Crying Wolf Over Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to convince the audience in both the United States and Europe that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a "wolf in sheep’s clothing" intent on beguiling the west with empty promises while proceeding full speed with a nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, few are interested in hearing an argument that has been repeated over and over again for more than twenty years in one form or another regarding the imminence of a "Mullah nuke." If there is a true predatory beast tale intrinsic to the oft repeated narrative, it perhaps should be the story of the boy who cried wolf.

All of which is not to suggest that Netanyahu’s friends in the United States have given up. Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk have welcomed the overture from Iran by calling for tightened sanctions to send the signal that Washington is really serious about using a stick before offering any carrots, a hardening of the same old punishment cycle that would hardly be an inducement for concessions by Tehran. They also demand that Iran give up any ability to enrich uranium, guaranteeing that negotiations will go nowhere. A number of Democratic Senators who are close to the Israel Lobby are also on board in opposing any easing of sanctions.

The same arguments are also repeated in a curious op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post on October 13th, "Iran wants the bomb – and sanctions relief," written by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz. Both are with the neocon Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) which is currently focusing heavily on Iran. Gerecht is a former CIA officer who has parlayed his three years trolling the Istanbul U.S. Consulate visa line for Iranians in the 1980s into a lucrative career as neocon central’s resident Iran basher. His first niche was at the American Enterprise Institute and he is now at FDD, which calls itself nonpartisan but includes among its Directors and advisory board former CIA Director James Woolsey, the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, former Senator Joe Lieberman, journalist Charles Krauthammer and neocon godfather Richard Perle. Gerecht is also a Senior Fellow at the Project for the New American Century, featuring Kristol as chairman and Robert Kagan and Randy Scheunemann as directors. Remember Randy? He was John McCain’s foreign policy adviser and a registered foreign agent for the Republic of Georgia when we learned that we were "All Georgians." He later advised Sarah Palin.

Dubowitz, FDD’s Executive Director, is regarded by Congress as an expert on how to deal with Iran, predictably including Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Foreign Affairs committee. He also claims to brief government "…counterterrorism officials on a range of national security and terrorism-related concerns." But Dubowitz’s resume suggests that he actually doesn’t appear to know much about Iran apart from what can be done to punish it economically, nor does he have the depth that comes from actually working for a law enforcement or intelligence agency. He is basically an academic, a familiar pattern for neoconservatives, who generally eschew the rough-and-tumble (and low salaries) of such government service until they can enter at a high level as a political appointee.

Dubowitz calls himself an expert on "sanctions" and is also described on the FDD website as a "former technology executive and venture capitalist." Dubowitz at various times has called for "crippling sanctions" and "economic warfare" directed against Iran and has urged the blacklisting of whole sectors of the Iranian economy to produce "a wholesale collapse." He has written that President Barack Obama "needs to unite the country in moving beyond sanctions and preparing for US military strikes against Iran’s nuclear weapons program." Dubowitz heads a staff of 32 at FDD’s Iran Energy Project which does nothing all day but figure out new ways to make the Iranian economy suffer, which might very well be a larger staff than the US government has to consider the same issue.

Like several other prominent neocons – David Frum and David Brooks come to mind – Dubowitz is from Canada. He has a green resident’s card permitting him to work in the US but was born in South Africa and raised in Canada, where he is a citizen and a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Dubowitz claims to have lived in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa in addition to North America but his Middle East experience appears to be related to his time at the Hebrew University in Israel, where he was a student. He also claims to speak three languages which one presumes to be English and French (de rigueur in Canada) as well as Hebrew. No Farsi, and no Arabic apparently. So that makes him yet another Canadian transplant who has strong ties to Israel and is instructing Americans on what they should do about the Middle East from the point of view of punishing countries that are less than friendly to Tel Aviv. Like some others who have gone before him, Dubowitz admits that he really would like to be offered a high level job in the US national security establishment.

Dubowitz and Gerecht assume that the reader agrees that Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that it is a somehow a threat to the rest of the Middle East. They make no effort to explain how Iran with its minuscule military budget and surrounded by enemies threatens the United States, possibly because it is an impossible case to make. Nor do they demonstrate why Washington has a responsibility to solve the Iranian "problem," so the backstory for America’s engagement in something akin to a Cold War with Iran is left largely to the reader’s predispositions.

