Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Iran Attack That Will Never Happen:
Perennial Threats, Permanent Bluff

It's been rough month for Iran hawks.

After the Justice Department's recent sensationalized announcement of an outlandish Iranian plot to enlist a bumbling former used-car salesman in Texas to hire a notorious Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C., seasoned Iran watchers alongside major news outlets viewed the allegations with suspicion and openly doubted the veracity of such claims due to the plot's Clouseauesque implausibility.

When no national outrage followed the ridiculous assassination plot story, pundits and politicians for a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic quickly turned their attention to hyping a new report on the Iranian nuclear program issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In advance of the report's release, The Washington Post's neoconservative, Likudnik blogger Jennifer Rubin quoted war-booster Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies as telling her that "[Iranian head of state] Ali Khamenei appears to have decided that a nuclear bomb is a guarantor of regime survival and seems in no mood to compromise," adding that the new IAEA report "suggests that Iran is now on the brink of nuclear capability." Rubin herself wrote that the United States is now "on the verge of a national-security calamity. Soon, it seems, we’ll be presented with a choice: Accept a nuclear-armed Iran or take military action."

Once the report was leaked to the public by a well-connected Washington think tank it became clear that IAEA had no new information with which to implicate an active Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Julian Borger of The Guardian wrote,

There is something a little phoney about all the sound and fury. There is nothing in the report that was not previously known by the major powers. The West and Israel supplied most of the original tip-offs for the annex on weapons development, while Russia was briefed and no doubt knew one of its own scientists had been lecturing the Iranians on how to make explosive implosion devices (ostensibly for making tiny diamonds).
Former CIA officer and Georgetown professor Paul Pillar called the report a "yawner." In an article, published on November 9 in The Christian Science Monitor, Scott Peterson explains that "much of the information is years old, inconclusive – and perhaps not entirely real," and quotes American nuclear engineer and former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley as saying, "It's very thin, I thought there would be a lot more there. It's certainly old news; it's really quite stunning how little new information is in there." Kelley describes the IAEA report as a "real mish-mash" that includes some "amateurish analysis," concluding that the agency's efforts to "misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome...That is unprofessional."

Peterson also notes comments by Shannon Kile, head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) who says, "there is no evidence [the Iranians] have a dedicated [nuclear weapons] program under way. It's not like they are driving toward nuclear weapons; it's like they're meandering toward capability."

But that hasn't stopped the Bomb Iran crowd from foaming at the mouth. Simon Henderson of the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) believes "the IAEA report should serve to shift the public debate from whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, to how to stop it." Former Israeli army corporal and Iraq invasion booster Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg View, claimed the IAEA offered "further proof that the Iranian regime is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons."

Analysts for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments claim, "Iran might have both the technology and material to build a nuclear bomb in a matter of months" and suggest "the United States faces the difficult decision of using military force soon to prevent Iran from going nuclear, or living with a nuclear Iran and the regional fallout." Their recommendation: "Obama should take out Iran's nuclear program...before it's too late."

Predictably, former and current Senators of both parties, most House Representatives (past and present) along with most GOP presidential candidates, have recently threatened to begin a war with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In an opinion piece published today in The Wall Street Journal, Mitt Romney('s war-crazy cabal known as his "foreign policy team") writes, "Iran is making rapid headway toward its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons," and threatens Iran with "a very real and very credible military option" if he becomes president, promising to "restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously" and "increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region."

The Wall Street Journal also published an editorial that unequivocally called for war in one of the most despicable displays of propaganda and lies of all time. After claiming, erroneously, that the new IAEA report "lays to rest the fantasies that an Iranian bomb is many years off, or that the intelligence is riddled with holes and doubts, or that the regime's intentions can't be guessed by their activities," and declared that "[t]he serious choice now before the Administration is between military strikes and more of the same. As the IAEA report makes painfully clear, more of the same means a nuclear Iran, possibly within a year." The editors determine, "No U.S. President could undertake a strike on Iran except as a last resort, and Mr. Obama can fairly say that he has given every resort short of war an honest try."

Editorials in both the The New York Times ("The Truth About Iran") and The Washington Post ("Running out of time") endorsed the IAEA's insinuations without the slightest hint of skepticism or scrutiny.

The Times called the report "chillingly comprehensive," curiously praised its "its meticulous sourcing" (one hundred percent of which is anonymous and unvetted), and called upon the UN Security Council to "to quickly impose a new round of even tougher sanctions on Iran." Clearly having learned a thing or two from its shameful reporting in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Times' editors commendably note that "a military attack would be a disaster — and the current saber-rattling from Israel should make everyone nervous."

The Post, drawing conclusions that are actually rejected in the report itself, stated that "Iran's nuclear program has an explicit military dimension, aimed at producing a warhead that can be fitted onto one of the country's medium-range missiles." The so-called evidence, Post editors wrote, "ought to end serious debate about whether Tehran's program is for peaceful purposes," and spark serious contemplation about "what must be done to stop the program." While not overtly calling for military action (which they write "is not now justified" and "would only slow — not eliminate — Iran’s work on a bomb, while risking a conflagration in the Middle East"), the editorial warns that "the danger is growing, not diminishing," suggesting Iran is "at least a year or more away from completing" a bomb.

