Iran ante portas!? (part II)

courtesy by: Good Offices Group of European Lawmakers, url:
research contributed by: EDA & Federal Archives, Bern; ETH Zurich; Irina Gerassimova, UN Library Geneva
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Swiss Good Offices on Nuclear Energy Matters, Parliamentary Motion (06.3103: D, F, I, E)
UNSC resolution 255 on nuclear threats ¦ US-Israel/Iran nuclear conflict out of control?
Swiss yellow card: UNSCR 255 & NPT incompatible with threats against non-nuclear weapon states, Motion 08.3402
Bankers at risk: US Treasury designates Iranian bank as WMD proliferator

External Links
21.Okt 12    Cyber-Angriff via Schweiz, Sonntags-Zeitung, Benno Tuchschmid
12 Oct 12   Why Netanyahu Backed Down, NYT, GRAHAM T. ALLISON Jr. et al.
10.Mai 12   Die Schweizer Stimme der USA in Teheran, TagesAnzeiger, Walter Niederberger
8 Apr 12   A Middle Eastern Inventory, GOGEL, Anton Keller
10 Nov 11   The 10 Reasons We Know Iran Wants the Bomb - UPDATED,,  Bruno Tertrais
2 Jun 11   Former Israeli intelligence chief to Netanyahu: Don't attack Iran, CNN, Kevin Flower
12 Apr 11   Germany Rebuffs U.S. Calls to Shut Iran Bank, WSJ, DAVID CRAWFORD
9 avr 11    wikileaks: La prolifération, un business suisse sous l’œil de l’Amérique. Le Temps, Sylvain Besson
19 Nov 10   Worm Can Deal Double Blow to Nuclear Program, NYT, JOHN MARKOFF
18 Nov 10   Worm Was Perfect for Sabotaging Centrifuges, NYT, WILLIAM J. BROAD et al.
1.Okt 10   NATO: Bündnis gegen Cyberattacken, Tages-Anzeiger
29 Sep 10   In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue, NYT, JOHN MARKOFF et al.
27 Sep 10   Virus hits Iran nuclear programme, Financial Times, Daniel Dombey
26.Sep 10   A Silent Attack, but Not a Subtle One, NYT, JOHN MARKOFF
26.Sep 10   Der Trojaner: Rätselhaftes Schadprogramm Stuxnet, FAZ, Rüdiger Köhn
26.Sep 10   «Hier war ein Expertenteam am Werk», NZZ am Sonntag, Andreas Hirstein
20 May 09   U.S., Israel forming working group on Iran, Washington Times, Eli Lake
17 May 09   Israel’s Fears, Amalek’s Arsenal, NYT, JEFFREY GOLDBERG
12 May 09   Iran urges Iraqi action on Kurdish rebels, WP, Reuters
Mar 2009   Preventing a Cascade of Instability: Checking Iranian Nuclear Progress, Presidential Task Force, WINEP
11 Dec 08   Finally facing facts: A US nuclear umbrella against Iranian nukes?, Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez
27 Sep 08   New Debate Territory: Pakistan and Iran Policy, NYT, David E. Sanger
26 Sep 08   So what if the US turned down Israel's 'green light' request, Israel Matzav
25 Sep 08   Israel asked US for green light to bomb nuclear sites in Iran, Guardian, Jonathan Steele
19 Sep 08   It is time to act,, 14 comments
22 Jul 08   US lawyer seeks to sue US over Iran threats, Press TV, Chris Gelken
18 Jul 08   Bombing Iran in order to Stave Off War, NYT, BENNY MORRIS
7 Jul 08   The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran, New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
14 Jun 08   G5+1 to Iran: Halt enrichment for talks, CASMII, Press TV
11 Jun 08   U.S. behind Israel’s war threats on Iran, Workers World, Sara Flounders
10 Jun 08   Threatening Iran, NYT, editorial
9 Jun 08   Iran Responds to Mofaz's Threats, Iran Nuclear Watch, Carah Ong
9 Jun 08   War countdown to Bush-Cheney exit: What Could Happen If ... ?, Global Research, CASMII, Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
8 Jun 08   Iran protests to UN Security Council, Secretary-General over Israeli threat, IRNA
7 Jun 08   Tehran takes war case against Israel to U.N., Los Angeles Times, Borzou Daragahi, 10 comments
6 Jun 08   Israel threatens war on Gaza and Iran, Telegraph, Tim Butcher
31 May 08   High Noon in the Middle East:As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon, Daily Star, Joschka Fischer, 102 comments
28 May 08   'Bush gearing up to wage war on Iran', Press tv
27 May 08   Nuclear Agency Accuses Iran of Willful Lack of Cooperation, NYT, ELAINE SCIOLINO
14 May 08   Planned US Israeli Attack on Iran: Will there be a War against Iran?, Dandelion Salad, Michel Chossudovsky
23 Apr 08   Admiral Fallon: the Man Between War and Peace, Esquire, Thomas P.M. Barnett
13 Apr 08   Against perceived Iranian nuclear threats: Israel Can Stand Up for Itself, NYT, Zev Chafets, Op-Ed
4 Apr 08   Ritter: Iran war 80% probability, White House preparing for war in Iran, Rutland Herald, ED BARNA
15 Mar 08   The resignation of Admiral Fallon will provoke renewed fighting in Iraq,, Thierry Meyssan
12 Mar 08   Admiral William Fallon quits over Iran policy, The Times, Tim Reid, 17 comments
11 Feb 08   A Strike in the Dark, The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
24 Oct 07   Who's fooling whom: U.S. Officials Upbraid Kurds on PKK, NYT, RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. et al.
24 Oct 07   Iran accuses US of backing Kurdish militants on its border, Sydney Morning Herald, Richard Oppel
23 Oct 07   Olmert pressed to give up supporting Iraqi Kurds, Today's Zaman, Ercan Yavuz
14 Oct 07   Analysts Find Israel Struck a Nuclear Project Inside Syria, NYT, David E. Sanger et al.
8 Oct 07   Shifting Targets - The Administration’s plan for Iran, The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
Sep 08   Iran, le choix des armes, éditions Stock, François Heisbourg
23 Sep 07   Secret US air force team to perfect plan for Iran strike, Sunday Times, Sarah Baxter, 235 comments
12 Sep 07   On the use of foreign jets in Syria - and in Iran next?, Syria Comment, Eric
27/28 Aug 07  Sarkozy's nightmares: "la bombe iranienne ou le bombardement de l'Iran", Elysée, NYT
20 Aug 07   US Foreign Direct Investment Legislation
17 Aug 07   Zbigniew Brzezinski warns of false flag attack to trigger Iran war,, Michael Kane
15 Aug 07   TIGHTENING THE GORDIAN KNOT OF WAR, Right Wing Nut House, Rick Moran
9 Aug 07   Bleeding strategy instead of Attacking Iran, The Daily Star, Bouthaina Shaaban
8 Aug 07   Washington and Iran agreed in secret, Al Arab Al Yom, Nahed Hatar
10 Jun 07   MI6 probes UK link to nuclear trade with Iran, Observer, Mark Townsend
2 Jun 07   U.S. urges Swiss banks to steer clear of Iran - second time in 9 months!, Reuters
2 juin 07   «Pour sanctionner l'Iran, notre meilleur allié est le secteur privé», Le Temps, D. E.
12 May 07   Cheney, on aircraft carrier, pointedly warns Iran, NYT, WP
March 07   "Bomb Iran!" From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq, Vanity Fair, Craig Unger
6 Mar 07   Webb bill limits Iran fight, Washington Times, Christina Bellantoni
3 Mar 07   The US/Israel war plan is on: a strategic shift from Iraq to Iran, New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
28 Feb 07   Russia warns U.S. against striking Iran, AP, Vladimir Isachenkov
25 Feb 07   US generals ‘will quit’ if Bush orders Iran attack, Sunday Times, Michael Smith et al., 851 comments
23 Feb 07   Iran's Arab Neighbors Add to Their Arsenals, Still Lean on the U.S., NYT, Hassan M.Fattah
23 Feb 07   What Scares Iran’s Mullahs?, NYT, Abbas Milani, Op-Ed Contributor
21 Feb 07   Iran & US: "Natural allies" or substitute enemies?, CNN, Christiane Amanpour
21 Feb 07   Table Talk, WSJ, Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka
21 Feb 07   War probability: ~60%, doomsday clock was recently advanced to 5 min to 12pm, Iconoclast
16 Feb 07   Iran Must Get Ready to Repel a Nuclear Attack,, Léonid Ivashov (version française)
16 féb 07  L’Iran doit se tenir prêt à contrer une attaque nucléaire,, Léonid Ivashov
13 Feb 07   "the bigger the failure, the less [the Bush admininistration] learns", NYT, Editorial
8 Feb 07   Next stop Iran?, The Economist, Leader
8 Feb 07   A countdown to confrontation, The Economist
8 Feb 07   Iranian Cleric Warns U.S. on Attacks, NYT, AP
4 Feb 07   The Peace Paradox, NYT MAGAZINE, David A. Bell, Reconsideration
2 Feb 07   Imagining A War With Iran, The New York Sun, Youssef Ibrahim
30 Jan 07   U.S.'s Atom for Peace Program Helped Iran,, Sam Roe & Amy Goodman
28 Jan 07   Whose Iran?, NYT magazine, Laura Secor
27 Jan 07   Bush Throws The Dice, ICHBLOG.EU, John Damien
27 Jan 07   Sanktionen: Zwischen Diplomatie und Militärgewalt,, Kommentar
23 Jan 07   6 years Bush crew - 6 years US Iran military planning, therawstory, Larisa Alexandrovna et al.
19 Jan 07   Rebuke in Iran to Its President on Nuclear Role, NYT, Nazila Fathi and Michael Slackman
14 Jan 07   US military strike on Iran seen by April, attack to hit oil, N-sites, Arab Times, Ahmed Al-Jarallah
12 Jan 07   The U.S.-Iran-Iraq-Israel-Syria War,, Robert Parry
8 Jan 07   If Israel had nukes, would it use them against Iran?, Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz, reader comments
8 Jan 07   You'd better hold us Israelis back, 'before we do something crazy ...', Irish Independent, Eric Silver
8 Jan 07   An alibi for the Arrow, Haaretz, Reuven Pedatzur, reader comments
8 Jan 07   Out-of-the-box thinking is called for!, Iconoclast
8 Jan 07   Military strike is only way to stop Iran, says top Israeli strategist, The Independent, Eric Silver
8.Jan 07   Ein brisanter Trainingsbericht, Berliner Zeitung, Roland Heine, Kommentar
8.Jan 07   Israel will Iran atomar angreifen, Berliner Zeitung, AFP
8 Jan 07   Israel denies nuclear strike plan, The Times, David Sharrock
8 Jan 07   Israel planning nuclear strike, second UK paper claims, Turkish Daily News
7 Jan 07   Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran - Focus: Mission Iran, Sunday Times, Uzi Mahnaimi
27 Nov 06   Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?, New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
21 nov 06   Le prochain épisode,, New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
13 Nov 06   Awaiting the Iranian messiah, Persian Journal, Yaakov Lappin
10 Nov 06   Israel minister warning Iran, BBC NEWS
2 Nov 06   "A Secret Letter from the US President to Iranian President", Tough Dove Israel, Gidon D. Remba
8 Oct 06   Links with "Rogue States": US Treasury Secretary leans on banks, The Observer, Conal Walsh
3 oct 06   Iran: L’ombre de la guerre ou la guerre des ombres,, Houshang Sepehr
2 Oct 06   An Offer Tehran Can't Refuse, NYT, Ted Koppel.
25 Sep 06   Iran's gulf of misunderstanding with US, BBC News, Gordon Corera
21 sep 06   Washington invite les banques suisses à couper les liens avec l'Iran, Le Temps, Yves Genier
21 Sep 06   World poll favours Iran diplomacy, BBC NEWS
19 Sep 06   Iranian President's speech at UN General Assembly
6 Sep 06   Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling, NYT, LAURIE GOODSTEIN
21 Aug 06   Washington’s interests in Israel’s war, The New Yorker, SEYMOUR M. HERSH
10 Aug 06   Israel/Iran - why not reanimate a natural alliance?, ICESC
9 Aug 06   Exit Pathway Indicators on Current Mideastern Conflicts, ICESC
9 Aug 06   After Lebanon, there's Iran, Christian Science Monitor, Vali Nasr
31 July 06   Swiss backstage diplomacy grows over Iran, swissinfo, Daniele Mariani
31 July 06   The Next Steps With Iran, Washington Post , Henry A. Kissinger
31 July 06   Political Catalysts for Global Mideastern Package, GOGEL
10 July 06   The military’s problem with the President’s Iran policy, The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
21 June 06   Iran's Gray Area on Nuclear Arms, Washington Post, Karl Vick
20 June 06   The Race for Iran, NYT, Flynt Leverett
18 June 06   Extremist Image Masks Iranians' Many Faiths, Washington Post , Karl Vick
16 May 06   Harvard & other impulses for unlocking the US/Iran nuclear gridlock, ICESC
8 May 06   Letter of Iranian President to American President
27 Mar 06    Swiss lawmakers point out pathways for resolving US/Iran nuclear stalemate, GOGEL
17 Apr 06   The Iran Plans, The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
16 Apr 06   The Pentagon Preps for Iran, Washington Post, William M. Arkin
14 Mar 06   Nuclear Bunker Buster Bombs againt Iran, Global Research, Stephen M. Osborn
11.März 06  Schweizer Gute Dienste im US/Iran-Konflikt?, Anton Keller
2 Mar  06  NPT-conform peaceful nuclear activities under Russian sovereignty - in Iran, Anton Keller
27 Jan 06   Bush and China Endorse Russia's Nuclear Plan for Iran, NYT, David E. Sanger et al.
25 Sep 05   More Light & Less Flat-Earth Missionaries!, Iconoclast
1 May 05   Planned US-Israeli Attack on Iran, Centre for Research on Globalisation, Michel Chossudovsky
14 Aug 95   Christians as a Religious Minority in Iran (I.C.E.S.C. testimony), Father N.A.G. Topouzian
30 Oct 74   Swiss interpretation of S/Res/255 as given to Parliament
10 Sep 68   Swiss juris consult explains legal effects & limits of S/Res/255
19 Jun 68   UN Security Council Resolution 255 (1968)

External links

31.Aug 12   «Deutliches Signal»: Merkel rief Netanyahu an, Tages-Anzeiger, rbi
30 aoû 12    La menace israélienne contre l’Iran: "Un bluff !", Le Nouvel Observateur, René Backmann
29 Aug 12    Russia is disengaging from Syria: Arms shipments stopped, warships exit Tartus, DEBKAfile
28 Aug 12    Experts say big radiation risk unlikely if Israel strikes Iran,, Reuters,
22.Aug 12   Russische Basis wird evakuiert, NZZ, hei
21 Aug 12   Russia’s Syrian Naval Base, The Diplomat, Christopher Harmer
11 Aug 12   Attaque sur l'Iran avant novembre?, Russia Today
Jul/Aug 12   Why Iran Should Get the Bomb - Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability, Foreign Affars, Kenneth N. Waltz
25 Dec 11   U.S. wants to remove Russian navy base in Tartous, SyriaNews, Jerry Dandridge
The Coming Showdown In Iran,
07    Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities, MIT, Whitney Raas
07    Target Iran - Air Strikes - 2007 Developments,
8 Oct 07   Shifting Targets - The Administration’s plan for Iran, The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh
18 Jun 07   Pace Fired To Clear Way For Iran Nuclear Strike?, Intelligene Daily, Paul Craig Roberts
15 June 07   The Day After We Strike Iran: What Will We Do Then?,, GARY LEUPP
14 Jun 07   Attack on Iran over its nuclear program 'madness', Deutsche Welle, Mohamed ElBaradei
9 Jun 07   Tugging the Lion's Tail: Little Boy, Fat Man and Iran,, STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN
7 Jun 07   Losing Iraq, Nuking Iran: Cheney's End Game?,, PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
7 Jun 07   Republican Presidential Candidates For Nuclear Bombing of Iran, Smirkingchimp, Brent Budowsky
6 Jun 07   Countdown to War on Iran: US Foments Unrest & Spurns Overtures,, Alain Gresh
6 Jun 07   Poddy's Crazy Prayer: Bomb Iran - For Israel and America!,, GARY LEUPP
26 May 07   At AIPAC's request, Congress won't stop Bush on Iran,, BADRUDDIN KHAN
26 May 07   Frustrated with Bush, the Veep Urges Israel to Attack Iran,, GARY LEUPP
25 May 07   Bush-Cheney White House Intrigue on US-Iran Policy,, Joe Klein
24 May 07   Cheney aide clearing path to bomb Iran,
20 May 07   Iran Nuclear Attack Simulation Suggests U.S. Plan Weak,
14 May 07   Striking Iran: Cakewalk or Slam-Dunk?, contentions, Gabriel Schoenfeld
28 Apr 07   Iranian Threat: Magazine retracts PM quotes on Iran, Jerusalem Post, MARK WEISS
24 Apr 07   A CALCULUS: WILL ISRAEL STRIKE IRAN?,, Micah Halpern
17 avr 07   Iran Must Get Ready to Repel a Nuclear Attack, Franc-Parler, Leonid Ivashov
6 avr 07   Arab Times (Kowait) : Les USA vont attaquer l’Iran fin avril,
5 Apr 07   Kuwaiti media: U.S. to attack Iran by end of April,
2 Apr 07   Iran Nuclear Bomb Could Be Possible by 2009, ABC News, Brian Ross and Christopher Isham
29 Mar 07   Attack on Iran, New 9/11… or Worse, informationclearinghouse, Heather Wokusch
Mar 07   IRAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM: U.S. OPTIONS, Maxwell AFB, Stephen B.T. Chun, bibliography
Mar 07   Bush Planning Massive Nuclear Attack on Iran, Vanity Fair, Craig Unger
28 Feb 07   The Words None Dare Say: Nuclear War,, George Lakoff
27 Feb 07   Attack on Iran before Bush leaves office?, AlJazeera
25 Feb 07   Israel seeks all clear for Iran air strike, Telegraph, Con Coughlin
10 Feb 07   Pentagon plans for attack on Iranian sites are well advanced, The Guardian, Ewen MacAskill
5 fev 07   À Herzliya, Israël dévoile sa stratégie contre l’Iran, Mondialisation, Thierry Meyssan
5 Feb 07   Report spells out dangers of attack on Iran, Financial Times, Gareth Smyth
1 Feb 07   Think tank: Israel could attack Iran's nuclear program alone, Haaretz, Amos Harel
28 Jan 07   US to Strike Iran’s Nuclear Sites from Bulgarian & Romanian bases, Sunday Herald, Gabriel Ronay
14 Jan 07   The Dangers of a nuclear attack on Iran, Global Research, Helen Caldicott, video
8 Jan 07   Israeli nuclear attack on Iran - the making of a canard, Zionism & Israel Center, Ami Isseroff
7 Jan 07   Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran, The Sunday Times, Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter
27 Dec 06   Don't Attack Iran (Petition to President Bush & Vice President Cheney, signed 13.6.07: 103548)
9 Oct 06   Bush’s Nuclear Apocalypse,, Chris Hedges
6 Oct 06   Is Desperate Cheney Scheming Nuclear Sneak Attack on Iran?, EIR, Jeffrey Steinberg
1 Oct 06   HOW AN ATTACK ON IRAN WOULD UNFOLD, San Francisco Chronicle, Matthew B. Stannard
26 Sep 06   Why Bush Will Nuke Iran,, Paul Craig Roberts
29 Jun 06   The Nuclear Bunker Buster, Union of Concerned Scientists, animation
13 Jun 06   Allies Share U.S. Concerns Over Iran, Pew Global Attitudes Project
12 May 06   Gates does not rule out nuclear attack on Israel, Yedioth, Yitzhak Benhorin
8 May 06   Nuclear Attack on Iran Might Be Reality One Day, Fox News, John Gibson
28 Apr 06   'American Hiroshima' linked with Iran attack, al-Qaida nukes, WorldNetDaily, JOSEPH FARAH
17 Apr 06   Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?, New Yorker, S.M.Hersh
13 Apr 06   Military Strike on Iran is ‘Not a Viable, Feasible, Responsible Option’, Thinkprogress, Chuck Hagel
10 Apr 06   The idea of US nuclear attack on Iran is just nuts, says Straw, The Times, Tom Baldwin
2 Mar 06   US/Israel plan nuclear attack on Iran to control oil and defend the dollar,
1 Mar 07   The Iran Nuclear Standoff: Legal Issues, Jurist, Daniel Joyner
14 Feb 06   US prepares military blitz against Iran's nuclear sites, Telegraph, Philip Sherwell
15 Jan 06   1 500 physicists against nuclear attack on Iran,
3 Jan 06   The Prospects of a Nuclear-Armed Iran, Global Politician, Abolghasem Bayyenat
16 Dec 05   Nuclear Deployment for an Attack on Iran and the hitmen behind it,, Jorge Hirsch
28 Jul 05   Israel, Mossad, Iran and a Nuclear False Flag Attack,, R. Leland Lehrman
17 Jul 05   US Plans Nuclear Attack on Iran,, Stephen Sniegoski
15 May 05   Not Just A Last Resort? A Global Nuclear Strike Plan, WP, William Arkin
13 Mar 05   Revealed: Israel plans strike on Iranian nuclear plant, The Sunday Times, Uzi Mahnaimi
12 Aug 04   A Preemptive Attack on Iran's Nuclear Facilities: Possible Consequences, CNS, S. Salama et al.

25 September 2005
More Light & Less Flat-Earth Missionaries!

I appreciate your careful reporting on the on-going saga of Iran's alleged NPT violations (Mark Landler, Nuclear Agency Votes to Report Iran to U.N. Security Council for Treaty Violations, NYT, September 25, 2005). Yet, in light of my own understanding of the facts surrounding the NPT's genesis at and around the UN's Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament, I am surprised at the now recurring but persistently ill-focused and ill-informed NPT debate (cf: Swiss Representative's statement at Non-Nuclear Weapon States Conference of August 1968: I can't help wondering what the fuss is really all about. And to those genuinely concerned with the very real security and political issues involved, I wish them the time, intellectual honesty and clear-sightedness to raise the debate beyond the currently dominating flat-earth visions!

I note the IAEA Board's Resolution GOV/2005/77 of September 24, 2005 ( recalled (§e) "that, as deplored by the Board in its resolution GOV/2003/81, Iran's policy of concealment has resulted in many breaches of its obligation to comply with its Safeguards Agreement". This interpretation of the facts was essentially based on the publicly released list of alleged reporting failures, as contained in the Director General's Reports GOV/2003/40 ( and GOV/2003/75 (
"47. Based on all information currently available to the Agency, it is clear that Iran has failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material and its processing and use, as well as the declaration of facilities where such material has been processed and stored."

However, as a fin connaisseur of the NPT genesis, you may remember and it may be helpful to recall now the then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk's famous and disarmingly assuring NPT definition, as published in "Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons", Senate Executive Report No 91-1, Washington 3/6/69, p.3:
"The treaty deals only with what is prohibited, not with what is permitted".
An equally instructive authentic interpretation can be found in the Memorandum furnished by the then-U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (now: Energy Department) to the Committee "Relationship of Non-Proliferation Treaty to Atomic Energy Act Provision regarding Military Cooperation with Allies", as reproduced in: Military Implications of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Hearings before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, Washington, 2/27/69, p.141:
"The NPT prohibits ... transferring complete nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices to any recipient ..."

On this background, it seems important to note that the key NPT articles II and III entail IAEA safeguards obligations only if the nuclear material, technology or equipment is intended and declared to be for peaceful purposes.  Clearly, none of these obligations apply at all for non-peaceful, i.e. military purposes!  And under the Heading "NON-APPLICATION OF SAFEGUARDS TO NUCLEAR MATERIAL TO BE USED IN NON-PEACEFUL ACTIVITIES", Iran's IAEA Safeguards Agreement (Infcirc 214: thus quite naturally - and explicitly at that - provides for the termination of IAEA safeguards if correspondingly safeguarded material or equipment is to be used for non-explosive military purposes:
"Article 14
If the Government of Iran intends to exercise its discretion to use nuclear material which is required to be safeguarded under this Agreement in a nuclear activity which does not require the application of safeguards under this Agreement, the following procedures shall apply:
(a) The Government of Iran shall inform the Agency of the activity, making it clear:
(i) That the use of the nuclear material in a non-proscribed military activity will not be in conflict with an undertaking the Government of Iran may have given and in respect of which Agency safeguards apply, that the material will be used only in a peaceful nuclear activity; and
(ii) That during the period of non-application of safeguards the nuclear material will not be used for the production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;
(b) The Government of Iran and the Agency shall make an arrangement so that, only while the nuclear material is in such an activity, the safeguards provided for in this Agreement will not be applied. The arrangement shall identify, to the extent possible, the period or circumstances during which safeguards will not be applied. In any event, the safeguards provided for in this Agreement shall apply again as soon as the nuclear material is reintroduced into a peaceful nuclear activity. The Agency shall be kept informed of the total quantity and composition of such unsafeguarded material in Iran and of any export of such material; and
(c) Each arrangement shall be made in agreement with the Agency. Such agreement shall be given as promptly as possible and shall relate only to such matters as, inter alia, temporal and procedural provisions and reporting arrangements, but shall not involve any approval or classified knowledge of the military activity or relate to the use of the nuclear material therein"

Indeed, in his article "Towards a Safer World", (The Economist, 16 October 2003), the IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, thus unequivocally stated:
"Under the current [NPT] regime, therefore, there is nothing illicit in a non-nuclear-weapon state having enrichment or reprocessing technology, or possessing weapon-grade nuclear material."

Thus, I have difficulty pin-pointing which of Iran's commitments under the NPT have indeed not been complied with - by whom and on a level comparable to less-reported or purposely overlooked and under- or non-reported so-called violations of "obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty" by either other NPT member states or even the Agency itself. For I have no publicly available information ruling out a - totally legitimate and legal - non-reported military-purpose nuclear fuel program (e.g. for a nuclear submarine) for which reason Iran, in fact and in law, might have proceeded strictly in line with its NPT obligations and in accordance with the above-quoted art.14 of its NPT Safeguards Agreement, i.e. in total agreement with all related NPT commitments as originally intended, written down, signed and sealed.

Or do you have such information, which might justify all the exitement, finger-pointing and lack of calm and serenity which has been observed in Vienna and elsewhere? In the event, I'd appreciate your handing me a candle to illuminate the matter! Thanks in advance.

Iconoclast    -

PS:  you may be interested in some old - and forgotten, and by now apparently politically incorrect - arguments which dominated the NPT debate at the time of its genesis (

January 27, 2006

Bush and China Endorse Russia's Nuclear Plan for Iran

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — President Bush and the Chinese government both declared their full support on Thursday for a Russian proposal to allow Iran to operate civilian nuclear facilities as long as Russia and international nuclear inspectors are in full control of the fuel.

Mr. Bush's explicit public endorsement puts all of the major powers on record supporting the proposal, even as most acknowledge that it is a significant concession to Iran and runs the risk that the country will drag out the negotiations while continuing to produce nuclear material. Yet officials say they believe it is the best face-saving strategy to pursue a negotiated settlement with Iran.

European and American officials familiar with the details of the offer that Russia made to Iran say that Iran would continue to be allowed to operate its nuclear plant at Isfahan, which converts raw uranium into a form that is ready to be enriched. That is a step that both Europe and the United States said last year that they could not allow — and that was explicitly barred under the agreement between Iran and Europe in late 2004, because Iran could divert the uranium to secret enrichment facilities. Iran began operating the Isfahan plant again in August.

Mr. Bush did not discuss the details of the Russian offer. But American, European and Russian officials, who like others discussing the issue spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be seen as interfering in the negotiations, said the offer would allow Iran to continue operations at the plant that turns yellowcake, a concentrated form of uranium ore, into uranium hexafluoride, a toxic material that centrifuges spin into fuel for reactors or bombs.

Critics of that concession say that it could send a signal to Iran that it no longer has to comply with all provisions of its November 2004 agreement with Europe.

"A red line was crossed" when Iran began producing the uranium last fall, said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonpartisan research group that follows developments in Iran. "The Iranians got away with reopening the conversion facility, and now people have accepted it's never going to be shut again and have taken it off the table."

Mr. Bush made his statement embracing the Russian idea at a news conference on Thursday. He said, "The Iranians have said, 'We want a weapon.' "

In fact, Iran has denied that it is pursuing a weapon, and in the afternoon, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, acknowledged that Mr. Bush had misspoken. "He was referring to their behavior," Mr. McClellan said by telephone later. "Our concern is their intention is to develop a nuclear weapon under the guise of a civilian program."

Nonetheless, Mr. Bush's slip may cement the perception among some members of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency that he has decided, at least in his own mind, that Iran is intent on building a weapon as fast as it can, a situation he has said repeatedly that he will not tolerate. Mr. Bush gave no hint on Thursday that he was thinking of military action, instead saying that "we are working hard to continue the diplomacy necessary to send a focused message to the Iranian government, and that is: 'Your desires for a weapon are unacceptable.' "

Mr. Bush's statement came at a moment of heightened concern in Vienna, home of the agency, that if its board votes next week to send Iran's case to the United Nations Security Council, Iran might make good on its threat to limit cooperation with inspectors and begin full scale enrichment of uranium. North Korea threw out inspectors three years ago, and one senior American official said recently that "the Iranians have looked closely at that model."

The Russian proposal lays out a complicated plan in which Iran would supply the uranium hexafluoride from Isfahan, shipping it to Russia for enrichment. Once enriched, the uranium would be shipped back to Iran's nuclear plant in Bushehr, which is being built by the Russians.

But huge questions remain, including the scale of the program, the degree of involvement of Iranian engineers and program's commercial viability. Moreover, just working out a deal this complex would take months or longer, experts say, at a time the administration fears the Iranians could surge ahead. In interviews, Russian and European officials said they believed the arrangements, while face-saving, made no economic or technological sense for Iran. Iran would have to pay for the enrichment, but its own scientists would not be allowed to work on the site.

Moreover, there are technical problems. Russian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were in the middle of negotiations, said that the uranium gas produced at Isfahan was of inferior quality to what was produced in Russia. As a result, the Russians have no interest, they say, in buying any of its for their own use.

In an interview in Vienna on Wednesday, Gregory L. Schulte, the American ambassador to the atomic agency, said, "There are those who would argue that conversion is not proliferation-significant because it does not produce weapons grade material, but from our perspective, conversion is another step forward to acquire enrichment capability. It has no economic purpose."

While China favored the Russian proposal, it also firmly opposed the use of sanctions. That comes as a disappointment to Washington, which this week sent a top official to persuade China's leaders that they should do far more. During a visit to Beijing by Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Kong Quan, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, praised Moscow's offer to enrich Iran's uranium in Russia and made clear that China will not support sanctions. "We think the Russian proposal is a good attempt to break this stalemate," Mr. Kong said, adding, "We oppose impulsively using sanctions or threats of sanctions to solve problems."

The Bush administration has not allowed its stated opposition to Iran's uranium conversion at Isfahan to block the Russian offer. "This is dangerous, but it is minimally acceptable as long as they are not enriching," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "The Russian proposal is the last best chance of resolving this without an escalation."

U.S. Comments on India Clarified
India responded testily yesterday to American suggestions of a quid pro quo in its blossoming relations with the United States, with the Indian foreign secretary calling in the United States ambassador over his reported remarks about how India should vote next week on whether to refer the case of Iran's nuclear ambitions to the United Nations Security Council.

David C. Mulford, the American ambassador to India, had been quoted by the Press Trust of India news agency as saying that if India did not vote to refer Iran to the Security Council, it would be "devastating" to its chances of securing the nuclear deal with the United States.

The American Embassy later said that the comments had been taken "out of context" and released a full transcript. In it, Mr. Mulford first said that India would be expected to vote "based on India's judgment of its own national interest." He went on to say, "that if they decide that they don't want to vote for this, our view is that the effect on members of Congress with regard to this civil nuclear initiative will be devastating."

William J. Broad contributed reporting from New York for this article, and Joseph Kahn from Beijing.

Schreiben an Mitglieder der Eidg. Räte - 11.März 2006
Schweizer Gute Dienste im US/Iran-Konflikt?
von Anton Keller

Die anstehenden Erneuerungswahlen für den amerikanischen Kongress und das Weisse Haus werfen lange Schatten voraus. Und zwar nicht nur bezüglich der offenkundig gewordenen technischen Abstimmungsmängel - und der damit verbundenen Gefährdungen der demokratischen Grundregeln und Ansprüche ( Sondern auch - und zusehends bedrohlicher - i.S. internationale politische Grosswetterlage, bezüglich Nicht-Respektierung gültiger Staatsverträge, internationaler Verpflichtungen und fremder Souveränitätsrechte, sowie bezüglich daraus entstehender regionaler Konflikte. Akutes Beispiel: in Frage gestellte friedliche Nutzung der Kernenergie gemäss Atomsperrvertrag (.../NPT.htm ¦ .../214.htm).

Neben dem erneut aufflackernden Konflikt im Balkan, und den ausser Kontrolle geratenden Machtkämpfen im Irak, gilt unsere besondere Aufmerksamkeit dem von den USA in den Vordergrund gedrängten Konflikt i.S. Urananreicherung im Iran. Eine zusehends geschwächte und in die Ecke getriebene Bush-Administration tendiert von sich aus eher in Richtung rücksichtsloser Kraftmeierei als zugunsten tiefgängiger, weitsichtiger und auf dem Verhandlungsweg möglicher Vernunftlösungen. Dennoch, die Deutlichmachung ernsthafter Lösungsansätze seitens wahrer Freunde ist dabei nicht nur möglich, sondern auch tunlich. Für eine auf ihr Erbe und ihre Zukunft bedachte Schweiz ergibt sich daraus echter Handlungsbedarf. Denn erstens vertritt die Schweiz im Iran seit 1979 zurückhaltend aber einflussreich die Interessen der USA. Zweitens anerbietet sich der 1955er Vertrag Schweiz/USA i.S. Saphir-Forschungsreaktor als konkretes Modell zur diplomatischen Lösung des derzeitigen Streits um die iranischen Atomanlagen (.../NPT.htm#AEC). Drittens hat die Schweiz i.S. Atomsperrvertrag von anfang an eine weltweit geschätzte führende und besonders anspruchs- und verantwortungsvolle Rolle eingenommen (erinnert sei z.B. an Prof.Bindschedler’s Kritiken & Verbesserungsvorschläge: .../NPT.htm#Bindschedler ¦ .../NPT68.htm ¦.../NPT75.htm). Viertens scheint die Zeit für eine Inventaraufnahme und Nachfolge-Veranstaltung zur 1968er Genfer Konferenz der Nicht-Nuklearwaffen-Staaten gekommen zu sein. Und fünftens stellt sich ohnehin die Frage des obligatorischen Referendums zu diesem unkontrolliert zerfallenden Vertrag für kollektive Sicherheit (.../nptref.htm).

Auf diesem Hintergrund erlaube ich mir, die Frage Ihrer allfälligen Mitunterstützung eines entsprechenden parlamentarischen Vorstosses Ihrer wohlwollenden Prüfung anzuempfehlen, wobei ich auf den im letzten Sommer unterbreiteten Entwurf sowie auf die dortige Begründung verweisen darf (.../nptmotion.htm).

15 March 2006

NPT-conform peaceful nuclear activities under Russian sovereignty - in Iran!

dear Ivory Tower co-tenant,

First outlined in a letter to UN (, Iranian nuclear installations declared to be for peaceful purposes, including enrichment facilities situated in Iran, might be placed and operated under Russian sovereignty in full compliance with the NPT (and the Iran/IAEA Safeguards Agreement INFCIRC/214) in analoguous application of the U.S./Swiss Agreement for co-operation concerning civil uses of atomic energy, of 18 July 1955, UN Treaty Series 1956, no.3388 (.../NPT.htm#3388 ¦ .../Saphir.tif). And though this appears to go against the grain of the politically correct public discussions among kite flyers and flat earth policymakers, CFR, CNS, CEIP, SIPRI and other students of the genesis and operation of the NPT may easily recognise this pathway not to be far off, and in fact to come close to what, realistically and in light of the Indian situation, they consider to be achievable and indicated under the circumstances, like the International Crisis Group's “delayed limited enrichment” plan.

If that's what it takes to decisively strengthen Iran's pro-pre-Islam leaders (.../slm.htm) - and thus also to bring them into a facilitator role regarding the Palestinians under Hamas (.../holygrail.htm ¦ .../babylon2.htm) -, who'd be against motherhood?

Good Offices Group of European Lawmakers

27/28 March 2006

Swiss lawmakers point out practical pathways for resolving U.S.-Iran nuclear stalemate

NPT-conform peaceful nuclear activities in Iran
operated under, e.g., Russian sovereignty,
modelled after a Swiss-American Treaty

Good Offices Group of European Lawmakers
t+f: +4122-7400362  mob: +4179-6047707
url: ¦ .../3103memo.htm

    24 Swiss lawmakers from the governing coalition have called on the Swiss government to explore convening "a follow-up to the 1968 Non-Nuclear-Weapon States Conference". They point at the constitutional requirement for a referendum on Switzerland's continued membership in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). And on the background of Switzerland's long-standing representation of U.S. interests in Iran, they draw inspiration from the 1955 Swiss-American Treaty on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation for a diplomatic resolution of the current U.S.-Iranian nuclear stalemate (

    First outlined in a letter to the UN (.../iranmail.htm), Iranian nuclear installations declared to be for peaceful purposes, including enrichment facilities situated in Iran, might be placed and operated under Russian sovereignty in full compliance with the NPT (and the Iran/IAEA Safeguards Agreement INFCIRC/214) in analogous application of the U.S./Swiss Agreement for co-operation concerning civil uses of atomic energy, of 18 July 1955 (UN Treaty Series 1956, no.3388: .../NPT.htm#3388 ¦ .../Saphir.tif ¦ .../iranmail2.htm).

    Of course, this appears to go against the grain of the politically correct public discussions (.../nptlandler.htm). But respected long-time students of the genesis and operation of the NPT may easily recognise this pathway not to be far off to what, realistically, they consider to be achievable and indicated under the circumstances. The International Crisis Group's “delayed limited enrichment” plan is a case in point. Similar ideas have been offered by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and by others.

June 20, 2006

The Race for Iran


AS the world watches the political maneuvering over restarting nuclear talks with Iran — this time with American participation — few are paying attention to a broader strategic competition that has started between the United States, Russia and China. Ultimately, this competition will decide not only the direction of Iran's nuclear activities but also its economic, political and military role in the Middle East and beyond. The outcome hinges on which countries will assume dominance in developing Iran's enormous oil and natural gas reserves.

Unfortunately, by refusing to consider a "grand bargain" with Iran — that is, resolution of Washington's concerns about Tehran's weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in return for American security guarantees, an end to sanctions and normalization of diplomatic relations — the Bush administration is courting failure in its nuclear diplomacy and paving the way for Russia and China to win the larger strategic contest.

Iran has the world's second-largest proven reserves of conventional crude oil, after Saudi Arabia, and the second-largest reserves of natural gas, after Russia. Its relatively low production levels make it one of the few states with the potential to greatly increase its exports of both oil and gas over the next two decades.

As the world economy during this period will rely increasingly on the Middle East and the former Soviet Union for its energy needs, Iran's putative status as a hydrocarbon superpower will take on ever greater strategic importance. Add in its location, its population of nearly 70 million (the largest in the Middle East) and its ambitions to regional leadership, and the significance of Iran's future international role is undeniable.

However, to expand its energy exports, Iran needs a great deal of capital and advanced technology from outside — at least $160 billion over the next quarter century according to the International Energy Agency. Washington of course does all it can to block exactly such investment — barring American energy companies from seeking business in Iran and threatening European and Japanese companies with fines and cutoffs of American components.

These measures — along with repressive Iranian policies that scare off foreign investors — have had an impact: since the Islamic Republic opened its oil and gas sectors to foreign energy companies in the early 1990's, it has attracted only $15 billion to $20 billion in European and Japanese investment. And as the nuclear issue has heated up, prospects for substantial increases in Western investment have virtually evaporated.

A senior Iranian diplomat told me this month that Iran can no longer "wait for the West," and Tehran is now looking for alternative investors. In recent years, China has emerged as a potential large-scale partner. But while China can provide capital, its state-owned energy companies are not much more technically capable right now than Iran's. It will be a decade at least before China can fill all Iran's technical gaps.

This is where Russia comes in. Although Russian energy companies could not offer quite the same level of expertise as Western firms in the complexities of managing Iran's older oil reservoirs, they could in the next several years help the Islamic Republic develop its newer oil finds and, more significantly, realize its huge potential as a gas exporter. In fact, the two countries have already held talks on possible "coordination" of Iranian gas exports with Gazprom, Russia's state-owned gas and oil behemoth. Iranian officials have told me that their government does not think Gazprom would be the ideal partner, compared with Western companies, but it deems such a deal preferable to continued stagnation.

From a Russian perspective, such a deal would have many benefits. Many industry experts feel that within just a few years, the amounts of gas that Gazprom is contracted to provide may exceed what the company on its own can bring to market. It has been trying to close the gap by purchasing additional gas from Central Asian states that rely on Russian pipelines to export their oil and gas. But at the same time, the United States is trying to help those ex-Soviet states build oil and gas pipelines that are outside of Moscow's control — an effort the Kremlin interprets as a deliberate attempt to isolate and weaken Russia.

