When the Bush-Cheney administration was in power, Dick Cheney tried hard to find an excuse for military attacks on Iran. After all, according to Gen. Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO from 1997 to 2000, Cheney and other hawks had plans for attacking and destroying seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa over five years in order to transform them into U.S. client states, and he wanted to “accomplish” as much as possible before leaving office. Various options were considered. As reported by Seymour Hersh, in late 2007 the Bush-Cheney administration received congressional approval for its request for $400 million to launch major covert operations against Iran, and a presidential finding signed by Bush authorized a secret program for destabilizing Iran by supporting puppet groups purporting to represent the Iranian Arabs living in the oil province of Khuzestan, the Baluchi people, and other separatist “organizations.” Aside from terrorist operations that killed many innocent Iranians, the program failed. Other venues were also tried, ranging from fabrications about Iran’s alleged interference in Iraq to huge shows of force in the Persian Gulf and a campaign of lies and exaggerations.
Another option that was considered was provoking the Iranians to attack the U.S. forces, hence justifying counterattacks by the U.S. Given the long history of the attacks by the U.S. Navy on Iranian ships and offshore oil installations in the Persian Gulf, and the destruction by the U.S. Navy of the Iranian passenger jet in July 1988 that killed 290 people, creating an “incident” in the Persian Gulf to justify the attacks seemed only “natural.” Then, in January 2008 five Iranian patrol boats supposedly made aggressive moves toward three U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Bush called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and it appeared momentarily that Cheney’s wish had been realized. But less than a week later the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the threatening radio transmission that the press had initially reported coming from the boats. In fact, it had come from a prankster.
Hersh also revealed that in 2008 some administration officials met in Cheney’s office to discuss ways to provoke a war with Iran. As Hersh explained, “There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT [patrol] boats. Put Navy SEALs on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Strait of Hormuz, start a shoot-up …. It was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans.” But, the War Party learned a lesson: To gain public support for attacking Iran, create the “right” incident.
Four years later, the idea is surfacing again, with the War Party and the Israel lobby calling for an “Iran Pearl Harbor.” Although under Yukiya Amano, the politicized International Atomic Energy Agency has been highly critical of Iran, it still reports consistently that it has found no evidence that Iran has diverted its enriched uranium to a non-peaceful purpose and, in fact, Iran has recently diverted it to peaceful purposes — fabricating fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor that produces medical isotopes for 850,000 Iranian patients annually. Senior Obama administration officials have also emphasized over the past several months that Iran is not making nuclear weapons and has not even made the political decision to move forward toward building them. Over the past several years there have been several analyses arguing that the U.S. can live with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and that such an Iran will even be a stabilizing factor in the Middle East.
Thus, the War Party’s hope for “justification” for war with Iran based on its nuclear program has been quashed, at least for now. It has therefore revived the idea of creating the “right incident” for provoking a war with Iran and gaining the public’s support for it too.
One leading advocate of this has been Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the research arm of AIPAC. Although his recent suggestion for provoking a war with Iran (see below) attracted wide attention, he has been virulently anti-Iran for at least a decade, and he has never shied away from promoting attacks or provocative acts against Iran. In a conference on Iran’s nuclear program in November 2004 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, Clawson declared,
Look, if we could find a way in which we could introduce computer viruses which caused the complete shutdown of the Bushehr system before it became operational, that would be delightful.
If we could find ways in which these very complicated centrifuges, which are spinning at such high speeds, could develop stability problems and fly apart, and the cascade [of the centrifuges] could be destroyed, I think that would be delightful.
And, indeed, if we could find a way to create an industrial accident of the scale of the Three Mile Island which did not cause a single fatality, which would prevent Bushehr from becoming operational, I think that would also be very helpful.
If we could find ways to bring about industrial accidents, that offer good prospects of not endangering human life, but may unfortunately cause some collateral damage, then that’s a plan that we have to consider.
Note the outrageous claim that the Three Mile Island nuclear accident did not cause any fatality, a claim that, as I pointed out then, had already been totally discredited. A recent study indicated that an attack on four of Iran’s nuclear sites would kill up to 85,000 Iranians. But Clawson is oblivious to such facts.
Several months ago in a debate on al-Jazeera TV regarding the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, Clawson supported targeted assassination — a “polite” name for state-sponsored terrorism — which both Israel and the U.S. have been using, calling it “a valid instrument of war” and declaring,
If we were going to say that everyone that is involved in targeted assassination is responsible as a terrorist, then Mr. Obama would quickly be thrown in jail, because the United States has killed over 1000 people with its targeted assassination program with its drones, targeted assassinations that have included American citizens. So, the idea that targeted assassination is an instrument of war is something that the U.S. has well accepted. So, the idea that Israel might use targeted assassination as an instrument of war — we may not like it, we may disapprove of it, we may think that it is a bad idea for Israel to do that — but it is a valid instrument of war.
Clawson did not explain why, if his claim is true, the War Party constantly moans about Iran committing terrorism, calls for “holding Iran accountable,” and refers to Iran as the “leading sponsor of terror.” Terrorism is a valid instrument of war only for one side?
Then Avi Perry, a former Israeli intelligence officer, opined that a “Pearl Harbor-style Iranian attack” on an American warship in the Persian Gulf would provide the pretext for the U.S. to launch all-out warfare against Iran. He did not explain why Iran would want to stage such an attack, expecting a fierce counterattack by the U.S. Perry was implicitly suggesting staging such an attack on behalf of Iranians, the way Cheney wanted it.
Clawson got Perry’s message. In September in a WINEP policy forum luncheon on “How to Build U.S.-Israeli Coordination on Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” Clawson lamented, “I frankly think that crisis initiation [with Iran] is really tough,” and that, “It’s very hard for me to see how the United States — [the] president can get us to war with Iran.” After reciting a number of historical incidents that U.S. was able to use to justify going to war, such as the Pearl Harbor attack and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Clawson said, “So, if in fact the Iranians aren’t going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war [for them],” and, “Look people, Iranian submarines periodically go down. Then, one day one of them might not come up. Who would know why? We could do a variety of things [to provoke Iranians], if we wish to increase the pressure,” and, “We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians, we could get nastier at that.” In effect, Clawson, who should be forced to register as a lobbyist for Israel, is calling for fabricating a reason to attack Iran.
The War Party and its Israeli allies will do what they can to provoke a war with Iran over its nonexistent nuclear weapons program. Only public vigilance can prevent them from taking us to such an unjustified and criminal war.