Tragically, even Ha'aretz's most rational and articulate commentator Gideon Levy believes the hype, lamenting in today's column, "Iran will apparently have an atom bomb, and that is very bad news."

The doomsday hysteria and call for military action that anticipated and followed the latest IAEA report is nothing new. In fact, we've been hearing these same dire warnings and aggressive threats relentlessly for nearly thirty years.

But even with all this bluster and alarmism, Iran is no closer today to being attacked by the United States or Israel than it was yesterday, last week, last year, or ten years ago. Quite simply, a military strike on Iran is not going to happen.

While pundits and politicians looking to score points push for escalation, decision makers in Tel Aviv and Washington appear much more cautious.

Recent comments by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Israel Radio, in response to the increasing bellicosity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, downplayed reports of a pending Israeli strike, calling such speculation "outlandish...baseless and divorced from reality." Back in May, the media went into a frustrated frenzy when former Mossad chief Meir Dagan referred to the possibility a future Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities as "the stupidest thing I have ever heard."

Earlier this week, another ex-Mossad head Ephraim Halevy said that Iran is "far from posing an existential threat to Israel." Recent reports note numerous Knesset ministers - some of whom, like Moshe Yaalon, have close relations with Netanyahu - are opposed to a strike, along with giants of Israel's intelligence and military apparatus including IDF chief Benny Gantz, Mossad head Tamir Pardo, chief of military intelligence Aviv Kochavi and Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen.

Even more striking, however, is what Barak said later in the same radio interview about the potential consequences of such an attack, which recent reports have speculated would result in massive casualties. According to Reuters, Barak explained, "There is no way to prevent some damage. It will not be pleasant. There is no scenario for 50,000 dead, or 5,000 killed -- and if everyone stays in their homes, maybe not even 500 dead." This is one of the only times anyone, especially someone of Barak's political standing, has mentioned the true costs of war - human lives - though he makes clear he refers only to Israeli lives, not supposedly expendable Iranian ones. His comments speak more to what he sees as acceptable strategic casualties than any humanitarianism.

Still, the U.S. provided Israel with a shipment of previously-denied bunker-buster bombs in 2009, shortly after Barack Obama's inauguration and is planning on heavily arming its quisling puppet states in the Persian Gulf. Israel has recently conducted a series of military exercises and aerial drills in Europe and test-fired long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, of which Israel has at least 200. Such Israeli and American chest-thumping has been ongoing for years in an effort to intimidate Iran with a "credible military threat" that will never materialize.

As for the Obama administration’s response to the report, The National Journal quoted a senior administration official as saying, "The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program nor does it [demonstrate] how advanced the programs really are." Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that "we need time to study it" before determining the next course of action.

Such a response is unsurprising. The U.S. military and intelligence community is well aware that Iran isn't Iraq or Afghanistan - it can actually defend itself and project retaliatory power well beyond its borders. In April 2010, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess told the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, "Iran's military strategy is designed to defend against external threats, particularly from the United States and Israel. Its principles of military strategy include deterrence, asymmetrical retaliation, and attrition warfare."

The intelligence report delivered to Congress that day in conjunction with Burgess' testimony also revealed the assessment that Iran maintains a "defensive military doctrine, which is designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities," and followed that "Iranian military training and public statements echo this defensive doctrine of delay and attrition." This identical position was reaffirmed by Burgess' testimony in March 2011, during which he explained that, if attacked, "Iran could attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz temporarily with its navy, threaten the United States and its allies in the region with missiles, and employ terrorist [sic] surrogates worldwide. However, we assess Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack."

An attack on Iran would rapidly usher in the end of Israeli hegemony in the region and global American dominance. Clearly, neither the U.S. nor Israel will risk their hegemony in the region for a fight they can lose over allegations they know aren't true. They already did that once. And it didn't go well. An unprovoked, illegal assault on Iran would be incalculably worse.

Also, considering Russia and China no longer seem interested in "tougher sanctions" which they see as helping lay the groundwork for promoting violent regime change in Iran, the chance of any attack on Iran seems ever more far-fetched, regardless of what those pushing for military action might say.

So relax, everyone, no one's going to attack Iran.


UPDATE: Today, Ha'aretz reports:
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that military action against Iran's contentious nuclear program could have unintended consequences, and ought to be a 'last resort'.

Panetta said he agreed with earlier assessments that a strike would only set Iran's nuclear program back by three years at most, adding that military action could fail to deter Iran and also have repercussions for other countries in the region and for U.S. forces based in the area.


Reasoned Debater said...

Thanks for the article Nima. It's nice to see some reasonable analysis on Iran's alleged nuclear program. How come you aren't on CNN yet?

Frances said...

Q: "How come you aren't on CNN yet?"

A: "reasonable analysis on Iran's alleged nuclear program"

That's why. CNN only seems to like professional liars and dissemblers.