Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trick or Threat:
The US and Israel's Visions of Lebensraum

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
- UN Charter (Article 2.4)

Yes, you read that right. Even the threat of force is condemned by the United Nations and is inconsistent with the most basic tenets of international law. But do the United States and Israel care about mere trifles like laws, treaties, and charters? Of course not.

In the most recent act of blatant war-baiting, the New York Times reported Friday that "Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities." The maneuvers, conducted over the Mediterranean Sea and within Greece's airspace in early June, were carried out by more than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighter jets, as well as helicopters and refueling tankers. American officials confirmed that the aircraft "flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz" and that the exercise "appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program."

Although Israeli officials refused to comment on these alarming military maneuvers, an unidentified "senior Pentagon official who has been briefed on the exercise" has stated that the exercise serves multiple purposes for Israel, including the most obvious goal of practicing aggressive and illegal aerial assault tactics, refueling, and other assorted contingencies of a potential strike on Iran's perfectly legal nuclear, military, and administrative sites. Another purpose, the Pentagon insider revealed, was "to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter," concluding, "They rehearse it, rehearse it and rehearse it, so if they actually have to do it, they’re ready. They’re not taking any options off the table."

This preparation and threat of force is no small deal. A few weeks ago, Israeli deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz let this choice warning slip in an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest daily newspaper:

"If Iran continues its program to develop nuclear weapons, we will attack it...The window of opportunity has closed. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear program."
This "unavoidable" action, as stated by a former defense minister and current Israeli Cabinet member, is no idle threat. The London Times reported on Saturday, once the story of this practice mission broke, that "an Israeli political official familiar with the drill, held early this month, said that the Iranians should 'read the writing on the wall...This was a dress rehearsal, and the Iranians should read the script before they continue with their programme for nuclear weapons. If diplomacy does not yield results, Israel will take military steps to halt Tehran’s production of bomb-grade uranium.'"

Additionally, any military threat from Israel should be taken very seriously, considering the state's ideological obsession with aggressive confrontation from before its violent conception sixty years ago. Not only does Israel engage in constant acts of aggression, willful murder, collective punishment, extra-judicial killings, assassinations, and wrongful imprisonment of an occupied native population, but over the past three decades, Israel has launched two unilateral, pre-emptive, and illegal attacks on "suspected" nuclear sites in sovereign Middle East countries, the first at Osirak in Iraq in 1981 and more recently last September in Syria. While the US purportedly protested the 1981 strike, it gave tacit (or perhaps even thunderous) approval to the Syria mission - an act of aggression that demonstrates the Israeli contempt for international law and the territorial integrity of foreign nations. Whereas the US has claimed that the Syrian site bombed by Israeli planes was a North Korean-built reactor, there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim and the purpose of the act is widely seen as an Israeli warning message to Iran. In addition, while Israel is the only nuclear power in the entire Middle East, with stockpiles of hundreds of nuclear weapons, it has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Meanwhile, Iran, Syria, and Iraq (along with 186 other countries) have all been signatories for nearly forty years.

Two weeks ago, Counterpunch contributor Jeremy R. Hammond described a CIA intelligence assessment of the Israeli attack within Syrian borders that said it "could be a watershed event in the Middle East." The report continues to state that
"Rather than drawing [Arab leaders] into a negotiating process, Israel's demonstrated process will only speed the arms race. Tel Aviv has made the point that it will not allow an Arab state to develop a nuclear weapons capability. In the absence of US restraint on Israel, Arab leaders will intensify their search for alternative ways to boost their security and protect their interests...Arab anger will be directed at the United States for being responsible for Israel's ascendancy.... Arab leaders will claim even more forcefully than before that Israeli aggression and frustrated Palestinian aspirations are the central issues causing instability and that the United States holds the key to both."
In a televised interview with Al-Arabiya on Saturday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamad ElBaradei stated clearly that "I don’t believe that what I see in Iran today is a current, grave and urgent danger," adding that he would resign from his position as IAEA Director General "if a military strike is carried out against Iran at this time." ElBaradei continued, "A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything possible. It would turn the region into a fireball."

While the United States continues the bogus claim that it is committed to diplomacy regarding Iran's nuclear program (even floating rumors of opening a new "diplomatic outpost" in the Islamic Republic amidst fear-mongering claims about Iran obtaining ICBMs) this recent act of military muscle-flexing by Israel certainly undercuts this notion. An unprovoked attack of a sovereign nation is, as Dennis Loo reminds us, "the gravest war crime of all." As Robert H. Jackson, chief US prosecutor during the Trial of Major War Criminals in Nuremberg, stated in his Judgment of the International Military Tribunal in 1946,
"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Israel, of all places, should (and does) know better than to threaten Iran with aggressive action considering how often it invokes memories of World War II and the heinous crimes of the Nazis against humanity to deflect all criticism of Israel's own legal, humanitarian, and military transgressions. And yet, no lessons are learned when the world's only superpower is there to back you up unconditionally; a willing and vital partner to the coming crime.

