19 August 2010

Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince : The Looming Specter of a Strike on Iran

U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft in Afghanistan.

Looming specter:
Strike on Iran an increasing possiblity

By Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince / The Rag Blog / August 19, 2010

Reading the signs

Signs -- coming from a number of different sources -- suggest that some kind of major U.S.-Israeli military offensive against Iran could be in the offing between now and the November mid-term elections. Among them:
  • A background of one of the largest regional military buildups in modern time, the creation of military and "floating bases," and the intensive arming through arms sales and grants of U.S. regional allies with sophisticated modern weapons and delivery systems. This was perhaps the only "new" element in what former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to as the creation of "a new Middle East."

  • New warnings of possible U.S./Israeli military action coming from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the National Iranian American Council, Time’s columnist Joe Klein ("An Attack On Iran Is Back On The Table" -- July 15) -- among others.

  • A bizarre July 31 piece in the Washington Post by Ray Tayeyh and Steven Simon arguing that the United States should only attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and then "signal" the Iranians that the bombing would stop and that the goal was not to overthrow the regime. This is part of a larger and mostly hidden debate within the administration over how extensive the bombing should be.

  • Articles by neo-conservative columnists Reuel Marc Gerecht and William Kristol calling for a military strike.

  • Admiral Mike Mullen’s August 2 admission that the United States "has plans" to attack Iran to prevent that country from producing nuclear weapons

  • An August 4 open letter from former intelligence officers to President Obama warning that Israel could be planning to attack Iran and draw the United States into the conflict

  • The Obama Administration’s stalling to issue the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. It will be secret and its conclusions will either be leaked or released in summary. Sources inside the intelligence community insist that it will support the 2007 NIE that concluded that Iran no longer has a weapons program. The White House has delayed the process seeking harder language to justify a range of options against Iran, including a military strike, but the analysts are reported to be resisting.

  • Last but not least, the introduction of H.R. 1553 into the House of Representatives which provides explicit support for military strikes against Iran, stating that Congress supports Israel’s use of “all means necessary” against Iran “including the use of force."
House Resolution 1553:
A green light to attack Iran?

Of these, the introduction of HR 1553, currently making its way through House committees with more than 40 sponsors, expressing full support for an Israeli attack on Iran, has opened the gate to push the U.S. into military action.

It has long been the goal of Netanyahu’s government and the neo-conservative members of the Bush government who are still influential in the Obama Administration to support an attack by Israel so that the United States can be drawn into direct, full-scale war with Iran. This has been Israel’s Iran strategy. Israel needs to know that the United States will finish the war that Israel wants to start.

Although this kind of saber-rattling is not new, it has reached a new pitch, suggesting that military action against Iran could be in the works. There is some evidence that the United States drew up plans to attack Iran as early as 1995. In 2007, it appeared that the Bush Administration was close to proceeding with a major attack when the National Intelligence Estimate was made public, contending that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program.

In one of the few times in his presidency, Bush overruled his vice president, Dick Cheney (who favored proceeding with military action all the same) to stop the military plans. Admiral Mullen was sent to Israel to "deliver the message" of no war clearly and unambiguously. The Israelis were reported to have been furious about the change in plans. One of the most disturbing elements of the current escalation of tension is Barack Obama’s failure to do precisely the same thing: reign in Netanyahu.

The Israelis in particular and their more zealous supporters in the USA (AIPAC, neo-cons) have worked for three years, virtually tirelessly, to rebuild support for a military strike. Their efforts appear to have succeeded, at least in part. And other groups, like J-Street, while not supporting a military strike, have supported the sanctions against Iran and generally bought into the myth that Iran is an "existential threat" to Israel, rather than the other way round.

American-made Israeli F 15 fighter jets on the ready.

Arguments against a U.S.-Israeli attack

In an email a few days ago, a friend put the case against a U.S.-Israeli attack against Iran succinctly:
I’m sure the U.S. and Israel would love to hit Iran. Even with the saber-rattling, it’s hard to believe they’ll do it because:
  1. Iran can hit the U.S. hard in both Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has more than it can handle now; most of the top Pentagon brass knows this and Gates, Admiral Mullen, etc. have said that it would be nuts to hit Iran;
  2. It would provoke really harsh opposition by China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and numerous countries that the U.S. needs for more important things;
  3. Iran can probably stop shipping in the Red Sea, etc.
I think that if they could do it, they would have already done it. It would be suicidal but suicide is often a psychotic response and there are definitely psychotics in Israel and DC pushing for it.
All these are reasonable arguments and we hope they carry the day. Perhaps they will. But each of them can be challenged in some ways. the United States these past years -- and certainly Israel for an even longer time -- have a tendency to deal with the crises they have created by escalation. With a few exceptions, Israel has most of its existence "resolved its problems with its neighbors" by the use of force. It is deeply ingrained in the national psyche to resort to military, rather than diplomatic means to implement policy.

And while we agree with Andrew Bacevich’s call for the Obama Administration to end the U.S. policy of permanent war, close the foreign bases, and bring home the troops, it does not appear that we’re anywhere near that. To the contrary.

How has the United States dealt with the crisis in Iraq, which is far from resolved? It invaded, or re-invaded Afghanistan, and might do it again, despite the rational -- and they are rational -- arguments my friend presented. Besides, recall that before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were also many rational voices arguing that that particular invasion would not take place, but it did. The U.S seems intent on maximizing its military position in the region as quickly as possible. That was the essence of the Bush-Cheney policy.

