Backtalk, September 9, 2008

September Surprise

“For months, I’ve been warning in this space that an American attack on Iran is imminent, and now I see that the Dutch have reason to agree with my assessment. Their intelligence service reportedly has pulled out of a covert operation inside Iran on the grounds that a U.S. strike is right around the corner – in ‘a matter of weeks,’ according to De Telegraaf, a Dutch newspaper.”

Dear Mr. Raimondo:

I am skeptical of this story. I think it may be Israeli or CIA disinformation intended to pressure and confuse the Iranians. Note the Jerusalem Post‘s highlighting of the story, while U.S. and European press outlets have ignored it. I doubt the capabilities of Dutch intelligence to operate in Iran. Moreover, even accounting for possible concerns about Iran’s nuclear energy program, I have a hard time believing the Dutch would be engaged in committing potential acts of war against Iran. Moreover, I think the Israeli preference for the U.S. doing the dirty work here remains, as the Israeli air capabilities are so much more limited than the U.S.’ (especially if the Iranians have had Russian help in upgrading their air defense capabilities); they do not want to put themselves in front of the potential blowback from such an attack. I also do not believe the Israelis have a green light from the U.S. to do this. Quite the contrary, according to the most recent news reports I have read. Also, given the recent events in Georgia, in the event of an Israeli attack, you could count on the formation of a Russian-Iranian alliance that would thwart any long-term benefit to Israeli strategic interests. The muted reaction of Iran so far to this startling report perhaps indicates Iranian intelligence also agrees with this assessment.

Despite the Israeli and Bush administration rhetoric on the issue, the Iranian nuclear energy program is a actually a nuclear power program (the Iranians really need the power given the rise in domestic oil consumption and their desire to maintain current levels of oil exports over the next decade). All the reliable intelligence and UN inspection information show this. And they have every right to do this under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. An attack, particularly by the Israelis, would completely transform the situation in way that would actually be counter to current Israeli and American strategic interests (as such interests are now perceived); and, more importantly, as noted in your column, it risks an explosion in the Middle East that could lead to World War III (or World War IV, in neoconese). An attack by the Israelis or the U.S. almost would certainly challenge the widely accepted Iranian view that nuclear weapons as well as weapons of mass destruction in general are against the teachings of Islam. It might lead to a withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It could lead to Chernobyl-style death and destruction, which might not be forgotten for a very long time. It certainly would spur other nations in the Middle East to develop deterrents. Egypt and Saudi Arabia could probably build the bomb with little difficulty if the will were there.

~ GM

Oh, dear! So the attack on Iran is a dead certain for next week yet again! As it has been for several years now! What reason is there to believe that the Dutch story is true? None! And if an attack were imminent, I hardly think that the U.S. would want it in the papers! Or that the Dutch intelligence service is so incompetent that its agents’ movements are public knowledge! As a matter of common sense, therefore, this story is most likely a plant. Part of the ongoing saber-rattling and, at this point, probably an attempt to refocus opinion on the Middle East in the wake of the Georgia debacle, which, as Mr. Raimondo points out, has turned attention toward Russia as the current “bogeyman.” As a matter of common sense, if ever the U.S. attacks Iran, it will be done in stealth, at a moment when nobody is expecting it.

Also as a matter of common sense, the moment to attack would be in late October, when it will impact the election. An earlier attack would give people time to think, realize that the whole thing has been counterproductive, weigh the implications, and start to have doubts, as has happened with the Georgia attack. Indeed, precisely because of Georgia, an attack on Iran will be all the more difficult to “sell” politically.

The other fly in the ointment is the report of Israel using Georgia bases to attack Iran. That is double nonsense, essentially because of international air law. Aircraft cannot just fly over countries without their permission! Not even civilian aircraft. Commercial civil aviation operates under international conventions providing for over-flights. Military aircraft require permission and failure to obtain it is an act of war against the country over-flown. The “main problem” for Israel is thus not the distance to be covered but the fact that it has no common border with Iran. That was the logic of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The next step was to have been a ground attack on Iran from both sides. Israel cannot attack Iran from Georgia without violating Azerbaijan’s airspace. I can’t see Azerbaijan allowing that, and I doubt if its government would survive if it did. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, and the population of northwest Iran is mainly Azeri. Also, how would the Israelis get their planes to Georgia in the first place? They would have to fly over, at very least, Turkey, and even that is the long way round! I doubt if the Turkish government would allow them to fly out, and it certainly would not allow them to fly back after the attack! Essentially, the only place from which Iran can be attacked by land-planes is the British base on Diego Garcia, and I doubt if the British would give permission for that either.

At a guess, I would say that the “Israel attacks Iran from Georgia” story is a plant designed to scupper Georgia’s bid for NATO membership. Clearly, if Georgia is planning to allow Israel to violate half a dozen rules of public international law from its territory, then Europe cannot be expected to give Georgia any sort of security guarantee! The story probably originates in Europe, possibly from Russia, possibly from one of the European members of NATO (the French, in particular, are fond of this sort of stunt!).

~ Kenny Michael

The more likely explanation is that the U.S. has been leaking stories of imminent attacks on Iran since at least February 2006, when Scott Ritter says he was leaked to by the usual “unnamed military official” about the certainty of war by June that year. If you were the U.S. military preparing an attack on Iran, would you leak to Scott Ritter or the NYT? Only if you wanted to see it on the front page.