The contention that Iran has a nuclear weapon program frames the op-ed’s analysis. Dubowitz and Gerecht base their claim on the fact that an exploratory nuclear program that sought to create the technical infrastructure that would produce a weapon did indeed exist in the 1980s. But from there they engage is a flight of fancy, asserting that "Everything Western intelligence services have tracked since then matches those early revelations." On the contrary, western spy agencies have discerned just the opposite, i.e. that Iran does not have a weapons program, unless Dubowitz and Gerecht are including obviously highly motivated Israeli government spokesmen in their compendium of intelligence services.

After explaining that all Iranians are liars Gerecht, presumably, then opines that Iran will never abandon its weapons program because "such compromise is tantamount to spiritual suicide" and he notes that Iran’s leaders, including Rouhani, are very religious, which leads to their "viewing terrorism as both statecraft and soulcraft." Since the "divine has no part in US statecraft" Americans apparently just cannot appreciate how the Iranian nuclear program is actually a religious compulsion.

Gerecht’s tourism through the Persian psyche having been satisfactorily completed, he and Dubowitz then opine that Iran will try to deceive the west into letting it have both relief from sanctions and a nuclear weapons program. How? It will suspend work on its Arak heavy water plant and also stop enriching uranium to 20% while it continues to manufacture more centrifuges "shrinking the time required to convert unprocessed uranium to bomb grade stock." So the Iran conundrum is no longer merely a red line on enriched uranium, it is also those confounded centrifuges and what might be done with them. The solution therefore is to take away all of the enriched uranium while also reducing the number of centrifuges. But even if Iran makes all of those concessions there is a kicker: the off limits military bases where "the regime probably hides its most sensitive nuclear weapons research." So Iran is not off the hook even if it surrenders on enrichment and accepts rigorous inspection because it probably has a secret program inside its secret program. The solution? "The administration and congress would be wise to hit Tehran with more sanctions immediately."

Americans favor negotiations with Iran and do not wish a new war. That is reflected in the online comments on the Gerecht-Dubowitz article, which were overwhelmingly critical of both the argument and the authors. And even a normally hostile media is conceding that Iran has in the first Geneva negotiating session put forward some proposals that are positive to end the face off over its nuclear program. But that will not stop the naysayers who continue to have most of the space on editorial pages and it now appears that the White House, nervous about what the Israel Lobby might do, is leaning more towards an approach put forward by Dubowitz and being pushed by others in the Israel Lobby, including WINEP’s Michael Singh, to unfreeze some Iranian bank assets rather that ease sanctions. It is a measure that makes it look as if Israel and its friends are being accommodating while the opposite is actually true. Iran will likely find the proposal unacceptable, which is, of course, the intention.

The ultimate irony in the Washington Post op-ed is that much of what it argues can be better applied to Israel than Iran, even the bit about Iranian religiosity which certainly finds its parallels in Israel (or in the United States in some circles). One of Dubowitz’s bios indicates that he is engaged in a "comprehensive strategy to end the Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, support for terrorism and human rights abuses." But targeting Iran for special treatment as a rogue nation seems a bit hard to explain beyond the bromides as it has not attacked a neighbor since the seventeenth century and is itself threatened nearly daily by Washington and Tel Aviv. And even the CIA and Mossad agree that it is not developing a nuclear weapon. Beyond that, Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which grants it the right to enrich uranium. Tehran permits United Nations inspections of its facilities, while Israel is not a signatory and has a secret program that has produced more than two hundred nuclear weapons.

Iran is more sinned against than sinner if one considers the terrorism that has been directed against it, to include the assassinations of its scientists. Israel meanwhile has within recent memory attacked every one of its neighbors while it engages in covert operations directed against Iran primarily but also in Lebanon and possibly in Syria. It also, like Iran, has an execrable human rights record, though it already has its own nukes and no longer has to "pursue" them. So if the policy advanced by Dubowitz and Gerecht is as high minded as it pretends to be, involving denying nukes, stopping terror, and opposing the denial of basic liberties, shouldn’t they be promoting a harsh sanctions regime for Israel? They would, of course, consider any such moves as unthinkable, but if we are to assume that they are sincere in their beliefs they are trapped by their own logic when arguing draconian measures against Iran.

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Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.