Russian officials and commentators have complained to me in recent weeks about a new "double standard" in American policy — one that criticizes the centralization of power in Russia but overlooks authoritarian abuses in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The involvement of Russian energy companies in Iran would not only support Moscow's external energy strategy but would push back against perceived American efforts to undermine Russia's influence in Central Asia.

Together, Russia and Iran control almost half of the world's proven reserves of natural gas. If they coordinated their production and marketing decisions, these two countries could be twice as dominant in international gas markets as Saudi Arabia is in the global oil market.

And as China looks to deepen its own involvement in Iran, there would be opportunities for Chinese-Russian cooperation in developing Iranian resources, and collaborating against what both Beijing and Moscow see as excessive United States unilateralism in world affairs. By working together, Russia and China would further establish themselves as rising players in the Persian Gulf, where America has grown used to something like hegemonic status.

Against this backdrop, the Bush administration's approach to nuclear diplomacy with Iran is strategically shallow. The decision to encourage direct talks with Tehran generated many headlines but was really only a limited tactical adjustment to forestall an embarrassing collapse in coordination with America's key international partners.

By continuing to reject a grand bargain with Tehran, the Bush administration has done nothing to increase the chances that Iran will accept meaningful long-term restraints on its nuclear activities. It has also done nothing to ensure that the United States wins the longer-term struggle for Iran. Such a grand bargain is precisely what is required, not only to forestall Iran's effective nuclearization in the next three to five years, but also to position the United States for continued leadership in the Middle East for the next decade and beyond.

Flynt Leverett, a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, is director of the Project on the Geopolitics and Geoeconomics of Energy Security at the New America Foundation.

Washington Post   June 21, 2006

Iran's Gray Area on Nuclear Arms
Despite Official Assertions That Islam Requires a Ban, Some Clerics See Justification

By Karl Vick

TEHRAN -- Iranian officials often assert the peaceful intent of their nuclear program by insisting that the religious law that governs their country expressly prohibits weapons of mass destruction.

A Turkish diplomat, describing a visit in May by the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said that Larijani made the religious roots of the proscription clear. "I was in the meeting," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He said there is even a fatwa , a religious ruling, since the time of Khomeini, that Iran will not produce any nuclear weapons."

Yet interviews with a range of clerics and other students of Islamic teachings indicate that while Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini indeed barred Iranian forces from unconventional weapons during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, the religious underpinning for such a ban is regarded as less than absolute, with ample justification available in scriptures for almost any course except first use.

"This question is ambiguous," said Grand Ayatollah Jalalodine Taheri, who was a leading figure in the Iranian government before becoming a sharp critic. Taheri, 80, said during an interview at his bedside in the central Iranian city of Isfahan that "taking weapons of mass destruction as a whole, I'm against it." But he added that religious texts might offer avenues that would allow stockpiling such weapons in the name of deterrence or self-defense. "It's not clear," Taheri said.

Those arguing for the loopholes include clerics closely identified with the country's most hard-line conservatives, the most ardent defenders of Iran's theocratic system. "Producing and using WMD is forbidden, just as producing deadly poison or harmful drugs," said Mohsen Gharavian, who teaches Islamic philosophy in the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran. "I think there is no ambiguity here. . . . I have not seen any other type of interpretation" among religious scholars. "But," he continued, "I have got to add something to this: If any other nation has produced this WMD and has used it against a second nation, the second nation in the name of defending itself has the right to have it and to use WMD."

Gharavian serves as spokesman for Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, an archconservative who strongly supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is suspected of providing religious justification for killings allegedly carried out by Iranian intelligence agents in the late 1990s. Gharavian spoke in an hour-long interview at the Imam Khomeini Institute, which has produced tens of thousands of clerics under Mesbah-Yazdi's tutelage. A number are expected to seek election this fall to the Assembly of Experts, the one body in Iran's theocratic system with the power to remove the supreme leader, the cleric who has ultimate authority.

"About nuclear weapons, there is this principle of all or none," Gharavian said. "If a nation arms itself with such weapons, it is quite logical for other nations to think of defending themselves against these kinds of weapons. "I believe this is the logic of Islamic morals," Gharavian said, professing himself "100 percent sure" that Khomeini and Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "based on Islamic principles, have the same logic: Islam does not allow anyone to initiate harming a human being."

The same bedrock view and the same caveat about self-defense were offered by an influential cleric aligned with Iran's reformers, members of the relatively liberal movement recently sidelined by hard-line conservatives. "In the time of the prophet, we didn't have nuclear bombs, so there's not a verse about it in the Koran," said Mohsen Kadivar, who like Gharavian is a middle-ranking cleric. "But we have some verses which say we can't kill anyone who hasn't committed a crime. It's very, very clear."

The faith does accept the concept of retaliation, however, so long as it stops short of injuring innocents. Kadivar said that proviso appears to proscribe actual use of weapons of mass destruction, as would scriptures warning against damaging the environment.

But none of that necessarily bars a government from stockpiling such weapons, the clerics say. "From all I can see, it's not forbidden, but it's hard to say it's allowed. In jurisprudence these terms are different," Kadivar said. "If your enemies have these bombs, it's not forbidden to have them. "Don't forget that Israel has these bombs," he added, raising a finger. "It's outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty."

Iranian scholars who argue against nuclear weapons point out that these questions are hardly abstract in Iran. The newly minted government faced severe, real-life tests after Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Iran in 1980. The Iraqi forces used chemical weapons on the battlefield; two decades later, badly wounded survivors still populate hospital wards in Iran.

When Iraq also launched rocket attacks on Tehran and other metropolitan areas, pressure for Tehran to retaliate was intense. "In the eight-year war with Iraq, this was a very hot debate among all the Islamic teachers, because Iranian cities were being bombarded," said Kazem Mosavi Bojnoordi, who sat on the defense committee of Iran's parliament during part of the war. "The conclusion was that it's not allowed. Never during those eight years do we have one example of Iran bombarding cities."

Bojnoordi, now chief editor of Iran's Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia, recalled that after the first salvos from Iraq, a senior Iranian commander declared, "Now we will flatten Baghdad." The comment brought an immediate rebuke from Khomeini, whose fatwa closed the matter for the balance of the war. "According to Islamic teachings, there's the principle that the goals never justify the means," said Bojnoordi, whose father was a grand ayatollah. "It has not been supported in Islam that you can do whatever you want to defend yourself. You are not allowed to gather weapons that are not allowed by Islam, even against your enemies.''

Senior Iranian officials insist their goal is only electrical power, saving their substantial petroleum deposits to export. Leaders also emphasize the role of pride and technological achievement, which inside Iran conveys the impression of economic development that has largely eluded a population that has grown poorer since the 1979 revolution. "I believe that by getting high tech we will be getting development," Bojnoordi said. "If we improve the standard of living, that will unite the people, and that will bring security."

Said Kadivar: "I hope that science in my country is so progressive! I hope it's true. Every Iranian wants to have this energy. Every party. The difficulty is we don't have a democratic regime. So we should try to democratize."

If Iran is indeed working to produce nuclear weapons, experts say the program would surely be entrusted to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Formed in 1979 by clerics who did not trust Iran's existing army, the Revolutionary Guards have grown into a major force in Iran's economy and political offices. Their insignia, one analyst noted, includes a passage from the Koran that reads, "Prepare any strength you can muster against them, and any cavalry with which you can overawe God's enemy and your own enemy as well, plus others besides them whom you do not know."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

The New Yorker    July 10, 2006    Posted 2006-07-03

The military’s problem with the President’s Iran policy

On May 31st, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced what appeared to be a major change in U.S. foreign policy. The Bush Administration, she said, would be willing to join Russia, China, and its European allies in direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program. There was a condition, however: the negotiations would not begin until, as the President put it in a June 19th speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, “the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.” Iran, which has insisted on its right to enrich uranium, was being asked to concede the main point of the negotiations before they started. The question was whether the Administration expected the Iranians to agree, or was laying the diplomatic groundwork for future military action. In his speech, Bush also talked about “freedom for the Iranian people,” and he added, “Iran’s leaders have a clear choice.” There was an unspoken threat: the U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the President’s direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran.

Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President’s plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

A crucial issue in the military’s dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities; the war planners are not sure what to hit. “The target array in Iran is huge, but it’s amorphous,” a high-ranking general told me. “The question we face is, When does innocent infrastructure evolve into something nefarious?” The high-ranking general added that the military’s experience in Iraq, where intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, has affected its approach to Iran. “We built this big monster with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq,” he said.

“There is a war about the war going on inside the building,” a Pentagon consultant said. “If we go, we have to find something.”

In President Bush’s June speech, he accused Iran of pursuing a secret weapons program along with its civilian nuclear-research program (which it is allowed, with limits, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). The senior officers in the Pentagon do not dispute the President’s contention that Iran intends to eventually build a bomb, but they are frustrated by the intelligence gaps. A former senior intelligence official told me that people in the Pentagon were asking, “What’s the evidence? We’ve got a million tentacles out there, overt and covert, and these guys”—the Iranians—“have been working on this for eighteen years, and we have nothing? We’re coming up with jack shit.”

A senior military official told me, “Even if we knew where the Iranian enriched uranium was—and we don’t—we don’t know where world opinion would stand. The issue is whether it’s a clear and present danger. If you’re a military planner, you try to weigh options. What is the capability of the Iranian response, and the likelihood of a punitive response—like cutting off oil shipments? What would that cost us?” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides “really think they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary,” he said.

In 1986, Congress authorized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to act as the “principal military adviser” to the President. In this case, I was told, the current chairman, Marine General Peter Pace, has gone further in his advice to the White House by addressing the consequences of an attack on Iran. “Here’s the military telling the President what he can’t do politically”—raising concerns about rising oil prices, for example—the former senior intelligence official said. “The J.C.S. chairman going to the President with an economic argument—what’s going on here?” (General Pace and the White House declined to comment. The Defense Department responded to a detailed request for comment by saying that the Administration was “working diligently” on a diplomatic solution and that it could not comment on classified matters.)

A retired four-star general, who ran a major command, said, “The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don’t want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, ‘We stood up.’ ”

The military leadership is also raising tactical arguments against the proposal for bombing Iran, many of which are related to the consequences for Iraq. According to retired Army Major General William Nash, who was commanding general of the First Armored Division, served in Iraq and Bosnia, and worked for the United Nations in Kosovo, attacking Iran would heighten the risks to American and coalition forces inside Iraq. “What if one hundred thousand Iranian volunteers came across the border?” Nash asked. “If we bomb Iran, they cannot retaliate militarily by air—only on the ground or by sea, and only in Iraq or the Gulf. A military planner cannot discount that possibility, and he cannot make an ideological assumption that the Iranians wouldn’t do it. We’re not talking about victory or defeat—only about what damage Iran could do to our interests.” Nash, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “Their first possible response would be to send forces into Iraq. And, since the Iraqi Army has limited capacity, it means that the coalition forces would have to engage them.”

The Americans serving as advisers to the Iraqi police and military may be at special risk, Nash added, since an American bombing “would be seen not only as an attack on Shiites but as an attack on all Muslims. Throughout the Middle East, it would likely be seen as another example of American imperialism. It would probably cause the war to spread.”

In contrast, some conservatives are arguing that America’s position in Iraq would improve if Iran chose to retaliate there, according to a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders, because Iranian interference would divide the Shiites into pro- and anti-Iranian camps, and unify the Kurds and the Sunnis. The Iran hawks in the White House and the State Department, including Elliott Abrams and Michael Doran, both of whom are National Security Council advisers on the Middle East, also have an answer for those who believe that the bombing of Iran would put American soldiers in Iraq at risk, the consultant said. He described the counterargument this way: “Yes, there will be Americans under attack, but they are under attack now.”

Iran’s geography would also complicate an air war. The senior military official said that, when it came to air strikes, “this is not Iraq,” which is fairly flat, except in the northeast. “Much of Iran is akin to Afghanistan in terms of topography and flight mapping—a pretty tough target,” the military official said. Over rugged terrain, planes have to come in closer, and “Iran has a lot of mature air-defense systems and networks,” he said. “Global operations are always risky, and if we go down that road we have to be prepared to follow up with ground troops.”

The U.S. Navy has a separate set of concerns. Iran has more than seven hundred undeclared dock and port facilities along its Persian Gulf coast. The small ports, known as “invisible piers,” were constructed two decades ago by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to accommodate small private boats used for smuggling. (The Guards relied on smuggling to finance their activities and enrich themselves.) The ports, an Iran expert who advises the U.S. government told me, provide “the infrastructure to enable the Guards to go after American aircraft carriers with suicide water bombers”—small vessels loaded with high explosives. He said that the Iranians have conducted exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel linking the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and then on to the Indian Ocean. The strait is regularly traversed by oil tankers, in which a thousand small Iranian boats simulated attacks on American ships. “That would be the hardest problem we’d face in the water: a thousand small targets weaving in and out among our ships.”

America’s allies in the Gulf also believe that an attack on Iran would endanger them, and many American military planners agree. “Iran can do a lot of things—all asymmetrical,” a Pentagon adviser on counter-insurgency told me. “They have agents all over the Gulf, and the ability to strike at will.” In May, according to a well-informed oil-industry expert, the Emir of Qatar made a private visit to Tehran to discuss security in the Gulf after the Iraq war. He sought some words of non-aggression from the Iranian leadership. Instead, the Iranians suggested that Qatar, which is the site of the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, would be its first target in the event of an American attack. Qatar is a leading exporter of gas and currently operates several major offshore oil platforms, all of which would be extremely vulnerable. (Nasser bin Hamad M. al-Khalifa, Qatar’s ambassador to Washington, denied that any threats were issued during the Emir’s meetings in Tehran. He told me that it was “a very nice visit.”)

A retired American diplomat, who has experience in the Gulf, confirmed that the Qatari government is “very scared of what America will do” in Iran, and “scared to death” about what Iran would do in response. Iran’s message to the oil-producing Gulf states, the retired diplomat said, has been that it will respond, and “you are on the wrong side of history.”

In late April, the military leadership, headed by General Pace, achieved a major victory when the White House dropped its insistence that the plan for a bombing campaign include the possible use of a nuclear device to destroy Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. The huge complex includes large underground facilities built into seventy-five-foot-deep holes in the ground and designed to hold as many as fifty thousand centrifuges. “Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “And Pace stood up to them. Then the world came back: ‘O.K., the nuclear option is politically unacceptable.’ ” At the time, a number of retired officers, including two Army major generals who served in Iraq, Paul Eaton and Charles Swannack, Jr., had begun speaking out against the Administration’s handling of the Iraq war. This period is known to many in the Pentagon as “the April Revolution.”

“An event like this doesn’t get papered over very quickly,” the former official added. “The bad feelings over the nuclear option are still felt. The civilian hierarchy feels extraordinarily betrayed by the brass, and the brass feel they were tricked into it”—the nuclear planning—“by being asked to provide all options in the planning papers.”

Sam Gardiner, a military analyst who taught at the National War College before retiring from the Air Force as a colonel, said that Rumsfeld’s second-guessing and micromanagement were a fundamental problem. “Plans are more and more being directed and run by civilians from the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Gardiner said. “It causes a lot of tensions. I’m hearing that the military is increasingly upset about not being taken seriously by Rumsfeld and his staff.”

Gardiner went on, “The consequence is that, for Iran and other missions, Rumsfeld will be pushed more and more in the direction of special operations, where he has direct authority and does not have to put up with the objections of the Chiefs.” Since taking office in 2001, Rumsfeld has been engaged in a running dispute with many senior commanders over his plans to transform the military, and his belief that future wars will be fought, and won, with airpower and Special Forces. That combination worked, at first, in Afghanistan, but the growing stalemate there, and in Iraq, has created a rift, especially inside the Army. The senior military official said, “The policymakers are in love with Special Ops—the guys on camels.”

The discord over Iran can, in part, be ascribed to Rumsfeld’s testy relationship with the generals. They see him as high-handed and unwilling to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong in Iraq. A former Bush Administration official described a recent meeting between Rumsfeld and four-star generals and admirals at a military commanders’ conference, on a base outside Washington, that, he was told, went badly. The commanders later told General Pace that “they didn’t come here to be lectured by the Defense Secretary. They wanted to tell Rumsfeld what their concerns were.” A few of the officers attended a subsequent meeting between Pace and Rumsfeld, and were unhappy, the former official said, when “Pace did not repeat any of their complaints. There was disappointment about Pace.” The retired four-star general also described the commanders’ conference as “very fractious.” He added, “We’ve got twenty-five hundred dead, people running all over the world doing stupid things, and officers outside the Beltway asking, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”

Pace’s supporters say that he is in a difficult position, given Rumsfeld’s penchant for viewing generals who disagree with him as disloyal. “It’s a very narrow line between being responsive and effective and being outspoken and ineffective,” the former senior intelligence official said.

But Rumsfeld is not alone in the Administration where Iran is concerned; he is closely allied with Dick Cheney, and, the Pentagon consultant said, “the President generally defers to the Vice-President on all these issues,” such as dealing with the specifics of a bombing campaign if diplomacy fails. “He feels that Cheney has an informational advantage. Cheney is not a renegade. He represents the conventional wisdom in all of this. He appeals to the strategic-bombing lobby in the Air Force—who think that carpet bombing is the solution to all problems.”

Bombing may not work against Natanz, let alone against the rest of Iran’s nuclear program. The possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons gained support in the Administration because of the belief that it was the only way to insure the destruction of Natanz’s buried laboratories. When that option proved to be politically untenable (a nuclear warhead would, among other things, vent fatal radiation for miles), the Air Force came up with a new bombing plan, using advanced guidance systems to deliver a series of large bunker-busters—conventional bombs filled with high explosives—on the same target, in swift succession. The Air Force argued that the impact would generate sufficient concussive force to accomplish what a tactical nuclear warhead would achieve, but without provoking an outcry over what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki.

The new bombing concept has provoked controversy among Pentagon planners and outside experts. Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who has taught at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told me, “We always have a few new toys, new gimmicks, and rarely do these new tricks lead to a phenomenal breakthrough. The dilemma is that Natanz is a very large underground area, and even if the roof came down we won’t be able to get a good estimate of the bomb damage without people on the ground. We don’t even know where it goes underground, and we won’t have much confidence in assessing what we’ve actually done. Absent capturing an Iranian nuclear scientist and documents, it’s impossible to set back the program for sure.”

One complicating aspect of the multiple-hit tactic, the Pentagon consultant told me, is “the liquefaction problem”—the fact that the soil would lose its consistency owing to the enormous heat generated by the impact of the first bomb. “It will be like bombing water, with its currents and eddies. The bombs would likely be diverted.” Intelligence has also shown that for the past two years the Iranians have been shifting their most sensitive nuclear-related materials and production facilities, moving some into urban areas, in anticipation of a bombing raid.

“The Air Force is hawking it to the other services,” the former senior intelligence official said. “They’re all excited by it, but they’re being terribly criticized for it.” The main problem, he said, is that the other services do not believe the tactic will work. “The Navy says, ‘It’s not our plan.’ The Marines are against it—they know they’re going to be the guys on the ground if things go south.”

“It’s the bomber mentality,” the Pentagon consultant said. “The Air Force is saying, ‘We’ve got it covered, we can hit all the distributed targets.’ ” The Air Force arsenal includes a cluster bomb that can deploy scores of small bomblets with individual guidance systems to home in on specific targets. The weapons were deployed in Kosovo and during the early stages of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Air Force is claiming that the same techniques can be used with larger bombs, allowing them to be targeted from twenty-five thousand feet against a multitude of widely dispersed targets. “The Chiefs all know that ‘shock and awe’ is dead on arrival,” the Pentagon consultant said. “All except the Air Force.”

“Rumsfeld and Cheney are the pushers on this—they don’t want to repeat the mistake of doing too little,” the government consultant with ties to Pentagon civilians told me. “The lesson they took from Iraq is that there should have been more troops on the ground”—an impossibility in Iran, because of the overextension of American forces in Iraq—“so the air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force.”

Many of the Bush Administration’s supporters view the abrupt change in negotiating policy as a deft move that won public plaudits and obscured the fact that Washington had no other good options. “The United States has done what its international partners have asked it to do,” said Patrick Clawson, who is an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative think tank. “The ball is now in their court—for both the Iranians and the Europeans.” Bush’s goal, Clawson said, was to assuage his allies, as well as Russia and China, whose votes, or abstentions, in the United Nations would be needed if the talks broke down and the U.S. decided to seek Security Council sanctions or a U.N. resolution that allowed for the use of force against Iran.

“If Iran refuses to re-start negotiations, it will also be difficult for Russia and China to reject a U.N. call for International Atomic Energy Agency inspections,” Clawson said. “And the longer we go without accelerated I.A.E.A. access, the more important the issue of Iran’s hidden facilities will become.” The drawback to the new American position, Clawson added, was that “the Iranians might take Bush’s agreeing to join the talks as a sign that their hard line has worked.”

Clawson acknowledged that intelligence on Iran’s nuclear-weapons progress was limited. “There was a time when we had reasonable confidence in what we knew,” he said. “We could say, ‘There’s less time than we think,’ or, ‘It’s going more slowly.’ Take your choice. Lack of information is a problem, but we know they’ve made rapid progress with their centrifuges.” (The most recent American intelligence estimate is that Iran could build a warhead sometime between 2010 and 2015.)

Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council aide for the Bush Administration, told me, “The only reason Bush and Cheney relented about talking to Iran was because they were within weeks of a diplomatic meltdown in the United Nations. Russia and China were going to stiff us”—that is, prevent the passage of a U.N. resolution. Leverett, a project director at the New America Foundation, added that the White House’s proposal, despite offering trade and economic incentives for Iran, has not “resolved any of the fundamental contradictions of U.S. policy.” The precondition for the talks, he said—an open-ended halt to all Iranian enrichment activity—“amounts to the President wanting a guarantee that they’ll surrender before he talks to them. Iran cannot accept long-term constraints on its fuel-cycle activity as part of a settlement without a security guarantee”—for example, some form of mutual non-aggression pact with the United States.

Leverett told me that, without a change in U.S. policy, the balance of power in the negotiations will shift to Russia. “Russia sees Iran as a beachhead against American interests in the Middle East, and they’re playing a very sophisticated game,” he said. “Russia is quite comfortable with Iran having nuclear fuel cycles that would be monitored, and they’ll support the Iranian position”—in part, because it gives them the opportunity to sell billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear fuel and materials to Tehran. “They believe they can manage their long- and short-term interests with Iran, and still manage the security interests,” Leverett said. China, which, like Russia, has veto power on the Security Council, was motivated in part by its growing need for oil, he said. “They don’t want punitive measures, such as sanctions, on energy producers, and they don’t want to see the U.S. take a unilateral stance on a state that matters to them.” But, he said, “they’re happy to let Russia take the lead in this.” (China, a major purchaser of Iranian oil, is negotiating a multibillion-dollar deal with Iran for the purchase of liquefied natural gas over a period of twenty-five years.) As for the Bush Administration, he added, “unless there’s a shift, it’s only a question of when its policy falls apart.”

It’s not clear whether the Administration will be able to keep the Europeans in accord with American policy if the talks break down. Morton Abramowitz, a former head of State Department intelligence, who was one of the founders of the International Crisis Group, said, “The world is different than it was three years ago, and while the Europeans want good relations with us, they will not go to war with Iran unless they know that an exhaustive negotiating effort was made by Bush. There’s just too much involved, like the price of oil. There will be great pressure put on the Europeans, but I don’t think they’ll roll over and support a war.”

The Europeans, like the generals at the Pentagon, are concerned about the quality of intelligence. A senior European intelligence official said that while “there was every reason to assume” that the Iranians were working on a bomb, there wasn’t enough evidence to exclude the possibility that they were bluffing, and hadn’t moved beyond a civilian research program. The intelligence official was not optimistic about the current negotiations. “It’s a mess, and I don’t see any possibility, at the moment, of solving the problem,” he said. “The only thing to do is contain it. The question is, What is the redline? Is it when you master the nuclear fuel cycle? Or is it just about building a bomb?” Every country had a different criterion, he said. One worry he had was that, in addition to its security concerns, the Bush Administration was driven by its interest in “democratizing” the region. “The United States is on a mission,” he said.

A European diplomat told me that his government would be willing to discuss Iran’s security concerns—a dialogue he said Iran offered Washington three years ago. The diplomat added that “no one wants to be faced with the alternative if the negotiations don’t succeed: either accept the bomb or bomb them. That’s why our goal is to keep the pressure on, and see what Iran’s answer will be.”

A second European diplomat, speaking of the Iranians, said, “Their tactic is going to be to stall and appear reasonable—to say, ‘Yes, but . . .’ We know what’s going on, and the timeline we’re under. The Iranians have repeatedly been in violation of I.A.E.A. safeguards and have given us years of coverup and deception. The international community does not want them to have a bomb, and if we let them continue to enrich that’s throwing in the towel—giving up before we talk.” The diplomat went on, “It would be a mistake to predict an inevitable failure of our strategy. Iran is a regime that is primarily concerned with its own survival, and if its existence is threatened it would do whatever it needed to do—including backing down.”

The Iranian regime’s calculations about its survival also depend on internal political factors. The nuclear program is popular with the Iranian people, including those—the young and the secular—who are most hostile to the religious leadership. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, has effectively used the program to rally the nation behind him, and against Washington. Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics have said that they believe Bush’s goal is not to prevent them from building a bomb but to drive them out of office.

Several current and former officials I spoke to expressed doubt that President Bush would settle for a negotiated resolution of the nuclear crisis. A former high-level Pentagon civilian official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the government, said that Bush remains confident in his military decisions. The President and others in the Administration often invoke Winston Churchill, both privately and in public, as an example of a politician who, in his own time, was punished in the polls but was rewarded by history for rejecting appeasement. In one speech, Bush said, Churchill “seemed like a Texan to me. He wasn’t afraid of public-opinion polls. . . . He charged ahead, and the world is better for it.”

The Israelis have insisted for years that Iran has a clandestine program to build a bomb, and will do so as soon as it can. Israeli officials have emphasized that their “redline” is the moment Iran masters the nuclear fuel cycle, acquiring the technical ability to produce weapons-grade uranium. “Iran managed to surprise everyone in terms of the enrichment capability,” one diplomat familiar with the Israeli position told me, referring to Iran’s announcement, this spring, that it had successfully enriched uranium to the 3.6-per-cent level needed to fuel a nuclear-power reactor. The Israelis believe that Iran must be stopped as soon as possible, because, once it is able to enrich uranium for fuel, the next step—enriching it to the ninety-per-cent level needed for a nuclear bomb—is merely a mechanical process.

Israeli intelligence, however, has also failed to provide specific evidence about secret sites in Iran, according to current and former military and intelligence officials. In May, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Washington and, addressing a joint session of Congress, said that Iran “stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons” that would pose “an existential threat” to Israel. Olmert noted that Ahmadinejad had questioned the reality of the Holocaust, and he added, “It is not Israel’s threat alone. It is a threat to all those committed to stability in the Middle East and to the well-being of the world at large.” But at a secret intelligence exchange that took place at the Pentagon during the visit, the Pentagon consultant said, “what the Israelis provided fell way short” of what would be needed to publicly justify preventive action.

The issue of what to do, and when, seems far from resolved inside the Israeli government. Martin Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told me, “Israel would like to see diplomacy succeed, but they’re worried that in the meantime Iran will cross a threshold of nuclear know-how—and they’re worried about an American military attack not working. They assume they’ll be struck first in retaliation by Iran.” Indyk added, “At the end of the day, the United States can live with Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian nuclear bombs—but for Israel there’s no Mutual Assured Destruction. If they have to live with an Iranian bomb, there will be a great deal of anxiety in Israel, and a lot of tension between Israel and Iran, and between Israel and the U.S.”

Iran has not, so far, officially answered President Bush’s proposal. But its initial response has been dismissive. In a June 22nd interview with the Guardian, Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, rejected Washington’s demand that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment before talks could begin. “If they want to put this prerequisite, why are we negotiating at all?” Larijani said. “We should put aside the sanctions and give up all this talk about regime change.” He characterized the American offer as a “sermon,” and insisted that Iran was not building a bomb. “We don’t want the bomb,” he said. Ahmadinejad has said that Iran would make a formal counterproposal by August 22nd, but last week Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader, declared, on state radio, “Negotiation with the United States has no benefits for us.”

Despite the tough rhetoric, Iran would be reluctant to reject a dialogue with the United States, according to Giandomenico Picco, who, as a representative of the United Nations, helped to negotiate the ceasefire that ended the Iran-Iraq War, in 1988. “If you engage a superpower, you feel you are a superpower,” Picco told me. “And now the haggling in the Persian bazaar begins. We are negotiating over a carpet”—the suspected weapons program—“that we’re not sure exists, and that we don’t want to exist. And if at the end there never was a carpet it’ll be the negotiation of the century.”

If the talks do break down, and the Administration decides on military action, the generals will, of course, follow their orders; the American military remains loyal to the concept of civilian control. But some officers have been pushing for what they call the “middle way,” which the Pentagon consultant described as “a mix of options that require a number of Special Forces teams and air cover to protect them to send into Iran to grab the evidence so the world will know what Iran is doing.” He added that, unlike Rumsfeld, he and others who support this approach were under no illusion that it could bring about regime change. The goal, he said, was to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the I.A.E.A., said in a speech this spring that his agency believed there was still time for diplomacy to achieve that goal. “We should have learned some lessons from Iraq,” ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said. “We should have learned that we should be very careful about assessing our intelligence. . . . We should have learned that we should try to exhaust every possible diplomatic means to solve the problem before thinking of any other enforcement measures.”

He went on, “When you push a country into a corner, you are always giving the driver’s seat to the hard-liners. . . . If Iran were to move out of the nonproliferation regime altogether, if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon program, we clearly will have a much, much more serious problem.”

July 31, 2006 - 2:09 PM

Swiss backstage diplomacy grows over Iran

Daniele Mariani, swissinfo

The Iran nuclear issue was discussed in March at a United Nations Conference on Disarmament meeting in Geneva (Keystone)

Switzerland, which represents the United States' interests in Iran, may be about to take on an increased role in the ongoing Iran nuclear crisis. Iran has asked Bern to organise an international conference to resolve the standoff with the West over Tehran's nuclear programme, it has been reported. The Swiss foreign ministry and Tehran have so far declined to comment on the report which appeared in the Swiss newspaper, the NZZ am Sonntag. There has, however, been a scurry of diplomatic activity between the two countries in recent months.

The letter from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to George Bush proposing "new solutions" to their differences in early May went via the Swiss embassy in Tehran. Switzerland has represented the US in Iran since 1981. The US and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 after US embassy staff were taken hostage in Tehran, not long after the Islamic revolution.

This "good office" role is much appreciated. During a visit to Switzerland earlier this month, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Switzerland had always held a "correct and balanced position" on international and regional matters.

Positive image
"Switzerland enjoys an extremely positive image in Iran," Mohammad-Reza Djalili, professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, told swissinfo. This image comes in part, but not exclusively, from the country's "good office" policy. "In the past before the revolution, many of Iran's elite, including [the former leader] the Shah, studied in Switzerland," said Djalili, who added that he wasn't surprised by Tehran's request to Switzerland. "Besides, informal meetings in Geneva between Iranian and Western representatives have favourably prepared the ground," he said.

According to the NZZ am Sonntag article, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki made the request. Switzerland had previously offered its assistance to find a negotiated outcome to the Iranian nuclear crisis. The offer was repeated at the meeting with Larijani in early July.

The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop atomic weapons and is demanding that it suspend a uranium enrichment programme that Tehran says is only to produce electricity.

Pressure on Iran over the issue has been mounting. The United Nations Security Council on Monday demanded Iran suspend its nuclear activities by the end of August or face the threat of sanctions. The five permanent members of the Security Council (the US, Britain, China, France and Russia) and Germany have also offered it incentives to give up the programme. Tehran has to give its answer by mid-August.

"The Iranian government is trying to see if the dossier can now be taken out of the framework of the Security Council, especially now, in my opinion, as in the past weeks the Russian and Chinese positions have become closer to the western countries," explained Djalili. In other words, it would seem that Tehran is becoming increasingly isolated and is looking for support, which could explain the idea for the international conference, he said.

It has been reported that Iran wants invitations to be extended beyond the permanent five and to include other countries such as Pakistan, India and Brazil. "I believe, however, that Tehran is deluding itself. When the UN General Assembly decided to send the nuclear dossier to the Security Council, only three countries voted against it [Syria, Cuba and Venezuela]," said Djalili.

He says the five permanent members probably do not want other countries involved in a long negotiating process. "The political conditions have not come together," Djalili told swissinfo. "I don't believe that such a conference will, at least for now, be on the agenda."

    Apart from representing the United States in Iran, Switzerland also hold three similar good offices: since 1979 it has represented Iran in Egypt, since 1961 the US in Cuba, and since 1991, Cuba in the US.
Switzerland's first role in this diplomatic area was in 1870, when it represented Bavaria and Baden in France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1.
    During the Second World War, Switzerland represented the interests of 35 states and after 1945, the number rose to around 70.

Iran opened an embassy in Bern in 1917.
In 1919 Switzerland opened a consulate general in Tehran.
In 2005 there were 187 Swiss citizens living in Iran.
At the end of 2004, 3,801 Iranians were living in Switzerland.

Swiss security and peace policy (
Good offices in the Swiss Historical Dictionary (German, French, Italian) (
Swiss embassy in Tehran (

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Washington Post    July 31, 2006

The Next Steps With Iran
Negotiations Must Go Beyond the Nuclear Threat to Broader Issues

By Henry A. Kissinger

The world's attention is focused on the fighting in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, but the context leads inevitably back to Iran. Unfortunately, the diplomacy dealing with that issue is constantly outstripped by events. While explosives are raining on Lebanese and Israeli towns and Israel reclaims portions of Gaza, the proposal to Iran in May by the so-called Six (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program still awaits an answer. It's possible that Tehran reads the almost pleading tone of some communications addressed to it as a sign of weakness and irresolution. Or perhaps the violence in Lebanon has produced second thoughts among the mullahs about the risks of courting and triggering crisis.

However the tea leaves are read, the current Near Eastern upheaval could become a turning point. Iran may come to appreciate the law of unintended consequences. For their part, the Six can no longer avoid dealing with the twin challenges that Iran poses. On the one hand, the quest for nuclear weapons represents Iran's reach for modernity via the power symbol of the modern state; at the same time, this claim is put forward by a fervent kind of religious extremism that has kept the Muslim Middle East unmodernized for centuries. This conundrum can be solved without conflict only if Iran adopts a modernism consistent with international order and a view of Islam compatible with peaceful coexistence.

Heretofore the Six have been vague about their response to an Iranian refusal to negotiate, except for unspecific threats of sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. But if a deadlock between strained forbearance by the Six and taunting invective from the Iranian president leads to de facto acquiescence in the Iranian nuclear program, prospects for multilateral international order will dim everywhere. If the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are unable jointly to achieve goals to which they have publicly committed themselves, every country, especially those composing the Six, will face growing threats, be they increased domestic pressure from radical Islamic groups, terrorist acts or the nearly inevitable conflagrations sparked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The analogy of such a disaster is not Munich, when the democracies yielded the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but the response when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. At Munich, the democracies thought that Hitler's demands were essentially justified by the principle of self-determination; they were repelled mostly by his methods. In the Abyssinian crisis, the nature of the challenge was uncontested. By a vast majority, the League of Nations voted to treat the Italian adventure as aggression and to impose sanctions. But they recoiled before the consequences of their insight and rejected an oil embargo, which Italy would have been unable to overcome. The league never recovered from that debacle. If the six-nation forums dealing with Iran and North Korea suffer comparable failures, the consequence will be a world of unchecked proliferation, not controlled by either governing principles or functioning institutions.

A modern, strong, peaceful Iran could become a pillar of stability and progress in the region. This cannot happen unless Iran's leaders decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation -- whether their basic motivation is crusading or international cooperation. The goal of the diplomacy of the Six should be to oblige Iran to confront this choice.

Diplomacy never operates in a vacuum. It persuades not by the eloquence of its practitioners but by assembling a balance of incentives and risks. Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means defines both the challenge and the limits of diplomacy. War can impose submission; diplomacy needs to evoke consensus. Military success enables the victor in war to prescribe, at least for an interim period. Diplomatic success occurs when the principal parties are substantially satisfied; it creates -- or should strive to create -- common purposes, at least regarding the subject matter of the negotiation; otherwise no agreement lasts very long. The risk of war lies in exceeding objective limits; the bane of diplomacy is to substitute process for purpose. Diplomacy should not be confused with glibness. It is not an oratorical but a conceptual exercise. When it postures for domestic audiences, radical challenges are encouraged rather than overcome.

It is often asserted that what is needed in relation to Iran is a diplomacy comparable to that which, in the 1970s, moved China from hostility to cooperation with the United States. But China was not persuaded by skillful diplomacy to enter this process. Rather, China was brought, by a decade of escalating conflict with the Soviet Union, to a conviction that the threat to its security came less from capitalist America than from the growing concentration of Soviet forces on its northern borders. Clashes of Soviet and Chinese military forces along the Ussuri River accelerated Beijing's retreat from the Soviet alliance.

The contribution of American diplomacy was to understand the significance of these events and to act on that knowledge. The Nixon administration did not convince China that it needed to change its priorities. Its role was to convince China that implementing its strategic necessities was safe and would enhance China's long-term prospects. It did so by concentrating the diplomatic dialogue on fundamental geopolitical objectives, while keeping some contentious items in abeyance. The Shanghai Communique of 1972, the first Sino-U.S. communique, symbolized this process. Contrary to established usage, it listed a series of continuing disagreements as a prelude to the key common objective of preventing hegemonic aspirations of unnamed third parties -- clearly implying the Soviet Union.

The challenge of the Iranian negotiation is far more complex. For two years before the opening to China, the two sides had engaged in subtle, reciprocal, symbolic and diplomatic actions to convey their intentions. In the process, they had tacitly achieved a parallel understanding of the international situation, and China opted for seeking to live in a cooperative world.

Nothing like that has occurred between Iran and the United States. There is not even an approximation of a comparable world view. Iran has reacted to the American offer to enter negotiations with taunts, and has inflamed tensions in the region. Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks -- or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability. The crisis in Lebanon could mark a watershed if it confers a sense of urgency to the diplomacy of the Six and a note of realism to the attitudes in Tehran.

Up to now Iran has been playing for time. The mullahs apparently seek to accumulate as much nuclear capability as possible so that, even were they to suspend enrichment, they would be in a position to use the threat of resuming their weapons effort as a means to enhance their clout in the region.

Given the pace of technology, patience can easily turn into evasion. The Six will have to decide how serious they will be in insisting on their convictions. Specifically, the Six will have to be prepared to act decisively before the process of technology makes the objective of stopping uranium enrichment irrelevant. Well before that point is reached, sanctions will have to be agreed on. To be effective, they must be comprehensive; halfhearted, symbolic measures combine the disadvantage of every course of action. Interallied consultations must avoid the hesitation that the League of Nations conveyed over Abyssinia. We must learn from the North Korean negotiations not to engage in a process involving long pauses to settle disagreements within the administration and within the negotiating group, while the other side adds to its nuclear potential. There is equal need, on the part of America's partners, for decisions permitting them to pursue a parallel course.

A suspension of enrichment of uranium should not be the end of the process. A next step should be the elaboration of a global system of nuclear enrichment to take place in designated centers around the world under international control -- as proposed for Iran by Russia. This would ease implications of discrimination against Iran and establish a pattern for the development of nuclear energy without a crisis with each entrant into the nuclear field.

President Bush has announced America's willingness to participate in the discussions of the Six with Iran to prevent emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. But it will not be possible to draw a line between nuclear negotiations and a comprehensive review of Iran's overall relations to the rest of the world.

The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America -- and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six -- is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.

At the same time, an Iran concentrating on the development of the talents of its people and the resources of its country should have nothing to fear from the United States. Hard as it is to imagine that Iran, under its present president, will participate in an effort that would require it to abandon its terrorist activities or its support for such instruments as Hezbollah, the recognition of this fact should emerge from the process of negotiation rather than being the basis for a refusal to negotiate. Such an approach would imply the redefinition of the objective of regime change, providing an opportunity for a genuine change in direction by Iran, whoever is in power.

It is important to express such a policy in precise objectives capable of transparent verification. A geopolitical dialogue is not a substitute for an early solution of the nuclear enrichment crisis. That must be addressed separately, rapidly and firmly. But a great deal depends on whether a strong stand on that issue is understood as the first step in the broader invitation to Iran to return to the wider world.

In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program. For that reason, America has an obligation to explore every honorable alternative.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Christian Science Monitor    9 August 2006

After Lebanon, there's Iran

By Vali Nasr

MONTEREY, CALIF. - When the war in Lebanon ends, the US will have to piece together a whole new strategy for dealing with Iran - especially its nuclear program. The Israeli- Hizbullah war has boldly ratcheted up Iran's regional stature at the same time it has depleted US influence and prestige.

From the outset, the Lebanese conflict was about more than just Hizbullah. Jerusalem and Washington were quick to point the finger of blame for the conflict at Iran, and it was with Iran in mind that Israel unleashed the full force of its air power in Lebanon. The US, too, saw shock and awe in Beirut as an opportunity to convince Tehran of the West's determination to bring it into compliance on the nuclear issue.

