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No attack on Iran in sight - yet


If you believe the usual pundits, either Israel or the United States, or both, are about to attack Iran to stop its nuclear development program. The reasons that are given are variously that president Bush doesn't want to leave the problem for his successor, or that Israel is alarmed over its intelligence data, that show that Iran is actively developing nuclear weapons and will have the bomb real soon, contrary to US intelligence reports, or that Israel is afraid that a new US administration will be less sympathetic. Additional arguments are that a "red line" will be reached when Russia installs the fuel rods in the Bushehr reactor, or when and if Russia delivers the advanced S-300 air-defense system that Iran would like to acquire.

Uzi Mahnaimi and the Sunday Times, who are the chief source of "Israel is going to attack Iran" rumors, provided this alarming headline: "President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran". From that, one would probably conclude that the US is allowing Israel to attack Iran, and that the attack will happen any day. In fact, the article says quite the opposite. It begins with a quote that seems to say more than it does.

President George W Bush: US officials acknowledge that no American president can afford to remain idle if Israel is threatened

This is the strongest statement in the article, but it is meaningless. Israel is already "threatened." The U.S. can say it is not "idle," since it is pushing for sanctions. The seriousness of the threat, is up to the judgment of US officials, who do not consider it serious. According to a sympathetic Pentagon source, who is the origin of most of the material in the article:

"The uniform people are opposed to the attack plans, mainly because they think it will endanger our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan..."

We already know that, don't we? More important is this nnouncement:

"This administration will not attack Iran. This has already been decided..."

"The US will not attack Iran" would probably have been the correct headline for this article. It is real news if true, since in public, the Bush administration has never ruled out use of force in the past.

The report also tells us that as far as the US knows, Israel has not presented any convincing plan to attack Iran.

The official added that Israel had not so far presented Bush with a convincing military proposal.

If there is no plan, how could Bush be backing it? So the headline is meaningless. More misleading "information" is provided in the following:

the president has given an “amber light” to an Israeli plan to attack Iran’s main nuclear sites with long-range bombing sorties, the official told The Sunday Times.

"Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you’re ready,"

So there is a "plan," but evidently it is not "convincing." If the plan is not "convincing," then why would anyone support it? "Amber light" has been redefined to produce alarming headlines. It is usually the expression used to signal that the US would look the other way if there an attack - "don't ask, so we won't say no." That is the sort of light that was given for the Six Day War. Here is a similar use, regarding US reaction to Israeli assassination of Hamas leaders in 2004:

Amber light from Washington "They did not tell us. They did not seek our approval. We did not approve it," Powell's spokesman told reporters.

For this article, the phrase was given a new meaning, in the best tradition. As Lewis Carroll put it:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

The assertion that the US is telling Israel it has the right to make attack preparations is also meaningless. Israel can always prepare and plan whatever it likes, but it evidently needs US approval, or passive consent, to carry out any plans. If the plan involves overflight of Iraq and if there is the strong probability of Iranian retaliation, that approval will probably never be given. The article notes:

...But the Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use US military bases in Iraq for logistical support.

Nor is it certain that Bush’s amber light would ever turn to green without irrefutable evidence of lethal Iranian hostility.

The real conclusion to be drawn from the article, headline to the contrary notwithstanding, is that the U.S. is not planning to attack Iran in the near future, nor is it about to allow Israel to do so. That headline would not sell newspapers. The conclusion that nobody is about to attack Iran is also forthcoming in articles by Robert D. Kaplan and Mother Jones by Laura Rozen. Israeli officials may want to attack, but, claims Rozen, they won't get permission from US officials, who do not think there is an urgent problem:

US sources who did not wish to be identified describe a disagreement between the US and Israeli intelligence communities over the timetable of Iran's alleged weaponization and research and development efforts. Nuclear analysts at Livermore nuclear facility crunched the numbers and looked at the information on Iran's centrifuges and concluded that they are sticking to the public estimates in the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, which forecast Iran could have enough enriched material for nuclear weapons capability in the mid next decade. The Israelis allegedly presented the US with Iranian weaponization evidence that they consider very credible, which the US intelligence community allegedly did not consider credible. Analysts also say Israel and the US are drawing different definitions and redlines about what they consider would be Iran's nuclear "breakout" capability.

. Sy Hersh, has been in the business of predicting US attacks on Iran for just about as long as Uzi Mahnaimi as been predicting Israeli attacks, or longer (see: http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000684.htm. Hersh never tires of predicting attacks, and never blushes or explains when the attack don't occur. His following seems to love that sort of journalism. Hersh's latest offering is somewhat bizarre. On the one hand, he hints that the U.S. administration is preparing an attack on Iran. On the other hand, he tells us that the administration expanded covert operations in Iran that are evidently aimed at regime change. These purposes are somewhat contradictory. Prior to an attack, the US might want to acquire agents who would pass on information, but it would not necessarily want to recruit masses of people who want to overthrow the government in support of the US, and then bomb them! That doesn't disprove Hersh's thesis, since governments, especially the current US government, have been known to work at cross-purposes to themselves. Just because it makes no sense does not mean it is not happening. Hersh's argument is three handed, however, because he presents evidence that administration officials, chiefly Defense Secretary Gates, are opposed to attacking Iran. Robert Kaplan also noted Gates' opposition, and pointed out that Gates is now so central to the administration that his opposition is probably enough to stifle any attack plans.