Since then there have been numerous stories of an Iranian attack planted in Eastern European countries, Dubai, Pakistan, you name it. Now the Dutch – and you are still buying into it. Wake up.

The reality is the Iranians probably have supersonic (Mach 2.9) swerving anti-ship cruise missiles – either Russian 3M-54E or Indian BrahMos or Chinese C-80x – and the U.S. still hasn’t even got a suitable imitation target to practice firing its Aegis defensive system at. They have only just signed a contract to build such targets (“Threat Representative D”), and they won’t be ready until at least 2012.

In the meantime, the best the Aegis system has done is to hit one subsonic ballistic missile and one subsonic cruise missile simultaneously (according to Jane’s Navy International, April 30, 2007). So the U.S. fleet is wide open to retaliatory attack in the Persian Gulf. They might get lucky and intercept one ASCM, but not if the Iranians fire a whole volley of them at an aircraft carrier. And do you reckon it easier to mine the Straits of Hormuz, or to keep it clear of mines?

The Iranians would be mad to start anything against the U.S. fleet, and these saber-rattling leaked threats are simply designed to keep them on full alert for year after year, costing them money and nervous energy.

Move along, please. Nothing to interest you here.

~ Dave Kimble, Peak Oil Australia

Dear Mr. Raimondo,

I am a fan of your reports and agree with your strong stands on U.S./Israel relations and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. However, in my opinion the Dutch newspaper article, which states that the U.S. will attack Iran in weeks, has no credibility.

It has been widely reported in the Israeli press and publicly acknowledged by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the U.S. has told Israel that it is against any attack on Iran at the present time. Israel had requested that the U.S. supply it with tanker planes that would have been used for midair refueling in Israel’s planned attack, but the request was turned down.

Apparently, the view of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that at present an attack on Iran would not be in America’s best interests is now administration policy. It looks as if the neocon dream of bombing Iran before the end of the Bush term is now dead.

The present Israeli position was revealed by (leaked to) Ma’ariv reporter Ben Caspit and reported on the front page of that paper at the end of August. The Israelis will give the U.S. and the international community until 2010 to resolve the Iran nuclear question to its satisfaction. If it is not resolved by then, Israel claims it will act militarily and unilaterally.

The Dutch article states that the U.S. attack on Iran will be accomplished with unmanned aircraft only. Unmanned aircraft are not capable of inflicting the serious damage to the Iranian nuclear installations or military facilities that would be required in any American assault. This fact alone leads one to wonder about the reliability of the Dutch article.

I do not think that this unsourced information from a newspaper known for its sensationalism is credible given what is known about the American and Israeli positions. It will be up to the next president to decide if America will attack Iran or will support an Israeli bombing. This in itself is a rather disturbing reality.

~ Ira Glunts

Mystery in Moscow

Russia’s government recognized these two breakaway regions for the same reason that NATO attacked Serbia in 1999: feel-good politics. In postmodern democracies, the focus of policy is not strategic advantage or national security. It is all about making the folks back home feel good about themselves.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia allowed Russians to feel like heroic rescuers of the Ossetians. U.S. and other Western powers threaten retaliation, so their people can feel like the rescuers of the poor little Georgians. I believe this also explains Israel’s all-out air war on Lebanon after Hezbollah captured two IDF soldiers: Israelis needed to feel strong. Never mind that the war did nothing for Israel strategically.

If only the peoples of Russia, Israel, and the West had some real self-respect.

~ Tikhon Gilson

Nebojsa Malic replies:

Modern politics is all about perception management, indeed. However, I’m not sure if Putin and Medvedev need wars near or far to feel good about themselves; they seem pretty confident folk in their own right, and they enjoy overwhelming popular support – something that can’t be said for the leaders in Washington, or Tel Aviv, for that matter.

Don’t Worry About Dependence on Foreign Oil

Ivan wrote a very nice column about dependence on foreign oil but left out a key component: what happened after the U.S. helped Israel during the 1973 War? Didn’t the Arabs get angry and apply oil as a tool to hurt the U.S. economy?

~ Anthony LoBaido

Ivan Eland replies:

The Arab oil embargo was largely an illusion, as Sheik Yamani, the Saudi oil minister, later admitted. If OPEC sanctions any one country, the worldwide market for oil merely adjusts. At the time, the U.S. merely bought oil from other nations that hadn’t imposed an embargo. These nations’ regular customers were serviced by OPEC. The stagflation occurring in the 1970s in the United States had little to do with oil. Many economists think it was caused by poor government monetary and fiscal policies and the war in Vietnam.


All the best, Mr. Reese. Being a foreigner, whenever I hear someone express dislike of Americans, I point out the vast difference between current U.S. policymakers and real Americans, those who admire their country’s values and Constitution. Your columns have always been sterling examples of that!

~ Thip, Denmark

Dear Charley Reese,

You have been a voice of reason when reason was in short supply. I have always enjoyed your views and admired your power of reason, which has always been clear, plain and, well, very reasonable. (Thanks to for creating such an amazing Web site.)

I only wish that men like you were running U.S. foreign policy. There is always hope.

Thank you, and may your days be blessed with joy, good health, and happiness.

Thank God for Americans like you.

~ Ahmed Asgher, Bahrain

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