Tehran cleary received the message and viewed the US-backed Israeli war on Hizbullah as the first stage of a war on Iran. But Tehran also used the occasion to send a message of its own to Washington. While dutifully denying a direct role in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Tehran nevertheless heaped praise on Hizbullah, hoping that its engagement with Israel might dampen enthusiasm for a military attack on Iran. To further drive this point home, Hizbullah surprised Israel and the US by successfully testing a number of Iranian-made advanced weapons systems.

Iran's ties to Hizbullah run deep. It was Iranian clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders who first organized Hizbullah in the 1980s. Since then, Tehran has bankrolled and armed Hizbullah's war machine. Many among the current leadership of Iran's Revolutionary Guards have served tours of duty at Hizbullah's headquarters in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Over the past two decades, Hizbullah has evolved into a Lebanese political force, but it continues to rely on Iranian support to sustain its military capabilities.

Average Iranians resent their government's generous support for Hizbullah when unemployment and poverty plague the Iranian economy, and many bristle at the risk that support for Hizbullah carries for Iran. But Iran's leaders see Hizbullah as an ally and an asset. Hizbullah is a fruit of the Iranian revolution - the only time its seed found fertile soil outside Iran. Tehran cannot back away from Hizbullah without acknowledging that the revolution is over. Iran's hard-line leaders, looking to rekindle revolutionary fervor at home, see their own values reflected in Hizbullah.

Nor will Tehran easily give up on a pro- Iranian force in the heart of the Arab world and an important instrument in confronting Israel and the US. Tehran has basked in Hizbullah's new-found glory, taking credit for a popular military adventure that has greatly weakened Iran's traditional regional rivals - Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Iran had hoped that its cooperation with the US in rebuilding a post-Taliban Afghanistan would lead to an opening in the relations between the two countries. But Washington was not keen to build on that initiative. It refused to engage Iran over the future of Iraq and instead focused its energies on containing Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf and rolling back Iran's nuclear program.

In the Lebanese conflict, Iran has found an opportunity to underscore its regional importance. The Iran-Hizbullah axis has hijacked the Palestinian cause and redefined the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither criticism by Arab governments nor fatwas (religious edicts) by radical Sunni clerics have slowed down Hizbullah's and Iran's rising stock.

As the US looks for a way out of the crisis, it is increasingly evident that it is Iran's and not Washington's traditional allies in the region that hold the key to solving the crisis, and Tehran hopes that Washington will come to realize that without Iranian cooperation it cannot ensure regional stability.

With a population of close to 70 million, more than 70 percent of which is literate, a vibrant culture, and a geographic spread from Central Asia and the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf, Iran is today a rising power in the Middle East. Its large market, economic output, industrial potential, and vast oil and natural gas reserves make it central to American geostrategic and energy interests. Over the past two decades, Tehran has nurtured cultural, economic, and political ties with various regional forces, most notably the Shiites of Iraq. These ties confirm Iran's regional status, just as they make it more difficult for the US to bring stability to the arc stretching from Afghanistan to Lebanon without Iran.

In the coming months, Washington will have to look for ways to deal with a bullish Iran. A policy of isolation and intimidation will no longer yield results and will serve to further destabilize the Middle East. Hizbullah's tenacious resistance has moreover devalued military power as a deterrent. The war has not only failed to subdue Hizbullah militarily, but has made it politically stronger. US objectives and interests would be better served by giving Iran a vested interest in stability. That means including Iran in a new regional security framework. The US should continue to demand that Iran curb its nuclear activities, abandon support of terrorism, and respect the democratic aspirations of Iranians. The difference would be that with regime change no longer a threat, Iran will be more likely to find reasons to change its course.

Exit Pathway Indicators on Current Mideastern Conflicts

ICESC - 9 August 2006

1.    The Iranian Government reportedly called on the Swiss Government for rendering good offices in nuclear security matters (, notably in the form of preparing for and holding in Switzerland in autumn 2007 an international conference involving both nuclear weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). The Swiss Government is thus expected to develop the conference agenda in consultation with the interested states, and the Iranian Government is understood to suspend, volontarily and without prejudice, all of its civil-purpose and IAEA-controlled uranium enrichment activities until after the conclusion of this conference.

2.    The Iranian Government, in coopertation with the Lebanese Government, sees to it that UNSCR 1559 will be fully implemented forthwith, with all mobile and non-mobile offensive weapons stationed on Lebanese territory fully accounted for and either destroyed or brought under the exclusive control of the Lebanese army. At the request of the Lebanese Government, the governments of France, Iran, Israel, Syria and the United States jointly provide their good offices for supervising the corresponding measures effectively, reliably and without impediments of any nature, but with due regard to the sovereignty of Lebanon.

3.    The Israeli Government agrees to withdraw its armed forces forthwith behind the blue line and, upon mutual cessation of hostilities, to establish a neutralized zone in the sense of art.15 of the 1949 Geneva Convention (.../neutralzone.htm) under its administration over all of the territory of the Shaba farms until a definitive international agreement will have resolved the related sovereignty and boundary questions.

ICESC    10 August 2006

Israel/Iran - why not reanimate a natural alliance?

Your Excellency,

1.    If it becomes politically and otherwise too costly for Israel to do it essentially on its own, and if neither a beefed-up UNIFIL, nor another conceivable conglomerate of foreign "peace enforcers" and Lebanese troops can be expected to reliably carry out the measures set out in UNSCR 1559 and which are deemed necessary for either destroying or neutralizing the offensive weapons stationed in Lebanon, why not motivate and task the originators and handlers of these weapons with this job, and have the related measures properly supervised (draft plan:

2.    Israel reportedly owes to Iran over 5 billion $ from the time of the Shah. Instead of ignoring, evading or drowning this issue, why not exploring and developing it as a vehicle for resolving current issues by way of mutually beneficial joint ventures, such as the proposed transit pipeline Rasht-Haifa via Northern Iraq and Jordan (.../package.htm)?

3.    The still unresolved overlapping claims regarding Palestinian territories are seen as core issues of the Mideastern conflict. Why not explore out-of-the-box pathways for addressing this issue, inlcuding the Babylon II proposals involving more imaginative initiatives from the Palestinian side and which, in the context of a global approach, might be facilitated to mutual advantages by visionary and principled Iranian and Iraqi leaders (.../gridlock.htm)?

Sincerely yours,

Anton Keller, Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York
International Committee for European Security and Co-operation (.../ICESC)

BBC NEWS    21 September 2006     01:59:43 GMT

World poll favours Iran diplomacy

World opinion opposes aggressive steps as a way of stopping a possible Iranian nuclear arms programme, according to a 25-nation poll for BBC World Service. But only 17% of those polled believed Iranian assurances that research it is carrying out is just for energy needs. The most popular course of action, with 39% support, was to use only diplomatic efforts; 11% favoured military strikes. Last month, Iran failed to abide by a UN deadline to halt uranium enrichment which could lead to sanctions. An average of 30% of respondents favoured economic sanctions if Iran continued to produce nuclear fuel.

The survey asked 27,407 people in countries ranging from the US and UK to Brazil, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Israel, Nigeria, Poland, Russia and Turkey. The survey, by the international polling organisation GlobeScan, has a margin of error of between plus-or-minus 2.5% and 4%. Poll analyst Steven Kull, of the University of Maryland, said: "Clearly world opinion rejects Iran's claim that it is simply trying to develop nuclear energy. "But at this point the world public favours addressing the problem through diplomacy rather than a confrontational approach."


Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they would be concerned if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, with 43% saying they would be "very concerned". In general, there appeared to be a world-wide mandate for stricter controls on the production of nuclear fuels which could be used in weapons.

Fifty-two percent favoured a new effort to have the UN develop new controls, while 33% favoured preserving the existing system allowing non-nuclear powers to develop nuclear fuel but not weapons. The questionnaire also showed respondents in Egypt and Turkey had a strong sense of entitlement to have a nuclear capacity. Only 29% in each country agreed the UN should stop countries from producing their own nuclear fuel, but provide them with the fuel they need.

A recent report by the UN's nuclear watchdog said Iran started a new round of uranium enrichment, which can be used to make weapons, just days before the UN deadline to halt it. Tehran says it is completely within its rights to pursue a nuclear power programme and insists that is what it is doing.

BBC News    September 25, 2006    15:47:20 GMT

Iran's gulf of misunderstanding with US
By Gordon Corera, Security correspondent

The US and Iran almost never speak to each other. "It's the most unusual relationship we have with any country in the world," explains US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns. "It's been 27 years since we've had a normal diplomatic, social and political relationship. And so for instance I am one of the people responsible for Iran in our government and yet I have never met an Iranian government official in my 25-year career."

The fiery rhetoric between Iran and the US of recent months has made it appear that the two countries are on a collision course. But did it have to be this way and could the two sides still sit down face to face?

9/11 opportunity

In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, there were some tentative steps. In Iran, vast crowds turned out on the streets and held candlelit vigils for the victims. Sixty-thousand spectators respected a minute's silence at Tehran's football stadium.

Some of Iran's leaders also sensed an opportunity. America quickly fixed its sights on the Taleban in Afghanistan with whom the Iranians had nearly come to war just three years earlier. With a common enemy in the Taleban, the two found grounds to co-operate.

After the Afghan war, US negotiators worked closely with Iranian counterparts to form a new Afghan government. Some of the talks between US and Iranian officials moved beyond Afghanistan and there was hope that it could lead to tentative re-engagement and eventually a restoration of relations. But back in their respective capitals, there were voices of dissent. Debates in Washington and Tehran paralleled each other. Hardliners and moderates clashed about whether it was worth talking to the other side and whether it could ever be trusted.

Hardliners in Iran, scarred by the past, cited Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's dictum that any friendship between the US and Iran was like that between a wolf and a sheep. And just a few weeks after Iran and the US had worked so closely over Afghanistan, Iran was described by President George W Bush as part of an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.

Javad Zarif, now Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, said this was a big surprise at after the co-operation over the Afghan government. "We were all shocked by the fact that the US had such a short memory and was so ungrateful about what had happened just a month ago," he said. But the hardliners in Washington had been bolstered by Israel's discovery just a few weeks before the speech of a consignment of arms alleged to be heading from Iran to Palestinian groups.

Surprise overture

Another potential opening came in May 2003. America's swift march to Baghdad the previous month had led to fears in Tehran that it would be next. So Tehran made a dramatic - but surprisingly little known - approach to the Americans. Iran's offer came in the form of a letter, although Iranian diplomats have suggested that their letter was in turn a response to a set of talking points that had come from US intermediaries. In it, Iran appeared willing to put everything on the table - including being completely open about its nuclear programme, helping to stabilise Iraq, ending its support for Palestinian militant groups and help in disarming Hezbollah.

What did Iran want? Top of the list was a halt in US hostile behaviour and a statement that "Iran did not belong to 'the axis of evil'". The letter was the product of an internal debate inside Tehran and had the support of leaders at the highest level. "That letter went to the Americans to say that we are ready to talk, we are ready to address our issues," explains Seyed Adeli, who was then a deputy foreign minister in Iran. But in Washington, the letter was ignored.

Larry Wilkerson, who was then chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, thinks that was a big mistake. "In my mind it was one of those things you throw up in the air and say I can't believe we did this." He says the hardliners who stood against dialogue had a memorable refrain. "We don't speak to evil'. The problem was that at the very moment that Iranian vulnerability was at its greatest, thanks to America's swift march to Baghdad, Washington was at its most triumphalist. Why talk to Iran when you could simply dictate terms from a position of strength?

Gift to the hardliners

The effect of America's rejection of talks was far reaching. It would tilt the balance of power within Tehran towards the hardliners. "The failure is not just for the idea, but also for the group who were pursuing the idea," explains Seyed Adeli.

Over the following years, the hardliners in Tehran who were far less supportive of dialogue moved into the ascendancy. And the balance of power between Iran and the US began to shift. America's victory in Iraq began to look like something far more ambivalent as a bloody insurgency gathered strength. Meanwhile, Iran's influence both in Iraq and across the Middle East grew, augmented by rising oil prices.

In March 2005, the US announced it would back the EU's negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme, which Iran says is peaceful but the US and others believe is geared towards weapons. The possibility of talks is currently on the table. But the US insists that Iran must suspend its nuclear activity first. At the UN, Iran's ambassador Javad Zarif argues that this is the source of the problem. "Had it not been for those arbitrary red lines and the pressure that went along with those arbitrary red lines imposed on our negotiating partners, I believe the nuclear issue could have been resolved long time ago."

But the US believes that Iran has failed to be open about its nuclear programme and needs to abide by UN demands that it halt its activity first. The two sides may be able to sit down and talk face to face in the coming months, if agreement can be reached regarding some form of Iranian suspension of nuclear activity. But if this chance is lost, there may not be many more.

Mixed Messages and Secret Diplomacy was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Monday 25 September.

The New York Times
October 2, 2006

An Offer Tehran Can't Refuse
By Ted Koppel.

A few days ago, I inadvertently violated United States economic sanctions against Iran. I was paying my hotel bill in Tehran, didn't have enough cash and asked if I could use a credit card. ''I'll need to keep your card for at least half an hour,'' said the clerk. Since he'd also ''needed to keep'' my passport for the first couple of days I was in Iran, I thought nothing more of it. Half an hour later, I had my hotel bill and my credit card and left for the airport.

A couple of days later my assistant asked me if I had purchased any clothing in Dubai. ''No,'' I said. ''Why?'' Someone, it appeared, had used my corporate credit card to do just that. When I heard the amount involved -- precisely the total of my hotel bill -- I understood.

There had been no purchase of clothing in Dubai, of course; but some Dubai business debited my credit card there (where such a transaction is legal) for the amount of my hotel bill, simultaneously crediting the company that owns the hotel in Tehran with that sum for the purchase of goods or services in Dubai. Similar, much larger loopholes enable the European subsidiaries of American companies to sell sanction-banned American goods inside Iran in limited but still significant quantities.

Even as the United States withholds its goods and technological know-how from Iran, the Europeans, Russians, Japanese and especially the Chinese are offering theirs as quickly as the contracts can be drafted. The likelihood that more restrictive sanctions against Iran will either make it through the United Nations' bureaucratic quagmire or dissuade Iran from darting down the path toward nuclear technology is about as dim as that of a popular uprising among the people under 30 who make up 70 percent of Iran's population.

Many of Iran's young adults -- especially the well-educated, English-speaking ones who cross the path of a visiting American journalist -- are frustrated by the puritanical nature of Islamic law. They dismiss their president and ours as deserving each other, denounce the corruption of the mullahs and speak with surprising openness about confiscated satellite dishes, blocked Internet sites, the closing of newspapers and the jailing and mistreatment of dissidents. But the young malcontents appear nowhere close to staging a revolution.

On the highway from Tehran to the Mehrabad airport, I witnessed a mind-bending object lesson in the limits of youthful rebellion: two young women on in-line skates, clutching the door handles of a car being driven by a young man at speeds approaching 60 miles an hour. Both women brazenly violated every traffic law known to man, but with their head scarves in place, the loose ends firmly clenched between their teeth. There are certain lines you don't cross.

Trivial acts of rebellion, irrelevant to the Islamic revolution, are tolerated. Anything perceived as a significant challenge is not. One of the men who planned and executed the taking of the American Embassy in 1979, for example, spent nine months in solitary confinement for collaborating on a public opinion poll whose findings were deemed unacceptable.

Iran suffers from chronic underemployment and its social safety nets are flimsy at best. The Revolutionary Guards now resemble Mafia families more than ideological shock troops. They still wield enormous influence, but their clout has corrupted them. In Tehran, I'm told, the Revolutionary Guard dominates the construction industry and its leading members have become exceedingly wealthy as a consequence. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains popular among the peasants and the poor, who note that he has failed to deliver on most of his campaign promises but are willing to grant him more time. As long as the price of oil remains above $50 a barrel, Iran can buy what it needs.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's tweaking of the West and his refusal to bow to pressure on the nuclear issue are widely popular in Iran. There was a time, not long ago, when many Iranians genuinely believed that there was a danger of an American military attack, even an invasion. Hardly anyone seems to believe in that possibility any more.

What, then, can the United States do to prevent Iran from developing nuclear technology? Little or nothing. Washington should instead bow to the inevitable. ''You insist on having nuclear weapons,'' we should say. ''Go ahead. It's a terrible idea, but we can't stop you. We would, however, like your leaders to view the enclosed DVD of 'The Godfather.' Please pay particular attention to the scene in which Don Corleone makes grudging peace with a man -- the head of a rival crime family -- who ordered the killing of his oldest son.''

In that scene, Don Corleone says, ''I forgo my vengeance for my dead son, for the common good. But I have selfish reasons.'' The welfare of his youngest son, Michael, is on his mind. ''I am a superstitious man,'' he continues. ''And so if some unlucky accident should befall my youngest son, if some police officer should accidentally shoot him, or if he should hang himself in his cell, or if my son is struck by a bolt of lightening, then I will blame some of the people here. That I could never forgive.''

If Iran is bound and determined to have nuclear weapons, let it. The elimination of American opposition on this issue would open the way to genuine normalization between our two nations. It might even convince the Iranians that their country can flourish without nuclear weapons.

But this should also be made clear to Tehran: If a dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee, or some other nuclear device detonates in Baltimore or Wichita, if Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia should fall victim to a nuclear ''accident,'' Iran should understand that the United States government will not search around for the perpetrator. The return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.

Maybe we could induce Richard Armitage out of retirement to play the Don Corleone part. Apparently he knows the role, having already played it in Pakistan.

Ted Koppel is a contributing columnist for The Times and the managing editor of the Discovery Channel.    3 octobre 2006

Iran: L’ombre de la guerre ou la guerre des ombres
par Houshang Sepehr

[Dans l’immédiat, la bombe iranienne gêne bien davantage le Pakistan et l’Arabie saoudite qu’Israël. Et Jérusalem ainsi que Téhéran partagent tout de même une relation très amicale avec l’Inde (et secondairement avec la Turquie). Si un compromis acceptable peut être trouvé, à chaud, dans la crise, peut-être alors le grand basculement du monde oriental est-il en passe de se réaliser sous nos yeux.]  Inprecor, septembre-octobre 2006.
Cinq jours avant la fin de l’ultimatum lancé par le conseil de sécurité pour la cessation de ses activités nucléaire, le président iranien Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a inauguré en grande pompe au centre de l’Iran une usine de production d’eau lourde. Cette inauguration est un nouveau pied de nez de Téhéran à l’Occident, alors qu’une campagne de propagandes autour des sanctions économiques et des attaques militaires éventuelles a commencé depuis plus de deux ans.

Cette campagne est une guerre psychologique afin que la République islamique accepte les exigences des États-Unis et de leurs alliés. Ces derniers veulent que le régime de Téhéran se soumette aux politiques qu’ils proposent pour le Proche et le Moyen-Orient. Selon l’évaluation faite par les va-t-en guerre, Téhéran a encore besoin de trois, quatre ou cinq années avant d’être membre du club nucléaire. Il y a donc encore de la place pour la diplomatie.

L’occupation de l’Afghanistan et de l’Irak par l’impérialisme des États-Unis et leurs alliés a fait accroître les protestations de masse dans toute la région. En l’absence d’alternatives révolutionnaires et démocratiques, c’est la République islamique d’Iran que profite des mécontentements de masse dans la région. C’est exactement pour cette raison-là que le régime de Téhéran peut se permettre de ne pas reculer immédiatement devant les exigences des États-Unis et de leurs alliés.

Le régime iranien a tiré les leçons du sort du régime de Saddam Hussein en Irak. La différence entre la guerre d’Irak et la menace de guerre contre l’Iran, c’est que le régime de Saddam Hussein ne possédait pas d’armes de destruction massive, alors que celui de l’Iran cherche sans aucun doute à se doter d’un armement nucléaire. Saddam Hussein, à la veille de la deuxième guerre du Golfe non seulement affirmait, en donnant même des preuves, qu’il ne possédait pas d’armes de destruction massive, mais il multipliait les initiatives et concessions destinées à détourner la menaces d’intervention. Au contraire, l’Iran et tout particulièrement son président font l’inverse.

Certes, le régime de Téhéran nie être en train de se doter de l’arme nucléaire. Mais, en même temps, les responsables iraniens font tout pour laisser croire qu’ils sont en voie de la posséder. Ils saisissent toutes les occasions pour mettre en avant leurs progrès dans le domaine militaire et, en particulier, dans la maîtrise des fusées capables de frapper Israël. Non seulement ils ne cherchent pas à cacher leur ambition nucléaire, mais au contraire ils la proclament en toute occasion et souvent de façon assez ambiguë pour que l’on puisse croire tout autant qu’il s’agit d’une ambition civile que militaire.

Le régime répète sans cesse que l’Iran ne risque strictement rien car les États-Unis sont affaiblis et durablement enlisés en Irak et en Afghanistan, pour qu’ils ne prennent pas le risque inouï d’ouvrir un nouveau front alors que l’opinion publique américaine exige déjà le rappel des GI. Ils ne cessent de surcroît d’évoquer les types de représailles qu’ils n’hésiteraient pas à utiliser en cas d’attaque, y compris l’envoi de milliers de kamikazes contre les Américains en Irak, en Afghanistan ou dans le monde entier. La nouvelle donne régionale issue de la guerre entre Israël et le Hezbollah libanais, dont le régime de Téhéran est le parrain, rend encore plus difficile une réaction rapide et forte des grandes puissances.

Le nucléaire, héritage du Shah.
Le programme nucléaire iranien remonte à 1974. Il comportait bel et bien une dimension militaire, mais nul n’y trouvait à redire puisqu’il s’agissait de contrer l’URSS. L’Iran était l’allié d’Israël, que Washington avait laissé se doter de la bombe. Pour mieux comprendre les circonstances il faut rappeler la situation géopolitique de la région de l’époque. Au début des années 1960, la guerre menée par la Chine sur les confins de l’Inde entraînait ce dernier pays dans la voie nucléaire, avec une aide discrète initiale des États-Unis, relayée ensuite par l’Union soviétique. L’Inde disposait de l’arme nucléaire à la fin des années 1970 et celle-ci devenait opérationnelle dès le milieu des années 1980. Cette situation, jugée intolérable par les militaires pakistanais, aboutissait peu après à une riposte chinoise inévitable : la fourniture par Pékin des moyens techniques d’une contre-bombe pakistanaise qui allégerait le fardeau de la dissuasion chinoise.

Il est arrivé à la Chine, notamment en matière balistique, de passer par l’allié nord-coréen pour éviter toute sanction américaine. Mais le financement de l’opération, très au-delà des moyens limités du Pakistan, aura été assuré à 75 % par l’Arabie saoudite, qui y voit toujours l’esquisse d’une véritable « bombe islamique », les Émirats et la Malaisie couvrant le reste. C’est, en échange, le Pakistan qui mettra, dans les années 1980, les Saoudiens en contact avec les Chinois (avec lesquels ils n’entretenaient alors aucune relation diplomatique) pour que le royaume wahhabite puisse acheter des missiles à moyenne portée, acte qui constituait pour le royaume intégriste le premier pas en direction de la nucléarisation. Si Sadate,, en échange du Sinaï, avait dû renoncer au programme nucléaire égyptien, en partie gelé et en partie transféré par Moubarak, après l’assassinat de Sadate, vers l’Irak de Saddam Hussein dans les années 1980, différents projets arabes concurrents voyaient le jour à cette même époque, en Algérie, en Libye et même dans la petite Syrie. Aucun de ces projets n’a pour l’instant pu aboutir, et le renoncement de Khadafi sera sans doute définitif.

C’est dans ce contexte chargé que l’Iran a voulu se doter de l’arme nucléaire dès l’époque du Shah. Les Américains y étaient favorables, pour dissuader une éventuelle attaque soviétique sur la frontière nord du pays, qui se trouvait être, avec son prolongement afghan, la seule ligne de défense occidentale au contact de l’URSS non garantie par le nucléaire. Ce fut la France qui se chargea, avec l’usine Eurodif, de fournir aux dirigeants iraniens de l’époque les moyens techniques initiaux. Par ailleurs, l’Iran entrait alors auprès de la France dans le capital d’Eurodif, un consortium européen d’enrichissement de l’uranium, et obtenait le droit de prélever 10 % de la production, à des fins civiles, de l’usine de Pierrelatte (qui à elle seule devait couvrir un tiers des besoins mondiaux). Parallèlement, l’Iran a prêté 1 milliard de dollars à la France, par le canal du Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). Le remboursement de cette somme devait commencer dès la mise en service d’Eurodif, c’est-à-dire en 1981. Après la révolution de 1979, la participation iranienne à Eurodif fut gelée. Dans son livre « Affaires atomiques », Dominique Lorentz, a bien montré le lien entre l’importance du contentieux Eurodif/Iran et les attentats de 1986-88 en France. Iran abandonna ce projet, mais les dirigeants iraniens le relancèrent au milieu des années 1980 contre la menace d’invasion par l’Irak de Saddam. La première guerre d’Irak et surtout les frappes américaines contre Bagdad en 1991, montraient en effet la vulnérabilité de leur pays

Après 1988, la France capitulait et réglait le contentieux Eurodif. Le régime de Téhéran, après l’armistice de 1988 avec l’Irak, se tournait vers l’Union soviétique, en échange du soutien de Téhéran aux Russes, contre les mouvements indépendantistes en Azerbaïdjan et en Asie centrale puis en s’abstenant de tout soutien à la cause tchétchène (laquelle s’appuyait de plus en plus sur l’axe sunnite saoudien-pakistanais).

«L’Amérique est coincée»
C’est en usant de ce modèle que les dirigeants iraniens actuels ont alléché tour à tour les Européens en quête d’une politique originale, puis les Américains eux-mêmes qui, derrière la lourdeur des proclamations propagandistes, se sont vus offrir un concours précieux de Téhéran, d’abord en Afghanistan pour y consolider le régime anti-taliban de Karzaï et, à présent, plus fondamentalement encore en Irak : sans l’appui constant du grand ayatollah Sistani, lui-même iranien d’origine, la situation des Américains à Bagdad serait bien plus difficile, bien plus précaire. Car le combat majeur en Irak oppose réellement des combattants étrangers ou formés à l’étranger : d’un côté les troupes alliées des États-Unis et de l’autre, des éléments armés reliés aux Gardiens de le révolution iranienne (Pasdarans et Irakiens précédemment exilés en Iran), comme la brigade Al Badr. Il s’agit d’une guerre de basse intensité entre les États-Unis et l’Iran se déroulant sur le sol irakien.

Mais si les Iraniens ont choisi ici le réalisme pragmatique contre Al Qaïda et l’intégrisme salafiste sunnite, c’est bien entendu pour être payés de retour. La constante modération du régime de Téhéran vis-à-vis de Moscou leur a donné la coopération nucléaire technique des Russes. Leur alliance tacite avec l’Inde leur permet d’isoler leur rival pakistanais. Leur soutien, aussi unilatéral que non proclamé, à l’occupation américaine de l’Irak leur rapportera certes l’arrivée inexorable d’un pouvoir chi’ite à Bagdad, mais cela n’est guère suffisant. Car en se consolidant, le nouveau pouvoir irakien deviendra plus libéral que son voisin et allié iranien. À ce moment-là, l’échange Téhéran-Washington deviendra beaucoup moins avantageux, beaucoup plus équilibré qu’il ne l’est aujourd’hui.

C’est pourquoi beaucoup estiment à Téhéran, et pas seulement parmi les extrémistes, qu’il faut se payer tout de suite sans rien demander à personne, puisque c’est le meilleur moment pour sortir du traité de non-prolifération et se déclarer ouvertement puissance nucléaire.

Les États-Unis, malgré le bluff des rodomontades, n’ont ni les moyens militaires, ni les moyens politiques (la stabilité de l’Irak serait en jeu), ni même les moyens financiers de la riposte : un simple blocage ponctuel du Golfe persique entraînerait un doublement du prix du brut et une chute en vrille du dollar. Engagés en Irak, en Afghanistan, dans plusieurs pays d’Afrique, en Indonésie et aux Philippines, les États-Unis ne peuvent aujourd’hui conduire une guerre terrestre contre l’Iran. Quant au régime islamiste de l’Iran, pour éviter cette guerre terrestre, il a décidé de fixer militairement les États-Unis en Irak. En témoignent les opérations qui se traduisent par l’encerclement, voire le bombardement de villes irakiennes.

Les principaux dirigeants iraniens et en particulier l’actuelle faction au pouvoir sont convaincus que « l’Amérique est coincée » à cause du fiasco irakien ; de la menace que représenterait pour les États-Unis un engagement massif des populations chi’ites du pays dans l’insurrection au côté des sunnites ; de la rapidité de la détérioration de la situation en Afghanistan ; du chaos en Palestine ; de la permanence de la menace terroriste que soulignent les récents attentats d’Égypte et la réapparition de Ben Laden ; de la crainte de l’utilisation de l’arme pétrolière ; du coût de plus en plus élevés des opération militaires lancées par Bush ; de l’évolution de l’opinion publique aux États-Unis même.

On pourrait y ajouter l’exaspération de l’antiaméricanisme dans le monde entier, le refus de la Chine et de la Russie, liées économiquement et militairement à l’Iran, de cautionner une intervention armée à laquelle même Tony Blair est opposé ; les défaites successives dans leurs pays respectifs des dirigeants politiques occidentaux qui ont cautionné l’intervention en Irak (l’Espagne, l’Italie, le Portugal, la Norvège et le Japon, etc.) ; la flambée des prix du pétrole qui enrichit tous les adversaires ou concurrents des États-Unis ; et finalement le basculement de quasiment toute l’Amérique latine. Pour toutes ces raisons donc les États-Unis ne peuvent pas prendre le risque d’un conflit de plus.

UE en quête de marchés
Officiellement, les États historiques de l’Union européenne (UE) voudraient empêcher les mollahs de disposer d’une bombe nucléaire islamique. Mais plus concrètement, ils voudraient reprendre aux Russes le marché des fournitures nucléaires iraniennes. Dans le rôle du challenger, ils doivent se montrer plus amicaux que les Russes : c’est pourquoi ils peuvent difficilement exiger plus que la suspension des activités nucléaires. Désormais, l’envie de reprendre ce marché très lucratif aux Russes vient se greffer aux actuels et très importants intérêts européens en Iran.

Car les Européens continuent à signer de nouveaux contrats de très grande envergure. Et le marché iranien n’est pas négligeable : en 2004 les importations iraniennes ont atteint 26,6 milliards de dollars ; les machines et équipements industriels (44,8 %), les métaux et minéraux (22,3 %), les produits chimiques de base (14,5 %) et les produits agro-alimentaires (9,7 %) représentent les principaux postes à l’importation en Iran. Dans l’ensemble 51,8 % des importations proviennent de l’Union européenne.

L’Allemagne occupe la première place avec 11,4 % et la France la seconde avec 8,5 % du marché iranien. Elles livrent surtout des machines industrielles et leurs pièces détachées. Dans le secteur automobile, la France occupe la première place avec 1,3 milliard de dollars (2e place pour la Chine avec 360 millions de dollars). En mai 2006 Renault a remporté les enchères d’une joint-venture (d’une valeur de 2 milliards de dollars)avec son projet L90 (Logan), dans le but de fabriquer annuellement 300 000 véhicules en Iran avec l’espoir de monter en puissance pour atteindre le million chaque année vers 2010-2012. Le stock global de l’investissement français en Iran est (selon les sources françaises) de 35 milliards de dollars hors contrats de Buy-Back signés dans le secteur pétrolier et gazier par Total.

C’est pourquoi l’UE fera tout pour que la République islamique échappe aux sanctions du Conseil de Sécurité de l’ONU. Car les sanctions restreindraient les relations économiques avec l’Iran. L’Europe veut une solution négociée : c’est-à-dire elle veut obtenir le marché de la fourniture à l’Iran des centrales civiles et du combustible nucléaire. Exclus de l’Irak, les Européens considèrent maintenant l’Iran comme une base alternative : y poser un pied c’est obtenir un accès privilégié à son pétrole. Mais cela ne signifie pas que les dirigeants européens sont prêts à s’effacer complètement face au régime iranien. En témoigne les déclarations d’Angela Merkel, le 29 janvier 2006 à Jérusalem, qu’un Iran possédant l’arme nucléaire « n’est pas juste une menace pour Israël, mais aussi pour les pays démocratiques du monde entier ». De son côté, Jacques Chirac a déclenché une tempête politique en Europe en menaçant « les dirigeants d’États qui auraient recours à des moyens terroristes contre nous, tout comme ceux qui envisageraient d’utiliser d’une manière ou d’une autre, des armes de destruction massive », il déclarait que la « réponse » de la France, dotée d’armes nucléaires, « peut être conventionnelle, elle peut aussi être d’une autre nature ».

Mais l’Allemagne et la France ont aussi cherché à contrebalancer le bellicisme américain en préconisant des « négociations » et même le gouvernement britannique a déclaré qu’il « n’y a pas d’option militaire » dans cette crise.

Forces et faiblesses des arguments russes et chinois
Ni la Russie cliente, ni la Chine, qui cherche à sécuriser son approvisionnement en hydrocarbures iraniens, n’hésiteront à faire usage de leur veto au Conseil de sécurité afin de protéger les arrières de Téhéran.

Un objectif de longue date de la politique russe - qui coïncide avec celle de l’Iran - a été de mettre un terme à la présence politique, militaire, et économique des États-Unis en Iran et de peser de tout son poids sur l’ensemble de la région. Ainsi, la vente à l’Iran du savoir-faire nucléaire et d’armes conventionnelles (plus de 8 milliards de dollars d’armes entre 1999 et 2005) est l’un des moyens les plus efficaces et les plus productifs d’atteindre cet objectif.

Il y a des doutes quant à l’acceptation par les Russes des sanctions économiques contre leur partenaire iranien : un bombardement signifie destruction et contrats de reconstruction et rien ( ?) sur les ventes d’armes, alors que les sanctions signifient la fin de la suprématie économique de la Russie pour les ventes d’armes et de technologie nucléaire.

La Russie a rejeté la demande des États-Unis de cesser sa coopération nucléaire (civile) avec le régime de Téhéran et spécialement la construction d’une centrale à Bouchehr. Le ministère russe des affaires étrangères a publié un communiqué selon lequel chaque pays est libre de coopérer avec le pays de son choix, chaque pays doit avoir le droit de décider de la façon et des conditions de sa coopération avec un autre pays.

Tout montre que les Russes ont énergiquement aidé les mollahs dans leur entreprise d’enrichissement industriel de l’uranium à usage militaire. La déclaration concernant la liberté de coopération industrielle entre l’Iran et la Russie est à classer dans la catégorie contre-attaque, mais la Russie n’a d’autre choix que de céder : les Russes choisiront la neutralité.

La Chine reçoit de l’Iran 14 % du pétrole nécessaire à son économie en pleine croissance. Fin 2004, la Chine a signé avec l’Iran un accord de 70 milliards de dollars en pétrole et en gaz naturel sur une durée de 30 ans. La compagnie pétrolière d’État chinoise, Sinopec, a obtenu une part de 51 % dans le champ pétrolifère iranien de Yadavan, récemment découvert, dont les réserves sont estimées à trois milliards de barils.

Enfin, l’impérialisme états-unien a multiplié des bases militaires en Asie centrale, pratiquant un encerclement stratégique de la Chine et visant à contrôler les ressources pétrolifères à la fois contre la Russie et la Chine. Les États-Unis poursuivent une politique d’endiguement de la Chine, en renforçant les liens militaires avec le Japon et en livrant à l’Inde (un pays qui n’a pas signé le Traité de Non-prolifération Nucléaire et qui dispose d’un important arsenal nucléaire) des technologies nucléaires très avancées pour faire contrepoids à la Chine.

Les choses évoluent très lentement entre les Américains, les Russes et les Chinois : on peut d’ores et déjà conclure à un accord de principe entre ces grands sur le caractère « indésirable » du régime des mollahs et ce pour de multiples raisons comme le besoin de renforcer la stabilité du Moyen-Orient et de l’Asie Centrale, la nécessité de sécuriser l’approvisionnement en pétrole, la guerre contre le terrorisme et la lutte contre le terrorisme nucléaire... mais si Russes et Chinois peuvent arriver à accepter que les États-Unis se chargent du « boulot », ils aimeraient être sûrs que leurs intérêts en Iran n’en souffriront pas trop.

Mais chacun sait qu’il peut encore aller plus loin et que pour le moment cette affaire est encore dans sa phase médiane... Le régime des mollahs sait qu’il peut éviter de « céder » et quand même multiplier les provocations car il se dit qu’il pourra de toutes les manières signer in extremis (avec l’UE ou avec la Russie) pour « empêcher l’escalade » ou pour « sauver la paix ». En revanche, les occidentaux savent qu’ils peuvent laisser la crise s’amplifier car à tout moment ils ont les moyens de bombarder l’Iran et de détruire ses installations... s’ils le jugent nécessaire.

Il ne reste donc plus qu’une menace sérieuse sur le passage de l’Iran au statut de puissance nucléaire : c’est Israël. Certes, la dispersion des centres atomiques rend la riposte israélienne hasardeuse.

Certes, la bombe iranienne, qui ne sera véritablement opérationnelle que dans trois ou quatre ans, préviendra définitivement le pays contre un chantage direct par ses voisins saoudiens et pakistanais, avec lesquels les rapports sont bien plus tendus dans la réalité quotidienne qu’avec Israël.

Les options offensives sont, elles, en revanche, des plus limitées : pour une frappe aléatoire sur Israël (les défenses antimissiles de l’État hébreu progressent elles aussi à grands pas), le sous-marin de Tsahal en immersion permanente en mer d’Oman et équipé de missiles de croisière à têtes multiples pourrait vitrifier Téhéran, la zone pétrolière, la capitale religieuse de Qom et encore plusieurs centres nucléaires dispersés, avec une précision de 15 mètres environ. Nul doute que les mollahs, de moins en moins fanatiques, de plus en plus adonnés aux joies simples de l’existence, choisiraient en fin de compte la vie plutôt que la mort.

Aussi comme l’ont fait d’ailleurs, depuis les années 1950, tous les nouveaux détenteurs successifs de la bombe atomique, l’apparente tragédie qui se noue en ce moment entre Israël et l’Iran peut aussi déboucher sur un coup de théâtre. Les États-Unis ne veulent pas compromettre encore plus leur position en Irak. L’Iran aura gros à perdre s’il sacrifie, tels des pions, ses positions de force chez les chi’ites arabes de l’Irak et du Liban. Et Israël ne pourra pas avancer assez vite sur le terrain palestinien si une crise régionale d’ampleur se déclenche.

Dans l’immédiat, la bombe iranienne gêne bien davantage le Pakistan et l’Arabie saoudite qu’Israël. Et Jérusalem ainsi que Téhéran partagent tout de même une relation très amicale avec l’Inde (et secondairement avec la Turquie). Si un compromis acceptable peut être trouvé, à chaud, dans la crise, peut-être alors le grand basculement du monde oriental est-il en passe de se réaliser sous nos yeux.

Aujourd’hui, il est certain que régime islamique désire se procurer secrètement la bombe nucléaire comme Israël. Par contre le but du régime iranien n’est pas de détruire Israël comme le camp des va-t-en guerre le prétend. Depuis des années l’Iran a renoncé au mythe de la Révolution islamique dans le monde musulman pour privilégier les intérêts de la classe au pouvoir, la seule préoccupation du régime.

Houshang Sepehr est un militant marxiste révolutionnaire iranien exilé. Il anime la revue En Défense du marxisme publiée en persan et le Comité de solidarité avec les travailleurs en Iran.   Source : Inprecor

Iran: Des signes de guerre?, par David Lindorff - The Nation.
L’Irak, l’Iran et la fin du pétrodollar, par Bulent Gokay - La Pravda
Les intérêts de Washington dans la guerre d’Israel, par Seymour M. Hersh - The New Yorker.
Pourquoi Bush choisira la Guerre contre l’Iran, par Ray Close - Information Clearing House.

The Observer    October 8, 2006

Links with "Rogue States": US Treasury Secretary leans on banks
Iran 'using British banks to channel money to terrorists'
The Financial Services Authority is urgently scouring Britain's banking system
for evidence of Iranian terrorism funding

Conal Walsh

The Financial Services Authority is urgently scouring Britain's banking system for evidence of Iranian terrorism funding following an alert from the US authorities.
The move comes after officials at the FSA were shown American intelligence indicating that suspicious Iranian funds were being funnelled through the City of London and other financial centres.

Hank Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary, claimed last month that Iran was using the western banking system to sponsor international terrorism and nuclear procurement.

Paulson warned that 'blue chip banks' were being unwittingly used by a network of 'more than 30 front companies' controlled by Tehran. America also recently accused the Iranian bank Saderat of channelling hundreds of millions of dollars to Hizbollah and other violent Palestinian groups.

The FSA declined to comment on its communications with US agencies this weekend, but expressed confidence that its normal regulations were effective in detecting money-laundering.

UBS and Credit Suisse are among the western banks reported to have faced US government pressure to cut their links with Iran, although there is no suggestion that either has been used as a conduit for illegitimate funds. Other international banks and some EU countries are thought to consider Paulson's warning alarmist.

Tough Dove Israel     November 2, 2006

A Secret Letter from the US President
to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
As Published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, May 2006
Gidon D. Remba

"... You represent a nation whose ancient Persian forebears—themselves migrants from Europe—conquered Babylon and freed the Jewish people from captivity, permitting their return to the Land of Israel after the destruction of the first Jewish state. It was Persian kings who granted renewed Jewish political and religious autonomy in ancient Israel, leading to the eventual reconstruction of a Second Jewish Commonwealth. This was followed by centuries of Jewish presence in, attachment to, and ultimately mass return to the Holy Land to build a modern Jewish state with the consent of the League of Nations and the U.N. ..."