Unfortunately, despite his Nobel Peace Prize -- poorly deserved -- Barack Obama’s Middle East foreign policy is hardly different... despite the softer rhetoric. A fine speech in Cairo does not a foreign policy make.

But to respond directly to our friend: As mentioned above, Admiral Mullen in recent weeks has changed his tune; it is more strident and suggests that military action is possible. On the most recent UN sanctions, the United States was largely able to neutralize both China and Russia, although those nations still managed to somewhat water down the resolution.

Regardless, their opposition to a military strike seems less firm than it has been in the past. And while Turkey has opened up a certain breech with Israel, their military coordination and cooperation through NATO remains quite strong and NATO, it appears, is "on board" for a strike.

Add to that the way that the U.S. seems to consistently underestimate Iran’s ability to strike back militarily. Of course we’re not military analysts, but to compare Iran today with Iraq in 2003, after it had suffered defeat in the first Gulf War and then 12 years of crippling sanctions is way off the mark. Iran is a much stronger country militarily than Iraq was then and while we don’t underestimate the ability of the United States and its allies to wreak horrific damage on Iran, Iran has had a long time to prepare for such eventualities.

In addition the Iranians, through the Revolutionary Guard (which represents about half of its military strength, the other half being the conventional Iranian military), have the most ideologically oriented military in the world. And we would argue that an Iranian response could be devastating where it hurts -- the Saudi oil fields, Persian Gulf oil shipping, and the possibility of considerable destabilization of the U.S. position in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, we assume, it could do harm to Israel.

Finally, keep in mind that the United States and Israel are not the only military powers in the region capable of preemptive military strikes. Who knows, if the Iranians feel completely cornered and have come to conclude that there is no way to avoid an attack, perhaps they will, from a military point of view, take the initiative themselves as their way of dealing with what they perceive as the inevitable battle. We’re not saying this is their policy, just that such a response is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

David Wormser has advocated attack for regime change. Photo from Telegraph, U.K.

New dangerous elements

There are a few other elements that make the current moment especially dangerous:
  • For all the talk of U.S.-Israeli strains, the NATO-U.S.-Israel military structure in the Middle East is fully integrated. In Israel the thinking about striking Iran is, "If not now, when?" Momentum is building for a strike.

  • There appears to be support for such a strike from key U.S. Arab allies, in particular Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Recently Egypt let 10 U.S. warships and one Israeli warship through the Suez Canal headed towards the Persian Gulf. There have also been reports that the Saudis would permit Israel use of its airspace to attack Iran. The fact that the Saudis have issued public denials does not necessarily mean that it won’t happen. It is also possible that the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Azerbaijan, or Georgia could be used by the Israelis to facilitate an attack.

  • The Netanyahu government believes, according to some sources, that with the U.S. midterm elections approaching, the U.S. will not be able to reign in Israeli military actions (wherever they might occur) and that furthermore, at this time, Israel is more likely to drag the United States into fighting -- which they very much want and hope to do.

  • Meanwhile public opinion in the United States has shifted from a position against to one in favor of a military strike against Iran. Only a few years ago one third of Americans polled supported military action against Iran, but now that figure is close to 57% -- probably a response to the Iranian crackdown on its democratic movement last summer, as well as AIPAC and the neocon’s unrelenting pressure.

  • Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq there were worldwide demonstrations; today there is hardly a whimper from the peace movement or major public figures either here or abroad. True, in 2003 the plans were for a full scale ground invasion and while now, the discussion -- at least the public discussion -- is limited to air strikes. However, more and more it has been admitted that these airstrikes would not be limited to Iranian nuclear facilities but would probably be aimed at striking a devastating and crippling blow against the whole country, its infrastructure and political command system.

`Getting’ Iran

Although on paper, Israelis and their lobbyists base their argument for war on a fanciful scenario of Iran doling out nuclear weapons to Islamic extremists all over the Middle East, their more likely objective is to destroy Iran’s Islamic regime (regime change) in a paroxysm of U.S. military violence. David Wurmser, formerly a close advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and Middle East advisor to Dick Cheney, revealed that he had advocated a U.S. war on Iran, not to set back the nuclear program but to achieve regime change.

The idea of waging a U.S. war of destruction against Iran is obvious lunacy, which is why military leaders have strongly resisted it in both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Even though Israel, not Iran, has increasingly been regarded around the world as a rogue state after the Gaza incursion and the commando killings of unarmed civilians on board the Mavi Marmara, its grip on the U.S. Congress appears as strong as ever.

AIPAC has once again flexed its muscle, making it clear with the introduction of this resolution, that it can push Congress to bend Obama into submission on the Iran issue. It appears that Democrats in Congress, are mentally in a different galaxy than they were under Bush, and are, in large measure, willing to go along, making clear that the U.S. Iran policy has bipartisan support. It is a mistake thus, to place all the blame for this reckless policy on the Republicans.

Attacking Iran should be understood as part of a broader U.S. long term strategy of using its network of military bases worldwide as a way of maintaining its declining hegemony. "Neutralizing" Iran is something of a medium term goal, with the long range goal being the capability of preempting a Chinese challenge, even if it is decades a way.

Netanyahu must be rubbing his hands with glee about the prospects for pressuring Obama to join an Israeli war of aggression against Iran. It was Netanyahu, after all, who declared in 2001, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way.”

[Ibrahim Kazerooni is an Imam with Colorado's Muslim community. Rob Prince is a full-time lecturer in International Studies at the University of Denver and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News blog at robertjprince.wordpress.com.]

Thanks to Jay D. Jurie / The Rag Blog

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