The New York Times article notes Iranian nerves, fears, and recent attempts to "beef up its air defenses in recent weeks," despite the fact that Iranian government spokesman Dr. Gholam-Hossein Elham dismissed these worries and Western rhetoric this weekend, stating, "Such audacity to embark on an assault against the... territorial integrity of our country is impossible." Similarly, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, described the Israeli aerial exercise as an act of futile “psychological warfare." He continued, “They do not have the capacity to threaten the Islamic Republic of Iran. They have a number of domestic crises and they want to extrapolate it to cover others. Sometimes they come up with these empty slogans,” adding any Israeli attack on Iran would be met with a “devastating” response. This sentiment was echoed by Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander-in-chief of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, who was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying that if Israel "makes a strategic mistake [by attacking Iran], the Revolutionary Guards are fully prepared to give a severe answer." Previously, in response to earlier Israeli threats towards Iran over the nuclear program, Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najja has said, "Our armed forces are at the height of their readiness and if anyone should want to undertake such a foolish job the response would be very painful." In his recent Counterpunch piece, Jeremy R. Hammond, noting Iran's justifiable and eloquent reaction to the constant barrage of Israeli threats culminating with Mofaz's aggressive comments, quoted a recent official Iranian statement:
"Such a dangerous threat against a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations constitutes a manifest violation of international law and contravenes the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
The Times article describes a number of "challenges" that Israel would face as the result of such an attack, such as not being able to destroy all of Iran's nuclear facilities, infrastructure, or capabilities. Because many of Iran's supposed nuclear sites are concrete-enforced bunkers installed underground in long tunnels, "precise targeting" by Israeli bombers may be "difficult." The article goes on, "There is also concern that not all of the facilities have been detected. To inflict maximum damage, multiple attacks might be necessary, which many analysts say is beyond Israel’s ability at this time." Oh poor Israel! All they want to do is protect their little apartheid state from the imaginary nuclear missiles of sinister Iran - a country that hasn't threatened, invaded, or attacked another country in hundreds of years; something that Israel enjoys doing on a regular basis - but can't because their capabilities are lacking, despite being one of the strongest military forces on planet Earth.

The fact that no mention is made of the complete illegality of a possible Israeli strike on Iran is stunning. The article proliferates the accusations that Iran has a clandestine nuclear weapons program (an allegation discredited by 16 top US intelligence agencies in the recent NIE report) and that the IAEA is seriously concerned with Iran's suspected nuclear work and has demanded "substantial explanations" (a flagrant misreading and misrepresentation of a recent IAEA report that is masterfully analyzed by Cyrus Safdari of Iran Affairs). No effort is made to identify the complete legality, international supervision and approval, and monitored transparency of the Iranian nuclear energy program, nor are any moral, ethical, or humanitarian implications of dropping bombs on a country of 70 million people addressed by the most famous "newspaper of record." I suppose the right of all Iranians to remain alive within the boundaries of their own nation isn't determined to be news that's "fit to print."

But what is perhaps most striking about the article that reveals this recent Israeli foray is that it was co-authored by the infamous, Cheney-mouthpiece Michael Gordon (of pre-Iraq War WMD lies/Judith Miller co-conspirator fame) and uses, as veteran journalist Helena Cobban observed yesterday on Democracy Now!, information offered by "unnamed Pentagon sources and presenting them unexamined as the truth on the front page of the New York Times." Cobban elaborates further:
"Clearly, the Pentagon wanted this, or these people in the Pentagon wanted this news to get out...What is going on here? It’s not exactly what it seems to be. I wish obviously that Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt, his co-byline writer there, had asked some of the more interesting questions. For example, these exercises were held at the end of May and the beginning of June; why didn’t we learn about them then? Why was it leaked now? That’s one good question. Another good question is, what is the involvement actually of some portions of the US military in all this? Because the exercises took place in a portion of the East Mediterranean that is certainly NATO air space. So, you can’t say that nobody in the US military knew about this. There has to have been some degree of complicity.