Persian Journal    Nov 13, 2006

Awaiting the Iranian messiah
A glimpse into the apocalyptic ideology gripping the Iranian government

Yaakov Lappin,

He challenges the largest superpower on earth, threatens a regional superpower with annihilation, and mocks international efforts to keep tabs on his nuclear program. Where does the unswerving confidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad come from?

To whom did Ahmadinejad refer to when he told the United Nations in September: "I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for ... the perfect righteous human being and real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet. Almighty God ... make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause. "

According to Shiite Islam, the twelfth Imam, named Mahdi, is the awaited messiah who will establish the rule of Islam around the world - following a massive war during which Islam's enemies are expected to be decimated. Iran's official state websites are filled with information about the Islamic Republic's messiah. "Imam Mahdi was unseen from the eyes of common people and nobody could see him except special group of Shiites... After the martyrdom of his father he was appointed as the next Imam. Then he was hidden by God's command and he was just observable by the special deputies of his own," the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting website declares.

'One strike to end infidels'
Iran's state broadcasting website also contains a special hadith (tradition) prayer, to be recited on the birthday of the Mahdi: "Today is Friday, a day you are expected to come; the faithful will be free of cares and troubles when you shall arrive, and with one strike shall put an end to the intrigues of the infidels."

Speaking to Ynetnews, ProfessorRaymond Tanter, one of the authors of the forthcoming book 'What Makes Iran Tick,' which explores the Shiite Islamist ideology of Iran, said there was no questioning the belief of Iran's leaders in the coming of the Mahdi.

Tanter, President of the Iran Policy Committee , a Washington-based organization comprised of former officials from the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence services, said: "The Iranian leadership, particularly Ahmadinejad, welcome the apocalyptic vision of the return of the hidden Imam. And all the strains of Islam believe in the eventual return of the Mahdi, also known as the twelfth Imam, or the Shiite messiah. After a period of great destruction, once the forces of evil are defeated, the so-called twelfth Imam is supposed to reign over a period of great prosperity." "When Ahmadinejad was mayor of Tehran, he set up an urban renewal program that would make it easier to facilitate the Mahdi's return. He created passageways and roadways that would allow the Mahdi to return triumphantly. He operationalized this concept," Tanter added. The Iranian president did not view himself as the Shiite messiah though, according to Tanter.

'Man of a thousand bullets'
"Ahmadinejad was called the man of a thousand bullets. Because he would give the last bullet for someone who has been tortured, and primarily executed by firing squad. Ahmadinejad's role was to put the last bullet in, in case the person was still squirming. After a thousand people had been killed, supposedly he said, he had it with that particular job," Tanter said.

Tanter noted Ahmadinejad's comments after a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2005, which he also concluded with a call for the Mahdi to return. After the speech, Ahmadinejad said that "the hand of God had held all of them" in a hypnotized-like state, and had "opened their eyes and ears." "Before the return of the Mahdi, there must be a suitable representative to govern in the Mahdi's place," Tanter explained. "They are ruling until the Mahdi comes. That is the justification for Khamenei to rule," he added. Tanter said that "most of the ayatollahs in Iran don't buy this, that you can facilitate the return of the messiah," adding that Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah probably "doesn't take it that seriously." "Ahmadinejad is taking steps well beyond the rest of Islam," he said.

Messianic nuclear weapons

"There is a link between Iran's nuclear weapons program on one hand, and its ideology of trying to facilitate a cataclysmic event to hasten the return of the Mahdi. As a result, no conceivable positive or negative incentives will influence the leadership of the clerics and the revolutionary guards from acquiring nuclear weapons. They need nuclear weapons in order to facilitate the ideological precepts of the return of the Mahdi," said Tanter. "The process of diplomacy as far as Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are concerned is to prevent sanctions that would constrain the nuclear weapons progress, and to that extent Iran has done well to drag out this process," he added. Citing realist arguments that Iran needs nuclear weapons "to deter neighbors in a tough neighborhood," Tanter said such views were misguided. "These nuclear weapons are tied to the return of the Mahdi, and no one says this," he says.

An excerpt from 'What Makes Iran Tick' left no doubts over the authors view of Iran's intentions: "Just as it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting, so it is in the nature of the ayatollahs ruling Iran to establish an Islamic empire and destroy Israel." It continued: "Toward these ends, the regime pursues nuclear weapons, subverts Iraq, and supplies money and arms to Islamist terrorist groups like Hizbullah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad? The deliberate initiation of war with Israel in July 2006 by Hizbullah, most probably at the direction of the Iranian regime, confirmed the worst fears about Ahmadinejad? a nuclear-armed Iran the single greatest security threat to the international community in general, and to the United States and Israel in particular."


English Original    21 novembre 2006

Le prochain épisode
par Seymour M. Hersh - The New Yorker, mise sur la toile: 20 novembre 2006.

Un mois avant les élections de novembre, le vice-président américain Dick Cheney participait à une table ronde sur la sécurité nationale dans l’Executive Office Building. La conversation prit un tour politique : que se passerait-il si les démocrates l’emportaient à la fois à la Chambre et au Sénat ? Comment les décisions concernant l’Iran, dont on pense qu’il est sur le point de devenir une puissance nucléaire, en seraient-elles affectées ? C’est alors que, d’après une source bien informée, Cheney commença à évoquer l’époque où, au début des années 1960, en tant qu’employé d’une compagnie électrique du Wyoming, il travaillait à la pose et à l’entretien des lignes. Le fil de cuivre coûtait cher, et les employés avaient pour consigne de ramener tous les tronçons mesurant plus d’un mètre. Étant donné que personne ne voulait se charger de la paperasserie afférente, raconta Cheney, lui et ses collègues avaient trouvé une solution : « raccourcir » le fil de cuivre, c’est-à-dire le découper en petits morceaux que l’on jetait à la fin de la journée. Si les démocrates l’emportaient le 7 novembre, dit le vice-président, cette victoire n’empêcherait pas son administration d’opter pour l’option militaire en Iran. La Maison Blanche n’aurait qu’à « raccourcir » les éventuelles limitations législatives, dit Cheney, ce qui empêcherait le Congrès de lui mettre des bâtons dans les roues.

- Lire la suite E Gueule

[Dans l’immédiat, la bombe iranienne gêne bien davantage le Pakistan et l’Arabie saoudite qu’Israël. Et Jérusalem ainsi que Téhéran partagent tout de même une relation très amicale avec l’Inde (et secondairement avec la Turquie). Si un compromis acceptable peut être trouvé, à chaud, dans la crise, peut-être alors le grand basculement du monde oriental est-il en passe de se réaliser sous nos yeux. Iran: L’ombre de la guerre ou la guerre des ombres? par Houshang Sepehr.]
*            *            *

Les plans pour l’Iran, par Seymour M.Hersh - The New Yorker.
Israël s’entraînerait à des frappes nucléaires sur l’Iran - Reuters.
Les intérêts de Washington dans la guerre d’Israel, par Seymour M. Hersh.
L’Irak, l’Iran et la fin du pétrodollar, par Bulent Gokay.

The New Yorker     2006-11-27    Posted 2006-11-20

Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?

A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting “shorteners” on the wire—that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.

The White House’s concern was not that the Democrats would cut off funds for the war in Iraq but that future legislation would prohibit it from financing operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government, to keep it from getting the bomb. “They’re afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, à la Nicaragua in the Contra war,” a former senior intelligence official told me.

In late 1982, Edward P. Boland, a Democratic representative, introduced the first in a series of “Boland amendments,” which limited the Reagan Administration’s ability to support the Contras, who were working to overthrow Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government. The Boland restrictions led White House officials to orchestrate illegal fund-raising activities for the Contras, including the sale of American weapons, via Israel, to Iran. The result was the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-eighties. Cheney’s story, according to the source, was his way of saying that, whatever a Democratic Congress might do next year to limit the President’s authority, the Administration would find a way to work around it. (In response to a request for comment, the Vice-President’s office said that it had no record of the discussion.)

In interviews, current and former Administration officials returned to one question: whether Cheney would be as influential in the last two years of George W. Bush’s Presidency as he was in its first six. Cheney is emphatic about Iraq. In late October, he told Time, “I know what the President thinks,” about Iraq. “I know what I think. And we’re not looking for an exit strategy. We’re looking for victory.” He is equally clear that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran. “The United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime,” he told an Israeli lobbying group early this year. “And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

On November 8th, the day after the Republicans lost both the House and the Senate, Bush announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the nomination of his successor, Robert Gates, a former director of Central Intelligence. The move was widely seen as an acknowledgment that the Administration was paying a political price for the debacle in Iraq. Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group—headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman—which has been charged with examining new approaches to Iraq, and he has publicly urged for more than a year that the U.S. begin direct talks with Iran. President Bush’s decision to turn to Gates was a sign of the White House’s “desperation,” a former high-level C.I.A. official, who worked with the White House after September 11th, told me. Cheney’s relationship with Rumsfeld was among the closest inside the Administration, and Gates’s nomination was seen by some Republicans as a clear signal that the Vice-President’s influence in the White House could be challenged. The only reason Gates would take the job, after turning down an earlier offer to serve as the new Director of National Intelligence, the former high-level C.I.A. official said, was that “the President’s father, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker”—former aides of the first President Bush—“piled on, and the President finally had to accept adult supervision.”

Critical decisions will be made in the next few months, the former C.I.A. official said. “Bush has followed Cheney’s advice for six years, and the story line will be: ‘Will he continue to choose Cheney over his father?’ We’ll know soon.” (The White House and the Pentagon declined to respond to detailed requests for comment about this article, other than to say that there were unspecified inaccuracies.)

A retired four-star general who worked closely with the first Bush Administration told me that the Gates nomination means that Scowcroft, Baker, the elder Bush, and his son “are saying that winning the election in 2008 is more important than the individual. The issue for them is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice”—the Secretary of State—“a chance to perform.” The combination of Scowcroft, Baker, and the senior Bush working together is, the general added, “tough enough to take on Cheney. One guy can’t do it.”

Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term, told me that he believed the Democratic election victory, followed by Rumsfeld’s dismissal, meant that the Administration “has backed off,” in terms of the pace of its planning for a military campaign against Iran. Gates and other decision-makers would now have more time to push for a diplomatic solution in Iran and deal with other, arguably more immediate issues. “Iraq is as bad as it looks, and Afghanistan is worse than it looks,” Armitage said. “A year ago, the Taliban were fighting us in units of eight to twelve, and now they’re sometimes in company-size, and even larger.” Bombing Iran and expecting the Iranian public “to rise up” and overthrow the government, as some in the White House believe, Armitage added, “is a fool’s errand.”

“Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid,” Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. “Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there”—in the White House—“and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it.”

Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld’s resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President’s father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn’t fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. “A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?” the former senior intelligence official said. “Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move—‘You’re right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we’re looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.’ ” But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran’s weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, “He’s not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he’ll be taken seriously by Congress.”

Once Gates is installed at the Pentagon, he will have to contend with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Rumsfeld legacy—and Dick Cheney. A former senior Bush Administration official, who has also worked with Gates, told me that Gates was well aware of the difficulties of his new job. He added that Gates would not simply endorse the Administration’s policies and say, “with a flag waving, ‘Go, go’ ”—especially at the cost of his own reputation. “He does not want to see thirty-five years of government service go out the window,” the former official said. However, on the question of whether Gates would actively stand up to Cheney, the former official said, after a pause, “I don’t know.”

Another critical issue for Gates will be the Pentagon’s expanding effort to conduct clandestine and covert intelligence missions overseas. Such activity has traditionally been the C.I.A.’s responsibility, but, as the result of a systematic push by Rumsfeld, military covert actions have been substantially increased. In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as “part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran.” (The Pentagon has established covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri, and Baluchi tribesmen, and has encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and southeastern Iran.) The government consultant said that Israel is giving the Kurdish group “equipment and training.” The group has also been given “a list of targets inside Iran of interest to the U.S.” (An Israeli government spokesman denied that Israel was involved.)

Such activities, if they are considered military rather than intelligence operations, do not require congressional briefings. For a similar C.I.A. operation, the President would, by law, have to issue a formal finding that the mission was necessary, and the Administration would have to brief the senior leadership of the House and the Senate. The lack of such consultation annoyed some Democrats in Congress. This fall, I was told, Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that finances classified military activity, pointedly asked, during a closed meeting of House and Senate members, whether “anyone has been briefing on the Administration’s plan for military activity in Iran.” The answer was no. (A spokesman for Obey confirmed this account.)

The Democratic victories this month led to a surge of calls for the Administration to begin direct talks with Iran, in part to get its help in settling the conflict in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke ranks with President Bush after the election and declared that Iran should be offered “a clear strategic choice” that could include a “new partnership” with the West. But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. “It’s a classic case of ‘failure forward,’” a Pentagon consultant said. “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.”

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran “does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq,” and by the President, who said, in August, that “Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold” in Iraq. The government consultant told me, “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.”

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, “the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq.” (Sadr, who commands a Shiite militia, has religious ties to Iran.)

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative, argued that the Administration had little choice. “Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” he wrote. The President would be bitterly criticized for a preëmptive attack on Iran, Muravchik said, and so neoconservatives “need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.”

The main Middle East expert on the Vice-President’s staff is David Wurmser, a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Like many in Washington, Wurmser “believes that, so far, there’s been no price tag on Iran for its nuclear efforts and for its continuing agitation and intervention inside Iraq,” the consultant said. But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”

The Administration’s planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House’s assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency. (The C.I.A. declined to comment on this story.)

The C.I.A.’s analysis, which has been circulated to other agencies for comment, was based on technical intelligence collected by overhead satellites, and on other empirical evidence, such as measurements of the radioactivity of water samples and smoke plumes from factories and power plants. Additional data have been gathered, intelligence sources told me, by high-tech (and highly classified) radioactivity-detection devices that clandestine American and Israeli agents placed near suspected nuclear-weapons facilities inside Iran in the past year or so. No significant amounts of radioactivity were found.

A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the C.I.A. analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House’s dismissal of the C.I.A. findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. “They’re not looking for a smoking gun,” the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. “They’re looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission.” The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency also challenged the C.I.A.’s analysis. “The D.I.A. is fighting the agency’s conclusions, and disputing its approach,” the former senior intelligence official said. Bush and Cheney, he added, can try to prevent the C.I.A. assessment from being incorporated into a forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear capabilities, “but they can’t stop the agency from putting it out for comment inside the intelligence community.” The C.I.A. assessment warned the White House that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran merely meant that the Iranians had done a good job of hiding it. The former senior intelligence official noted that at the height of the Cold War the Soviets were equally skilled at deception and misdirection, yet the American intelligence community was readily able to unravel the details of their long-range-missile and nuclear-weapons programs. But some in the White House, including in Cheney’s office, had made just such an assumption—that “the lack of evidence means they must have it,” the former official said.

Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, under which it is entitled to conduct nuclear research for peaceful purposes. Despite the offer of trade agreements and the prospect of military action, it defied a demand by the I.A.E.A. and the Security Council, earlier this year, that it stop enriching uranium—a process that can produce material for nuclear power plants as well as for weapons—and it has been unable, or unwilling, to account for traces of plutonium and highly enriched uranium that have been detected during I.A.E.A. inspections. The I.A.E.A. has complained about a lack of “transparency,” although, like the C.I.A., it has not found unambiguous evidence of a secret weapons program.

Last week, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced that Iran had made further progress in its enrichment research program, and said, “We know that some countries may not be pleased.” He insisted that Iran was abiding by international agreements, but said, “Time is now completely on the side of the Iranian people.” A diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. has its headquarters, told me that the agency was skeptical of the claim, for technical reasons. But Ahmadinejad’s defiant tone did nothing to diminish suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“There is no evidence of a large-scale covert enrichment program inside Iran,” one involved European diplomat said. “But the Iranians would not have launched themselves into a very dangerous confrontation with the West on the basis of a weapons program that they no longer pursue. Their enrichment program makes sense only in terms of wanting nuclear weapons. It would be inconceivable if they weren’t cheating to some degree. You don’t need a covert program to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have enough information to be concerned without one. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s close to it.”

There are, however, other possible reasons for Iran’s obstinacy. The nuclear program—peaceful or not—is a source of great national pride, and President Ahmadinejad’s support for it has helped to propel him to enormous popularity. (Saddam Hussein created confusion for years, inside and outside his country, about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, in part to project an image of strength.) According to the former senior intelligence official, the C.I.A.’s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike—especially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program—in that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the former senior official said. In both cases, a more powerful military force had trouble achieving its military or political goals; in Lebanon, Israel’s war against Hezbollah did not destroy the group’s entire arsenal of rockets, and increased the popularity of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The former senior intelligence official added that the C.I.A. assessment raised the possibility that an American attack on Iran could end up serving as a rallying point to unite Sunni and Shiite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us—and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West. It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare—for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.” (An Islamic caliphate ruled the Middle East for over six hundred years, until the thirteenth century.)

According to the Pentagon consultant, “The C.I.A.’s view is that, without more intelligence, a large-scale bombing attack would not stop Iran’s nuclear program. And a low-end campaign of subversion and sabotage would play into Iran’s hands—bolstering support for the religious leadership and deepening anti-American Muslim rage.”

The Pentagon consultant said that he and many of his colleagues in the military believe that Iran is intent on developing nuclear-weapons capability. But he added that the Bush Administration’s options for dealing with that threat are diminished, because of a lack of good intelligence and also because “we’ve cried wolf” before.

As the C.I.A.’s assessment was making its way through the government, late this summer, current and former military officers and consultants told me, a new element suddenly emerged: intelligence from Israeli spies operating inside Iran claimed that Iran has developed and tested a trigger device for a nuclear bomb. The provenance and significance of the human intelligence, or HUMINT, are controversial. “The problem is that no one can verify it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms”—simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials—“but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” And yet, he said, the report was being used by White House hawks within the Administration to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Still, he said, “The agency is standing its ground.”

The Pentagon consultant, however, told me that he and other intelligence professionals believe that the Israeli intelligence should be taken more seriously. “We live in an era when national technical intelligence”—data from satellites and on-the-ground sensors—“will not get us what we need. HUMINT may not be hard evidence by that standard, but very often it’s the best intelligence we can get.” He added, with obvious exasperation, that within the intelligence community “we’re going to be fighting over the quality of the information for the next year.” One reason for the dispute, he said, was that the White House had asked to see the “raw”—the original, unanalyzed and unvetted—Israeli intelligence. Such “stovepiping” of intelligence had led to faulty conclusions about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction during the buildup to the 2003 Iraq war. “Many Presidents in the past have done the same thing,” the consultant said, “but intelligence professionals are always aghast when Presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read ‘Ulysses.’ ”

HUMINT can be difficult to assess. Some of the most politically significant—and most inaccurate—intelligence about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction came from an operative, known as Curveball, who was initially supplied to the C.I.A. by German intelligence. But the Pentagon consultant insisted that, in this case, “the Israeli intelligence is apparently very strong.” He said that the information about the trigger device had been buttressed by another form of highly classified data, known as MASINT, for “measuring and signature” intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency is the central processing and dissemination point for such intelligence, which includes radar, radio, nuclear, and electro-optical data. The consultant said that the MASINT indicated activities that “are not consistent with the programs” Iran has declared to the I.A.E.A. “The intelligence suggests far greater sophistication and more advanced development,” the consultant said. “The indications don’t make sense, unless they’re farther along in some aspects of their nuclear-weapons program than we know.”

In early 2004, John Bolton, who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control (he is now the United Nations Ambassador), privately conveyed to the I.A.E.A. suspicions that Iran was conducting research into the intricately timed detonation of conventional explosives needed to trigger a nuclear warhead at Parchin, a sensitive facility twenty miles southeast of Tehran that serves as the center of Iran’s Defense Industries Organization. A wide array of chemical munitions and fuels, as well as advanced antitank and ground-to-air missiles, are manufactured there, and satellite imagery appeared to show a bunker suitable for testing very large explosions.

A senior diplomat in Vienna told me that, in response to the allegations, I.A.E.A. inspectors went to Parchin in November of 2005, after months of negotiation. An inspection team was allowed to single out a specific site at the base, and then was granted access to a few buildings there. “We found no evidence of nuclear materials,” the diplomat said. The inspectors looked hard at an underground explosive-testing pit that, he said, “resembled what South Africa had when it developed its nuclear weapons,” three decades ago. The pit could have been used for the kind of kinetic research needed to test a nuclear trigger. But, like so many military facilities with dual-use potential, “it also could be used for other things,” such as testing fuel for rockets, which routinely takes place at Parchin. “The Iranians have demonstrated that they can enrich uranium,” the diplomat added, “and trigger tests without nuclear yield can be done. But it’s a very sophisticated process—it’s also known as hydrodynamic testing—and only countries with suitably advanced nuclear testing facilities as well as the necessary scientific expertise can do it. I’d be very skeptical that Iran could do it.”

Earlier this month, the allegations about Parchin reëmerged when Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest newspaper, reported that recent satellite imagery showed new “massive construction” at Parchin, suggesting an expansion of underground tunnels and chambers. The newspaper sharply criticized the I.A.E.A.’s inspection process and its director, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, for his insistence on “using very neutral wording for his findings and his conclusions.”

Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran who is the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative think tank, told me that the “biggest moment” of tension has yet to arrive: “How does the United States keep an Israeli decision point—one that may come sooner than we want—from being reached?” Clawson noted that there is evidence that Iran has been slowed by technical problems in the construction and operation of two small centrifuge cascades, which are essential for the pilot production of enriched uranium. Both are now under I.A.E.A. supervision. “Why were they so slow in getting the second cascade up and running?” Clawson asked. “And why haven’t they run the first one as much as they said they would? Do we have more time?

“Why talk about war?” he said. “We’re not talking about going to war with North Korea or Venezuela. It’s not necessarily the case that Iran has started a weapons program, and it’s conceivable—just conceivable—that Iran does not have a nuclear-weapons program yet. We can slow them down—force them to reinvent the wheel—without bombing, especially if the international conditions get better.”

Clawson added that Secretary of State Rice has “staked her reputation on diplomacy, and she will not risk her career without evidence. Her team is saying, ‘What’s the rush?’ The President wants to solve the Iranian issue before leaving office, but he may have to say, ‘Darn, I wish I could have solved it.’ ”

Earlier this year, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert created a task force to coördinate all the available intelligence on Iran. The task force, which is led by Major General Eliezer Shkedi, the head of the Israeli Air Force, reports directly to the Prime Minister. In late October, Olmert appointed Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of the Knesset, to serve as Deputy Defense Minister. Sneh, who served previously in that position under Ehud Barak, has for years insisted that action be taken to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. In an interview this month with the Jerusalem Post, Sneh expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of diplomacy or international sanctions in curbing Iran:

The danger isn’t as much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. . . . Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will . . . I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That’s why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.

A similar message was delivered by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, in a speech in Los Angeles last week. “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs,” he said, adding that there was “still time” to stop the Iranians.

The Pentagon consultant told me that, while there may be pressure from the Israelis, “they won’t do anything on their own without our green light.” That assurance, he said, “comes from the Cheney shop. It’s Cheney himself who is saying, ‘We’re not going to leave you high and dry, but don’t go without us.’ ” A senior European diplomat agreed: “For Israel, it is a question of life or death. The United States does not want to go into Iran, but, if Israel feels more and more cornered, there may be no other choice.”

A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—all led by Sunni governments—would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves. The Bush Administration, if it does take military action against Iran, would have support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Senators Hillary Clinton, of New York, and Evan Bayh, of Indiana, who are potential Democratic Presidential candidates, have warned that Iran cannot be permitted to build a bomb and that—as Clinton said earlier this year—“we cannot take any option off the table.” Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has also endorsed this view. Last May, Olmert was given a rousing reception when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, “A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die—the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail.”

Despite such rhetoric, Leslie Gelb, a former State Department official who is a president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said he believes that, “when push comes to shove, the Israelis will have a hard time selling the idea that an Iranian nuclear capability is imminent. The military and the State Department will be flat against a preëmptive bombing campaign.” Gelb said he hoped that Gates’s appointment would add weight to America’s most pressing issue—“to get some level of Iranian restraint inside Iraq. In the next year or two, we’re much more likely to be negotiating with Iran than bombing it.”

The Bush Administration remains publicly committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse, and has been working with China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain to get negotiations under way. So far, that effort has foundered; the most recent round of talks broke up early in November, amid growing disagreements with Russia and China about the necessity of imposing harsh United Nations sanctions on the Iranian regime. President Bush is adamant that Iran must stop all of its enrichment programs before any direct talks involving the United States can begin.

The senior European diplomat told me that the French President, Jacques Chirac, and President Bush met in New York on September 19th, as the new U.N. session was beginning, and agreed on what the French called the “Big Bang” approach to breaking the deadlock with Iran. A scenario was presented to Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian negotiator on nuclear issues. The Western delegation would sit down at a negotiating table with Iran. The diplomat told me, “We would say, ‘We’re beginning the negotiations without preconditions,’ and the Iranians would respond, ‘We will suspend.’ Our side would register great satisfaction, and the Iranians would agree to accept I.A.E.A. inspection of their enrichment facilities. And then the West would announce, in return, that they would suspend any U.N. sanctions.” The United States would not be at the table when the talks began but would join later. Larijani took the offer to Tehran; the answer, as relayed by Larijani, was no, the diplomat said. “We were trying to compromise, for all sides, but Ahmadinejad did not want to save face,” the diplomat said. “The beautiful scenario has gone nowhere.”

Last week, there was a heightened expectation that the Iraq Study Group would produce a set of recommendations that could win bipartisan approval and guide America out of the quagmire in Iraq. Sources with direct knowledge of the panel’s proceedings have told me that the group, as of mid-November, had ruled out calling for an immediate and complete American withdrawal but would recommend focussing on the improved training of Iraqi forces and on redeploying American troops. In the most significant recommendation, Baker and Hamilton were expected to urge President Bush to do what he has thus far refused to do—bring Syria and Iran into a regional conference to help stabilize Iraq.

It is not clear whether the Administration will be receptive. In August, according to the former senior intelligence official, Rumsfeld asked the Joint Chiefs to quietly devise alternative plans for Iraq, to preëmpt new proposals, whether they come from the new Democratic majority or from the Iraq Study Group. “The option of last resort is to move American forces out of the cities and relocate them along the Syrian and Iranian border,” the former official said. “Civilians would be hired to train the Iraqi police, with the eventual goal of separating the local police from the Iraqi military. The White House believes that if American troops stay in Iraq long enough—with enough troops—the bad guys will end up killing each other, and Iraqi citizens, fed up with internal strife, will come up with a solution. It’ll take a long time to move the troops and train the police. It’s a time line to infinity.”

In a subsequent interview, the former senior Bush Administration official said that he had also been told that the Pentagon has been at work on a plan in Iraq that called for a military withdrawal from the major urban areas to a series of fortified bases near the borders. The working assumption was that, with the American troops gone from the most heavily populated places, the sectarian violence would “burn out.” “The White House is saying it’s going to stabilize,” the former senior Administration official said, “but it may stabilize the wrong way.”

One problem with the proposal that the Administration enlist Iran in reaching a settlement of the conflict in Iraq is that it’s not clear that Iran would be interested, especially if the goal is to help the Bush Administration extricate itself from a bad situation.

“Iran is emerging as a dominant power in the Middle East,” I was told by a Middle East expert and former senior Administration official. “With a nuclear program, and an ability to interfere throughout the region, it’s basically calling the shots. Why should they coöperate with us over Iraq?” He recounted a recent meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who challenged Bush’s right to tell Iran that it could not enrich uranium. “Why doesn’t America stop enriching uranium?” the Iranian President asked. He laughed, and added, “We’ll enrich it for you and sell it to you at a fifty-per-cent discount.”

The Sunday Times     January 7, 2007

Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran
Uzi Mahnaimi, New York and Sarah Baxter, Washington

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear "bunker-busters", according to several Israeli military sources. The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open "tunnels" into the targets. "Mini-nukes" would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout. "As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished," said one of the sources.

The plans, disclosed to The Sunday Times last week, have been prompted in part by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad's assessment that Iran is on the verge of producing enough enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons within two years.

Israeli military commanders believe conventional strikes may no longer be enough to annihilate increasingly well-defended enrichment facilities. Several have been built beneath at least 70ft of concrete and rock. However, the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene, senior sources said.

Israeli and American officials have met several times to consider military action. Military analysts said the disclosure of the plans could be intended to put pressure on Tehran to halt enrichment, cajole America into action or soften up world opinion in advance of an Israeli attack.

Some analysts warned that Iranian retaliation for such a strike could range from disruption of oil supplies to the West to terrorist attacks against Jewish targets around the world.

Israel has identified three prime targets south of Tehran which are believed to be involved in Iran's nuclear programme:
    Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment
    A uranium conversion facility near Isfahan where, according to a statement by an Iranian vice-president last week, 250 tons of gas for the enrichment process have been stored in tunnels
    A heavy water reactor at Arak, which may in future produce enough plutonium for a bomb Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran's nuclear programme indefinitely and prevent them from having to live in fear of a "second Holocaust".

The Israeli government has warned repeatedly that it will never allow nuclear weapons to be made in Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has declared that "Israel must be wiped off the map".

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, has described military action against Iran as a "last resort", leading Israeli officials to conclude that it will be left to them to strike.

Israeli pilots have flown to Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets. Three possible routes have been mapped out, including one over Turkey.

Air force squadrons based at Hatzerim in the Negev desert and Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv, have trained to use Israel's tactical nuclear weapons on the mission. The preparations have been overseen by Major General Eliezer Shkedi, commander of the Israeli air force.

Sources close to the Pentagon said the United States was highly unlikely to give approval for tactical nuclear weapons to be used. One source said Israel would have to seek approval "after the event", as it did when it crippled Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak with airstrikes in 1981.

Scientists have calculated that although contamination from the bunker-busters could be limited, tons of radioactive uranium compounds would be released.

The Israelis believe that Iran's retaliation would be constrained by fear of a second strike if it were to launch its Shehab-3 ballistic missiles at Israel. However, American experts warned of repercussions, including widespread protests that could
destabilise parts of the Islamic world friendly to the West. Colonel Sam Gardiner, a Pentagon adviser, said Iran could try to close the Strait of Hormuz, the route for 20% of the world's oil.

Some sources in Washington said they doubted if Israel would have the nerve to attack Iran. However, Dr Ephraim Sneh, the deputy Israeli defence minister, said last month: "The time is approaching when Israel and the international community will have to decide whether to take military action against Iran."

Focus: Mission Iran

Israel will not tolerate Iran going nuclear and military sources say it will use tactical strikes unless Iran abandons its programme. Is Israel bluffing or might it really push the button? Uzi Mahnaimi in New York and Sarah Baxter in Washington report

In an Israeli air force bunker in Tel Aviv, near the concert hall for the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Major General Eliezer Shkedi might one day conduct operations of a perilous kind. Should the order come from the Israeli prime minister, it will be Shkedi's job as air force commander to orchestrate a tactical nuclear strike on Iran.

Two fast assault squadrons based in the Negev desert and in Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv, are already training for the attack.

On a plasma screen, Shkedi will be able to see dozens of planes advance towards Iran, as well as the electronic warfare aircraft jamming the Iranian and Syrian air defences and the rescue choppers hovering near the border, ready to move in and pluck out the pilots should the mission go wrong.

Another screen will show live satellite images of the Iranian nuclear sites. The prime target will be Natanz, the deep and ferociously protected bunker south of Tehran where the Iranians are churning out enriched uranium in defiance of the United Nations security council.

If things go according to plan, a pilot will first launch a conventional laser-guided bomb to blow a shaft down through the layers of hardened concrete. Other pilots will then be ready to drop low-yield one kiloton nuclear weapons into the hole. The theory is that they will explode deep underground, both destroying the bunker and limiting the radioactive fallout.

The other potential targets are Iran's uranium conversion facility at Isfahan — uncomfortably near a metropolis of 4.5m people — and the heavy water power reactor at Arak, which might one day be able to produce enough plutonium to make a bomb. These will be hit with conventional bombs.

In recent weeks Israeli pilots have been flying long-haul as far as Gibraltar to simulate the 2,000-mile round trip to Natanz. "There is no 99% success in this mission. It must be a perfect 100% or better not at all," one of the pilots expected to fly on the mission told The Sunday Times.

The Israelis say they hope as fervently as the rest of the world that this attack will never take place. There is clearly an element of sabre-rattling in their letting it be known the plan exists and that the pilots are already in training. But in the deeply dangerous and volatile Middle East, contingency plans can become horrible reality.

NO nuclear weapon has been fired in anger since the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Should Israel take such a drastic step, it would inflame world opinion — particularly in Muslim states — and unleash retaliation from Iran and its allies. But Israelis have become increasingly convinced that a "second holocaust" of the Jews is brewing, stoked by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president and chief Holocaust denier, who has repeatedly called for Israel to be destroyed.

Western Europe and the United States have been trying to persuade Tehran to drop its nuclear ambitions, using the carrot of co-operation with a legitimate nuclear energy programme and the stick of UN sanctions. But they have had no effect. As a result, Israel sees itself standing on its own and fighting for its very existence. It got a taste of what Iran was capable of during last summer's war in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, Tehran's proxy troops fighting from bunkers secretly built by Iranian military engineers, humiliated the Israeli army and rained missiles into northern Israel.

Every Israeli government has vowed never to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Ariel Sharon, when he was prime minister, ordered the military to be ready for a conventional strike on Iran's nuclear programme. Since then, however, the Iranians have strengthened their nuclear facilities and air defences, making a conventional strike less likely to succeed. "There are 24 strong batteries around Natanz, making it one of the most protected sites on earth," said an Israeli military source. Its centrifuge halls, where the uranium is enriched, are heavily protected at least 70ft underground.

Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, recently "let slip" the world's worst-kept secret that Israel is a nuclear power; Israeli defence experts are now openly debating the use of nukes against Iran. Shlomo Mofaz, a reservist colonel in Israeli military intelligence, believes that tactical nuclear weapons will be required to penetrate the defences that Iran has built around its nuclear facilities.

Israel developed tactical nuclear weapons in the early 1970s for use on the battlefield. In an attack on Iran, its air force would be expected to use a low-yield nuclear device of 1 kiloton (equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT), loaded on a bunker-buster missile. "If the nuclear device explodes deep underground there will be no radioactive fallout," said Dr Ephraim Asculai of the Tel Aviv Institute for Strategic Studies, who worked for the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for more than 40 years.

Professor Peter Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist at King's College, London, was less sure. "The definition of low-yield nuclear weapons is not easy," he said. "I assume that it includes any device which is less than 5 kilotons. If such a bunker-buster missile is exploded at 70ft below ground" — thought to be the minimum depth of the hidden centrifuges in Natanz — "some radioactive fallout is expected."  Nonetheless, Professor Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli military expert, said last week that tactical nuclear weapons were "the only way, if there is a way at all, to destroy Iran's nuclear sites".

Some senior American defence analysts agree. One source with ties to the Pentagon said: "There is no way for Israel to engage effectively in such a strike without using nuclear weapons." But, he asked: "Would the Israelis dare?"

For all their military preparations, not even the Israelis are sure of the answer. Their decision rests to a great extent on their assessment of two further questions. How close is Tehran to having a nuclear bomb? And what does Washington really intend to do about it?

The actions and rhetoric of Ahmadinejad have been deliberately provocative. Last week he boasted that the Iranians would not only continue their atomic programme but also give a "historic slap in the face" to nations that opposed it. He has vowed that America, Israel and Britain will disappear "like the pharaohs" of Egypt and he believes that oil-rich Iran is well on its way to becoming the regional superpower.

Next month, on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution, he intends to celebrate what he calls his country's mastery of nuclear technology. He promised that 3,000 centrifuges would be ready by the end of last year and that 60,000 would ultimately be in place. In the event, technical problems have slowed the programme. The Iranians are believed to have installed only 500 centrifuges at Natanz and they will reach 2,000 by spring at the earliest. This is enough, however, to convince some Israelis that Iran is reaching the "point of no return" at which it has the technical know-how to build a nuclear bomb.

Ahmadinejad insists that Iran is developing only peaceful nuclear energy, but the development of long-range ballistic missiles such as the Shehab-3 suggests a different story. Israeli intelligence sources say Iran recently tested this missile with dummy nuclear weapons for its warheads. "The Iranians are progressing quickly with their delivery platform for their future nuclear weapons," said a source. "With an approximate range of 1,000 miles, the Shehab-3 can reach all of Israel."

Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, has told members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, that his organisation assumes the Iranians will have a complete nuclear device by 2009.

In these circumstances, sabre-rattling by the Israelis has its uses. Whether or not Israel intends to go nuclear, it might be in its interest to spread the word that it will. "In the cold war, we made it clear to the Russians that it was a virtual certainty that nukes would fly and fly early," said an American defence source. "Israel may be adopting the same tactics: 'You produce a weapon; you die'."

Michael Rubin, an expert on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, believes it could be a dangerous ruse. "You never want to threaten something you don't follow through on," he said.

Rubin believes the Israeli debate about using tactical nuclear weapons is "much more likely to be about pressing the United States to do the job".

President George W Bush included Iran in his original "axis of evil". Bogged down now in Iraq, he has cooled on the idea of attacking Iran. At a private meeting in the Oval Office last autumn, he was openly sceptical that America possessed enough intelligence data to carry out the job thoroughly. Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, told Congress at his confirmation hearings last month that he would be willing to give the order for strikes on Iran only as an " absolute last resort".

However, the Bush administration is still tempted to deliver a punishing blow to Iran for its regional meddling in Iraq and Lebanon. At the very least, it would like the swaggering regime in Tehran to believe that the United States might yet decide to cut it down to size. The nomination of Admiral William Fallon, a former navy fighter pilot, to command US military operations in the area is regarded as a sign of forward planning. Fallon does not have a reputation as a hawk, but in the words of a Pentagon source: "If you go after Iran, you have a naval war on your hands."

Retired Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former National War College professor who has wargamed airstrikes on Iran, believes an American attack remains a possibility. The current deployment of a second US aircraft carrier strike force to the Gulf region, as well as British minesweepers, is a "huge deal", he said. "It is only necessary to do that if you are planning to strike Iran and deal with the consequences" — including an attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the sea route for much of the world's oil from the Gulf states.

General John Abizaid, whom Fallon is due to replace, warned last year that an American attack on Iran could cripple oil supplies, unleash a "surrogate" terrorist army and provoke Iranian missile attacks on America's Middle Eastern allies.

Should Israel launch a tactical nuclear strike, the consequences could be catastrophic. Gardiner believes that there would not only be "low DNA operations" — difficult to trace directly back to the Iranians — such as terrorist attacks, but the Muslim world would also be so inflamed that the stability of pro-western regimes would be threatened. "It doesn't take much imagination to see Pakistan (a nuclear power) falling to Islamic fundamentalists," Gardiner said. "It could mean that in order to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons, we could be handing them to a terrorist nation."

According to a senior British defence official, an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran is simply unthinkable: "The damage to Israel to be the only state to use nuclear weapons in anger since 1945 is dangerous stuff. They cannot be seen to be taking the lead on this."

Or can they? Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defence minister, said recently: "At the end of the day it is always down to the Jews to deal with the problem." US analysts concur that America would never give its consent for such an operation, but as in the
attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant in 1981, it may not object all that vociferously after the event. Nor is it thought that Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt would mourn the humbling of Shi'ite Iran, their main regional rival.

Are Israel's plans an elaborate bluff or not? In today's dangerously volatile world, who will dare to make that call?

Strike one: Israel took out Saddam's reactor in 1981
IF Israeli forces attack nuclear sites in Iran, it will not be their first pre-emptive strike against a perceived nuclear threat. In 1981 Israeli jets bombed a reactor in Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein getting nuclear weapons. The Iraqi dictator had built a 40-megawatt research reactor just south of Baghdad with the aid of France, which supplied technology, expertise and about 27lb of uranium-235.

Fearing this could be used in the long term to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, Israel decided to destroy what became known as the Osirak reactor. Israel's first move was in 1980 when war broke out between Iraq and Iran: its chief of army intelligence urged Iran to bomb Osirak.

A pair of Iranian jets attacked the site, but damage was minor. So Israel decided to bomb it, secretly building a dummy site and carrying out full dress rehearsals. On June 7, 1981, Israel launched Operation Opera: six F-15I and eight F-16I jets flew over Jordanian and Saudi Arabian airspace and caught Iraqi defences by surprise.

The raid crippled the reactor. Many countries, including the United States, condemned the attack. Opposition parties in Israel claimed that it had been cynically timed to coincide with a looming election.

Some Iraqi scientists later said the attack spurred Saddam to redouble his efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Attempts were made to rebuild the Osirak facility. However, Saddam's nuclear ambitions were again halted when coalition forces bombed Osirak during the 1991 Gulf war.

Turkish Daily News with wire dispatches    January 8, 2007

Israel planning nuclear strike, second UK paper claims

  Following conservative U.K. weekly The Spectator, The Sunday Times has jumped on the “nuclear strike against Iran” bandwagon, claiming that Israel has drawn up plans to destroy Iranian uranium enrichment facilities with a “tactical nuclear strike.” Israel firmly rejected the report, describing it as absurd.

