Wag The Dog, Again

Israeli media reports that visiting National Security Adviser General Jim Jones and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have told the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop complaining about Iran because the US is preparing to take action "in eight weeks" demonstrate that even when everything changes in Washington, nothing changes.  President Barack Obama has claimed that a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a high priority but the Israelis and their allies in congress and the media have been able to stonewall the issue.  Israel has made no concessions on its settlement policy, which is rightly seen as the single biggest obstacle to eventual creation of a Palestinian state, and has instead pushed ahead with new building and confiscations of Arab homes.  Obama has protested both Israeli actions but done nothing else, meaning that Israel has determined that the new US president’s policies are toothless, giving it a free hand to deal with the Arabs.  Vice President Joe Biden’s comments that Israel is free to attack Iran if it sees fit was a warning that worse might be coming.  If the Israeli reports are true, it would appear that the Obama Administration has now bought completely into the Israeli view of Iran and is indicating to Tel Aviv that it will fall into line to bring the Mullahs to their knees.  In short, Israel gets what it wants and Washington yet again surrenders.

President Obama’s ultimatum that Iran must start talks and quickly "or else" may be based on the belief that pressuring the government in Tehran will produce a positive result.  If that is the judgment, it is wrong.  Sanctions did not force Italy to change its policies in 1935, nor those of Japan five years later.  Saddam Hussein survived them in the 1990s, and they have most certainly not brought the Cuban government down after fifty years of trying.  The Iranian government will only respond by closing ranks against foreign pressure.  Quite possibly, the only result an enhanced sanctions regime backed by a military threat will produce is a war, which would be catastrophic both for the United States and for Iran.  Nor would it be particularly good for Israel in spite of what the current crackpot regime in Tel Aviv might think.

And the usual characters are lining up to play ball.  The US mainstream media is united in supporting without any examination the view that Iran is intending to develop a nuclear device and will likely soon have one.  It is clear that leading members of the Obama Administration, including Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believe the same thing.  And Congress is never far behind when it comes to supporting any nonsense coming out of Israel.  On July 30th the Senate passed a bill that prohibits companies that sell gasoline and other refined oil products to Iran from also receiving any Energy Department contracts to provide crude oil for the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is also drafting a bill to block all oil imports to Iran.  Yes, the same Joseph Lieberman who has never hesitated to put Israel first even as he wraps his rhetoric in the American flag.  A pusillanimous Democratic Congress failed to strip Lieberman of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee even after he ran for the Senate as an independent and campaigned actively for Republican John McCain.  Lieberman therefore remains a powerful senator instead of a political turncoat who should be rightly shunned by his former colleagues. 

Lieberman’s bill, which already has in draft 67 co-sponsors in the Senate, is a de facto declaration of war which could easily start World War III.  It would block all imports of refined petroleum products to Iran, which sits on sea of oil but has only limited refinery capacity.  Its economy would grind to a halt.  According to the Israeli media, other sanctions such as banning trade insurance are being considered, which would make it difficult for Iran to do any business internationally. Sanctions might also be extended laterally and placed on any company that trades with Iran. Iranian-flagged ships might also be refused docking permission in Western seaports and the country’s airplanes could be denied landing rights at European and American airports. 

Lost in the shuffle is any United States national interest.  Congress seems to be convinced that Iran threatens the United States and must be dealt with, a fiction no doubt generated by a barrage of "position papers" emanating from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  But the facts tell us otherwise.  Iran’s leadership may be an unpleasant crew and the currently unfolding show trials complete with possibly coerced confessions is a disgraceful spectacle, but it just might be that claims that the US and some western Europeans have been meddling in the country’s politics have more than a grain of truth to them.  Iranian paranoia vis-à-vis the rest of the world, and particularly the United States, is all too understandable.  And its alleged nuclear ambitions are far from a proven case.  In its quarterly reports on Iran’s monitored nuclear program, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency continues to assert that there is absolutely no evidence that Iran has a weapons program.  The most recent examination of the Iranian nuclear program was conducted by the highly respected US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR).  Its report, released last week, stated that there is  "…no evidence that Iran has yet made the decision to produce highly enriched uranium, and INR assesses that Iran is unlikely to make such a decision for at least as long as international pressure and scrutiny persist." It concluded that even if Iran makes the essentially political decision to construct a nuclear device it will not have enough fissile material to do so before 2013.  The INR assessment used current intelligence to update the CIA National Intelligence report of 2007 that concluded that there could not be a nuclear device until after 2010 even if an accelerated program of development were to be initiated.  Military analysts have also noted that Iran would be unable to deliver the weapon on target even if it were able to overcome the considerable technical obstacles to building the bomb itself. 

It is curious that in spite of the fact that there is a consensus that Iran is not yet seeking a nuclear weapon and has no capability to accumulate sufficient weapons grade uranium to do so for some time to come, US politicians and media accept without question the Israeli argument that Iran is hell bent on obtaining such a device and will do so soon.  Perhaps American politicians should stop listening to the Israelis and should start reading the reports being prepared at great expense by the United States intelligence community.  All of which leads to another way of looking at the issue and that is, of course, that it is all about Israel.  Iran is without doubt a major power in the Persian Gulf region even if it does not threaten the United States or Europe.  It potentially does threaten Israel even if the track record shows the Iran has not attacked anyone since the seventeenth century while Israel itself has been engaged in something like perpetual warfare with all its neighbors.  So the assumption must be that Israel and its very effective lobby are driving the push for war with Iran against the real interests of the United States.  But the real question has to be, "Why is Obama, who must know that the argument against Iran is essentially bogus, buying into it?"  Has he already surrendered to AIPAC?  If it is true that at the end of September the US government will begin to tighten the screws on Iran we Americans will all know the answers to those questions and we will quite likely be set on the path for yet another "preventive" war.

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.