Then, if they are indeed preparing—Israel is really preparing for an attack on Iran—and this is where it gets extremely scary—we, as Americans, need to understand that that has major and very, very catastrophic consequences for us, because there is no way that any kind of an Israeli bombing raid against Iran could reach the targets that they seek there without going through US-controlled airspace either in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, NATO air space in Turkey or whatever. So, the US would be complicit in that attack, would be seen as that, and would therefore be subject to reprisals, because, you know, launching a military attack on another country is an act of war. Maybe we’ve forgotten that. I guess, no, we haven’t forgotten that, because that’s what we did in Iraq in 2003.
It's obvious that certain of the most hawkish neo-cons (wait, isn't that all of them?) look longingly back to the invasion of Iraq and are now intent on repeating the disastrous war crime next door in Iran. A couple days ago, on Fox News Sunday, William Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and notorious neo-conservative, told smarmy host Chris Wallace that President [sic] Bush is more likely to attack Iran if he believes Barack Obama will win the general election in November. ThinkProgress reports that "the claim that Obama’s potential election could force Bush’s hand also isn’t new. Earlier this month, far-right pseudo scholar Daniel Pipes told National Review Online that 'President Bush will do something' if the Democratic nominee won. 'Should it be Mr. McCain that wins, he’ll punt,' said Pipes."

And then there's this: Just today, the Daily Telegraph (UK) reports that "John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, has predicted that Israel could attack Iran after the November presidential election but before George W Bush’s successor is sworn in," and indicated that "the Arab world would be 'pleased' by Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities," claiming that "[the reaction] will be positive privately. I think there’ll be public denunciations but no action." Bolton, who does not believe the Bush administration will launch an attack itself (though veteran intelligence experts disagree), explained why he thinks the time between November 4th and January 20th is the "optimal window" for an Israeli strike thusly,
“The Israelis have one eye on the calendar because of the pace at which the Iranians are proceeding both to develop their nuclear weapons capability and to do things like increase their defences by buying new Russian anti-aircraft systems and further harden the nuclear installations.

“They’re also obviously looking at the American election calendar. My judgement is they would not want to do anything before our election because there’s no telling what impact it could have on the election.”
The Telegraph piece concludes with another notable Bolton quote that sounds like it could be the gentle coda of a Rumsfeldian lullaby:
“The key point would be for the Israelis to break Iran’s control over the nuclear fuel cycle and that could be accomplished for example by destroying the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan or the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

"That doesn’t end the problem but it buys time during which a more permanent solution might be found…. How long? That would be hard to say. Depends on the extent of the destruction.”
What a sweetheart.

On Monday, the nations of the European Union approved a new set of sanctions against Iran that "specifically target its financial institutions." The measures, according to the Associated Press, were adopted without debate and establish an asset freeze of Bank Melli (Iran's largest bank), prevent the European operations of the bank in London, Hamburg and Paris, and include "visa bans on senior officials like the Revolutionary Guards' chief Jafari, Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar and Gholamreza Aghazadeh, Iran's top atomic official." And there may even be more restrictions to come considering that "the 27-nation bloc is also studying sanctions against Iran's oil and gas sector — but such a step would probably take several months to implement, diplomats say."

While the US and EU are lauding their own "carrot-and-stick" approach to diplomacy, supposedly offering "technological incentives" in exchange for Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini condemned the EU sanctions, stating, "that the illegal, double-standard and contradictory approach during the time the packages of proposals are being studied is meaningless and is strongly denounced." IRNA reports
"Referring to hostile political approach against the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation, [Hosseini] said, 'Adopting the stick and carrot policy towards the legal rights and national will of the great nation of Iran is futile and will have no effect on materialization of the indispensable rights of the nation.'

Hosseini said that 'this kind of behavior will make the Iranian nation and government more determined in obtaining their rights.' He added that such moves will waste European opportunities and would not lead to an appropriate atmosphere for diplomacy to go ahead.
European officials may have another reason for approving this new round of sanctions; a justification that goes a bit beyond agreeing whole-heartedly with the US and Israeli allegations against Iran. As reported by Jeremy R. Hammond, Julianne Smith of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained the EU's recent decision to employ stringent sanctions that go beyond the already existing UNSC sanctions by saying, "I think this was a European attempt to show the Bush administration that Europe takes the threat seriously and to try to continue to prevent a situation where Israel or the United States might turn to the military instrument."

What still seems to keep eluding American and European officials, however, is the inconvenient truth of the Iranian nuclear program: it's all perfectly legal. By imposing strict economic and financial sanctions on Iran, the US and EU are actually denying the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation. This is not a controversial concept, it is a simple fact, confirmed under the auspices of the NPT and by the IAEA's report that it has found "no indication" that Iran now has or ever did have a nuclear weapons program, an ElBaradei refrain for five years now. Jeremy R. Hammond reports that, in May, "the IAEA noted that 'The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.' The IAEA's previous report had noted significant progress in verifying the peaceful nature of Iran's program and concluded that several areas where there had been concern we no longer outstanding."

(For more information on Iran's legal right to nuclear energy production, please read nuclear physicist and energy expert Gordon Prather's amazing April 12, April 19, May 10, May 17, and May 24 articles on AntiWar - the May articles are especially impressive.)