  The Sunday Times quoted several Israeli military sources as saying that two of Israel's air force squadrons are training to use “bunker-busting” bombs for a single strike. According to the British paper, one of the three possible routes for an air attack is over Turkey.

  “This is absurd information coming from a newspaper that has in the past distinguished itself with sensationalist headlines that in the end amounted to nothing,” retorted an Israeli official. “To think that we will launch an atomic attack against Iran, and on top of that that we would reveal it in advance to a foreign newspaper is doubly ridiculous,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Agence France-Presse.

  The Sunday Times -- which in 1986 first revealed Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal -- said the plans involved sending conventional, laser-guided missiles to open up “tunnels” in the targets before “mini-nukes” with a force the equivalent of one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb are fired in.

  “As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike, and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” one of the unnamed sources was quoted as saying.

  Iran warned that it would hit back against any attack in a way that would leave its enemy regretting that it had made such a move. “Any action against the Islamic republic would not go without a response, and the aggressor would regret the action very quickly,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters.

  He described the report as “proof of the weakness of the enemy, and [it] will have no effect on the determination of the Islamic republic to continue its [nuclear] activities.”

The example of Osirak:
  Israel and the United States accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon -- a charge vehemently denied by Tehran, which refuses to bow to demands to halt uranium enrichment work.

  Even after the U.N. Security Council agreed to impose its first-ever sanctions on Iran in December, Israel has pushed for tougher international action against the Islamic republic and has refused to rule out pre-emptive military action. In 1981, it took action against Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak.

  Israel is considered to be the sole nuclear weapons power in the Middle East. It does not officially acknowledge its arsenal, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared to do so in an apparent lapse at the end of last year.

  The three prime targets for Israeli action are said to be the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, a uranium conversion facility near Isfahan and a heavy water reactor at Arak, The Sunday Times reported.

  The nuclear option is being considered because Israeli military commanders believe conventional strikes may not be effective enough at destroying the well-defended facilities, it said. The atomic weapons would explode deep underground to minimize the risk of radioactive fallout, it added.

Secret meetings:
  U.S. and Israeli officials had met several times to consider military action, it added, saying military analysts assessed that disclosing the plans could put pressure on Iran to halt sensitive uranium enrichment activities. It could also be designed to persuade the United States to act to “soften up” world opinion ahead of an Israeli pre-emptive strike.

  Israeli pilots are said to have flown to Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets. Three possible routes have been mapped out, including one over Turkey, the report claimed.

  The plan is similar to one said in a report in The New Yorker magazine last April to have been considered by the United States. The White House dismissed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's article as “ill-informed.”

  The Spectator claimed in its latest issue that “within the next 12 months, the United States and/or Israel are likely to launch military strikes” against Iran. The conservative weekly added that these strikes will “probably be nuclear.” The allegations were based on unnamed Israeli military analysts.

The Times     January 08, 2007

Israel denies nuclear strike plan
David Sharrock

JERUSALEM Israel denied that it had drawn up secret plans to attack and destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment plants with nuclear weapons. Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that Israel wanted the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions to be resolved diplomatically.

The Sunday Times reported that two Israel air force squadrons had been training to blow up an enrichment plant in Natanz, south of Tehran, using low-yield nuclear “bunker busters”. Two other sites would be targeted with conventional bombs, the report claimed, citing Israeli military sources.

Responding to the claims, Mr Regev said: “The focus of the Israeli activity today is to give full support to diplomatic actions.”

Ali Hosseini, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that the report made clear that Israel was the main menace in the region.

The Independent    8 January 2007

Military strike is only way to stop Iran, says top Israeli strategist
By Eric Silver in Jerusalem

A top Israeli strategic analyst says armed force is the only way to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons if the international community does not impose effective sanctions. Zvi Shtauber, director of Tel-Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, was speaking last night after the Foreign Ministry denied a report in The Sunday Times that Israeli pilots were already training to strike three targets with low-yield nuclear weapons.

Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel was focusing on giving full support to diplomatic actions and the implementation of a UN Security Council resolution imposing limited sanctions on Tehran. But Mr Shtauber said: "Experience shows that it is very hard to stop a state which is determined to build nuclear weapons."

Berliner Zeitung 8. Januar 2007

Israel will Iran atomar angreifen
Präventivschlag gegen Nuklearanlagen geplant

LONDON/JERUSALEM. Israel bereitet laut einem Zeitungsbericht einen Angriff mit nuklearen Waffen zur Zerstörung des iranischen Atomprogramms vor. Zwei Flugstaffeln der israelischen Luftwaffe würden derzeit für die Zerstörung iranischer Atomanlagen in Natans, Isfahan und Arak mit bunkerbrechenden Nuklearbomben ausgebildet, berichtete die Londoner Zeitung Sunday Times. Ein Sprecher des israelischen Außenministeriums dementierte den Bericht als "ungenau". Israel unterstütze zu 100 Prozent die Bemühungen der internationalen Gemeinschaft zur Einstellung des iranischen Atomprogramms. Die Regierung in Teheran drohte Israel mit Gegenattacken, sollte dessen Militär den Iran angreifen.

Die israelische Luftwaffe plant laut Sunday Times den Einsatz von lasergesteuerten konventionellen Raketen, die "Tunnel" zu den eigentlichen Zielen öffnen sollten, bevor Mini-Nuklearwaffen mit einem Fünfzehntel der Sprengkraft der Hiroshima-Bombe abgefeuert werden sollten. Der Einsatz von Atombomben wird nach Angaben des Blattes deswegen erwogen, weil konventionelle Waffen möglicherweise nicht ausreichten, um die gut geschützten Ziele zu zerstören. Die Atomwaffen würden tief unter der Erdoberfläche explodieren, um das Risiko eines nuklearen Niederschlags zu minimieren.

Schnelle Antwort aus Teheran
"Sobald wir grünes Licht haben, wird die Mission gestartet. Ein Schlag - und das iranische Atomprogramm wird zerstört sein", zitierte die Sunday Times eine ungenannte Quelle. Der von der britischen Sonntagszeitung beschriebene angebliche Angriffsplan Israels ähnelte einem vom US-Magazin The New Yorker im April beschriebenen angeblichen Vorhaben der USA. Das Weiße Haus hatte diesen Bericht damals entschieden zurückgewiesen.

Laut Sunday Times trafen sich israelische Verantwortliche wiederholt mit Partnern aus den USA, um einen Militäreinsatz zu erörtern. Die Zeitung spekulierte, dass die Offenlegung eines solchen Angriffsplans das Ziel haben könnte, Druck auf den Iran auszuüben, damit dieser sein Atomprogramm einstelle. Israel hat den Besitz von Atombomben offiziell nie zugegeben, verfügt nach Einschätzung von Fachleuten aber über rund einhundert Atomsprengköpfe.

Israel sei auf einer Linie mit den vom Sicherheitsrat der Vereinten Nationen beschlossenen Sanktionen gegenüber dem Iran, betonte der israelische Außenamtssprecher Mark Regev. Ein ranghoher israelischer Regierungsbeamter hatte den Bericht der Sunday Times zuvor als "absurd" zurückgewiesen.

Die iranische Regierung reagierte umgehend auf die angeblichen Angriffspläne: Jegliche Militäraktion gegen die Islamische Republik werde "nicht ohne Antwort bleiben", erklärte Außenamtssprecher Mohammed Ali Hosseini in Teheran. Der "Aggressor" werde seine Tat sehr schnell bereuen. (AFP)

Berliner Zeitung 8. Januar 2007

Ein brisanter Trainingsbericht
Roland Heine

Bereiten israelische Militärs derzeit einen nuklearen Erstschlag gegen iranische Atomanlagen vor - bereits ganz praktisch durch Pilotentraining? Einem Bericht der seriösen britischen Sunday Times zufolge ist es so, und immerhin war es dieses Blatt, das 1986 unter Berufung auf den israelischen Spezialisten Mordechai Vanunu erstmals breit über Israels geheime Atomwaffen berichtete. Heute zweifelt kein Experte mehr an deren Existenz. Auch haben israelische Politiker Erstschläge gegen den Iran generell nicht ausgeschlossen, und die Tatsache, dass das Land 1981 im Irak schon einmal eine ausländische Atomanlage kurzerhand zerbombte - wenn auch mit konventionellen Mitteln - spricht für den Wahrheitsgehalt des Berichts der Sunday Times.

Andererseits stellt sich natürlich die Frage, ob der Artikel lanciert wurde. Israel verfolgt offiziell weiterhin eine Politik der Unklarheit, was die Existenz israelischer Atomwaffen angeht. Zuletzt jedoch stellte Premier Ehud Olmert das Land in eine Reihe mit den Nuklearmächten, zuvor hatte US-Verteidigungsminister Robert Gates Israel als Atommacht bezeichnet. Ist der jüngste Bericht ein neuer Versuch, Teheran mit der Bombe zu drohen, ohne dies direkt zu tun? Auch um die Reaktionen im Westen zu testen? Im Iran wiederum stärkt das Ganze die Position der Hardliner gegenüber den Reformern. Letztere machten Anstalten, sich wieder zu sammeln, auch im Parlament wurde die Kritik am Konfrontationskurs von Präsident Mahmud Ahmadinedschad lauter. Der kann nun auch auf die Sunday Times verweisen, um Forderungen nach einer Politik des Ausgleichs abzublocken.

Irish Independent    January 8, 2006

You'd better hold us Israelis back,
'before we do something crazy ...'
 Eric Silver

A TOP Israeli strategic analyst said last night that armed force was the only way to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons if the international community did not impose effective sanctions.

Zvi Shtauber, director of Tel-Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, was speaking after the British Foreign Ministry denied a report that Israeli pilots were already training to strike three targets with low-yield nuclear weapons.

A report in The Sunday Times claimed that the Mossad spy agency expected Iran to produce enough enriched uranium to build a bomb within two years. It said the pilots had flown to Gibraltar to practise the 2,000-mile round trip.

Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel was focusing on giving full support to diplomatic actions and the a UN Security Council resolution imposing limited sanctions on Tehran. A nuclear Iran, he argued, was an international, not just an Israeli problem.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, has taken the same line, but has never excluded the possibility of a unilateral strike. He recently broke a long-standing taboo by acknowledging that Israel already had the bomb.

There is a whiff of psychological warfare in the air, as if Israel is trying to frighten Tehran or spur others to act. Reuven Pedatzur, who writes on strategic affairs for the liberal daily 'Ha'aretz', suggested: "It is possible that this was a leak done on purpose, as deterrence, to say, 'Someone better hold us back before we do something crazy'."

For Dr Shtauber, a retired general and former ambassador to Britain, the UN resolution was not tough enough. "Iran can still be stopped by sanctions," he said, "but I don't believe that serious sanctions will be imposed. The only alternative will be using force. Time is playing in favour of Iran. Experience shows that it is very hard to stop a state which is determined to build nuclear weapons, is capable and has a scientific infrastructure and money.

"The nuclear project enjoys wide consensus in Iran. There's no difference between radicals and liberals about it. So sooner or later, somebody will have to decide to try and stop Iran by military means because a nuclear Iran will dramatically alter the strategic situation in the Middle East. Six other states in this region have already signalled that they might follow suit."

Israel would prefer not to go it alone, but Dr Shtauber believed that Israel could do it if push came to shove, as it did when it destroyed Saddam Hussein's Iraqi reactor in 1981. "You don't have to attack all the sites," he explained. "You can attack a couple of them."

Alireza Ronaghi writes: The nuclear controversy is producing tensions within the Iranian parliament, with reformists angrily blaming President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's leadership for failing to prevent United Nations sanctions.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on December 23 to impose sanctions on Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and technology in an attempt to stop uranium enrichment work that could produce material that could be used in bombs.

Iran has consistently said it wants nuclear power to generate electricity.

Reformist former President Mohammad Khatami suspended Iran's nuclear work for more than two years in an effort to build confidence and avoid confrontation with the West, but Ahmadinejad's government resumed uranium enrichment in February.

"The only way to pass the crisis is to build confidence. . . but holding a Holocaust conference and financing the Hamas government creates mistrust and tension," Noureddin Pirmoazzen, the spokesman of parliament's reformist faction, claimed yesterday.

Mr Ahmadinejad's government hosted a conference in Tehran in December, where participants questioned the Holocaust. It also granted $250m (€192m) in aid to the Palestinian Hamas government after Western donors withheld funds.

After two election landslides that brought Khatami to office in 1997 and 2001, Iran's reformers suffered a series of poll setbacks, with voters disillusioned at their inability to carry out their policies due to conservative opposition.

The culmination of the reformers' defeats came in 2005, when voters elected the hardline Ahmadinejad, who promised to use Iran's large oil revenues to help the poor.

But the reformers made a strong showing at local council elections in December, with many voters worried about Iran's increasing diplomatic isolation and economic problems.

Pirmoazzen said that two UN resolutions against Iran in the first 18 months of the government's term demonstrated that the current foreign ministry was incapable of looking after Iran's national interests.

reader comments
Jerusalem Post    8 January 2007

If Israel had tactical nukes, would it use them against Iran?
Yaakov Katz, THE JERUSALEM POST  Jan. 8, 2007

A nuclear weapon has not been used since 1945, when the US Armed Forces dropped two such bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Now, according to London's Sunday Times, Israel is preparing for its own Hiroshima and has drawn up plans to not only introduce the weapon of mass destruction into the Middle East but even use it against Iran.

The newspaper report, improbable as it might sound, should not be immediately dismissed. While Israel is publicly rooting for diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, there is no doubt that the IDF - and particularly the Air Force - are preparing for the possibility that Israel might decide to launch a military strike against the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.

But would Israel use tactical nuclear weapons - if it had them - to do so? According to foreign reports, Israel has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and according to the Sunday Times report, has been training with low-yield warheads that are just large enough to cause the necessary destruction at Iran's nuclear facilities, but also just small enough to contain the blast and prevent major collateral damage and fallout.

While it would be difficult to completely destroy all of Iran's several dozen nuclear facilities, senior officials and IAF officers believe that a successful strike on a number of key elements of the nuclear program - such as the uranium enrichment center in Natanz, the heavy water facility at Arak and the Isfahan nuclear technology center - would be enough to stop the country's race for nuclear power.

Assuming strikes on these facilities would suffice in at least temporarily stopping Iran's atomic race, there are still many hurdles along the way, some of which could potentially be passed by using tactical nuclear weapons.

The Sunday Times report is not the first to raise the "tactical nuclear" possibility. Last April, Seymour M. Hersh wrote in the New Yorker magazine that the United States was considering using bunker-buster bombs tipped with nuclear warheads to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities.

If Israel decided to attack Iran, in addition to the difficulty in flying directly to the country and neutralizing its air defenses, the IAF would also have to succeed in penetrating bunkers at the nuclear facilities - some known to be dozens of feet below ground and reinforced by concrete and steel.

According to Israeli officials, while an air strike on Iran could be successful, the IAF would need exact intelligence on each target and on the type of bunker, its depth, and what type of reinforcements it featured. Those pieces of information are crucial for choosing the type and number of bombs the IAF would need to drop. This is where tactical nuclear weapons could conceivably come in.

While bunker buster bombs would still be needed, the powerful blast of a low-yield nuke could do the trick in further penetrating and destroying the underground facility. If Israel indeed has nuclear weapons and the ability to manufacture low-yield warheads, as the Sunday Times report claims, this option would definitely be under consideration.

While the use of nuclear weapons might be tempting - due to their strength - there is a downside that could in the end tilt the scales in the direction of conventional weapons. While Israel is suspected of possessing nuclear weapons, the official Israeli policy has for years been not to be the first country in the Middle East to introduce nuclear weapons into the region. In addition, Israel would be reluctant to use a WMD that could set off a regional war.

If, however, Iran is Israel's greatest existential threat ever, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claims it is, then even the hitherto unthinkable might be considered - even tactical nukes - when it comes to Israel's survival.

reader comments

1. first strike nuclear?
eliXelx - spain     01/08/2007 03:13
Unfortunately, every single Israeli PM has repeated the promise--Israel will NOT be the first to use nuclear weapons in the ME. Of course, this was said to keep the ambiguity, but also because it expressed the hope that Israel would never be attacked by nuclear weapons from a Muslim country! All this must change now; ambiguities and binding promises no longer serve the Israeli purpose. Tell Iran and the world that you have 'em and will use 'em!

2. Using Nukes Against Iran
GB     01/08/2007 06:18
Israel should NOT use nukes against Iran. It would give full justification for any middle east country to develop nukes as a deterent to Israel's nuclear force. Israel should however use any and all weapons other than nukes to destroy Irans nuke facilities. The president of Iran gave full justification for this when he stated Israel should be wiped off the map. Although it also appears he is baiting Israel giving justification for a massive counter attack that they Israel better be prepared for.

3. Nukes
Einstein ll - USA     01/08/2007 08:03
Not would but when.

4. quadarie?
juha - canada     01/08/2007 08:21
this is quite a be or not to be, that is the question (to quote shakespeare) You can either sit back and wait for a nuke to hit Israel then respond, but this has the effect of an multitude of Israeli cities getting destroyed and then responding by leveling some Iranian cities with millions getting killed. Or doing a percise nuke strike where civilian casualties is the fewest. The world would condem Israel on a pre emtive strike. and lament the destuction of cities on a full scale

5. Iran is a threat to whom?
Jon the Baptist - Brooklyn     01/08/2007 08:57
Iran is not a strategic threat to Israel, but to the other muslim countries in the whole region, as well as to the interests of the U.S. This is not Israels' fight, everybody knows that Israel has nukes and to attack Israel with WMD would be suicide.

6. Iran and tactical nukes
Paul S     01/08/2007 09:06
Of course, if Israel's very survival is at stake, then ALL options will be considered. This was the case during the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Happily, it didn't come to nuclear weapons in 1973. Everyone should hope and pray the current situation doesn't reach the nuclear stage.

7. Catch 22
1 / 1.7 billion     01/08/2007 09:44
Bomb Iran and set the whole region on flames and possibly the world, or wait till your enemy neutralizes your nuclear supremacy destabilizing the region s structure, either way against Israel s benefit and possibly destroying it. You are running out of time and choices, even if you succeed in delaying this, it is just a matter of short time till you face the same situation again. It is time to rethink, if you really want to survive, Jews always had a place in the region, Zionists never.

Abbajojo - Israel     01/08/2007 11:02
Use of nukes would start a regional war. Use of conventional weapons would likely start a regional war. Use of nukes would justify Egypt, and others in accelerating their stealth programs. The "real" question is; do we use them now, or do we use them later? That is, if we have them. You choose!

9. tac-nukes
ju-ju man - Texas     01/08/2007 14:56
But, Israel has no nukes! Realize this-first one to use any type nuke, opens pandora's box, and it is Nuclear. Shades of Prophecy!

10. Nuking Iran
Abner - Norway     01/08/2007 15:05
I wonder if Achmadinejad has been let in on the joke yet -- that it is countries with names ending in 'an' that get nuked for some inexplicable reason.

11. nukes and iran
john costanzo - australia     01/08/2007 15:12
iran is bluffing just like sadam hussain.yes use the same bluff on them

12. to use or not to use nukes
Sam - USA
01/08/2007 15:25
I think it would be a grave mistake for Isreal to use nukes against Iran. To do so would unify a divided Arab and Muslim world. If the they ever truely unite, I believe that it would be only a question of time before Isreal itself is destroyed by nukes. The only path to follow is the path of peace and dialoge with the enemy, everything else is insanity.

13. Better to do, and damn the torpedoes....
Cavler Crociatus - USA     01/08/2007 15:38
....full speed ahead and bomb all Iranian nuclear sites, NOW! with a warning of more to come if the cobra raises again it's ugly head.....and then settle e just comprimise with the Palestinians addressing all issues at hand.

14. Now way out
Ferdinand - Belgium     01/08/2007 15:48
I am not optimistic about the future of this region. It is like a time bomb. We all know the hypocrisy of the world; Imposing sanctions on Iran, it is nothing. China was the first to break these sanctions for matter of economic reasons. They don't think about Isra l but only they think for themselves, how they can profit! And that counts for the rest of the world too. What is goiing to happen? If Isra l doesn't stop Iran, it is suicide. If Isra l react, it will set the whole world in flames

15. Using nuke against Iran is the only realistic option
Roger - Israel     01/08/2007 15:51
A tacticak nuclear strike is the only option that Israel or the US has against the Iranian nuclear program. If diplomacy and sanctions fail or if Iranian people do not put an end to this regime, the US or Israel will have no choice but to nuke parts of the Iranian installation. The rest is litterature.

16. Illegal nukes ?
Adrian Ionescu - Romania     01/08/2007 15:55
Are you telling us that Israel aquired nukes despite the international laws ? Where is Bush and his anti-WMD warriors ?

17. Peace
Adrian Ionescu - Romania     01/08/2007 16:02
How about instead of talking about atacking Iran, not make peace with the Pals and withdraw within the pre 1967 borders ? Any atack on Iran will be the end of Israel and the beginning a new Holocaust against the Jews all over the world. It this \ahat the people of Israel want ?

18. If you do, then it has to be "GO FOR BROKE"
Steve - USA     01/08/2007 16:11
In order to be effective you will need to launch aerial electronic assault on Iranian defenses, then you will need to take into consideration Syrian Air forces on the flank, then isolated regional ballistic missiles from Iran. Frankly repeated EMP pulse bursts would be required. Then again your not dealing in a conventional threat, dead if you don t

19. it use them against Iran
Jerry Phillips - USA     01/08/2007 16:15
My Beloved Israel Iran is your responsibility and you must do what it takes to show that modern day giant you are well able to stop it. You are not a godless people and the Holy one of Israel is ready to help you get the job done. Stand up to that bully and watch him run. You are not afraid. You come from a long list of giant killers so take your place in history. Stand up for Him and He will stand up for you. Oh Israel don't you love Him, the one who watches over Israel.

20. Iran would blame Israel regardless
Gili - Canada     01/08/2007 16:40
I'm personally not sure what Israel should do either way, but even if Israel were to use conventional weapons I have no doubt that Iranian officials would claim they had used nukes anyway. Iran has the technical ability to frame Israel for this if they wanted; they already have weapon-grade uranium and the will to do so. I personally feel that regardless of what Israel does, it should follow up any attack with a more aggressive approach to the middle-east, to prevent a repeat in the future.

21. Attack Iran?
Yehuda     01/08/2007 16:43
Is Israel prepared to accept the Iranian response, missiles against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and destruction of population centers? Unfortunately, Israel is run by corrupt and incompetent leaders. Israeli intelligence is useless. If they can't win a war against Lebanon, how can they win one against Iran? Wake up, it's not 1967.

22. a plan
Gershon - USA    01/08/2007 16:45
In response to Iranian treat Israel should declare its own program of developing nukes and finish it in a week.

23. The lies are incredible! - 1
Faith - USA     01/08/2007 17:09
All the major Arab countries and many in the world would love to see Iran's nuke program knocked out. They are either too powerless or cowardice to do it and so hope Israel or US will so they can maintain their caliphate fiefdoms. But when Israel and US do, they will use the very occasion in which their asses were saved (with a great sigh of relief) to vilify Israel and US to the world and among their populaces while they clamor for nukes. Incredible.(cont.)

24. re 2
Devin - usa     01/08/2007 17:19
That is a good point, but if Israel is truly at risk of being destroyed by Iran they should use nukes-which would prevent this and deal with future problems in the future-because at least there would then be a future.

25. Air Supremacy in Iran Easy: Then All Sorts of Scenarios Possible
Ovadiah ben Avraham - Israel     01/08/2007 17:21
It will be easy to achieve air supremacy in the airspace of Iran with a few well-placed conventional strikes, perhaps using conventional-explosive-driven High-Powered Microwave (HPM) bombs against the Iranian air defense network. Then you can fly multiple sorties or even put troops on the ground at the nuke sites to do what is necessary. Without eyes and air cover, the Iranian army will not react effectively in a 12-hour operations window.

26. The lies are incredible! - 2
Faith - USA     01/08/2007 17:19
Israel has proven itself responsible to a fault with nukes. Considering the surrounding nations' peoples and governments have daily called and worked for their destruction for nearly 60 years; and considering the Islamic middle east birthed neighbor and worldwide terrorism. Israel should remain the only country in the middle east with nukes. If the other terrorist sponsoring countries try to develop the policy should be to do them like Osirik and shortly Iran.

27. Final War
Tadeu Mendes - USA     01/08/2007 17:26
Iran is not searching for nuclear wapons capability just to match Israel's nuclear stockpile. The regime in Iran is not trying to implement a MAD type of nuclear strategy like the Cold War scenario between Russia and the US. What they really want is to destroy Israel once and for all. We cannot wait and see this event to take shape. Israel will have to preempt with a hard strike on the iranian nuclear facilities and possibily the iranian military. Do it now before is too late

28. Threats To Wipe Israel Off The MAp
Rick - USA     01/08/2007 17:54
Gee...I don't know. The last time a tyrant reared op on his heels and advocated the destruction of the Jewish people, very few took him at face value, or doubted the voracity of the threat. I guess that was a mistake huh? Iran will garner weapons and use them on Israel. Will talk of diplomacy end after Israel is vaporized? I have difficulty understanding which part of Iran's threats are not clear. The world cares not one wit about the Jews....

29. If Israel had tactical nukes, would it use them against Iran?
Frank Buttizwana - Zimbabwe     01/08/2007 17:58
Why should Israel start with tactical nukes? Israel, you worry too much about Iranian collateral damage and world public opinion. Nuke the infrastructure in Iran to make nukes and hit Teheran. The people have been poisioned against you for generations. After you finish Teheran .. Hizbollah and Hamas will end their fight for survival reasons.

30. If and when...
YItzchak909 - Israel     01/08/2007 18:03
If iran is nuked, the bombs are going to come from planes launched from the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, which has just left for the Gulf from America. The single worst thing israel could do is be the first country to use nukes here. also, it should be noted that fuel/air munitions are just as devestating as nukes and would, however, be a legitimate option for israel...

31. what planet is jon the baptist from?
mike - usa     01/08/2007 18:17
he wrote: Iran is not a strategic threat to Israel What do you call all the money,armaments and fighters Iran trains and sends to Hamas,Hezbollah,etc through Syria - John- what do you define as astrategic threat??

32. Let the US take the heat...Iran is a US problem moer that Israeli
r - usa     01/08/2007 18:24
US is is next doior in Iraq. Let the US pave the way out of Iraq with a strike on Iran.

33. The root cause
Shawn - USA     01/08/2007 18:25
As the IDF ponders the best corse of action for Iran we need to remember some key facts. First, the Middle East is in a state of war with Iran supporting terrorist while Iraq implodes. Second, prior to the lates Iraq invasion, Iran was forced to pay billions of dollars to secure its border with Iraq. Now that Saddam is no more, those billions can be used for nukes, or terrorist attacks against Israel. Maybe Iraq was the wrong evil for the US to fight first.

34. Israel will never first use WMD. All this talk is complete BS
Sol     01/08/2007 18:29
All this speculations about possible use of tactical atomic bombs by Israel against Iran is complete insane BS! Israel is a sane Country, and Jews are sane people. Unfortunately we can tell this about the other side.

35. Shaffer
John - USA     01/08/2007 18:43
If Israel does have tactical nukes we dont have to worry about them using them. Why? because Israel denying all claims that they are preparing to nuke Iran. Thats a good enough reason for me to believe, but you can believe what you want.

36. Ask the Arab countries (especially Jordan and Egypt) to solemnly declare that they are against the Iranian threat to destroy Israel (part 2)
Yehudi Amitz     01/08/2007 18:45
We should also ask the U.S. government to denounce the new kind of "protocols" coming from the U.S. academia, like Mearsheimer and Walt hateful paper. The U.S. government should say that it recognizes that the only reason for a pro Israel lobby in the U.S. is KEEPING ALIVE THE ISRAELI JEWS.

37. There is no such thing as a "low yield nuclear weapon"
Jake     01/08/2007 18:56
The whole idea behind the concept of a nuclear weapon is the massive yield of energy as a result of nuclear fission. There is no such thing as a low yield nuke. If you want a blast with low yield, you use conventional weapons. Period.

38. IF Israel Has Nuclear Weapons, They Would Only Use Them IF First Attack or Backed Into A Corner!
M Scott - USA     01/08/2007 21:01
Israel will be attacked by a Missile, but they will not use Nuclear Weapons (if they have them) unless there is no other way to deal with attack or if they are backed into a corner with no other choice! They are aware of the damage it could do to others or to cause more countries to become involved when attacked. They are logical about weapons!

39. Nukes or no nukes.
SnakeCharmer-Pakistan.     01/08/2007 21:16
Whenever someone is determined to head towards own disaster, then the planning and thinking is exactly like the comments posted in this forum. This also shows the level of prevailing fear and frustration. Iran can be tamed with few smiles instead of this stupidity.

40. Pathetic behavior by both
Saman - USA     01/08/2007 21:54
I m an Iranian being threatened by Israeli nukes?! Pathetic behavior by bunch of 21st-century politicians in Tehran and Jerusalem. It s 07 and we live in a world of paranoia and hostility chosen by our elected leaders on both sides. The Mullahs will in time evolve but most of us expect Israel, a democratic country (with nukes) to set an example in the region by disarming and putting an end to nonsense excuses by all and hope for the international community to do their job and protect us all!

41. #16-Pre 67 Borders
Jayzee     01/08/2007 22:36
How Pre 67 do you think Israel needs to go to achieve peace with the Pals? Mid 1600's? I know going back to Davidic times won't do any good, and I don't think they really want post 48, so pre 67 post what?

42. Peace with Iran
Jayzee     01/08/2007 22:39
I think it is hysterical that everytime the Iranians threaten destruction of Israel we are told to ignore it. Everytime the Iranians make a hint at "peace" these same people insist we must listen.

43. Israel's strength.
Ranger - USA     01/08/2007 22:59
I have never known Israel to back down from an aggressor (until rescently). In all of your conflicts, you won by stepping up and kicking ass leaving no doubt in anyones mind who the winner was. Don't forget this attitude kept your nation alive.

44. The Sooner the better!
Steven     01/08/2007 23:01
Low grade High grade, any grade. Israel must destroy Iran. Why? Only one reason. Iran's goal is to destory Israel. We should not sit there like fools and do nothing. Iran should be destroyed. Will innocent Iranians die? Sure? Is that what I want? Hell no! I rather them die however than me and mine. The Iranian people have a leader and a dogma that makes me state this. Better them than us.

45. Israel and the US need to join forces on this
Laurent - France     01/08/2007 23:12
Nobody wants to pick the hot potatoes out of the coals for somebody else so the only option is to do it together. Israel and the US have all the necessary hi-tech and firepower to pull it off.

46. No. 37 (Jake) don't popularize here the usual American lack of science education, No wonder we need Chines and Indians to do our science??
An American Jew with a degre in Physics     01/08/2007 23:28
Of course there are low yield nuclear bombs . For example, one of the options is bombs with lower than "critical mass" bombs. These bombs have only a fraction of the critical mass but the additional quantity of neutrons needed for explosion is is acquired by a reflective material placed around the nuclear material, This reflective material doesn't allow neutrons to leave the bomb and this way we have a smaller nuclear material quantity with enough neutrons to trigger a chain reaction.

47. Five and a Half Thousand Million
Guran Walker - Ur-th     01/08/2007 23:35
Attacking Iran without totally removing its ability to retaliate would be insane. Not Israel but the US has sufficient nukes to obliterate Iran as an example. Won't happen so 5.5 Billion will die instead.

48. RE: #45
Abyssal Worm - Los Estados Unidas Americanas     01/09/2007 00:16
The French need to stop telling others THEY need to fight and actually help out once in a while. And no, starting a fight and then promptly surrendering does not count.

49. Islamists think they are entitled to the whole world, because that's what their holy book tells them...kill everybody else!
Rebekah Wilkin - USA     01/09/2007 00:56
Know your enemy. How many people know the ultimate goal of Islam? It's been the same for hundreds of years. It hasn't changed. Islamists are patient. They tried to conquer Europe twice before. They took the Middle East from Christians hundreds of years ago. They took North Africa, Spain and almost took Vienna. Remember Istanbul once was Christian...but not anymore. The Balkans were once Christian. If Iran succeeded in wiping Israel off the map, that would just be the beginning.

50. project ehud?
Sylvia Haworth - Australia     01/09/2007 01:16
Whatever IS planned/ decided, it ought to be a surprise. Remember, one kidnapped IDF soldier is called Ehud and so is the prime minister. Now, see Judges 3: 15-26. Project Ehud??? Meanwhile: let all observant Jews and practising Christians remember 2 Kings 18 and 19 and Hezekiah's prayer in the temple.

51. Not with the present leader who does not dare to say "No" to the US. And Bush & Rice are to cowardly to give him a go-ahead.
Ruslan Tokhchukov - USA     01/09/2007 01:25
They did not even let him fight Hezbollah with conventional weapons last summer. Can you believe it? Hezbollah who blew up US Marines, 3 embassies, hijacked TWA 847, held American hostages for 7 years executing 2 of them and torturing another 2 to death, killed GI's in Khobar and aided the 9/11 hijackers. Then, finally, Israel gave a real fight to Hezbollah, and Bush and Rice joined the French slimebags in the UN and rescued Hezbollah from Israel ! Coward, Coward, Coward Country USA !

52. Nations Of The World Better Stop Ahmadinejad and Iran! He Is Following In The Footsteps Of Saddam, Constantly Threatening Israel Could Destruction!
M Scott - USA     01/09/2007 01:42
If Ahmadinejad continues to threaten "eliminate Israel from the face of the earth" I think Israel should take the threat seriously. If any type of Missile went into the air from Iran...would be tempted to eliminate them immediately. But hopefully could use defense missiles to shoot it down over Iran, then I think they would have every reason to use bunker bursting bombs on them. I hope the Nations of the World tells Iran they can't have Nuclear Weapons or continue to taunt Israel! Stop Iran!

53. #29 Frank
Sam - USA     01/09/2007 01:53
Bravo ! You're absolutely right.I shake your hand.

54. USSR propaganda made the word "peace", a false peace, politically correct
Mike Tayler - USA
01/09/2007 02:05     Peace is a politically correct term, but it means nothing. Now, peace with God through Jesus Christ can be real for the asking. It is practical.

55. message to #49
Farid Ali     01/09/2007 02:18
rebekkah i think you are stupid and low educated(maybe not educated)The Holy QU`RAN doesnt say kill innocent people,only defend yourself and your country.GU`RAN says the same thing thatTorah and Bible says, killing 1 person means you killing all humans and killer will answer to GOD!!You havent read the book yet,please dont judge it.Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam!!!

56. Iranian nukes
Anthony - -     01/09/2007 02:33     What can I say? If Iran has nukes (and I know they already do) they will eventually use them against Israel. Every American should live by one protocol: muslim equals subverssive.muslim is enemy to all true Americans.

57. tactical nukes
doug - usa     01/09/2007 02:36
regarding tactical nukes,i don't think it's a matter of if they have em''s a question of how to use them.

58. use fuel air explosives
ranbir singh khosa - malaysia     01/09/2007 02:40
use fuel air explosives. please dont attack that idiot ahmadnijad.he is increasingly unpopular in iran - if iran is attacked will he be considered a martyr.and if you want to attack iran's nuclear facilities - please attack all of them instead of only 3.

59. #48 BRAVO!!!
Ranger     01/09/2007 02:49

60. Reply to #49
Muhd sharol - Brunei Darussalam     01/09/2007 03:53
You didnt go to school or not educated person, i guess. Islam invaded spain and as a result, spain became strong in power and economic. Now spain gained the benefit from it. And islam spreads very quickly to every corner of the world. Even to china, india and indonesia. But did islam sent army to these countries before??? The answer is NO. They accepted islam because islam is religion of PEACE.

61. #16 Ionescu---It is not illegal to acquire nuclear weapons
JJ     01/09/2007 04:04
Israel, like India and Pakistan, have every right to have these weapons. The nonproliferation treaty is a deal between nuclear and non-nuclear states: We give you technology, you promise not to use it to build a bomb. Israel said "No thanks." That is their right. Iran took the technology and cheated. You should really try to become better informed before expressing opinions publicly.

62. Psalms 83
galut - USA     01/09/2007 04:31
For those who wish to know the outcome of this conlict that involves Israel And Iran please check the scriptures ..Psalms 83 & ezekiel 36 hru 40

63. nukes
antonio - canada     01/09/2007 04:40
message to #55 true terrorism has nothing to do with Islam..... it just happens that all terrorists are Moslems

64. Islam is Dangerous #55
Monica - United States of America
01/09/2007 04:49     The problem is that Islam wants the whole world and especially Israel to be their country and therefore they must kill all the infidels to get it. History shows that Islam is bloody and dangerous and has been since they day it was born.

65. seriously
rose miller - Texas     01/09/2007 05:05
I can't believe that some of you are actually serious about using nucleair weapons. I can only hope that sanity will prevail! Or are you that anxious for Armageddon?

66. will israel use nukes against iran
paul - australia     01/09/2007 05:19
God will not allow israel to be wiped off the face of the earth.The world must act or israel is sure to do what ever is necessary, including nukes.

67. More to this than meets the eye. (1)
Helen G - Canada     01/09/2007 05:36
Even the threat of a pre-emptive Israel strike can in a sense be added to the diplomatic pot. Iran shows consistency & clarity in (a) threatening that Israel will be wiped off the map SOON (b) achieving nuclear capability. This threat to Israel s existence simply cannot be ignored. If the bunkers can be destroyed only by tactical or mini nukes, then I don t see that Israel has any choice. All the signals are given regarding Israel s options. It is for the UN & Iran to see the writing on the wall

68. More to this than meets the eye. (2)
Helen G - Canada     01/09/2007 05:38
Iran knows that its nuclear programme can be seriously set back by tactical nukes. It wants more time of course & is talking tough to intimidate Israel. Intimidation is Islam s rule of law. Israel will I think, continue to develop plan A, B, etc. It can be done with meticulous planning, preparation & creativity & with an unwavering determination to win regardless of voices & chatter it may hear. Iran will pay a very high price indeed. Will Iran strike first with all the info it now has?

69. #60. Your comment is hilarious!
Helen G - Canada     01/09/2007 06:04
Sure, Islam spread like a cancer and by the sword. In almost every corner of the world where there is violence, intimidation, kidnapping and brutality Islam is most present there, behind it all. And you have the gall to call it a religion of peace. Where were you educated, under a coconut tree??

70. Israeli Nukes
Ron St. John - Jam     01/09/2007 06:08
There is such a weapon as a `Uranium-tipped shell', which is indeed a low yield nuclear weapon. Remember the post-Iraqi 1991 war, and the strange illnesses that affected so many US soldiers, after they went back home. Those were the effects of low-yield uranium shells used in that war. You better believe that Israel has got them!

71. they world started 60 years ago ...
joseph     01/09/2007 06:34
You are an absolut idiot, don't know Jewish nation has lived around for the last 3000 years or so, during which they were but losers in wars, taken into slavery, or subdued by great nations such as Babylonians, Persians, Romans and many more.

72. Islam is a religion of "peace"? (#60) Part one...
Jennifer - United States     01/09/2007 06:47
To quote your Quran Q9:123 the Islamic Word of G-d exhorts to the faithful to make war on infidels who dwell around you and let them see how harsh you can be. Q8:60: Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your command, so that you may strike terror into the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them who are unknown to you but known to Allah... Q48:29: Muhammad is Allah s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbeliever but merciful to one another.

73. Islam is a religion of "peace"? (#60) Part two...
Jennifer - United States     01/09/2007 06:51
... Call me crazy and "uneducated", but somehow, this doesn't sound very peaceful to anyone other than other muslims...

74. nuke use
lw     01/09/2007 07:02
what do you call depleted uranium ordinance? an ionizing radiation source!! sounds like a nuke to me!!

75. Message to #55
Jennifer - United States     01/09/2007 07:11
It's "uneducated" not "low educated", if you are going to talk of a person's intelligence, let's first try and be intelligent, ourselves.

76. Whatever it takes.
Len the davidide - USA     01/09/2007 07:38

77. Thor a Space based Weapon 1980's
David W. Rochlin - USA     01/09/2007 09:46
In the eighties an interesting weapon was proposed. It would be an orbiting satellite, containing metal rods, a couple of feet long, and they could be launched at targets on earth, using simple guidance systems and primarily gravity for propulsion. A souped up version of this idea, using larger projectiles and accelerating them with, perhaps a swing around the moon, and a propulsion unit, would probably allow an impact that could destroy Irans most protected installations. Costly, but non-nuk

78. Reply to #67
Atlanta - USA     01/09/2007 11:35
Ms Miller, let's say you're in Walmart with your ten-year-old daughter. A 40ish man, with a leering smile, obviously drunk and slovenly, begins talking to your daughter in a suggestive way. He strokes her hair and despite your protests, he reaches back to fondle her. You yell for help, and hit him in the face with your purse. You have just done what Israel is about to do. All the warning signs are there, and the evil, slovenly, leering man is Iran. They must be stopped. Atlanta.

79. Iraeli's kick so much ass
Pat - US     01/09/2007 11:58
Subject says it all.

80. Israel's tactical nukes
Bogdan - Australia     01/09/2007 12:36
Better alive and condemned than dead and lamented. Jews know that very well...

