which has been responsible for flagrant violation of human and democratic and trade union rights in Iran. How can the international movement ensure that the campaign against the US policies does not degenerate into expressions of support for the Iranian regime?

I think very few people, in Britain at least, have any real sympathy for the Iranian regime’s internal policies, any more than the mass of anti-war opinion had any sympathy for the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. Our position is that changing the internal regime of any country is the exclusive affair of the people of that country themselves. That is the only lasting basis for democratic transformation.

I believe this distinction is broadly understood, and that support for the policies of the Iranian regime would, at most, be confined to small fringe elements. We can reinforce this point by raising our voices against authoritarian moves by the Iranian government, as in the recent case of the arrest of Tehran bus drivers, and not letting such issues be presented as the sole concern of the warmongers, like the exiled monarchists from your country.

In recent months Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s reactionary president, has made a number of statement indicating support for “eradication of Israel” and questioning the validity of Holocaust. What is your assessment of the impact of these statements on the public opinion in the West as regards their opposition to US rhetoric against Iran?

The statements you refer to are utterly wrong in principle. While we stand unequivocally for justice for the Palestinian people, it is not right to call for the eradication of Israel, while denial of the existence of the Holocaust is the mark of the most backward and ignorant sections of world opinion. This is undeniably anti-semitic.

These statements allow the US and British governments to portray the Iranian regime as a menace to peace, and moreover led by degenerates, and this could only help prepare public opinion for armed action against it. Ahmadinejad’s remarks do not serve the cause of peace, and they are an affront to human values.

In the StWC’s statement you clearly linked the campaign against the US policies with the support for the trade unionists in the Teheran Public Bus Company. What is your opinion how best the peace movement could also practically support the movement for democracy and human rights in Iran?

The anti-war movement’s focus must inevitably be on opposing the war danger. I believe British public opinion is broadly opposed to the prospect of an extension of the war in the Middle East by an attack on Iran. Mobilising that opinion is our priority. Many affiliates of StWC – trade unions, political groups etc – also have strong traditions of internationalist solidarity.

Those elements have a responsibility to continue to assist their Iranian brothers and sisters in their struggle for democracy. How we best do that is a matter for guidance from Iranian people’s organisations themselves.