So, if Israel is going to take care of military strikes on Iran and the EU is adopting unwarranted and excessive economic sanctions, what is the US supposed to do? Sit back and wait? Stop lying about Iranian intentions? Scale back the bellicose rhetoric? Not do something absurd, uncalled for, and offensive? Pul-eeeeeze.

Not to be outdone by Israel or the European Union, the United States House of Representatives, in an act of staggering cowardice (though, is anything really surprising at this point?), aggressive arrogance and imperial ignorance, is poised to quickly pass (possibly even without a vote) a new non-binding resolution to demand that President [sic] Bush impose "stringent inspection requirements" on all trade with Iran. This legislation, H.Con.Res.362, reported on by Truthout's Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner - and pretty much no one else, "has gained bipartisan support rapidly, with more co-sponsors signing on by the day" and is "paralleled by a similar Senate bill."

The resolution is tantamount to a declaration of war as it is filled with purposely vague language that can be seen as approving a US military blockade of Iran and is baffling in its illegal implications. Before stating some of the contents of the bill, let me reiterate where this all comes from: The House of Representatives of the United States Congress. This truly sets the stage for countless acts of aggression supported explicitly by the Democratic Party-controlled legislative branch of the government. I suppose this is part of the "tough diplomacy" Obama was talking about in his fawning speech to AIPAC three weeks ago. (Apparently, this resolution was the top lobbying priority of the 7,000 attendees of the AIPAC conference in Washington DC. AIPAC lobbyists promoted the bill heavily on Capitol Hill and have now seen their efforts rewarded in political legislation.) Goodbye carrots, hello sticks. Is this the change we are all supposed to believe in?

Schenwar and Renner reveal the following, harrowing details:
The most strongly worded section of the legislation is Article Three, which states: "Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress - (3) demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia [among other things], prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."

The resolution makes no mention of the National Intelligence Estimate report released in December 2007, which found that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003.

The language regarding inspection requirements and restrictions of movement have led critics of the bill to suggest that, if implemented, this type of international sanction would amount to an embargo and would have to be put into place at gunpoint. Such action would be illegal under international law, unless approved by the UN, according to Ethan Chorin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East Program. UN approval is not mentioned in the bill.

Moreover, the resolution would unquestionably send a hostile message to Iran, according to Chorin.

"The Iranians would certainly view this as an act of war, whether or not they acted on it as such," Chorin told Truthout. "All of this would confirm the Gulf Arabs' perceptions that the US is playing an increasingly destabilizing role in the region."
Perhaps most shocking is that the resolution, even with its unequivocally aggressive language and requirements, "counts some of Congress's most liberally voting members among its co-sponsors, including Representative Robert Wexler, an outspoken advocate of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney; Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, one of Congress's most vocal critics of the Bush administration's missteps; and Representative Jan Schakowsky, rated the most liberal Democrat in Congress by the nonpartisan vote-tracking project GovTrack."
Besides AIPAC's strong pull, [JustForeignPolicy's Chelsea] Mozen pointed to the resolution's references to diplomacy as a draw for some vocal antiwar Democrats.

"Some in Congress see such a resolution, in part because it is non-binding, as a way to forestall or prevent more serious action against Iran," Mozen said. "However, with the atmosphere as it is on the Hill, with the election debate hinging in part on the debate about Iran, most folks in favor of diplomacy won't be pro-active for it, I gather because they think this will open them up to criticism. Those in favor of stronger action on Iran are pushing for it now and they have AIPAC pushing too. As a result, the folks that want to wait it out are looking to non-binding resolutions to quiet the need for stronger action and buy them time until January. I suppose it seems like a tug-o-war with only one side tugging and the other thinking about when to tug in the future."

Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy's national coordinator, noted that the bill's "non-binding" status is deceptive. The bill does not immediately do anything; it merely expresses a "sense of Congress." In itself, it does not authorize war, he added.

"It still has consequences," Naiman told Truthout. "The Kyl-Lieberman resolution was a non-binding resolution and it helped lead to the Quds Force being classified as a terrorist organization."

While liberal-leaning Congress members may perceive the passage of a non-binding resolution as a stall tactic, keeping the administration sated while waiting for a new administration to take office, Mozen called the legislation a "slippery slope" toward further tensions.

"It certainly would not be good to set such a precedent from Congress that could taint the ability of the next administration to make progress in US-Iranian relations," Mozen said.
With this resolution, any prospect of renewed Democratic leadership in the US government signaling a new era of respect for international law, deference to the sovereignty of foreign nations, and any notion of altering the institutionalized imperialism, gunboat diplomacy, and militant hegemony of this country is null and void. The future, at least in terms of American foreign policy on Iran, looks disastrously bleak...if not deliberately bloody...regardless of November's election results.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.


Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions.

- Hafez (c.1324-1391)


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