81. WE Support ISREAL
Ssendagla - Uganda     01/09/2007 12:51
May the Lord Be with Israel as it fights Iranian nukes sites

82. Out-of-the-box thinking is called for! (3[ parts 1 & 2 censored by JP, reproduced below in green & cornered brackets])
ICONOCLAST - Switzerland     01/09/2007 14:02
[1.    Unlike most ME countries, Israel is a one-nuke state, e.g. it could be turned into uninhabitable wasteland by one nuke. And while the security of its people, its territorial integrity & its freedom from radiological & other existential hazards are fundamental concerns of its leaders, the same applies to any other civilized state. The objective of any conflict analysis & resolution must thus provide for a joice other than pre-emptive strikes reflecting the recklessness of «après moi le déluge».
2.    This student of the NPT genesis ( is thus reminded not only of the «Masada complex» (.../masada.htm) but also of the defeatistic slogan «better red than dead» of a thought-to-be bygone time. A more helpful approach to key regional conflicts has been offered – and is being practiced - by those digging for and exploring the truth about the joint monotheistic roots of the people now living in the Middle East, notably Israël Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman & others.
3.    ]Yes, archeology concerns roots preceding Judean, Christian & Islamic traditions (.../slm.htm); yet it's relevant for today’s & tomorrow’s Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, Iraqis & Egyptians (.../a1.htm). Moreover, as shown by Swiss lawmakers (.../3103.htm), even in the security-sensitive nuclear r&d, mutually helpful diplomatic solutions may be found with imaginative initiatives building on the recognition that the earth isn’t flat & that nobody has a monopoly for good ideas (.../iran.htm).

83. What state of Mind Would an Iranian Leader Need To Launch Nuclear Attack On Israel?
Karl - Australia     01/09/2007 14:15
I share many of the concerns of people on this forum. Iran's Leadership is erratic & threatening. However, it has just occured to me that few have looked at the attack on Israel from an Iranian point of view.I doubt that Iranians are agonising at the moment about the wrongs of destroying Israel,but could Iran truly expect to get away with the sudden deaths of Millions of People?The International community would make an example of Iran in fear of allowing use of nukes & Iran knows it.

84. To all those spoke Against Islam
Muslim     01/09/2007 14:19
It is your privilege, right and responsibility to have an objective and balanced view about Islam through your Creator s Message to you The Qur an , no matter what you think, life will go on and you ll reach the moment of truth once your soul leaves your body, regret by then is useless, you had your chance, your so many years of life.

85. to #62: Psalem??
joseph     01/09/2007 16:12
Sure you can interpret the book anyway you wish, that s how Moslems do to support their legitimacy. Ask yourself where was this God of yours during the last 2700 years? If your history has started just as of 1948, then how you explain your claim to the land?

86. 83. What state of Mind Would an Iranian Leader
Simon     01/09/2007 17:19
This is but an idiotic idea to even think that Iran would use nukes against Israel left alone any other nation. Ahmadinejad rhetoric is an old revolutionary slogan that is to be said once a while. However, I have no doubt that Iranian regime does welcome the elimination of Israeli State but not through war or bombing yet through diplomatic recognition of the rights of ousted Palestinians. Let them in hold an election, Israel is gone!

87. Israel's nukes
Justin - u.k.     01/09/2007 20:24
I don't think it's a question of "if" when it comes to Israel's nuclear capability. It has been estimated that Israel posesses between 200 & 500 nuclear warheads. At this time, the threats from Iran have been hollow, as Iran does not currently have a nuclear capability and is not likely to for some time. On the other hand, Israel's capability is a matter of concern for any right-minded person when considering peace in the region.

Haaretz    8 January 2006

An alibi for the Arrow
By Reuven Pedatzur

The good news, which is being strongly denied, is that the defense establishment is beginning to doubt the anticipated effectiveness of the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system. The bad news is that in addition to the continued investment of large sums in the Arrow, we will now also have to pay for the procurement of an American-made missile defense system.

Sources at Homa, which is in charge of the entire anti-tactical ballistic missile project, claim that they have full confidence in the Arrow system. They say that they contacted the Americans, to receive information on their defense systems, in an effort to advance the possibility of "operational synergy" between the Israeli and American defense systems, if and when the Americans decide to deploy these in Israel. This is a slightly strange claim, because the U.S. systems have been in development for a decade and to date the Americans had not been asked to transfer any information on their performance to Israel.

As far as it is publicly known, the subject of missile defense was not probed in any of the dozens of in-house investigations carried out regarding the recent war in Lebanon by teams appointed by the chief of staff. Even though at the start of the war, the Israel Defense Forces, with a great deal of media fanfare, deployed the Arrow system in Safed and Haifa, not a single actual attempt to intercept Hezbollah missiles was made. Since the war, no one has asked any member of the senior IDF command why no effort was made to intercept the missiles fired at Haifa and Hadera. Incidentally, the answer is obvious: The Arrow system is unable to counter these missiles effectively - a well-known fact in the air force, which is responsible for the system's operation. Nonetheless, the missiles and their launchers were driven to Safed, accompanied by television cameras, in an effort to give the public a misleading sense of security.

If the Arrow is ineffective against the threats from the north (the system, its developers admit, is also unable to shoot down Syria's SS-21 missiles, whose extreme accuracy makes them a serious threat), and the Iraqi ballistic missile threat no longer exists - what do we need it for? The answer of the IDF and the defense establishment is that the Arrow is intended to intercept Iran's nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, if these come into use. Indeed, this is a worthy goal, since the nuclear threat is an existential one.

The problem, however, is that the nuclear ballistic threat cannot be dealt with using a missile defense system. In order to successfully stave off an Iranian nuclear threat, it is necessary to intercept all Iranian missiles fired against Israel, because the price of a single nuclear missile striking the Dan region, for example, is unacceptable from this country's point of view. However, even at its best, the Arrow system will still not be able to seal the skies, and some nuclear-tipped missiles will penetrate the defense screen.

In the absence of professional public discourse outside the defense establishment, this strategic issue is not being discussed. Within that establishment, they completely ignore the need to offer a solution to the fundamental strategic failure of the policy they offer to counter nuclear ballistic missiles. Just as the IDF is not being asked to explain why it failed to intercept Hezbollah missiles, it is also relieved of its obligation to explain its flawed preparations in retaliating against Iran's missiles.

And this brings us back to the interest expressed by the defense establishment in the American missile defense systems, because if the Arrow system is so effective and successful, why should we be asking for information on U.S. systems? Do we not trust the ability of the Arrow to counter, on its own, the Iranian threat, and do we need American assistance at the moment of truth? This is no more than an attempt by those responsible for defending Israel against the Iranian ballistic threat to prepare an alibi in case the Arrow, as is expected, is unable to strike back at the Iranian threat with the necessary effectiveness. If American systems are also deployed here and they also, as is expected, fail in the task, then it will be impossible to complain to the IDF. After all, even the Americans are not successful! The problem is, of course, that if it is necessary to use this alibi, it will be only after we have paid the unbearable price of a nuclear strike.

If indeed the defense establishment is only seeking data on the performance of the U.S. systems, and there is no intention to share with the Americans the responsibility for failing to intercept Iranian missiles, the chances that the Americans will respond to our request are low, since data on the performance of U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems is classified.

By the way, one of the American systems that is being talked about is the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which will only be operational in 2012. Of course it may be that all that is being said at the top is only an assessment, and that those responsible for our defense against Iranian missiles have full confidence in the Arrow. Nonetheless, if indeed the state comptroller intends to investigate the decision-making process with respect to the Arrow project, it is worthwhile for him to ask why all of a sudden the IDF and the defense establishment are interested in the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in Israel.

   1.   Israel`s destruction is the end of the world  10:22  |  final solution 08/01/07
   2.   TO AVOID POSSIBLE EMBARRASMENT  10:42  |  indrajaya 08/01/07
   3.   #1  10:54  |  S 08/01/07
   4.   Nuclear Scenario  10:55  |  Eli 08/01/07
   5.   Assuming that one supports Israel in the first place...  11:24  |  Colin Wright 08/01/07
   6.   indrajaya #2  11:38  |  TonyL 08/01/07
   7.   #1, Final Solution  11:40  |  Hannah 08/01/07
   8.   # 1, You are dead wrong!  11:43  |  Marco 08/01/07
   9.   Preemptive Military Action Is Best Defense.  11:54  |  Terry 08/01/07
   10.   i understand that tosefta has stated  12:01  |  david azagury 08/01/07
   11.   # 6, TONY L  12:06  |  indrajaya 08/01/07
   12.   No.8 Marco  12:26  |  Avner 08/01/07
   13.   Who cares whether these systems work?  12:29  |  Clickfool 08/01/07
   14.   #94, Terry squatting in Palestinian Umm Rashrash  12:31  |  Hannah 08/01/07
   15.   The madness of Israel, exemplified in Terry # 9  12:32  |  Clickfool 08/01/07
   16.   Indrajaya - Simple Answer  12:33  |  Eli 08/01/07
   17.   Germany is Strong . . . .  12:40  |  revoltop 08/01/07
   18.   indrajaya #11  12:42  |  TonyL 08/01/07
   19.   Hannah #7  12:49  |  TonyL 08/01/07
   20.   ha, clickfool cracks me up, Terry is 100% CORRECT + GOOD HUMINT  12:51  |  Pablo 08/01/07
   21.   #16 Eli the oracle . . .  12:56  |  revoltop 08/01/07
   22.   # 16, ELI (MY DEAR)  12:56  |  indrajaya 08/01/07
   23.   Hannah  13:09  |  rich 08/01/07
   24.   Revolotop - It`s elementary  13:14  |  Eli 08/01/07
   25.   We would be better off if...  13:15  |  Edith 08/01/07
   26.   Clickfool #15  13:24  |  TonyL 08/01/07
   27.   The best OFFENSE is a good DEFENSE.  13:28  |  Zuriel 08/01/07
   28.   clickFOOL - our breathing makes them hostile  13:31  |  Eli 08/01/07
   29.   to 22  13:32  |  mb 08/01/07
   30.  An Alibi for Reuven Pedatzur  13:32  |  NB 08/01/07
   31.   #11 Indrajaya  13:35  |  S 08/01/07
   32.   Arrow, The Lavi Fighter, The Merkava  13:46  |  Guy From NYC 08/01/07
   33.   An Alibi for Reuven Pedatzur  13:52  |  NB 08/01/07
   34.   PERHAPS NEXT TIME WAR WILL BE FOUGHT SERIOUSLY??  13:52  |  paul harris 08/01/07
   35.   Reality  14:29  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   36.   The reason? Dollars, dollars, dollars  14:32  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   37.   Mutual Assured Destruction  14:42  |  George 08/01/07
   38.   24 Eli can`t find magic 8 ball. . .  14:42  |  revoltop 08/01/07
   39.   Its too bad Israel dedicates so much time on perfecting warfare  14:43  |  Guy From NYC 08/01/07
   40.   Trust not in princes  14:44  |  Ben Azai 08/01/07
   41.   Do you have a problem with Iran, if yes, Read this.  14:49  |  Lubnani Yehudi 08/01/07
   42.   #1 Read the Prophets  14:49  |  Joe 08/01/07
   43.   Lasers of the Future . . .  14:49  |  revoltop 08/01/07
   44.   For Mark Lincoln, on reality # 35  14:53  |  Clickfool 08/01/07
   45.   The author is fool  14:54  |  Gene 08/01/07
   46.   A Criminally Misleading Article  14:58  |  Ovadiah ben Avraham 08/01/07
   47.   Cold war better than a hot one.  15:12  |  albert amato 08/01/07
   48.   Preemptive strike  16:06  |  Gerard 08/01/07
   49.   But KaChing ($) Not Going To Islamic States!  16:23  |  Peter 08/01/07
   50.   Gerard - the Last Preemptive Strike the Last Failure to Preempt  16:28  |  Eli 08/01/07
   51.   Gerard - the Last Preemptive Strike the Last Failure to Preempt  16:28  |  Eli 08/01/07
   52.   is there no such thing as a millitary secret in Israel  16:32  |  zionist forever 08/01/07
   53.   The Hostile Muslim Minds Need a Therapy  16:50  |  BP ENL 08/01/07
   54.   41 - Lubnani Yehudi  16:57  |  zionist forever 08/01/07
   55.   339 GUY QUOTES THE BIBLE THAT SHOWS THE LAND IS JEWISH  17:15  |  paul harris 08/01/07
   56.   #15 Clickfool  17:31  |  Axel 08/01/07
   57.   #42 Some people will believe anything  17:43  |  L A 08/01/07
   58.   #7 Hannah  18:00  |  Itsik 08/01/07
   59.   #13 Clicky  18:07  |  Itsik 08/01/07
   60.   #15 click ya fool  18:10  |  Itsik 08/01/07
   61.   # 1 WHAT A DAY IT SHOULD BE???  18:12  |  arab 08/01/07
   62.   #22 Indrajaya  18:17  |  Itsik 08/01/07
   63.   Hannah, Palestinian Umm Rashrash?  18:32  |  Jake 08/01/07
   64.   Pre-emptive action is out, but so is withdrawal from territories  18:36  |  Jake 08/01/07
   65.   Arab No. 61  18:45  |  Eli 08/01/07
   66.   Clickfool - on time, on target  18:47  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   67.   GUY From NYC  18:53  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   68.   The problem with premption  19:01  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   69.   Duck and cover  19:15  |  Alex 08/01/07
   70.   Arrows Versus Olive Branches  19:19  |  Victor Smolinsky 08/01/07
   71.   to 68 part 2  19:43  |  mb 08/01/07
   72.   #58, Itsik  19:47  |  Hannah 08/01/07
   73.   Where can you see Pals olive branches of peace?  19:55  |  Just cause 08/01/07
   74.   Mark Lincoln #68  20:45  |  TonyL 08/01/07
   75.   Ha`Aretz & #72 once again is within your guidelines  21:03  |  Ari ben Yisrael 08/01/07
   76.   Tony L - faulty reasoning  21:29  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   77.   mb - no, that is not what I said  21:32  |  Mark Lincoln 08/01/07
   78.   @ (click)fool  21:42  |  Adrian de Klerk 08/01/07
   79.   To All crack head zionists  21:44  |  Samir Salameh 08/01/07
   80.   #39 Guy from NYC  22:02  |  Steven 08/01/07
   81.   Iran Nuke weapon will kills Arabs and Iranians, not Israelis  22:31  |  David 08/01/07
   82.   terry in eilat  23:06  |  michael 08/01/07
   83.   Mark Lincoln #76  23:20  |  TonyL 08/01/07
   84.   Arrrow System  23:37  |  P. J. Casey 08/01/07
   85.   R.Pedzatur was also assuring of no Hezbollah-danger just before  23:41  |  Absolute Sweden 08/01/07
   86.   There Is No Iranian Missle Threat  23:47  |  Arik 08/01/07
   87.   Mark L, and cost value analysis  23:49  |  Jacob Blues 08/01/07
   88.   ZIONISTS BEWARE: IRAN WILL GET YOU  23:53  |  Muhammud al-Swain 08/01/07
   89.   Arrow System  23:54  |  P. J. Casey 08/01/07
   90.   Israeli mess  00:02  |  Louis 09/01/07
   91.   Imminent Threat - TonyL  00:19  |  Mark Lincoln 09/01/07
   92.  Arrow missile was an IDF. pork-barrel to rob Israels treasury  00:21  |  Asher Goodman 09/01/07
   93.   Sorry Jacob, that is the reason he gave  00:23  |  Mark Lincoln 09/01/07
   94.   The Johnson Administration had. . .  00:30  |  Mark Lincoln 09/01/07
   95.   Arik - Iranian missile threat  00:32  |  Mark Lincoln 09/01/07
   96.   Clickfool  00:34  |  Ghost of Woodstock 09/01/07
   97.   The real `danger` of Iranian nukes  00:38  |  Mark Lincoln 09/01/07
   98.   The real `danger` of Iranian nukes  00:38  |  Mark Lincoln 09/01/07
   99.   to 88  00:42  |  Moshe the Great 09/01/07
   100.   # 90. Louis. "We Will Destroy You" Not Very Neighborly!  00:51  |  Peter 09/01/07
   101.   100% anti-Missile Effectiveness Not Essential  00:54  |  nacl 09/01/07
   102.   zionist beware? of nr 88  00:55  |  Romeo 09/01/07
   103.   The power of one...  01:49  |  Guess who 09/01/07    January 12, 2007

The U.S.-Iran-Iraq-Israeli-Syrian War
By Robert Parry

At a not-for-quotation pre-speech briefing on Jan. 10, George W. Bush and his top national security aides unnerved network anchors and other senior news executives with suggestions that a major confrontation with Iran is looming.

Commenting about the briefing on MSNBC after Bush’s nationwide address, NBC’s Washington bureau chief Tim Russert said “there’s a strong sense in the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue – in the country and the world – in a very acute way.”

Russert and NBC anchor Brian Williams depicted this White House emphasis on Iran as the biggest surprise from the briefing as Bush stepped into the meeting to speak passionately about why he is determined to prevail in the Middle East.

“The President’s inference was this: that an entire region would blow up from the inside, the core being Iraq, from the inside out,” Williams said, paraphrasing Bush.

Despite the already high cost of the Iraq War, Bush also defended his decision to invade Iraq and to eliminate Saddam Hussein by arguing that otherwise “he and Iran would be in a race to acquire a nuclear bomb and if we didn’t stop him, Iran would be going to Pakistan or to China and things would be much worse,” Russert said.

If Russert’s account is correct, there could be questions raised about whether Bush has lost touch with reality and may be slipping back into the false pre-invasion intelligence claims about Hussein threatening the United States with “a mushroom cloud.”

U.S. weapons inspectors concluded in 2004 that Hussein had long ago abandoned his nuclear weapons program. Many experts agreed that continued international sanctions would have prevented its resumption for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, some observers believe Bush’s invasion of Iraq has proved counterproductive by spurring Iran and other countries to speed up their development of nuclear and other unconventional weapons in hopes of keeping the United States at bay.

The countries on Bush’s “axis of evil” hit list saw that Iraq’s WMD disarmament and acceptance of United Nations inspections didn't stop the U.S.-led invasion.

Not only have possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result, but U.S. forces killed Hussein’s two sons and turned the deposed dictator over to his enemies so he could hanged like a common criminal on Dec. 30.

So there can be little incentive for Iranian or North Korean leaders to follow the Iraq model of disarmament and inspections. Further, the explosion of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world has increased risks to the pro-U.S. dictatorship in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where Islamic militants with close ties to al-Qaeda are reported to be gaining strength.

While avoiding any overt criticism of Bush’s comments about an imaginary Iraqi-Iranian arms race, Russert suggested that the news executives found the remarks perplexing.

“That’s the way he sees the world,” Russert explained. “His rationale, he believes, for going into Iraq still was one that was sound.”

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews then interjected, “And it could be the rationale for going into Iran at some point.”

Russert paused for a few seconds before responding, “It’s going to be very interesting to watch that issue and we have to cover it very, very carefully and very exhaustively.”

Reasons for Alarm
In his prime-time speech, Bush injected other reasons to anticipate a wider war. He used language that suggested U.S. or allied forces might launch attacks inside Iran and Syria to “disrupt the attacks on our forces” in Iraq.

“We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria,” Bush said. “And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

Bush announced other steps that could be interpreted as building a military infrastructure for a regional war or at least for air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

“I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region,” Bush said. “We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.”

Though most news accounts of Bush’s speech focused on his decision to send about 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq – on top of the 132,000 already there – Bush’s comments about his regional strategy could ultimately prove more significant.

Militarily, a second aircraft carrier strike force would do little to interdict arms smuggling across the Iran-Iraq border. Similarly, Patriot anti-missile batteries would be of no use in defeating lightly armed insurgent forces and militias inside Iraq.

However, both deployments would be useful to deter – or defend against – retaliatory missile strikes from Iran if the Israelis or the United States bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities or stage military raids inside Iranian territory.

Iran has a relatively sophisticated arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles. Those short-range missiles could be fired at U.S. bases in Iraq or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf. The medium-range missiles could conceivably hit Tel Aviv.

Not only could Patriot missiles be used to knock down Iranian missiles while they’re heading toward their targets, but the fearsome firepower of two aircraft carrier strike forces could deter any Iranian retaliatory strike following a U.S. or Israeli attack.

In other words, the deployments would fit with Israel or the United States bombing Iran’s nuclear sites and then trying to tamp down any Iranian response.

Another danger to American interests, however, would be pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq seeking revenge against U.S. troops. If that were to happen, Bush’s escalation of troop levels in Iraq would make sense as a way to protect the Green Zone and other sensitive targets.

So, Bush’s actions and rhetoric over the past several weeks continue to mesh with a scenario for a wider regional war – a possibility that now mainstream journalists, such as Tim Russert, are beginning to take seriously.

The Surge Purge
Other data points are aiming in that same direction. On Jan. 4, Bush ousted the top two commanders in the Middle East, Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, who had opposed a military escalation in Iraq. Bush also removed Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who had stood by intelligence estimates downplaying the near-term threat from Iran’s nuclear program.

Bush appointed Admiral William Fallon as the new chief of Central Command for the Middle East despite the fact that Fallon, a former Navy aviator and currently head of the Pacific Command, will oversee two ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The choice of Fallon makes more sense if Bush foresees a bigger role for two aircraft carrier groups off Iran’s coast.

Though not considered a Middle East expert, Fallon has moved in neoconservative circles, for instance, attending a 2001 awards ceremony at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a think tank dedicated to explaining “the link between American defense policy and the security of Israel.”

Bush also shifted Negroponte from his Cabinet-level position as DNI to a sub-Cabinet post as deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. To replace Negroponte, Bush nominated Navy retired Vice Admiral John “Mike” McConnell, who is viewed by intelligence professionals as a low-profile technocrat, not a strong independent figure.

McConnell is seen as far more likely than Negroponte to give the administration an alarming assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions in an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate. To the consternation of neoconservatives, Negroponte has splashed cold water on their heated rhetoric about the imminent threat from Iran.

“Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade,” Negroponte said in an interview with NBC News in April 2006. Expressing a similarly tempered view in a speech at the National Press Club, Negroponte said, “I think it’s important that this issue be kept in perspective.”

Bush reportedly has been weighing his military options for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities since early 2006. But he has encountered resistance from the top U.S. military brass, much as he has with his plans to escalate U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker, a number of senior U.S. military officers were troubled by administration war planners who believed “bunker-busting” tactical nuclear weapons, known as B61-11s, were the only way to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities buried deep underground.

A former senior intelligence official told Hersh that the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they’re shouted down,” the ex-official said. [New Yorker, April 17, 2006]

By late April 2006, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically unacceptable, Hersh reported.

“Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning,” one former senior intelligence official said. [New Yorker, July 10, 2006]

Delegating to Israel
But one way to get around the opposition of the Joint Chiefs would be to delegate the bombing operation to the Israelis. Given Israel’s powerful lobbying operation in Washington and its strong ties to leading Democrats, an Israeli-led attack might be more politically palatable with the Congress.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also has called the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb an “existential threat” to Israel that cannot be tolerated.

Bush’s tough talk about Iran also comes as Israel is reported stepping up preparations for air strikes against Iran, possibly including the use of tactical nuclear bombs, to destroy Natanz and other Iranian nuclear facilities.

The Sunday Times of London reported on Jan. 7 that two Israeli air squadrons are training for the mission and “if things go according to plan, a pilot will first launch a conventional laser-guided bomb to blow a shaft down through the layers of hardened concrete [at Natanz]. Other pilots will then be ready to drop low-yield one kiloton nuclear weapons into the hole.”

The Sunday Times wrote that Israel also would hit two other facilities – at Isfahan and Arak – with conventional bombs. But the possible use of a nuclear bomb at Natanz would represent the first nuclear attack since the United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World War II six decades ago.

After the Sunday Times article appeared, an Israeli government spokesman denied that Israel has drawn up secret plans to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. For its part, Iran claims it only wants a nuclear program for producing energy.

While some observers believe Israel or the Bush administration may be leaking details of the plans as a way to frighten Iran into accepting international controls on its nuclear program, other sources indicate that the preparations for a wider Middle Eastern war are very serious and moving very quickly.

Without doubt, Bush’s actions in the past two months – reaffirming his determination to succeed in Iraq and warning about a possible regional explosion if he fails – suggest that his future course is an escalation of the conflict, not some “graceful exit.”

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at

Arab Times    14 January 2007

US military strike on Iran seen by April ’07
Sea-launched attack to hit oil, N-sites
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah - Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times, Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY: Washington will launch a military strike on Iran before April 2007, say sources. The attack will be launched from the sea and Patriot missiles will guard all oil-producing countries in the region, they add. Recent statements emanating from the United States indicate the Bush administration’s new strategy for Iraq doesn’t include any proposal to make a compromise or negotiate with Syria or Iran. A reliable source said President Bush recently held a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice and other assistants in the White House where they discussed the plan to attack Iran in minute detail.

According to the source, Vice President Dick Cheney highlighted the threat posed by Iran to not only Saudi Arabia but the whole region. “Tehran is not playing politics. Iranian leaders are using their country’s religious influence to support the aggressive regime’s ambition to expand,” the source quoted Dick Cheney as saying. Indicating participants of the meeting agreed to impose restrictions on the ambitions of Iranian regime before April 2007 without exposing other countries in the region to any danger, the source said “they have chosen April as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it will be the last month in office for him. The United States has to take action against Iran and Syria before April 2007.”

Claiming the attack will be launched from the sea and not from any country in the region, he said “the US and its allies will target the oil installations and nuclear facilities of Iran ensuring there is no environmental catastrophe or after effects.” “Already the US has started sending its warships to the Gulf and the build-up will continue until Washington has the required number by the end of this month,” the source said. “US forces in Iraq and other countries in the region will be protected against any Iranian missile attack by an advanced Patriot missile system.”

He went on to say “although US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice suggested postponing the attack, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney insisted on attacking Tehran without any negotiations based on the lesson they learnt in Iraq recently.” The Bush administration believes attacking Iran will create a new power balance in the region, calm down the situation in Iraq and pave the way for their democratic project, which had to be suspended due to the interference of Tehran and Damascus in Iraq, he continued. The attack on Iran will weaken the Syrian regime, which will eventually fade away, the source said.

January 19, 2007

Rebuke in Iran to Its President on Nuclear Role

TEHRAN, Jan. 18 — Iran’s outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in its nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.

Just one month after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program, two hard-line newspapers, including one owned by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the president to stay out of all matters nuclear.

In the hazy world of Iranian politics, such a public rebuke was seen as a sign that the supreme leader — who has final say on all matters of state — might no longer support the president as the public face of defiance to the West.

It is the first sign that Mr. Ahmadinejad has lost any degree of Ayatollah Khamenei’s confidence, a potentially damaging development for a president who has rallied his nation and defined his administration by declaring nuclear power Iran’s “inalienable right.” It was unclear, however, whether this was merely an effort to improve Iran’s public image by lowering Mr. Ahmadinejad’s profile or was signaling a change in policy.

The presidency is a relatively weak position with no official authority over foreign policy, the domain of the supreme leader. But Mr. Ahmadinejad has used his post as a bully pulpit to insert himself into the nuclear debate, and as long as he appeared to enjoy Ayatollah Khamenei’s support, he could continue.

While Iran remains publicly defiant, insisting that it will move ahead with its nuclear ambitions, it is under increasing strain as political and economic pressures grow. And the message that Iran’s most senior officials seem to be sending is that Mr. Ahmadinejad, with his harsh approach and caustic comments, is undermining Iran’s cause and its standing.

The Security Council passed a resolution on Dec. 23 with sanctions intended to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes but the United States and some European nations contend is for the purpose of creating nuclear weapons. The measure bars the trade of goods or technology related to Iran’s nuclear program. Enriched uranium can be used for making nuclear fuel but also for making nuclear weapons.

The president dismissed the Security Council resolution as “a piece of torn paper.” But the daily Jomhouri-Eslami, which reflects the views of Ayatollah Khamenei, said, “The resolution is certainly harmful for the country,” adding that it was “too much to call it ‘a piece of torn paper.’ ” The newspaper added that the nuclear program required its own diplomacy, “sometimes toughness and sometimes flexibility.”

In another sign of pressure on the president to distance himself from the nuclear issue, a second newspaper, run by an aide to the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, also pressed Mr. Ahmadinejad to end his involvement in the nuclear program. Mr. Larijani also ran for president and was selected for his post by the supreme leader. “They want to minimize the consequences of sanctions now that they have been imposed,” said Mohammad Atrianfar, an executive at the daily Shargh, which was closed last fall, and a reformist politician. “But they don’t have clear strategy, and they are taking one step at a time.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad took office more than a year ago as an outsider, the mayor of Tehran who promised to challenge the status quo, to equally distribute Iran’s oil wealth and to restore what he saw as the lost values of the Islamic revolution. His was a populist message, centered on a socialist economic model and Islamic values. He found opposition from the right and the left, in Parliament and among so-called pragmatists.

That pressure has continued, and the criticism now seems to have gained more credibility in the face of the sanctions and Iran’s troubled economic standing. The United States increased pressure on Iran over its role in Iraq has also raised concerns in Tehran and may be behind efforts to restrain the president, political analysts in Tehran said. “The resolution has decreased Iran’s political credibility in the international community, and so other countries cannot defend Iran,” said Ahmad Shirzad, a reformist politician and a former legislator. Although the Security Council sanctions were limited to Iran’s nuclear program, they have started to cause economic disruptions.

About 50 legislators signed a letter this week calling on the president to appear before Parliament to answer questions about the nuclear program. They need at least 22 more signatures. In another letter, 150 lawmakers criticized the president for his economic policies, which have led to a surge in inflation, and for his failure to submit his annual budget on time.

The Iranian stock market, which was already in a slump, continued to decline — falling more rapidly in the past month — as buyers stayed away from the market. The daily Kargozaran reported last week that the number of traders had decreased by 46 percent since the Security Council resolution was passed. “The resolution has had a psychological effect on people,” said Ali Hagh, an economist in Tehran. “It does not make sense for investors not to consider political events when they want to invest their money.”

Kargozaran reported that a group of powerful businessmen, the Islamic Coalition Party, met with Mohammad Nahavandian, a senior official at the Supreme National Security Council, and called for moderation in the country’s nuclear policies to prevent further damage to the economy.

In the past year, several major European banks have severed their business ties with Iran. Economists say the banks’ actions will also lead to an increase in inflation because importers must turn to complicated ways to finance purchases. “The nuclear issue has paved the way for other forms of pressures on Iran,” Mr. Shirzad said.

Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad’s harsh language since the resolution was passed, Ayatollah Khamenei has not referred to it directly and only once said that Iran would not give up its right to pursue its nuclear program. Mr. Larijani has said that Iran will not quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or bar international inspectors despite earlier threats to do so.

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Michael Slackman from Cairo.

therawstory    23 Jan 07

Escalation of US Iran military planning
part of six-year Administration push
Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane

The escalation of US military planning on Iran is only the latest chess move in a six-year push within the Bush Administration to attack Iran, a RAW STORY investigation has found.

While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the post-9/11 war on terror. Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the CIA’s own analysis shows and positing Iranian influence in Iraq’s insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In classified defense planning guidance – written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassador-nominee to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad – Cheney’s aides called for the United States to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats and many in George H. W. Bush’s Administration.

In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued a report titled “Rebuilding America's Defenses,” which espoused similar positions to the 1992 draft and became the basis for the Bush-Cheney Administration's foreign policy. Libby and Wolfowitz were among the participants in this new report; Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other prominent figures in the Bush administration were PNAC members.

“The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” the report read. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. . . . We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself.”

This approach became official US military policy during the current Bush Administration. It was starkly on display yesterday when Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns noted a second aircraft carrier strike force headed for the Persian Gulf, saying, "The Middle East isn't a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn't a body of water to be controlled by Iran. That's why we've seen the United States station two carrier battle groups in the region."

The Structure
Almost immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Iran became a focal point of discussion among senior Administration officials. As early as December 2001, then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and the leadership of the Defense Department, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, allegedly authorized a series of meetings between Defense Department officials and Iranian agents abroad.

The first of these meetings took place in Rome with Pentagon Iran analyst, Larry Franklin, Middle East expert Harold Rhode, and prominent neoconservative Michael Ledeen. Ledeen, who held no official government position, introduced the US officials to Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. According to both Ghorbanifar and Ledeen, the topic on the table was Iran. Ledeen told RAW STORY last year the discussion concerned allegations that Iranian forces were killing US soldiers in Afghanistan, but Ghorbanifar has claimed the conversation focused on regime change.

In January 2002, evidence that Iran was enriching uranium began to appear via credible intelligence and satellite imagery. Despite this revelation – and despite having called Iran part of the Axis of Evil in his State of the Union that year – President Bush continued to focus on Iraq. Perhaps for that reason, throughout 2002 the strongest pressure for regime change flowed through alternative channels.

In early 2002, Ledeen formed the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, along with Morris Amitay, the former executive director of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In August 2002, Larry Franklin began passing classified information involving United States policy towards Iran to two AIPAC employees and an Israeli diplomat. Franklin pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2005, explaining that he had been hoping to force the US to take a harder line with Iran, but AIPAC and Israel have continued to deny them.

At the same time, another group’s political representatives begin a corollary effort to influence domestic political discourse. In August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran – a front for a militant terrorist organization called Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK) – held a press conference in Washington and stated that Iran had a secret nuclear facility at Natanz, due for completion in 2003.

Late that summer , the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz expanded its Northern Gulf Affairs Office, renamed it the Office of Special Plans (OSP), and placed it under the direction of Abram Shulsky, a contributor to the 2000 PNAC report.

Most know the Office of Special Plans as a rogue Administration faction determined to find intelligence to support the Iraq War. But that wasn’t its only task.

According to an article in The Forward in May 2003, “A budding coalition of conservative hawks, Jewish organizations and Iranian monarchists is pressing the White House to step up American efforts to bring about regime change in Iran. . . . Two sources [say] Iran expert Michael Rubin is now working for the Pentagon's 'special plans' office, a small unit set up to gather intelligence on Iraq, but apparently also working on Iran. Previously a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, Rubin has vocally advocated regime change in Tehran.”

Dark Actors/Covert Activities
While the Iraq war was publicly founded upon questionable sources, much of the buildup to Iran has been entirely covert, using non-government assets and foreign instruments of influence to conduct disinformation campaigns, plant intelligence and commit acts of violence via proxy groups.

A few weeks prior to the Iraq invasion, in February 2003, Iran acknowledged that it was building a nuclear facility at Natanz, saying that the facility was aimed at providing domestic energy. However, allegations that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program would become louder in the course of 2003 and continue unabated over the next three years.

That spring, then-Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) opened a channel on Iran with former Iranian Minister Fereidoun Mahdavi, a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Both Weldon and Ledeen were told a strikingly similar story concerning a cross border plot between Iran and Iraq in which uranium had been removed from Iraq and taken into Iran by Iranian agents. The CIA investigated the allegations but found them spurious. Weldon took his complaints about the matter to Rumsfeld, who pressured the CIA to investigate a second time, with the same result.

In May 2003, with pressure for regime change intensifying within the US, Iran made efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the United States. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, then-Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, these efforts were sabotaged by Vice President Cheney. "The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran," Wilkerson said.

The US was already looking increasingly to rogue methodology, including support for the Iranian terrorist group MEK. Before the US invasion, MEK forces within Iraq had supported Saddam Hussein in exchange for safe harbor. Despite this, when they were captured by the US military, they were disarmed of only their major weapons and are allowed to keep their smaller arms. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hoped to use them as a special ops team in Iran, while then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and State Department officials argued against it. By 2005, the MEK would begin training with US forces in Iraq and carrying out bombings and assassinations in Iran, although it is unclear if the bombings were in any way approved by the US military.

The Pressure is On: 2004 – 2006
For a variety of reasons – ranging from the explosion of the insurgency in Iraq following the high point of "Mission Accomplished" to Iran's willingness to admit IAEA inspectors – the drumbeat for regime change died down over the summer of 2003. In October 2003, with Iran accepting even tougher inspections, Larry Franklin told his Israeli contact that work on the US policy towards Iran which they had been tracking seemed to have stopped.

Yet by the autumn of 2004, pressure for confrontation with Iran had resumed, with President Bush telling Fox News that the US would never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. By then, the Pentagon had been directed to have a viable military option for Iran in place by June 2005.

This phase of pressure was marked by increased activity directed at Congress. An "Iran Freedom Support Act" was introduced in the House and Senate in January and February of 2005. Neoconservatives and individuals linked to the defense contracting industry formed an Iran Policy Committee, and in April and May presented briefings in support of MEK before the newly-created Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus of the House of Representatives.

In March 2006, administration action became more overt. The State Department created an Office of Iranian Affairs, while the Pentagon created an Iranian Directorate that had much in common with the earlier Office of Special Plans. According to Seymour Hersh, covert US operations within Iran in preparation for a possible air attack also began at this time and included Kurds and other Iranian minority groups.

By setting up the Iranian Directorate within the Pentagon and running covert operations through the military rather than the CIA, the administration was able to avoid both Congressional oversight and interference from then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who has been vocally skeptical about using force against Iran. The White House also successfully stalled the release of a fresh National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which could reflect the CIA's conclusion that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

In sum, the Bush Administration seems to have concluded that Iran is guilty until proven innocent and continues to maintain that the Persian Gulf belongs to Americans – not to Persians – setting the stage for a potential military strike.

Click here to read the full timeline of the decades-long buildup to Iran

Raw Story Investigates is made possible by reader donations. This is the first article in a series of weekly investigative reports by Raw Story. To make a contribution, click here.

ICHBLOG.EU    27 January 2007

Bush Throws The Dice
By John Damien

By funding the Iraq war and supporting Israel, Egypt and Jordan, the US pays an oil security tax running at least $100 billion per year. China doesn’t pay billions per year to secure their oil supplies. The Europeans collectively spend a fraction of the US amount on oil security.

01/27/07 "ICHBlog" -- -- Despite increasing opposition in the US, he cannot simply walk away. gambler by nature, George Bush is readying an all-or-nothing roll of the dice to save the US strategic position in the Mid East. The consequences of regional de-stabilization are worse than the consequences of staying the course. However, the last six months suggest staying the course is not sustainable, and that Iraq has slipped beyond all control. A crisis is building, therefore, that will require the US to change course. Because the US controls nothing but the Green Zone and a few bases, no change of course within the context of Iraq will make any difference. Bush is left in the difficult position of having only one lever left to pull: escalation.

The US administration is convincing itself that Syria and Iran are responsible for its lack of ability to control evens in Iraq.  Therefore, by escalating the conflict to remove their influence, “victory” is still possible.  For these and other reasons explained below, an attack on Iran is fast becoming the only card left to play.  We should expect therefore, a series of aerial and Special Forces attacks in a strategic window that opens in mid January and gradually closes towards summer 2007.  The attacks will probably be timed to coincide with a “separate” operation by Israel against Syria. The likeliest date is the third week of February.  At this point, the outcome is impossible to predict.  What is clear is that Iraq is like a house on fire.  Setting the neighboring houses on fire as well won’t improve the situation.

What follows catastrophe?
Comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are misleading.  Iraq is far worse. The US failure there will have immense strategic and economic consequences across the globe.  The risk is a regional war for control of the Iraqi oilfields.  The Iraqi Sunni, Shia and Kurds have already shown they are willing to fight over the country’s oil revenue.  One part of the immensely complicated Iraqi civil war is over control and distribution of those revenues.  Kirkuk is the most visible manifestation of this struggle.  If it wasn’t about the oil in 2003, it most certainly is now.

If Iraq fails as a state (pretty well certain at this point), who will control the oilfields?  They are worth billions of dollars a year.  Those fields lie along a quickly developing religious, ethnic and political fault line.  The conventional wisdom is that the southern, Shia portion of Iraq is comparatively stable and coherent.  This is incorrect.  Multiple Shia groups have been fighting amongst themselves in the last year for control of hijacked oil .  Oil hijacking has been variously estimated as between one and two billion dollars a year.  The establishment of a Shia mini-state will bring this conflict into the open.  Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia can afford to stand by and let the conflict play out lest the result be unfavorable.  Direct military intervention is unlikely, but everything short of that should be expected.

This scenario implies a regional conflict that involves countries holding over 60% of the world’s proven oil reserves.  No matter the outcome, the risk of disruption of the global economy would be unacceptable.  And that risk would be greatest for the US.  Nobody depends on more imported oil, and nobody carries higher political risk to that supply.  From this point of view, George Bush is almost correct when he says that the only way to lose is for the US to leave Iraq.  As long as the price of staying is less than the risk of leaving, the US stays.

There is also the nuclear factor.  Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have said unequivocally that they will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.  Israel has said it would go to war to prevent this eventuality, Saudi Arabia has strongly implied it.  Iran’s nuclear program is thus a festering issue, but not yet a crisis.  In this analysis, Iran’s program becomes a justification rather than a trigger for US attack.  However, many countries are genuinely worried about Iran’s program.  Many more than were concerned with Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD.  An attack with the stated goal of preventing Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would enjoy tacit support in many capitols.

The Economics, From Bad to Worse
By funding the Iraq war and supporting Israel, Egypt and Jordan, the US pays an oil security tax running at least $100 billion per year.  China doesn’t pay billions per year to secure their oil supplies.  The Europeans collectively spend a fraction of the US amount on oil security.

At $60 barrel, the US is paying approximately $290 billion per year for imported oil.  Plus the security tax.  That tax includes deployments and operations beyond the Iraqi theatre.  However, based on the public estimates that Iraq cost $100 billion last year , it would appear the US economy pays 30% more for oil as anyone else.  Put another way, China pays $60 per barrel of imported crude oil.  Adding the cost of oil security, America pays more than $90 for the same barrel of oil.  Even the United States cannot keep this up forever.