Among the formidable obstacles to an attack on Iran we can include:

Retaliation - This could take the form of Iranian missiles, and Hezbollah-launched rocket attacks. Iran has threatened to destroy Israel, as well as 32 US bases in Iraq, if attacked. Hezbollah could also mount rocket attacks against Israel. Iran could also close the straits of Hormuz, which would lead to a steep rise in the price of oil. Even if Iran does not close the straits, uncertainly could send the price of oil sky-high, as OPEC warned.

Getting There - Israeli jets might be able to get to Iran, but they cannot return without refueling in air, and they would have to cross US controlled Iraqi airspace, as Kaplan points out. Israel has submarines reportedly armed with short cruise missiles (320 KM) that it developed, but each submarine can carry only 16 such missiles with a tiny payload, and the current model Dolphin subs could not reach Iran without surfacing many times to recharge batteries.

Destabilization - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly told Democratic senators that in the event of an attack on Iran

"We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America."

Intelligence - All of the above constitute formidable barriers against attacking Iran, as long as U.S. officials are convinced that Iran is not about to acquire nuclear weapons. The convincing depends on intelligence, and the intelligence is going to be fault and uncertain. The National Intelligence Estimate seemed to have claimed that this was indeed the case, and that Iran was not building nuclear weapons. But then U.S. officials backtracked, and claimed the report didn't really say what it looked like it was saying. Now they seem to have zig-zagged back to the original position, and take the NIE at face value. Officials who work in the shadow of the faulty Iraq WMD intelligence are going to be extremely skeptical about reports of Iranian WMD. Iran could be trying to be giving the appearance of having WMD, as Saddam did, in order to gain prestige. It could also leak information about decoy development sites, so that these would be attacked rather than the well-protected locations where actual development was taking place.

Russia - The best estimate is that Russia is really and truly convinced that the Iranians are not developing nuclear weapons. This must be so, because after all, the Russians would not want a militant Muslim nuclear power near their own southern flank. An attack on the Bushehr reactor, fueled or not, would certainly destroy Russian equipment and might injure Russian personnel. Nobody wants that to happen. Warning Russia in advance would certainly jeopardize the element of surprise.

The argument that the possibility of Iranian acquisition of a new air defense system would cause Israel or the US to step up attack plans is not altogether convincing. While meaning no disrespect for Russian technology, we should note that in early 2007, Russian experts insisted proudly that the current Iranian air defenses are "strong enough" to defend against a US or Israeli attack. The Syrian target hit by Israel last September was apparently defended by the same sort of system. The air defense system evidently did not detect the attack until after it was over. According to one report, Israel is studying the more advanced S-300 system to learn its vulnerabilities.

In theory, the picture could change. In the unlikely event that someone could come up with evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons development that was conclusive, some of the above mentioned barriers would become irrelevant. If Iran has nuclear weapons, it might well undertake to close the straits of Hormuz and enforce high oil prices using nuclear blackmail, as well as using the nuclear umbrella as a shield against retaliation for attacks on the US on Israel. But to get to that point, one would need to convince US officials both that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and that it intends to use them to back aggression against its neighbors.

It is very, very unlikely that there would be any real change in the next six months that would cause the United States to attack Iran or to allow Israel to attack Iran. The longer term prospect is not as clear. Israel could come up with satisfactory solutions for some of the threats. Israelis can also point out that the bombing of the presumed nuclear target in Syria did not result in any Syrian response, despite the bellicose pronouncements of President Assad about retaking the Golan by force and numerous other threats. If the attack is clearly limited to nuclear targets only, retaliatory missile attacks by Iran are unlikely, because they would be certain to elicit more massive retaliation by the United States and or Israel. That much is certainly not bluff.

Meanwhile, whatever policy the United States is trying to conduct appears to be in disarray. The US is obviously conducting a war of psychological brinksmanship with Iran. It may well be that Iran will blink first.. If Iran "blinks," and convinces the west conclusively that it is not trying to build nuclear weapons and has stopped its uranium enrichment program, it will be of tremendous benefit to Iran and to the entire world. The crisis will have been resolved peacefully. Iran would be rewarded with a substantive benefits package that would raise the standard of living of its people. Gulf states and Israel would not fear Iranian hegemony and the Middle East would be spared a nuclear arms race. The benefits to the United States are obvious.