Pressure is growing to do something about this situation.  The economics are complicated, but the point is straightforward.  The US dollar is trending lower in value as the price of oil is trending higher.  At some point, America becomes non-competitive, putting the massive US debt at risk.  As the currency goes lower, the value of the return on US investments drops relative to other economies.  Lower investment return means less demand for the US dollar.  The best way for George Bush to deal with this potential nightmare is to prevent it from happening.  The best way to keep it from happening is to 1) lower the security tax by making the Middle East more stable, 2) ensure that the money spent on security actually buys something.  That something might mean for a more stable oil supply than competitive countries, or a return to the US dollar as the only currency for energy trading.

Like the Middle East political situation, the economic outlook dictates decisive action by the US.  The United States cannot continue indefinitely to pay more for oil than everyone else.  As we have seen, there is nothing that can be done within the context of Iraq.  The only course open to Bush is escalation.

Psychology of Success
George Bush’s foreign policy has amounted to a series of gambles.  He gambled on Palestinian elections, on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, on repudiating the UN, on Pakistani stability, on cheap oil and most spectacularly on the invasion of Iraq.  The logical next move to a gambler in trouble is a bigger gamble.  The only gamble that could turn things around is removal of Iran as a regional influence.  That would strand Hamas, Hezbollah, Bashir Assad and the Iraqi Shite militias.  Control in the Middle East would flow back to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Stability could be imposed.  The chance of reversing the situation with a bold stroke would tempt any gambler.

It is said that George Bush privately compares himself to Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill .  Such ambition does not dictate either a retreat from Iraq or the passing of a quagmire and economic crisis to his successor. Again, a bold stroke is indicated.  Both Lincoln and Churchill won their wars.

Lastly, George Bush believes in the rightness of his cause.  He evidently believes that the US has a historic mission to bring freedom to the Middle East .  He said himself that he an instrument of God, and that this is a struggle between good and evil .  Victory is not only a strategic and political imperative, but a moral and religious one as well.  The only real problem is defining what that victory might be.  Reigning in Moqtada al-Sadr doesn’t seem grand enough to fit the bill.

The Fruits of War
If the US went to war with Iran and Syria, what could it hope to accomplish?  Regime change is the best case.  A new non-Islamic government in Iran would be ideal.  Especially a government willing to renounce nuclear power and re-align with US interests.  This is fantasy, of course.  But they can hope.  Indeed, hope has been the central pillar of US Middle East policy for the last five years.  What would be more attainable (at least theoretically) would be destruction of Iran’s nuclear program and their removal as a regional player for the next 10 years.  Such an outcome would make Syria easy pickings for the Israelis, thus securing Iraq’s flank.  A regional war would be averted, the ethnic and religious genies put back in the bottles.  Without the supposed foreign support, the Iraqi Sunni insurgency and Shia militias would collapse.  A proper strong-man could be installed and the political mess cleaned up.  Oil flowing again would pay for reconstruction as intended.  Hamas would wither, allowing Israel to impose peace on the Palestinians (on their terms, of course).  Lebanon would be stabilized as Hezbollah starved to death without Iranian money.  Jordan, also badly in need of stabilization would be saved as the million plus Iraqi refugees were sent home.  A de-fanged Iranian government might even be prey to eventual regime change from within.

More important than any of these benefits, the US would gain strategic control of 60% of the world’s oil.  Its status as the sole superpower and de-facto empire would be restored.  America’s dangerous economic gambles would be rewarded.

The military assets available cannot achieve these goals.  There is no combination of military operations that would bring down the Islamic Republic.  Regime change, or even the more modest goal of removing Iran as a regional influence are beyond the ability of the US military.  A US attack at this point would represent a spectacular roll of the dice.  Few of the millions put at risk would welcome such a gamble.

The Result
A US attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran would be foolish, counter-productive and criminal.  Iraq is a house on fire.  Nobody is in control and nothing can be done to put out the fire.  An escalation would represent a spectacular roll of the dice, the result unknowable.  The one thing that is certain is that Iran would not be removed from the regional equation.  No regime change is likely, or even possible.

Instead, the US Army in Iraq would be imperiled, and the shaky Iraqi government would be swept away.  Its replacement by a US imposed strongman would result in Shia militia resistance.  Its replacement by any type of Shia based popular government would result in an immediate invitation for the US to leave.  As this is not acceptable, the US Military might have to fight the Shia as well.

The basic fact is that America controls nothing in Iraq, and little beyond.  They have no ability to do anything more than wreck the remaining stability in the region.  Nevertheless, because of perceived strategic necessity, economic exposure and dreams of greatness, the US Administration is planning action.  The gambler is readying one last, grand wager.

John Damien lives in Toronto and can be reached at

January 28, 2007
Whose Iran?

The Mahestan mall in South Tehran is sometimes called “the honeycomb” of the Basij, the Iranian youth militia, because it is here that Basijis, as the militia members are known, buy and sell banners for the Shiite festival of Ashura, as well as religious books and posters. Somber, bearded young men in collarless shirts linger over tea behind stands selling tapes of religious singers — cult celebrities who belt out tear-jerking laments for the martyrdom of Hussein and make a small fortune performing at memorial services. Omid Malekian, a 28-year-old employee of a Tehran petrochemical refinery and the son of a carpenter, was shopping at Mahestan on Dec. 16, the day after Iran’s elections for city councils and for the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member clerical board that will select the next supreme leader should anything happen to the current leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the 2005 presidential election, Malekian voted for the winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and when I asked if he was happy with the president, he answered frankly.

“Sometimes I am analyzing myself and thinking, Oh, we have done wrong,” he mused. “He is very popular and friendly with the people, but sometimes when he is expressing his ideas, he doesn’t think about the future or the consequences. He is a simple man.”

In particular, Malekian suggested that Ahmadinejad had been incautious in his promises to improve the economy — promises he has yet to keep. There was another area, too, in which Ahmadinejad had faltered: “About the Holocaust,” he said. “I don’t know much about it, but from the reaction of the world, it seems he should have said something different.”

Still, Malekian said that he voted for the most severe fundamentalist among the candidates running for the clerical Assembly of Experts. The campaign turned on the competition between two incumbents, Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi — widely reputed to be Ahmadinejad’s spiritual leader — and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the pragmatic former president who lost the presidential race to Ahmadinejad in 2005. Each hoped to increase his share of the vote and thus his power on the assembly.

South Tehran is Ahmadinejad’s heartland. It is here, in the less affluent neighborhoods of the city of 14 million where he was once mayor, that he rose from the obscure end of the seven-candidate roster in 2005, only to become one of the most popular figures in the Muslim world. Because liberal-minded Iranians boycotted the 2005 presidential election, and because Ahmadinejad so adeptly played the populist card, the militants, the unemployed and the cultural conservatives of neighborhoods like this one were in the driver’s seat, steering the politics of this crucial nation while their opponents warned of their presumed doctrinaire views and political naïveté.

Early on, Ahmadinejad’s faction was expected to win last month’s elections handily. But the results contradicted the conventional wisdom about the Iranian electorate. The president put forward his own slate of candidates for the city councils. It was trounced. By some reckonings, reformists won two-fifths of the council seats and even dominated in some cities, including Kerman and Arak. Some conservative city-council candidates did well, particularly in Tehran, but they were not the conservatives associated with Ahmadinejad: rather, they belonged to the rival conservative faction of the current Tehran mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. And most significant, the vote for Rafsanjani for the Assembly of Experts dwarfed that of Mesbah-Yazdi by nearly two to one. By mid-January, Ahmadinejad’s isolation even within his own faction was complete: 150 of 290 members of parliament, including many of Ahmadinejad’s onetime allies, signed a letter criticizing the president’s economic policies for failing to stanch unemployment and inflation. A smaller group also blamed Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory foreign-policy rhetoric for the United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. As if that were not enough, an editorial in Jomhouri Eslami, a newspaper that reflects the views of the supreme leader, accused the president of using the nuclear issue to distract the public from his failed policies. Ahmadinejad’s behavior was diminishing popular support for the nuclear program, the editorial warned. The Iranian political system seems to be restoring its equilibrium by showing an extremist president the limits of his power. But is it an equilibrium that can hold?

In part, last month’s election results reflected the complexity of Ahmadinejad’s skeptical, conditional and diverse constituency. They also demonstrated his isolation within the powerful conservative establishment, whose politics, however opaque, are determinative. At its center, Khamenei commands a faction known as the traditional conservatives. No elected leader can serve, let alone execute a policy agenda, without the acquiescence of the supreme leader and his associates. But was Ahmadinejad one of the leader’s associates? Or was he, like his predecessor, Khatami, something of a political rival? The answer to this question should determine the extent to which Ahmadinejad’s foreign-policy extremism and authoritarian tendencies are taken seriously as a political program. But it is a puzzle that has vexed political analysts since the president took office in August 2005, bringing with him a faction that was largely new to the post-revolutionary political scene. Composed partly of military and paramilitary elements, partly of extremist clerics like Mesbah-Yazdi and partly of inexperienced new conservative politicians, those in Ahmadinejad’s faction are often called “neoconservatives.” But to the extent that they have an ideology, it is less new than old, harking back to the early days of the Islamic republic. Since that time, the same elite has largely run Iranian politics, though it has divided itself into competing factions, and the act of wielding power has mellowed many hard-liners into pragmatists. Ahmadinejad’s faction, on the other hand, came into power speaking the language of the past but with the zeal of the untried.

In 2005, many analysts believed that Ahmadinejad’s elevation to the presidency must have been sanctioned by the supreme leader — indeed, that it reflected a hardening agenda among the traditional conservatives. He would be the “secretary” of Khamenei, a number of reformists said to me that summer in Tehran. But the way Ahmadinejad governed was nothing if not divisive. He undertook the most far-reaching governmental housecleaning since the revolution itself, reportedly replacing as many as 20,000 bureaucrats. And when it came time for the elections last month, he offered his own slates of candidates, disdaining to ally himself with the traditional conservatives or with anyone else. For the Assembly of Experts, Ahmadinejad endorsed a ticket of scholars from what is known as the Haqqani circle, a group of clerics who cleave strongly to the notion of the divine state and disdain popular sovereignty and democracy.

The senior figure in this circle, Mesbah-Yazdi, already belonged to the assembly. But in the fall of 2006, buoyed by association with the populist president, his group put forward a wave of candidates in a bid to transform the assembly. Even after the Guardian Council — an appointed body that answers to the supreme leader and that vets candidates and legislation — had disqualified almost half the proposed candidates, including most of the reformists and a large number of Mesbah-Yazdi’s students, clerics associated with Mesbah-Yazdi still stood a reasonable chance of winning dozens of the 86 seats. It was here that the ideological contest of the Ahmadinejad presidency was starkest. Were the public and the leadership ready to accept Mesbah-Yazdi’s brand of extremism along with the populism Ahmadinejad had served up? And what did it mean if they were not?

The 97-mile stretch of highway from Tehran southwest to Qom passes through a cratered landscape of magnificent desolation to the basin between a salt marsh and a desert at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Middle-class, educated Tehranis often scorn and even fear Qom as the center of religious Puritanism and political repression. But for pious Shiites in Iran and elsewhere, the city is a pilgrimage destination, home to one of the holiest Shiite shrines, most of the living Shiite marjas (senior religious figures, literally “sources of imitation”) and more than 50 seminaries, institutions that long pre-existed universities in Iran and where the works of the Greek philosophers have for centuries been studied alongside religious texts. Students, who number some 40,000, enter Qom at an average age of 17. Some of them continue their studies for decades, as Shiite religious learning has no set end point. Since the Islamic revolution, the seminary city has thrived as the government has spent lavishly on mosques and dormitories, nearly all with the same pale brick and blue tile facades. In recent years, Qom has absorbed waves of Shiite immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq. There is an Iraqi bazaar not far from the holy shrine, and the sight of men in Arab dishdashas is commonplace.

Mesbah-Yazdi has a major presence here in the form of the Imam Khomeini Institute, the enormous seminary of which Mesbah-Yazdi is the head scholar. It holds Iran’s most extensive library of scholarly books in English, totaling 11,200 volumes. It is the envy of the universities in Tehran. Mesbah-Yazdi, a fellow cleric told me, believed that it was important to understand Western ideas to better resist and refute them.

Born in 1934, Mesbah-Yazdi is an éminence grise among the ayatollahs of Qom, but age has not mellowed him. In the last decade he has become famous less for his learned philosophical exegeses (he posts his entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy on his Web site) than for his jeremiads at Friday prayers against popular sovereignty, free speech, women’s rights and Islamic reform. Public execution and flogging are “a basic principle of Islam,” Mesbah-Yazdi has said, and the government should regulate the content of speech “just as it checks the distribution of adulterated or contaminated foodstuffs.” Because “Mesbah” sounds like the Farsi word for crocodile, he is known by his critics as Ayatollah Crocodile. (A cartoonist was once imprisoned for depicting him as a reptile, shedding crocodile tears as he strangled a dissident writer with his tail.)

At Ahmadinejad’s invitation, members of Mesbah-Yazdi’s Haqqani circle occupy several key government posts. But before Ahmadinejad came to power, they had been pushed mostly to the margins of Iranian politics, where they complained bitterly about the efforts of the reformist Khatami and his colleagues to advance their agenda through the elected branches of government. To the Haqqani scholars, it seemed that the reformists were challenging the doctrine of velayat-i-faqih, which is based on the sovereign power of the chief jurist, the supreme leader. “We shall wait to see what place these foxes who claim to be the supporters of reform will occupy in hell,” Mesbah-Yazdi proclaimed. If Iranians believed in their supreme leader as the agent of God, second-guessing his judgment through elections was tantamount to holding a referendum on whether or not Damavand was the highest peak in Iran. What if 51 percent of the public said that it was not? “It doesn’t matter what the people think,” Mesbah-Yazdi was quoted as saying. “The people are ignorant sheep.” He has also said, “Islam was the government of God, not the government of the people.”

Mesbah-Yazdi’s most open and media-friendly acolyte, Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian, did not put the matter quite so strongly when, draped in the encompassing Iranian chador, I met with him in an unadorned office at a small seminary on one of Qom’s dusty side streets.

“In the name of God, the beneficent and merciful,” Gharavian intoned, “before coming to the main question and answer, I want to know where you got this chador. Is it from the United States or Iran?”

From Iran, I told him.

“Congratulations on seeing you in a very Islamic manner,” Gharavian replied.

For a cleric who had been quoted as saying that despotism was not all bad and that public opinion was meaningless, Gharavian, who teaches philosophy at the Imam Khomeini Institute, did not have a severe presence. Rather, he was a big, courteous man of 54 with a reddish beard. The election to the Assembly of Experts was just a day away, and Gharavian was the hard-line candidate for the hard-line city of Qom. Still, he expected to lose, and he did lose. Amiably, he remarked that he had run and lost before, and that to win would have required a financial outlay of which he disapproved.

When it came to politics, he spoke mostly in evasions and platitudes. Democracy, he explained, was acceptable within the boundaries of Islam, and human rights were contained within Islam, but such rights should not include freedom of worship or freedom to believe things that are untrue or unwise. (His examples were the misguided beliefs of Nietzsche and Machiavelli.) The Islamic penal code required no modification in the modern era; its harshest punishments, he asserted, were no more violent than some American and European spectator sports. He appeared shocked by the suggestion that Iran held political prisoners and demanded an example. I offered the journalist Akbar Ganji, imprisoned for six years on account of his critical writings. Gharavian replied: “Did you read Mr. Ganji’s manifesto? He questioned the whole establishment.” Freedom of expression, he explained, did not include the freedom to “breach the peace of the society.” He demanded, “Don’t you have prisoners in your country?”

Mesbah-Yazdi’s statements on most of these matters were a matter of public record, and they were even blunter. “If someone tells you he has a new interpretation of Islam, hit him in the mouth,” he said in 2000. Two years later, he said, “The prophets of God did not believe in pluralism. They believed that only one idea was right.” On Sept. 4, 1999, he said: “Killing hypocrites does not require a court order, as it is a duty imposed by the Shariah on all genuine Muslims. The order of Islam is to throw them down from a high mountain and kill them outright.” He spoke the following month of the need to break the unnecessary taboo on violence.

If such a taboo existed in the Islamic republic, it had been broken. That year, a string of dissidents were murdered under suspicious circumstances. In the writings that led to his prison sentence, Ganji accused Mesbah-Yazdi of sanctifying such actions with whispered fatwas and members of the Haqqani circle of direct involvement in the murders. A member of the shadowy vigilante group Ansar-e Hezbollah, which had violently attacked student demonstrators in July 1999, lent credence to Ganji’s claims with videotaped testimony in which he said that Mesbah-Yazdi had encouraged the group to assassinate a reformist politician. “Now, on the issue of whether I authorized the assassination of individuals,” Mesbah-Yazdi declared unapologetically in March 2001, “I must say that Imam Khomeini, may God be satisfied with him, issued a decree saying that shedding Salman Rushdie’s blood was a religious obligation and, therefore, he advocated resorting to violence as well.”

Why Ahmadinejad would ally himself with these clerics remains something of a mystery. Contrary to popular belief, says Nasser Hadian, a political scientist at Tehran University and a childhood friend of the president, Ahmadinejad never expounded a particularly conservative moral or social agenda. Rather, says Hadian, Ahmadinejad was and continues to be inspired above all by Ali Shariati, the mid-20th-century theorist of radical Islamic egalitarianism. The president’s agenda is redistributionist and anti-imperialist, Hadian says. That doesn’t make him a democrat. Nonetheless, “he is basically using Mesbah,” Hadian says. It is an alliance of political convenience.

Alireza Haghighi, a political scientist who teaches at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, agrees that the association between Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi has been overstated. But in an article he wrote with his colleague Victoria Tahmasebi in International Journal, Haghighi documented yet another Ahmadinejad genesis story. Young Ahmadinejad led a politically and religiously conservative Islamist student group during the Islamic Revolution, the writers claim. When the leftist Islamist students proposed seizing the American Embassy in 1979, Ahmadinejad opposed the action as imprudent, but he suggested that if they went ahead with it, they should seize the Soviet Embassy as well. His plan rejected, Ahmadinejad found himself excluded from historic events and spurned by the Islamic left, which was at that time a powerful faction within the regime. His opposition to that faction ossified into a vendetta.

Soon after Khomeini’s death, the Islamic left lost the factional battle for dominance. Its members wandered eight years in the political wilderness before returning as the reform movement. That, too, Ahmadinejad was anxious to crush. In that aspiration he would have found ample common ground with the Haqqani circle.

As president, Ahmadinejad looked to the extreme right rather than seeking allies among the traditional conservatives, and in so doing, he exposed himself politically. “They were very arrogant,” Hadian said of Ahmadinejad and his camp. “They didn’t want to make any compromises. He has stood against the entire political structure in Iran, not inviting any of them, even the conservatives, to be partners. You don’t see them in the cabinet; you don’t see them in political positions.”

And for that there was a price to be paid. This fall, Rafsanjani, who had suffered a humiliating defeat at Ahmadinejad’s hands in the presidential election of 2005, was reportedly persuaded to run again for the Assembly of Experts by the supreme leader or people close to him. Rafsanjani is a divisive figure in Iranian politics. He is widely perceived as a kingmaker, the power behind the rise of Khamenei to the position of supreme leader and that of Khatami to the presidency. But though he remains highly respected among clerics, Rafsanjani is not a beloved figure in Iranian public life. During his presidency, he adopted an economic liberalization program that involved extremely unpopular austerity measures; meanwhile, through pistachio exports, he had himself become one of the richest men in Iran. Political and social repression did not ease until Khatami, his successor, came into office.

Nonetheless, in the Assembly of Experts elections in December, Rafsanjani emerged as the compromise candidate of the reformists and traditional conservatives. One reformist activist described him to me as the very last line of defense against the extreme right. And Rafsanjani delivered a staggering blow, winning nearly twice as many votes as Mesbah-Yazdi. The neoconservatives, it seemed, had been slapped down much the same way the reformists had: the traditional conservatives had decided that the threat they posed was intolerable, and the voters had decided that the president associated with them could not deliver on his promises.

On the morning of Election Day, Dec. 15, there were long lines outside the polling places in central and east Tehran. A crowd milled about the front courtyard of Masjed al Nabi, a large mosque in the east. There were children, a television camera and a seller of balloons in the shape of rabbit ears. A middle-aged couple stood by the sinks normally used for ablutions; the woman wore a long, tailored raincoat and a conservative black scarf. Her husband explained that the election was very important to them. “We are choosing our future,” he said through an interpreter. He was too sick, really, to move, but he had told his doctor that he could not forgo his civic duty to participate in the election.

Then I asked him if he saw big differences among the candidates for Assembly of Experts. “No,” he said, “they are all the same.”

What about the ones for city council?

“No,” he replied. “They are all the same, too.”

It is nearly impossible to have a political discussion with only one person on an Iranian street. Outside Masjed al Nabi, the first interloper was a clean-cut 35-year-old man in a plaid shirt who gave his name as Ali. “How can you say they are all the same?” he nearly shouted at the man who had been speaking. “We have candidates who are like the Taliban and others who are practically liberals. We have candidates who think women should be free and others who do not think so at all.”

“I never heard of a thing like that,” the first man said calmly. “The country has laws to decide these matters.”

To my right, a woman in a chador heatedly exclaimed: “He’s right! How can you say they are all the same? That’s why we’re here to vote, because they are all different. Our new president, Ahmadinejad, before the election he said women were free and equal. Now he says we should just make babies. Because he wanted our votes, he said good things.”

The original couple took advantage of the hubbub to slip away. Mohammad, a 37-year-old in a running jacket, pushed his way into our circle. “I am not voting,” he told me. “I want to choose my freedom. I don’t want to vote for them. I’m sure that whether I vote or not, it makes no difference. I don’t accept the Constitution of this country, and I hope I can change it without voting.”

Ali was listening intently. “The people who are good in this thing accept the vote of the people not just for show and not just on Election Day,” he told Mohammad. “Even in America it is the same; everywhere in the world it is. Everywhere in the world there are some people who are pro-democracy and others who are against it. Now people are more educated. One day, our democracy will be better than democracy in the United States, if we believe in it. We like our religion, our imams, God and Islam. We want democracy next to this. We don’t believe in democracy and freedom the way it exists in other parts of the world. We want something of our own.”

It was 5 o’clock when I left the crowded mosques of middle-class central and east Tehran for the deserted polling places of the affluent northern hills. In Tajrish, an election official told me that he had seen just 200 voters — far fewer than in the presidential election less than two years ago. “All the mullahs are the same,” he confided. “Everything always gets worse. Ahmadinejad is like a catalyst, speeding it up. The philosophical foundation of the state is not good.”

The debates among ordinary voters go to the heart of a structural weakness in the Iranian state. Founded on two conflicting ideas — the sovereignty of the people and divinely inspired clerical rule — the Islamic Republic of Iran has suffered from a decadelong crisis of legitimacy. Nothing forced that crisis quite the way the reform movement did, despite, or perhaps even because of, its cautious temperament and legalistic methods. Over the course of Khatami’s presidency, Iranians were faced with an inevitable question: What use was a supreme leader in a democracy, and what use were elections in a theocracy? The rise of Ahmadinejad, then his comeuppance, have forced those questions from the other direction. How far could the conservatives go in the authoritarian direction, and if not all the way, why not?

“In a sense, many people, including myself, we believe that Mesbah is right,” Sadegh Zibakalam, a reformist Tehran University professor, reflected when I visited him at his mother’s home in north Tehran in December. “Trying to make an amalgam of Western, liberal, democratic ideas and Shiite theology is nonsense. It doesn’t work.”

Later, he added: “Either Khamenei is infallible, or he’s not. If he’s not, then he is an ordinary person like Bush or Blair, answerable to the Parliament and the people. If he is, then we should throw away all this nonsense about Western values and liberal democracy. Either we have Western liberal philosophy, republican government and checks and balances, or we should stick to Mesbah. But to combine them? Imam Khomeini was so popular and charismatic. People rallied behind him and believed he was infallible. We never thought, What if the supreme leader is not supported by the people? The answer to this was brilliantly made by Mesbah: to hell with them.”

Zibakalam described Mesbah-Yazdi’s reading of velayat-i-faqih as a radical version of the one first proposed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But when I looked back through the lectures in which Khomeini first delineated the theory in Najaf in 1970, I found a vision strikingly similar to Mesbah-Yazdi’s. At that time, Khomeini had little truck with popular sovereignty. He quoted the Koran and sayings attributed to Muhammad: “The prophet has higher claims on the believers than their own selves” and “The scholars are the heirs of the prophet.” The only legitimate legislation was that which had already been made by God, and this would be administered by the learned jurist, who would rule over the people like a guardian over a child.

Nine years later, from his Paris exile during the revolution, Khomeini would approve a constitution drafted by more liberal associates. It was the blueprint for a parliamentary democracy, in which a council of clergymen would play an advisory role. This draft became the basis for the debate that occupied the first Assembly of Experts, convened to revise and approve a final constitution. After much discussion of the contradictions it engendered, the experts, many of them clerics, nonetheless yoked velayat-i-faqih to the republican structure they had been handed.

To this day, the structure of the Iranian state remains too liberal for the authoritarians and too authoritarian for the liberals, but the traditional conservatives at the center of power cannot resolve this obvious paradox at the republic’s heart without relinquishing their own position. The best they could do was to revise the Constitution after Khomeini’s death, greatly expanding the powers of the clerical councils and of the supreme leader at the expense of the elected offices.

Clerics I spoke to from the traditional conservative camp associated with Khamenei were paternalistic in their view of the state rather than outright authoritarian. They seemed to genuinely believe in a limited form of popular sovereignty — guided, of course, by Islamic scholars so that the people would not fall into error but nonetheless necessary for the legitimacy of the state.

It was this traditional conservative establishment that the reformists, many of them clerics, hoped to transform by introducing new policies through the legal channels of the state and by persuading jurists to assimilate new ideas about rights and freedoms into their interpretations of the sacred texts. One of the leading reformist theorists, Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, explained to me: “Many nations have influenced our jurisprudence. We could set aside some of the decrees of Islam today and bring some Western laws to replace them. This doesn’t make us infidels.”

After eight years in power, the reform movement found itself blocked by the conservative establishment, hamstrung by its own mistakes and unwilling or unable to shore up the failing economy. Ahmadinejad rose in its wake, campaigning not on ideological extremism but on populist blandishments. He would ease the financial pain of his countrymen, he promised, by bringing Iran’s oil wealth to the people’s tables.

As Omid Malekian had intimated to me at the Mahestan shopping mall, however, this was not a promise to make lightly. The Iranian economy has been mismanaged at least since the revolution, and to fix it would require measures no populist would be willing to take. Under Ahmadinejad, inflation has risen; foreign investors have scorned Iranian markets, fearing political upheaval or foreign invasion; the Iranian stock market has plummeted; Iranian capital has fled to Dubai. Voters I talked to pointed to the prices of ordinary foodstuffs when they wanted to explain their negative feelings about the government. According to Iranian news sources, from January to late August 2006 the prices of fruits and vegetables in urban areas rose by 20 percent. A month later, during Ramadan, the price of fruit reportedly doubled while that of chicken rose 10 percent in mere days. Housing prices in Tehran have reached a record high. Unemployment is still widespread. And Ahmadinejad’s approval rating, as calculated by the official state television station, had dipped to 35 percent in October.

Iran is not a poor country. It is highly urbanized and modern, with a sizable middle class. Oil revenues, which Iran has in abundance, should be channeling plenty of hard currency into the state’s coffers, and in fact the economy’s overall rate of growth is healthy and rising. But as Parvin Alizadeh, an economist at London Metropolitan University, explained to me, what ultimately matters is how the state spends its influx of wealth. The Iranian government has tried to create jobs swiftly and pacify the people by spending the oil money on new government-run projects. But these projects are not only overmanned and inefficient, like much of the country’s bloated and technologically backward public sector; they also increase the demand for consumer goods and services, driving up inflation.

Ahmadinejad has continued this trend. He has generated considerable personal good will in poorer communities, but hardly anyone I asked could honestly say that their lives had gotten better during his presidency. He fought to lower interest rates, which drove up lending, leading to inflation and capital flight. The government cannot risk infuriating the public with the austerity measures that would be required in order to solve its deep-rooted economic problems. But as long as its short-term fixes continue to fail, the government will go on being unpopular. The last two presidents have lost their constituencies over this issue. And so officials seek to distract people from their economic woes with ideological posturing and anti-Western rhetoric. Not only has this lost its cachet with much of the Iranian public, it also serves to compound Iran’s economic problems by blackening its image abroad. “Iran has not sorted out its basic problem, which is to be accepted in the international community as a respectable government,” Alizadeh said. “Investors do not take it seriously. This is a political crisis, not an economic crisis.”

For a Western traveler in Iran these days, it is hard to avoid a feeling of cognitive dissonance. From a distance, the Islamic republic appears to be at its zenith. But from the street level, Iran’s grand revolutionary experiment is beset with fragility. The state is in a sense defined by its contradictions, both constitutional and economic. It cannot be truly stable until it resolves them, and yet if it tries to do so, it may not survive.

Laura Secor, an editor of the New York Times Op-Ed page, writes about international affairs.    January 30th, 2007

The Cold War's Deadly Legacy:
How the U.S.'s Atom for Peace Program
Helped Spread Nuke Technology to Iran and Beyond

Sam Roe, staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune, interviews Amy Goodman

"The specter of nuclear warfare waged by North Korea or Iran has hung over the world in recent months. But beyond that fear and foreboding looms a more far-reaching threat: the vast amount of nuclear bomb-grade material scattered across the globe. And it wasn't Kim Jong Il or the ayatollahs of Iran who put it there. America did." Those are the opening lines of a new expose by the Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Roe. [includes rush transcript]
Roe's investigation has found several tons of US nuclear bomb-grade material distributed under the Cold War Atoms for Peace program remains scattered across the planet. The US government has failed to retrieve forty tons of highly enriched uranium -- enough to make over 1,400 nuclear weapons. While the Bush administration says its trying to remove weapons-grade fuel from several research reactors around the world, many nuclear experts believe the US does not know how much enriched uranium exists abroad -- or even where it exists.

AMY GOODMAN: Sam Roe is a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune, author of this investigative series, joining us from Chicago. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SAM ROE: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you start off with this latest story that we've been getting in the news about the possibility that someone in the old Soviet Union now had weapons-grade nuclear material?

SAM ROE: Yeah. That was a case that just came out last week, where someone was caught having a small amount of highly enriched uranium in plastic bags in his coat pocket. And what's significant about that is that highly enriched uranium is the holy grail of nuclear materials. It's the one thing that you can easily make a bomb with. It doesn't take much technical expertise if you have enough to create nuclear fission, so that’s why there’s so much worry about highly enriched uranium. Secondly, it's easy to transport. So if someone can just put it in their pocket and walk across the border, that's of great concern. That case was really interesting, because for the last few years there really hasn't been a lot of nuclear-smuggling cases, but that was one of the most recent one and most disturbing one.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe, Sam Roe, that Atoms for Peace program.

SAM ROE: The Atoms for Peace program really was this bold experiment by President Eisenhower, unveiled in 1953, and the concept was that the United States would distribute nuclear technology around the world to other nations if they promised not to build nuclear weapons. So it was this grand bargain. At the time, you know, we had nuclear weapons, and we thought, and rightly so, that other nations would eventually build weapons on their own, so why not cut a deal now, why not get some kind of control over this? And the Soviet Union saw what we were doing, and so they decided to follow suit, and you had this really interesting sort of Cold War chess match going around, where the United States and the Soviet Union, they were both supplying research reactors, nuclear technology, and highly enriched uranium all throughout the world, and that's the material that’s out there today. That's the material that we're so concerned about.

AMY GOODMAN: What role does the IAEA play, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in monitoring this?

SAM ROE: Well, they can monitor some countries, and they do go out to some sites, and they do check on quantities of material and make sure there's not certain infractions, but -- and this isn’t discussed much -- but they’re really underfunded and they only have so many staff members to go out to some of these places. And as we've seen in Iran and other places, sometimes they’re just told, you know, go away, or come back another time. And so, when you look at the big picture, there's not a whole lot of monitoring of this material around the world, not as much as there should be.

AMY GOODMAN: Sam Roe, can you tell us the story of Armando Travelli?

SAM ROE: Armando Travelli is an interesting character, because, remarkably, he, and he alone, sort of led this effort over the last quarter century to go out and try to get this highly enriched uranium back in US hands, and he himself is an interesting story. He grew up in sort of the war-torn rubble of World War II in Italy, and as a child he was part of that new atomic age, where he thought that someday everything would be run by nuclear energy -- cars, boats, planes, everything -- and he came to the United States because he wanted to be part of this new nuclear generation and quickly rose to become a star in the nuclear engineering field out here outside of Chicago at Argonne National Labs, designing some of the largest research reactors ever conceived of.

And then, once India detonated its bomb in 1974, using some of this Atoms for Peace material that was distributed by Canada and the US, suddenly the United States wanted to get this material back, and they couldn’t just go into all these countries and, with guns ablazing, demand it back or take it back by force, because we had sold it or leased it or given it away. It wasn't ours anymore. And so, we had to find some way to sort of swap it out. We had to find some way to convince these countries to give the material back.

And so, they came to Armando Travelli, and they said, “Can you, as a scientist, help us with this problem? Can you take this diplomatic quandary that we're in and invent new fuels? Can you invent something that all these other countries can use in these reactors around the world instead of highly enriched uranium?” And he said, “Yeah, that can be done.” And they said, “Will you lead this charge? Will you invent these fuels and then go to these countries and sort of play diplomat and persuade them to use this new material?”

And he was somewhat taken aback, because his life's work was to, you know, spread nuclear technology, not to rein it in. He really believed in nuclear technology, but he was convinced that it was silly to have this bomb-grade material spread around the world. So he decided to do it. He decided to make the rest of his life this quest to get all of this material back.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain his relationship with Romania.

SAM ROE: Romania is a really interesting case, because it was one of the first assignments that he was given by the State Department. This was back in the early 1980s, when the dictator Ceausescu was still involved in Romania, still running the country. But the dictator offered, “Yeah, we’ll give you back your highly enriched uranium, America. Come on down, and let’s talk about it.” So Armando went to Romania and looked at the reactor to see if maybe they could swap out some material in that reactor for the highly enriched uranium.

But the United States, remarkably enough, the whole mission sort of bogged down over money. The Romanians wanted the US to pony up some money to pay for it, and the United States wasn't willing to do that, and it bogged down for a number of years. And while that was going on, the reactor and the people in the reactor in the Romanian government used that reactor that the US supplied and the highly enriched uranium to separate plutonium, which is the first step to make an atomic bomb. There's no other reason to separate plutonium than to start a nuclear weapons program.

So that just shows you, there’s really a lesson of the Atoms for Peace legacy: if you let this stuff sit out there too long, you know, those kinds of things might happen. Eventually the Romanian government, once Ceausescu was executed in ’89, they acknowledged what had happened and there were some additional safeguards put in place, but some of that uranium still actually remains in Romania.

AMY GOODMAN: And other countries that he is associated with -- for example, Taiwan.

SAM ROE: In Taiwan, that was an interesting case, too. Canada had supplied India with the reactor that India used to build its first atomic weapon. And an identical nuclear facility was given to Taiwan from Canada. And so, the Americans were suspicious that Taiwan was also building nuclear weapons. In Canada, they were embarrassed by what just happened in India. They didn't want to have this come out that, you know, now another Canadian reactor might be sparking a nuclear weapons program, so the United States offered to intervene and went there to take a look at this reactor, and Armando Travelli was in charge.

He went there and was just shocked at what he saw. From the outside, this reactor in Taiwan looked like your typical reactor. It had a domed roof, and it was windowless and made out of cement. But when he stepped inside, it was very eerie. It was dark, and it had this green tint to it, and it had this Chinese music piped in, not the typical thing you’d see in a reactor. And rising out of the middle of the reactor was this 30-foot tomblike structure, just this huge concrete block, almost like a Chinese temple. And he and his team just slowly walked toward it with their hosts, and they checked everything out. There’s no research going on. There’s no scientists around or any kind of experiments that they could see of, and when he walked outside, he said to his colleagues -- Armando said to his colleagues, “That’s a machine for making plutonium. There’s no other reason for that.” So over the next few years, they went back and forth to Taiwan, and the Taiwanese eventually got tired of the scrutiny and shut the place down.

AMY GOODMAN: Sam Roe, how easy is it to transport nuclear material.

SAM ROE: Well, with highly enriched uranium, it’s quite easy, because it's not highly radioactive, so if you had this holy grail of bomb material, you could put it in your pocket and you could carry it around with you and it’s not going to harm you. And you could cross borders with relative ease. Once it's been burned in a reactor, then it’s highly radioactive, and it would take some technical skill to steal it and get away with it, but one of the issues is that some of the fuel that has been burned in these reactors overseas has sat there for so long, it's not highly radioactive anymore. If something sits around for 30 years, if highly enriched uranium is burned in a reactor and it sits there for 30 years, it can be stolen and spirited away quite easily. So there needs to be more attention paid to that material, too.

AMY GOODMAN: The Russian man that allegedly was trying to sell uranium had hidden it in two plastic bags in his pocket, that the Georgian authorities found?

SAM ROE: Yeah, that just shows you how easily you can spirit this stuff away. And that's why highly enriched uranium is something we should all pay attention to. One, it's the one thing you can use to easily make a bomb and, two, you can hide it and transport it easily. If terrorists could get their hands on it, it would be hard to detect, and so that's why there's a push in this country and some other places to do an inventory, do a global inventory, of where is highly enriched uranium.

You know, it’s the one thing that could blow up the world. Why not get a better handle on every place it is in the world and not just secure it, not just put up locks and fences, because ultimately that may not prevent an inside job -- because it’s so valuable, somebody even guarding it may just decide to steal it and sell it -- why not destroy it all? Why not take it and dilute it down, blend it down into something that can't be made a bomb? That's what a lot of folks are calling for now.

AMY GOODMAN: You begin your article with that very provocative paragraph about the specter of nuclear warfare being waged by North Korea or Iran hanging over the world in recent months, but it's not Kim Jong-il or the ayatollahs of Iran who put it there; America did. Go more into that, the US and Iran and nuclear weapons.

SAM ROE: Well, I think most people, when they talk about loose nukes or they think about the issue, they think in terms of this is a problem that is overseas or this is something that the Soviets created or something like that. But we have to remember this is sort of a problem that we created in the first place. This was a problem of our own making, and over the last 30 years America hasn't done a good job of getting this material under control.

And one story that really went under the radar screen is, one of the reactors in Iran that's come under scrutiny was actually provided to Iran in the first place by the United States, under the Shah. I wrote about this last year, that back in the ’70s, the United States gave Iran a research reactor and highly enriched uranium, and that reactor in recent years has been one of the places where the Iranians have done some things where the IAEA says were infractions, so the United States complains about how Iran is violating international rules and creating a nuclear weapons program, and such and such. You know, some of these infractions have taken place in a reactor that we provided them in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Sam Roe, staff reporter. His series on the US Cold War program Atoms for Peace is featured this week in the Chicago Tribune, and we will link to it. Thanks for joining us from Chicago.

SAM ROE: Thanks for having me.

The New York Sun    February 2, 2007

Imagining A War With Iran

With America heading toward a war with Iran, inadvertent or otherwise, the picture of how the conflict is likely to pan out is becoming clearer.

In an all-out war, the basic American military tactic will be air attacks, naval blockades, offshore bombardments, and the destruction of oil and power infrastructures and Iran's naval presence in the Persian Gulf.

Iran will respond with an immense deployment of ground forces on its borders, attacks against American troops inside Iraq, and the activation of hundreds of trained, well-armed, dormant terror cells peppered from one end of the gulf to the other.

America's primary weapon will be two naval carrier groups now in the Persian Gulf, supplemented by attack planes and bombers from neighboring Kuwait, Oman, Qatar — where the U.S. Central Command is based — the United Arab Emirates, possibly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and bases in Europe. An American land invasion of Iran is out of the question, given Iran's 1 million-strong army, the refusal of its neighbors to allow it, and the lack of American troops to carry it out. U.S. Special Operations, however, will be pushed into Iran to carry out attacks on the country's prized nuclear research facilities and other designated targets — with the objective of dismantling the mullahs' command and control of the population.

Tehran's most lethal weapon is manpower. From its army, it can marshal several hundred thousand troops along its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan to pressure American forces in those countries, and it can call on Syria to heat up its border region with Iraq, as well.

Two Iraqi Shiite militias allied with Iran — the Badr Brigades and Mahdi Army, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and Moqtada al-Sadr, respectively — will launch large-scale attacks on American troops inside Iraq. Together, Messrs. Hakim and Sadr command some 80,000 to 100,000 men, who are armed, funded, and trained by Iran.

Iran's air defense is an unknown. Should it prove somewhat adequate, it may down some American pilots, sapping American morale. Iranian dogma dictates that war with America will translate into regional upheaval. Among Iran's targets will be the U.S. Central Command in Qatar and the U.S. Navy's sixth fleet in Bahrain, a tiny country of 700,000 people, a majority of whom are Shiite and pro-Iranian. In Lebanon, the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia will be instructed to light up the place, as will Hamas in Gaza.