But brinksmanship requires a disciplined and orderly administration. There is no point to brinksmanship if your own officials are authoritatively and openly announcing to the press, as well as selectively leaking at every opportunity, that the threat is a bluff, that the US will not attack Iran, and that the US will not let Israel attack Iran. "Brinksmanship" under those conditions only makes leaders look foolish and increases the chance that the other side will ignore the threat.

During the Cuban missile crisis, the United States strongly hinted at the possibility of nuclear war if the USSR would not remove its missiles from Cuba. The consequences of such a war would have been immeasurably more horrifying than the consequences of any attack on Iran, because the USSR possessed nuclear weapons in large quantities. A spectacular rise in the price of oil would have been a minor problem, as there would probably be few people left to use it. Yet throughout the crisis, and others like it, nobody in the Kennedy administration expressed skepticism about the possibility of a U.S. attack. Nobody pointed out the grave consequences or doubted if the price was worth it. It would have been unthinkable for US officials to leak stories that undermined the credibility of the U.S. deterrent. That is why, when they were "eyeball to eyeball," "the other guy blinked." There were numerous such situations in the cold war years. A single miscalculation, based on perceived vulnerability or lack of credibility of the deterrent of the other side, could have led to an unthinkable nuclear catastrophe. The catastrophe was avoided both because each side convinced the other that they were quite serious about risking nuclear war if necessary, and, ironically because, after all, nobody wanted nuclear war.

U.S. brinksmanship over Iran is far less credible than brinksmanship versus the USSR, even though the stakes are far smaller. That is because U.S. policy is being systematically undermined. Defense Secretary Gates cheerfully volunteered:

"There is a lot of signaling going on. But I think everybody recognizes what the consequences of any kind of a conflict would be,"

Evidently, not everyone recognizes it, because the Iranians are continuing their nuclear program and keep announcing that they do not believe the US or Israel will attack them. Why should they believe it, if the Secretary of Defense says it is not so? Pundits and unnamed "administration officials" and "senior Pentagon officials" have painted a scenario that makes the consequences of a limited air strike on Iran look more catastrophic than a nuclear war with the USSR. Anthony Cordesman gratuitously announced (where did he get the information?) that Admiral Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had warned Israel not to attack Iran. It is unimaginable that a U.S. Secretary of Defense would have announced during the Cuban missile crisis, "Everyone understands the consequences, so there is no danger of an attack. The U.S. isn't ever going to use nuclear weapons against USSR no matter what, because the consequences would be catastrophic." It might be quite true, but it is just not done. It would have been the end of the cold war deterrent, and might even have invited a Soviet attack. Yet today, this fashioning of policy by cabinet members and "senior officials" on or off the record or through conduits like Cordesman seems to be standard operating procedure. It is not possible for the U.S. to pursue any policy by these methods.

The constant denials that there is a credible military option, along with the equally steady stream of canards about impending attacks by Israel or the US, are, ironically, increasing the grim probability that Iran will not blink at all, and that an eventual military confrontation will be inevitable. A sensible Iranian government would have to conclude that all the talk of attack is flimflam like the articles of Mahnaimi and Hersh, and that US officialdom considers an attack unfeasible and inadvisable under any circumstance. In fact, that is what they claim that they concluded.

With no real obstacles barring the way, as it seems, Iran will be tempted to develop nuclear weapons. Just developing and exhibiting them would be a great victory, a defiant propaganda act that would supposedly call the bluff of the United States and Israel. That would be a grave mistake. If Iran does develop such weapons, at some point there will be irrefutable evidence of this development, perhaps too late. Ironically too, a Democratic president who would not be encumbered by politically motivated opposition might be much quicker to act on such evidence. The end result would be to turn an avoidable conflict into an unavoidable one under very unfavorable conditions and with a very bloody outcome.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000709.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

Is it possible that everybody is loosing sight and looking at the wrong era maybe ? WE ARE IN YEAR 2008.

Middle-East but not middle-Ages. ISRAEL IRAN USA doing and planing etc.etc.

Are we not over looking the biggest and most important reason why every body should cool it.

We are talking human life here ISRAELI IRANIAN and AMERICAN life's. Stop talking about what they will and should do.



Can you imagine what would happened if every body adopted this strategy for example:

Killing your neighbor in a PREEMPTIVE STIKE because you thought he could rape your daughter???? ( I have many more examples like that)

Lets stop THREATENING and start TRADING, I heard the IRANIANS love the ISRAELI Pickled dill cucumber and ISRAELIS like the Kosher saffron.

TRADE and Travel instead of THREATENING.

Warning to all of you warmongers out there.


I believe I speak for many a like minded Human's that don't like theire world destroyed by animals who believe in use of power just because you can.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom Hail to you all.

Posted by Alan Heimish @ 07/18/2008 10:32 AM CST

nice post about the war of iran

Posted by reviews-Online tickets @ 08/12/2008 07:05 AM CST

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