One way or another, the war will involve oil production and prices. America's strategy will be to maximize Iranian pain without setting world oil prices ablaze. To do this, it must be able to wreck Iran's offshore oil platforms and production while preventing Iran from shutting down everyone else by blocking the Straits of Hormuz to oil exports. It will be a difficult, though not impossible, feat, successfully achieved by America in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980–88.

If other oil producers, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are able to keep production and exports up, any rise in prices can be contained below a tolerable $75 a barrel. Of course, Iran's creed is "if we cannot export oil, no one else will."

The underlying logic here is economic pain. Iran's offshore oil platforms pump 500,000 barrels of its 4 million barrels a day of oil, but they are enormously expensive and difficult to replace. Translation: Iran may cry uncle first.

Indeed, this war will be a race to see much pain both parties can take. On the morale level, one pro for Iran is it will be fighting in its own neighborhood, endowed with experience from past wars and a martyrdom mind-set. (Iran lost nearly 1 million citizens between 1980 and 1988 without blinking.) America will be counting on setting Iran back a few decades economically, as it did the former Yugoslavia; on total support from scared Arab regimes; and on an uprising in Iran by a population that after 28 years of religious fanaticism may finally have had enough of the mullahs.

Propaganda will be just as important. Iran will assume the mantle of "Islam against the infidel crusaders." America will portray the war as a fight for Western interests — control of Middle Eastern oil and defense against a tidal wave of Iran-led Islamic fundamentalism — and for modernization of a largely failed Arab world. Iran will plead its case among brethren in the faith. America will appeal to pro-Western Arabs, Muslims, and Iranians. Flip a coin.

February 8, 2007    Filed at 8:31 a.m. ET

Iranian Cleric Warns U.S. on Attacks

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- If the United States were to attack Iran, the country would respond by striking U.S. interests all over the world, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday.

Speaking to a gathering of Iranian air force commanders, Khamenei said: ''The enemy knows well that any invasion would be followed by a comprehensive reaction to the invaders and their interests all over the world.''

Iranian leaders often speak of a crushing response to any attack. While the remarks are seen as an attempt to drum up national support, Iran's position on Iraq and its nuclear program have provoked more than usual international pressure in recent months.

President Bush has ordered American troops to act against Iranians suspected of being involved in the Iraqi insurgency and has deployed a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf area as a warning to Iran. The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions because of Iran's refusal to cease uranium enrichment.

''Some people say that the U.S. president is not prone to calculating the consequences of his actions,'' Khamenei said in remarks broadcast on state television, ''but it is possible to bring this kind of person to wisdom. ''U.S. policymakers and analysts know that the Iranian nation would not let an invasion go without a response,'' Khamenei added.

He also addressed rumors about his health -- a subject that is rarely discussed openly in Iran. Last month, there was speculation his health had deteriorated seriously. ''Enemies of the Islamic system fabricated various rumors about death and health to demoralize the Iranian nation, but they did not know that they are not dealing with only one person in Iran. They are facing a nation,'' Khamenei said.

The Economist    Feb 8th 2007

America and Iran
Next stop Iran?
Why George Bush should resist a Wagnerian exit from the White House

U.S. Air Force“WE ARE not planning for a war with Iran.” So said Robert Gates, America's new defence secretary, on February 2nd. You cannot be much clearer than that. With a weak and isolated president, and an army bogged down in the misery of Iraq, the American Congress and people are hardly in fighting mood. Nonetheless, and despite Mr Gates's calming words, Iran and America are heading for a collision. Although the risk is hard to quantify, there exists a real possibility that George Bush will order a military strike on Iran some time before he leaves the White House two years from now.

America and Iran have been at loggerheads ever since Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution of 1979. But four things are making this old antagonism newly dangerous. One is Iran's apparent determination to build nuclear weapons, and a fear that it is nearing the point where its nuclear programme will be impossible to stop (see article "A countdown to confrontation"). The second is the advent of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist president who denies the Holocaust and calls openly for Israel's destruction: his apocalyptic speeches have convinced many people in Israel and America that the world is facing a new Hitler with genocidal intent. The third is a recent tendency inside the Bush administration to blame Iran for many of America's troubles not just in Iraq but throughout the Middle East.

Any one of these would be destabilising enough on its own. Added together, they make the possibility of miscalculation and a slide into war a great deal more likely. That is all the more so when they are combined with a fourth new source of friction between America and Iran. This is the predicament of Mr Bush. A president who is now detached from electoral considerations knows that his place in history is going to be defined by the tests he himself chose to put at the centre of his foreign policy: bringing democracy to the Middle East and preventing rogue regimes from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Given his excessive willingness to blame Iran for blocking America's noble aims in the Middle East, he may come to see a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear programme as a fitting way to redeem his presidency. That would be a mistake.

Never attack a revolution
This newspaper supported America's invasion of Iraq. We believed, erroneously, that Saddam Hussein was working to acquire nuclear weapons. And we judged that the world should not allow a mass-murderer to gather such lethal power in his hands. In the case of Iran, the balance of risks points, though only just, in the other direction.

Even if it became clear that Iran was on the threshold of acquiring an atomic bomb, an American strike on its nuclear facilities would be a reckless gamble. Without America invading and occupying Iran—unthinkable after Iraq—such a strike would at best delay rather than end Iran's nuclear ambitions. It might very well rally support behind a regime that is at present not conspicuously popular at home, emboldening it to retaliate inside Iraq, against Israel and perhaps against the United States itself. Besides, it is far from clear exactly how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran would be. Unlike Iraq under Saddam, Iran has a complex power structure with elements of pluralism and many checks and balances. For all its proclaimed religiosity, it has behaved since the revolution like a rational actor. To be sure, some of its regional aims are mischievous, and in pursuing them it has adopted foul means, including terrorism. But the ayatollahs have so far been shrewd calculators of consequences. There are already small signs of a backlash against the attention-seeking Mr Ahmadinejad. Like the Soviet Union, a nuclear Iran could probably be deterred.

But don't think Iran isn't dangerous
All of this suggests that in present circumstances it would be wrong for America to launch a military strike against Iran. But it would be the height of self-deception for anyone to jump to the conclusion that a nuclear-armed Iran would not be dangerous at all. It would be very dangerous indeed.

For a start, there is a danger that Iran's nuclear efforts will provoke a pre-emptive strike by Israel, which is already a nuclear power, albeit an undeclared one. For Israelis, whose country Mr Ahmadinejad says he wants to wipe off the map, it is not all that reassuring to hear that Iran can “probably” be deterred. Even if Israel were to decide against such a strike, Iran's going nuclear could destroy what is left of the international non-proliferation regime. It has proved hard enough for Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to live with Israel's undeclared bomb; if their Iranian rival got one too, the race to copy might soon be on. On top of this is the danger that a nuclear Iran would feel safe to ramp up attempts to spread its revolution violently beyond its own borders.

Every effort should be made to stop an Iranian bomb. But there is a better way than an armed strike. In 2002 Mr Bush consigned Iran along with Iraq and North Korea to an “axis of evil”. Since 2004, for lack of good alternatives, he has been helping the efforts of Britain, France and Germany to talk rather than bludgeon Iran into nuclear compliance. Iran claims that its nuclear programme is for civil purposes only. Last year, the Europeans called its bluff by offering trade, civil-nuclear assistance and a promise of talks with America if it stopped enriching the uranium that could produce the fuel for a bomb. When Iran refused, diplomacy led in December to the imposition of economic sanctions by the Security Council.

This is a promising approach. The diplomacy at the United Nations proceeds at a glacial pace. But Iran is thought to be several years from a bomb. And meanwhile the Americans, Europeans, Russians and Chinese have at last all lined up on the same side of the argument. What is required now is a further tightening of the economic squeeze coupled with some sort of an incentive—most usefully an unambiguous promise from Mr Bush that if Iran returns to compliance with the nuclear rules it will face no attempt by America to overthrow the regime. Even then, America and Iran may be fated to lock horns in the Middle East. But the region, and the world, will be a good deal safer without the shadow of an Iranian bomb.


February 13, 2007

Iran and the Nameless Briefers

Before things get any more out of hand, President Bush needs to make his intentions toward Iran clear. And Congress needs to make it clear that this time it will be neither tricked nor bullied into supporting another disastrous war.

How little this administration has learned from its failures is a constant source of amazement. It seems the bigger the failure, the less it learns.

Consider last weekend’s supersecret briefing in Baghdad by a group of American military officials whose names could not be revealed to the voters who are paying for this war with their taxes and their children’s blood. The briefers tried to prove the White House’s case that Iran is shipping deadly weapons, including armor-piercing explosives, to Shiite militias in Iraq.

Unlike Colin Powell’s infamous prewar presentation on Iraq at the United Nations, this briefing had actual weapons to look at. And perhaps in time, the administration will be able to prove conclusively that the weapons came from arms factories in Iran.

But the officials offered no evidence to support their charge that “the highest levels of the Iranian government” had authorized smuggling these weapons into Iraq for use against American forces. Nor could they adequately explain why they had been sitting on this urgent evidence since 2004. The only thing that was not surprising was the refusal of any of the briefers to allow their names to be published. Mr. Powell is probably wondering why he didn’t insist on the same deal.

We have no doubt about Iran’s malign intent. Iran is defying the Security Council’s order to halt its nuclear activities, and it is certainly meddling inside Iraq. But we are also certain that the Iraq war has so strained the American military and so shattered this president’s credibility that shrill accusations and saber rattling are far more likely to frighten the allies America needs to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions than to change Tehran’s behavior.

If Mr. Bush is truly worried about Shiite militias killing Americans in Iraq — and he should be — he needs to start showing this evidence to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He needs to demand that Mr. Maliki stop protecting the militias and make it clear that there will be serious consequences if he continues to refuse.

If Mr. Bush is truly worried about Iran fanning Iraq’s ever more bloody civil war — and he should be — he needs to stop fantasizing about regime change and start trying to find a way to persuade Iran’s leaders to help rein in the chaos in Iraq.

And if Mr. Bush is worried that Americans no longer believe him when he warns of mortal threats to the country — and he should be — he needs to start proving that he really understands who is most responsible for the Iraq disaster. And he needs to explain how he plans to extricate American troops without setting off an even bigger war.

That’s the briefing the American people need to hear. And they need to hear it from the most senior American official of all, George Walker Bush.

English version    16 February 2007

Compte à rebours
L’Iran doit se tenir prêt à contrer une attaque nucléaire
par Léonid Ivashov *

Pour le général Leonid Ivashov, ancien chef d’état-major interarmes de la Fédération de Russie, il ne fait aucun doute que l’administration Bush planifie des frappes nucléaires contre l’Iran et que le Pentagone sera en mesure de les effectuer dans les prochaines semaines. Il ne fait pas de doute non plus que les États-Unis n’en seront pas dissuadés par les autres puissances nucléaires et qu’ils ne devront essuyer qu’une riposte conventionnelle. La seule inconnue réside dans l’approbation de ce projet ou dans l’opposition du Congrès des États-Unis.
Dans l’ensemble des informations en provenance du Moyen-Orient, on trouve un nombre croissant d’écrits affirmant que d’ici à quelques mois les États-Unis mèneront des frappes nucléaires contre l’Iran. À titre d’exemple le Kuwaiti Arab Times, citant des sources bien informées mais anonymes, rapporte que les États-Unis projettent de lancer une attaque à l’aide de missiles et de bombes sur le territoire iranien avant la fin du mois d’avril 2007. La campagne débutera depuis la mer et sera appuyée par le système de défense anti-missile Patriot de manière à épargner aux troupes états-uniennes une opération terrestre et réduire l’efficacité d’une riposte en provenance de « n’importe quel pays du Golfe persique ».

« N’importe quel pays » fait essentiellement référence à l’Iran. La source ayant communiqué l’information au journal koweïtien croit que les forces états-uniennes en Irak ainsi que les autres pays de la région seront protégés de toute frappe de missile iranien par les Patriot aux frontières.

Ainsi, les préparatifs d’une nouvelle agression états-unienne ont atteint leur phase de finalisation [1]. Les exécutions de Saddam Hussein et ses associés les plus proches constituaient une partie de ces préparatifs. Leur but était de servir d’ « opération déguisée » pour les efforts des stratèges états-uniens visant à envenimer délibérément la situation à la fois en Iran et dans tout le Moyen-Orient.

Évaluant les conséquences du geste, les États-Unis ont effectivement ordonné la pendaison de l’ancien dirigeant irakien et de ses associés. Cela démontre que les États-Unis ont irréversiblement adopté le plan de partition de l’Irak en trois pseudo-États : chiite, sunnite et kurde. Washington considère qu’une situation de chaos contrôlé l’aidera à dominer l’approvisionnement en pétrole du Golfe persique ainsi que d’autres voies de transport de pétrole stratégiquement importantes.

L’aspect de plus important de la question est qu’une zone de conflit sanglant sans fin sera créée au cœur du Moyen-Orient, dans laquelle les pays voisins de l’Irak, à savoir l’Iran, la Syrie et la Turquie (via le Kurdistan) seront inévitablement aspirés. Cela résoudra le problème de la complète déstabilisation de la région, une tâche de prime importance pour les États-Unis et particulièrement Israël. La guerre en Irak n’était qu’un pas dans une série d’étapes du processus de déstabilisation régionale. Ce n’était qu’une phase du processus les rapprochant d’un règlement de comptes avec l’Iran et d’autres pays que les États-Unis ont ou vont stigmatiser.

Néanmoins il n’est pas aisé pour les États-Unis de se lancer dans une campagne militaire de plus alors que l’Irak et l’Afghanistan ne sont pas « pacifiés » (les États-Unis manquent des ressources nécessaires pour le faire). En outre, les protestations contre la politique des néo-conservateurs de Washington s’intensifient partout dans le monde. En raison de tout ce qui précède, les États-Unis feront usage de l’arme nucléaire contre l’Iran. Il s’agira du second cas d’utilisation d’armes nucléaires au combat après l’attaque états-unienne de 1945 contre le Japon.

Les cercles militaires et politiques israéliens font ouvertement des déclarations sur la possibilité de frappes de missiles nucléaires sur l’Iran depuis octobre 2006, quand l’idée fut appuyée par George W. Bush. Actuellement on parle d’une « nécessité » de frappes nucléaires. On pousse l’opinion à croire que cette éventualité n’a rien de monstrueux et que, bien au contraire, une frappe nucléaire est relativement faisable. Il n’y a prétendument pas d’autre moyen d’« arrêter » l’Iran.

Comment les autres puissances nucléaires vont-elles réagir ? En ce qui concerne la Russie, dans le meilleur des cas son gouvernement se contentera de condamner les frappes, et au pire il déclarera que « même si les États-Unis ont fait une erreur, le pays-cible a lui-même provoqué l’attaque » - comme lors des frappes qu’a subi la Yougoslavie.

L’Europe réagira sensiblement de la même façon. Cependant, il est possible que les protestations de la Chine et d’autres pays vis-à-vis des attaques nucléaires soient plus importantes. Dans tous les cas, il n’y aura pas de représailles nucléaires à l’encontre des forces états-uniennes - l’administration Bush en est totalement sûre.

Les Nations Unies n’ont aucun poids dans ce contexte géopolitique. En ne condamnant pas l’attaque subie par la Yougoslavie, le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies en a partagé la responsabilité. Cette institution se contente d’adopter des résolutions que les Russes et les Français interprètent comme étant une renonciation à l’usage de la force, mais que les États-uniens et les Britanniques comprennent comme un « cautionnement » de leurs agressions.

Quant à Israël, il sera de façon certaine la cible des attaques de missiles iraniens ; il est alors possible que la résistance du Hezbollah et des Palestiniens devienne plus active. Les Israéliens se poseront en victimes, auront recours à des provocations pour justifier une agression, souffriront de dommages raisonnables et les États-Unis indignés finiront par déstabiliser l’Iran, en présentant cela comme un châtiment bien mérité.

Certaines personnes semblent croire que les protestations de l’opinion publique pourront arrêter les États-Unis. Je ne pense pas. Il ne faut pas exagérer l’importance de ce facteur. Par le passé, j’ai essayé pendant des heures de convaincre Milosevic que l’OTAN se préparait à attaquer la Yougoslavie. Pendant longtemps, il a refusé de l’envisager et me disait sans cesse : « Lisez donc la Charte de l’ONU. Pour quelles raisons pourraient-ils faire ça ? ».

Mais ils l’ont fait. Ils ont délibérément ignoré la législation internationale, et ils l’ont fait. Et quel est le résultat ? Bien sûr, l’opinion publique a été choquée et indignée. Mais les agresseurs ont obtenu exactement ce qu’ils voulaient : Milosevic est mort, la Yougoslavie est divisée et la Serbie est colonisée - les officiers de l’OTAN ont établi leur quartier général dans les bureaux du ministère de la Défense du pays.

Il est arrivé la même chose en Irak. L’opinion publique a été choquée et indignée. Or ce qui intéresse les États-Unis n’est pas l’ampleur de l’indignation, mais l’étendue des revenus de leur complexe militaro-industriel.

L’information selon laquelle un deuxième porte-avions états-unien devrait arriver dans le Golfe persique d’ici la fin du mois de janvier permet de faire une analyse de l’évolution possible du conflit. Pour attaquer l’Iran, les États-Unis emploieraient essentiellement la force nucléaire aérienne. Des missiles de croisière (transportés par des avions, des sous-marins et des bâtiments de surface) et, éventuellement, des missiles balistiques seraient utilisés. Selon toutes probabilités, les frappes nucléaires seraient suivies de raids aériens lancés depuis les porte-avions, ainsi que d’autres types d’attaques.

L’Iran possède une armée puissante et les forces US pourraient souffrir des pertes importantes. C’est inacceptable pour G. W. Bush, qui se trouve déjà en position délicate. Il n’est pas nécessaire de lancer une attaque terrestre pour détruire les infrastructures en Iran, inverser le développement du pays, engendrer la panique et créer un chaos politique, économique et militaire. C’est un objectif réalisable d’abord par le nucléaire, puis par les moyens de guerre conventionnels. Voilà l’utilité du déploiement de la flotte de porte-avions à proximité des côtes iraniennes.

Quels sont les moyens de défense de l’Iran ? Ils sont considérables, mais restent largement inférieurs aux forces . L’Iran possède 29 systèmes russes de missiles anti-aériens « Tor ». Ils constituent incontestablement un renforcement de la défense aérienne iranienne. Cependant, à l’heure actuelle, l’Iran n’a aucune protection assurée contre les raids aériens.

La tactique sera la même que d’habitude : d’abord, neutraliser la défense aérienne et les radars, ensuite attaquer l‘armée de l’air dans le ciel, puis à terre les installations de contrôle et les infrastructures, sans prendre de risques.

D’ici quelques semaines, nous verrons la machine de guerre informationnelle se mettre en mouvement. L’opinion publique est déjà sous pression. Nous allons assister à une sorte de montée hystérique anti-iranienne, de nouvelles « fuites » dans les médias, de la désinformation, etc.

Simultanément, tout cela envoie un message à l’opposition « pro-occidentale » et à une fraction de l’élite de Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pour qu’ils se préparent aux évènements à venir. Les États-Unis tablent sur le fait qu’une attaque de l’Iran engendre inévitablement le chaos dans le pays, pour ensuite corrompre quelques généraux iraniens et dès lors créer une « cinquième colonne » dans le pays.

Bien entendu, l’Iran et l’Irak sont des pays très différents. Cependant, si l’agresseur réussit à provoquer un conflit entre les deux branches des forces armées iraniennes, le Corps des gardes de la Révolution islamique et l’armée, le pays se retrouvera en situation critique, particulièrement dans l’hypothèse où, au tout début de la campagne, les États-Unis parviendraient à atteindre le dirigeant iranien et à mener une frappe nucléaire, ou une frappe conventionnelle massive par des moyens conventionnels, contre l’état-major du pays.

À ce jour, la probabilité d’une attaque des États-Unis contre l’Iran est extrêmement élevée. Que le Congrès états-unien donne l’autorisation pour cette guerre reste un fait encore incertain. Le recours à une provocation pourrait éliminer cet obstacle (une attaque sur Israël ou bien des cibles états-uniennes dont les bases militaires). L’ampleur de la provocation pourrait être de l’ordre des attentats du 11 septembre 2001 à New-York. Alors le Congrès dira certainement «oui» au président états-unien.

Le général Léonid Ivashov est ancien chef d’état-major interarmes de la Fédération de Russie. Il est aujourd’hui vice-président de l’Académie russe de géopolitique et membre de la conférence Axis for Peace. Les articles de cet auteur

version française    16 February 2007
Iran Must Get Ready to Repel a Nuclear Attack
by Léonid Ivashov *
For the general Leonid Ivashov, the former Chief of the Russian armed forces’ Staff, it is doubtless that the Bush administration plans nuclear attacks against Iran and that the Pentagon will be capable to carry them out within the few coming weeks. He is too sure that the United States will not be talked out of it by the other nuclear powers and will have to endure but a conventional counter. The only unknown thing yet is if this project will be approved or refused by the United States’ Congress.
  In the overall flow of information coming from the Middle East, there are increasingly frequent reports indicating that within several months from now the US will deliver nuclear strikes on Iran. For example, citing well-informed but undisclosed sources, the Kuwaiti Arab Times wrote that the US plans to launch a missile and bomb attack on the territory of Iran before the end of April, 2007. The campaign will start from the sea and will be supported by the Patriot missile defense systems in order to let the US forces avoid a ground operation and to reduce the efficiency of the return strike by “any Persian Gulf country”.

“Any country” mostly refers to Iran. The source which supplied the information to the Kuwaiti paper believes that the US forces in Iraq and other countries of the region will be defended from any Iranian missile strikes by the frontier Patriots.

So, the preparations for a new US aggression entered the completion phase. The executions of S. Hussein and his closest associates were a part of these preparations. Their purpose was to serve as a “disguise operation” for the efforts of the US strategists to deliberately escalate the situation both around Iran and in the entire Middle East.

Analyzing the consequences of the move, the US did order to hang the former Iraqi leader and his associates. This shows that the US has adopted irreversibly the plan of partitioning Iraq into three warring pseudo-states – the Shiite, the Sunnite, and the Kurdish ones. Washington reckons that the situation of a controlled chaos will help it to dominate the Persian Gulf oil supplies and other strategically important oil transportation routes.

The most important aspect of the matter is that a zone of an endless bloody conflict will be created at the core of the Middle East, and that the countries neighboring Iraq – Iran, Syria, Turkey (Kurdistan) – will inevitably be getting drawn into it. This will solve the problem of completely destabilizing the region, a task of major importance for the US and especially for Israel. The war in Iraq was just one element in a series of steps in the process of regional destabilization. It was only a phase in the process of getting closer to dealing with Iran and other countries, which the US declared or will declare rouge.

However it is not easy for the US to get involved in yet another military campaign while Iraq and Afghanistan are not “pacified” (the US lacks the resources necessary for the operation). Besides, protests against the politics of the Washington neocons intensify all over the world. Due to all of the above, the US will use nuclear weapon against Iran. This will be the second case of the use of nuclear weapons in combat after the 1945 US attack on Japan.

The Israeli military and political circles had been making statements on the possibility of nuclear and missile strikes on Iran openly since October, 2006, when the idea was immediately supported by G. Bush. Currently it is touted in the form of a “necessity” of nuclear strikes. The public is taught to believe that there is nothing monstrous about such a possibility and that, on the contrary, a nuclear strike is quite feasible. Allegedly, there is no other way to “stop” Iran.

How will other nuclear powers react? As for Russia, at best it will limit itself to condemning the strikes, and at worst – as in the case of the aggression against Yugoslavia – its response will be something like “though by this the US makes a mistake, the victim itself provoked the attack”.

Europe will react in essentially the same way. Possibly, the negative reaction of China and several other countries to the nuclear aggression will be stronger. In any case, there will be no retaliation nuclear strike on the US forces (the US is absolutely sure of this).

The UN means nothing in this context. Having failed to condemn the aggression against Yugoslavia, the UN Security Council effectively shared the responsibility for it. This institution is only capable to adopt resolutions which the Russian and also the French diplomacy understands as banning the use of force, but the US and British ones interpret in exactly the opposite sense – as authorizing their aggression.

Speaking of Israel, it is sure to come under the Iranian missile strikes. Possibly, the Hezbollah and the Palestinian resistance will become more active. Posing as victims, the Israelis will resort to provocations to justify their aggression, suffer some tolerable damage, and then the outraged US will destabilize Iran finally, making it look like a noble mission of retribution.

Some people tend to believe that concerns over the world’s protests can stop the US. I do not think so. The importance of this factor should not be overstated. In the past, I have spent hours talking to Milosevic, trying to convince him that NATO was preparing to attack Yugoslavia. For a long time, he could not believe this and kept telling me: “Just read the UN Charter. What grounds will they have to do it?”

But they did it. They ignored the international law outrageously and did it. What do we have now? Yes, there was a shock, there was indignation. But the result is exactly what the aggressors wanted – Milosevic is dead, Yugoslavia is partitioned, and Serbia is colonized – NATO officers have set up their headquarters in the country’s ministry of defense.

The same things happened to Iraq. There were a shock and indignation. But what matters to the Americans is not how big the shock is, but how high are the revenues of their military-industrial complex.

The information that a second US aircraft-carrier is due to arrive at the Persian Gulf till the end of January makes it possible to analyze the possible evolution of the war situation. Attacking Iran, the US will mostly use air delivery of the nuclear munitions. Cruise missiles (carried by the US aircrafts as well as ships and submarines) and, possibly, ballistic missiles will be used. Probably, nuclear strikes will be followed by air raids from aircraft carriers and by other means of attack.

The US command is trying to exclude a ground operation: Iran has a strong army and the US forces are likely to suffer massive casualties. This is unacceptable for G. Bush who already finds himself in a difficult situation. It does not take a ground operation to destroy infrastructures in Iran, to reverse the development of the country, to cause panic, and to create a political, economic and military chaos. This can be accomplished by using first the nuclear, and subsequently the conventional means of warfare. Such is the purpose of bringing the aircraft carrier group closer to the Iranian coast.

What resources for self-defense does Iran have? They are considerable, but incomparably inferior to the US forces. Iran has 29 Russian Tor systems. Definitely, they are an important reinforcement of the Iranian air defense. However, at present Iran has no guaranteed protection from air raids.

The US tactics will be the same as usual: first, to neutralize the air defense and radars, and then to attack aircrafts in the air and on land, the control installations, and the infrastructure, while taking no risks.

Within weeks from now, we will see the informational warfare machine start working. The public opinion is already under pressure. There will be a growing anti-Iranian militaristic hysteria, new information leaks, disinformation, etc.

At the same time all of the above sends a signal to the pro-Western opposition and to a fraction of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s elite to get ready for the coming developments. The US hopes that an attack on Iran will inevitably result in a chaos in the country, and that it will be possible to bribe some of the Iranian generals and thus to create a fifth column in the country.

Of course, Iran is very different from Iraq. However, if the aggressor succeeds in instigating a conflict between the two branches of the Iranian armed forces – the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the army – the country will find itself in a critical situation, especially in case at the very beginning of the campaign the US manages to hit the Iranian leadership and delivers a nuclear strike or a massive one by conventional warfare on the country’s central command.

Today, the probability of a US aggression against Iran is extremely high. It does remain unclear, though, whether the US Congress is going to authorize the war. It may take a provocation to eliminate this obstacle (an attack on Israel or the US targets including military bases). The scale of the provocation may be comparable to the 9-11 attack in NY. Then the Congress will certainly say “Yes” to the US President.

Le général Léonid Ivashov est ancien chef d’état-major interarmes de la Fédération de Russie. Il est aujourd’hui vice-président de l’Académie russe de géopolitique et membre de la conférence Axis for Peace. Les articles de cet auteur.

Vanity Fair    March 2007

The White House
From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq
by Craig Unger

The same neocon ideologues behind the Iraq war have been using the same tactics—alliances with shady exiles, dubious intelligence on W.M.D.—to push for the bombing of Iran. As President Bush ups the pressure on Tehran, is he planning to double his Middle East bet?
In the weeks leading up to George W. Bush's January 10 speech on the war in Iraq, there was a brief but heady moment when it seemed that the president might finally accept the failure of his Middle East policy and try something new. Rising anti-war sentiment had swept congressional Republicans out of power. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been tossed overboard. And the Iraq Study Group (I.S.G.), chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, had put together a bipartisan report that offered a face-saving strategy to exit Iraq. Who better than Baker, the Bush family's longtime friend and consigliere, to talk some sense into the president?

By the time the president finished his speech from the White House library, however, all those hopes had vanished. It wasn't just that Bush was doubling down on an extravagantly costly bet by sending 21,500 more American troops to Iraq; there were also indications that he was upping the ante by an order of magnitude. The most conspicuous clue was a four-letter word that Bush uttered six times in the course of his speech: Iran.

 His nuclear ambitions make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) a threat. But attacking Iran—as former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) has urged—could be Bush's biggest blunder of all.
In a clear reference to the Islamic Republic and its sometime ally Syria, Bush vowed to "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." At about the same time his speech was taking place, U.S. troops stormed an Iranian liaison office in Erbil, a Kurdish-controlled city in northern Iraq, and arrested and detained five Iranians working there.

Already, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the war in Iraq. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people have been killed. Countless more are wounded or living as refugees. Launched with the intention of shoring up Israeli security and replacing rogue regimes in the Middle East with friendly, pro-Western allies, the war in Iraq has instead turned that country into a terrorist training ground. By eliminating Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led coalition has sparked a Sunni-Shiite civil war, which threatens to spread throughout the entire Middle East. And, far from creating a secular democracy, the war has empowered Shiite fundamentalists aligned with Iran. The most powerful of these, Muqtada al-Sadr, commands both an anti-American sectarian militia and the largest voting bloc in the Iraqi parliament.

"Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn't happened," says the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, an influential conservative who backed the Iraq invasion. "And all the things the critics said would happen have happened. [The president's neoconservative advisers] are effectively saying, 'Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are.' But after you've lost x number of times at the roulette wheel, do you double-down?"

By now, the story of how neoconservatives hijacked American foreign policy is a familiar one. With Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld leading the way, neocons working out of the office of the vice president and the Department of Defense orchestrated a spectacular disinformation operation, asserting that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed a grave and immediate threat to the U.S. Veteran analysts who disagreed were circumvented. Dubious information from known fabricators was hyped. Forged documents showing phony yellowcake-uranium sales to Iraq were promoted.

What's less understood is that the same tactics have been in play with Iran. Once again, neocon ideologues have been flogging questionable intelligence about W.M.D. Once again, dubious Middle East exile groups are making the rounds in Washington—this time urging regime change in Syria and Iran. Once again, heroic new exile leaders are promising freedom.

Meanwhile, a series of recent moves by the military have lent credence to widespread reports that the U.S. is secretly preparing for a massive air attack against Iran. (No one is suggesting a ground invasion.) First came the deployment order of U.S. Navy ships to the Persian Gulf. Then came high-level personnel shifts signaling a new focus on naval and air operations rather than the ground combat that predominates in Iraq. In his January 10 speech, Bush announced that he was sending Patriot missiles to the Middle East to defend U.S. allies—presumably from Iran. And he pointedly asserted that Iran was "providing material support for attacks on American troops," a charge that could easily evolve into a casus belli.

"It is absolutely parallel," says Philip Giraldi, a former C.I.A. counterterrorism specialist. "They're using the same dance steps—demonize the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is Iraq redux."

The neoconservatives have had Iran in their sights for more than a decade. On July 8, 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's newly elected prime minister and the leader of its right-wing Likud Party, paid a visit to the neoconservative luminary Richard Perle in Washington, D.C. The subject of their meeting was a policy paper that Perle and other analysts had written for an Israeli-American think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic Political Studies. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," the paper contained the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the U.S. could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.

"It was the beginning of thought," says Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert, who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney. Other signers included Perle and Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy during George W. Bush's first term. "It was the seeds of a new vision."

Netanyahu certainly seemed to think so. Two days after meeting with Perle, the prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress with a speech that borrowed from "A Clean Break." He called for the "democratization" of terrorist states in the Middle East and warned that peaceful means might not be sufficient. War might be unavoidable.

Netanyahu also made one significant addition to "A Clean Break." The paper's authors were concerned primarily with Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but Netanyahu saw a greater threat elsewhere. "The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran," he said.

Ten years later, "A Clean Break" looks like nothing less than a playbook for U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented—removing Saddam from power, setting aside the "land for peace" formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon—all with disastrous results.

Nevertheless, neoconservatives still advocate continuing on the path Netanyahu staked out in his speech and taking the fight to Iran. As they see it, the Iraqi debacle is not the product of their failed policies. Rather, it is the result of America's failure to think big. "It's a mess, isn't it?" says Meyrav Wurmser, who now serves as director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. "My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don't give it a regional context."

She isn't alone. One neocon after another has made the same plea: Iraq was the beginning, not the end. Writing in The Weekly Standard last spring, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, made the neocon case for bombing Iran's nuclear sites. Brushing away criticism that a pre-emptive attack would cause anti-Americanism within Iran, Gerecht asserted that it "would actually accelerate internal debate" in a way that would be "painful for the ruling clergy." As for imperiling the U.S. mission in Iraq, Gerecht argued that Iran "can't really hurt us there." Ultimately, he concluded, "we may have to fight a war—perhaps sooner rather than later—to stop such evil men from obtaining the worst weapons we know."

More recently, Netanyahu himself, who may yet return to power in Israel, went as far as to frame the issue in terms of the Holocaust. "Iran is Germany, and it's 1938," he said during a CNN interview in November. "Except that this Nazi regime that is in Iran … wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America."

Like the campaign to overthrow Saddam, the crusade for regime change in Iran got under way in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. One of the first shots came in The Wall Street Journal in November 2001, when Eliot Cohen, a member of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC), declared, "The overthrow of the first theocratic revolutionary Muslim state [Iran] and its replacement by a moderate or secular government … would be no less important a victory in this war than the annihilation of bin Laden."

Then, as now, the U.S. had no official diplomatic communications with Iran, but a series of back-channel meetings from 2001 to 2003 put unofficial policy initiatives into action. The man who initiated these meetings was Michael Ledeen, an Iran specialist, neocon firebrand, and Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. During the Iran-contra investigations of the late 80s, Ledeen won notoriety for having introduced President Ronald Reagan's chief intriguer, Oliver North, to Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer and con man.

Ghorbanifar helped set up the first meetings, in Rome in December 2001. Among those attending were Harold Rhode, a protégé of Ledeen's, and Larry Franklin, of the Office of Special Plans, the Pentagon bureau that manipulated pre-war intelligence on Iraq. (Franklin has since pleaded guilty to passing secrets to Israel and has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.) Ghorbanifar reportedly arranged an additional meeting in Rome in June 2002. This one was attended by a high-level U.S. official and dissidents from Egypt and Iraq. Then, in June 2003, just three months after the invasion of Iraq, Franklin and Rhode met secretly with Ghorbanifar in Paris at yet another gathering that was not approved by the Pentagon.

According to Ledeen, Ghorbanifar and his sources produced valuable information at the 2001 meetings about Iranian plans for attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But it is also likely that there was some discussion of destabilizing Iran. As the Washington Monthly reported, the meetings raised the possibility "that a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal U.S. foreign policy channels to advance a 'regime-change' agenda."

Also in attendance at the first meetings, according to administration sources who spoke to Warren P. Strobel, of Knight Ridder Newspapers, were representatives of the Mujahideen e-Khalq, or MEK, an urban-guerrilla group that practiced a brand of revolutionary Marxism heavily influenced by Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.

Having expertly exploited phony intelligence promoted by the Iraqi National Congress (I.N.C.), a dubious exile group run by the convicted embezzler Ahmad Chalabi, the neocons were now pursuing an alliance with an even shadier collection of exiles. According to a 2003 report by the State Department, "During the 1970s, the MEK killed US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran.… The MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier's office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials.… In 1991, it assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north." In other words, the MEK was a terrorist group—one that took its orders from Saddam Hussein.

To hear some neocons tell it, though, the MEK militants weren't terrorists—they were America's best hope in Iran. In January 2004, Richard Perle was the guest speaker at a fundraiser sponsored by the MEK, although he later claimed to have been unaware of the connection. And in a speech before the National Press Club in late 2005, Raymond Tanter, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recommended that the Bush administration use the MEK and its political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (N.C.R.I.), as an insurgent militia against Iran. "The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq are not only the best source for intelligence on Iran's potential violations of the nonproliferation regime. The NCRI and MEK are also a possible ally of the West in bringing about regime change in Tehran," he said.

Tanter went as far as to suggest that the U.S. consider using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran. "One military option is the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which may have the capability to destroy hardened deeply buried targets. That is, bunker-busting bombs could destroy tunnels and other underground facilities." He granted that the Non-Proliferation Treaty bans the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, such as Iran, but added that "the United States has sold Israel bunker-busting bombs, which keeps the military option on the table." In other words, the U.S. can't nuke Iran, but Israel, which never signed the treaty and maintains an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal, can.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, when the U.S. mission there seemed accomplished or at least accomplishable, Iran came to fear that it would be next in the crosshairs. To stave off that possibility, Iran's leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, began to assemble a negotiating package. Suddenly, everything was on the table—Iran's nuclear program, policy toward Israel, support of Hamas and Hezbollah, and control over al-Qaeda operatives captured since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan.

This comprehensive proposal, which diplomats took to calling "the grand bargain," was sent to Washington on May 2, 2003, just before a meeting in Geneva between Iran's U.N. ambassador, Javad Zarif, and neocon Zalmay Khalilzad, then a senior director at the National Security Council. (Khalilzad went on to become the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and was recently nominated to be America's envoy to the U.N.) According to a report by Gareth Porter in The American Prospect, Iran offered to take "decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory." In exchange, Iran wanted the U.S. to pursue "anti-Iranian terrorists"—i.e., the MEK. Specifically, Iran offered to share the names of senior al-Qaeda operatives in its custody in return for the names of MEK cadres captured by the U.S. in Iraq.

Well aware that the U.S. was concerned about its nuclear program, Iran proclaimed its right to "full access to peaceful nuclear technology," but offered to submit to much stricter inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.). On the subject of Israel, Iran offered to join with moderate Arab regimes such as Egypt and Jordan in accepting the 2002 Arab League Beirut declaration calling for peace with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders. The negotiating package also included proposals to normalize Hezbollah into a mere "political organization within Lebanon," to bring about a "stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory," and to apply "pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967."

To be sure, Iran's proposal was only a first step. There were countless unanswered questions, and many reasons not to trust the Islamic Republic. Given the initiative's historic scope, however, it was somewhat surprising when the Bush administration simply declined to respond. There was not even an interagency meeting to discuss it. "The State Department knew it had no chance at the interagency level of arguing the case for it successfully," former N.S.C. staffer Flynt Leverett told The American Prospect. "They weren't going to waste [Colin] Powell's rapidly diminishing capital on something that unlikely."

Iran had sent the proposal through an intermediary, Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to the U.S. A few days later, Leverett said, the White House had the State Department send Guldimann a message reprimanding him for exceeding his diplomatic mandate. "We're not interested in any grand bargain," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who went on to become interim ambassador to the U.N. until his resignation last December.

If the MEK has been cast as the Iranian counterpart to the I.N.C., there are more than enough Iranian and Syrian Ahmad Chalabis to go around. Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah, has been shopped around Washington as a prospective leader of Iran. And Farid Ghadry, a Syrian exile in Virginia who founded the Reform Party of Syria, is the neocon favorite to rule Syria. Ghadry has an unusual résumé for a Syrian—he's a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the right-wing pro-Israel lobbying group—and he has endured so many comparisons to the disgraced leader of the I.N.C. that he once sent out a mass e-mail headlined, "I am not Ahmad Chalabi."

Nevertheless, according to a report in The American Prospect, Meyrav Wurmser last year introduced Ghadry to key administration figures, including the vice president's daughter Elizabeth Cheney, who—as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and coordinator for broader Middle East and North Africa initiatives—plays a key role in the Bush administration's policy in the region. According to the Financial Times, Elizabeth Cheney, who has been on maternity leave since May, had supervised the State Department's Iran-Syria Operations Group, created last spring to plot a strategy to democratize those two "rogue" states. One of her responsibilities was to oversee a projected $85 million program to produce anti-Iran propaganda and support dissidents.

By the end of 2002, MEK operatives had provided the administration with intelligence asserting that Iran had built a secret uranium-enrichment site. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Albright, a former I.A.E.A. weapons inspector in Iraq, said that the data provided by the MEK was better than that provided by the I.N.C. But he added that it was possible Iran was enriching the uranium for energy purposes, and cautioned that Saddam's former mercenaries could not be relied upon to provide objective intelligence about Iran's W.M.D. "We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran's nuclear capacity," Albright said. "There's a drumbeat of allegations, but there's not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons."

The MEK wasn't the administration's only dubious source of nuclear intelligence. In July 2005, House intelligence committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (Republican, Michigan) and committee member Curt Weldon (Republican, Pennsylvania) met secretly in Paris with an Iranian exile known as "Ali." Weldon had just published a book called Countdown to Terror, alleging that the C.I.A. was ignoring intelligence about Iranian-sponsored terror plots against the U.S., and Ali had been one of his main sources.

But according to the C.I.A.'s former Paris station chief Bill Murray, Ali, whose real name is Fereidoun Mahdavi, fabricated much of the information. "Mahdavi works for Ghorbanifar," Murray told Laura Rozen of The American Prospect. "The two are inseparable. Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon."

More than a year later, in August 2006, Peter Hoekstra released a House-intelligence-committee report titled "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States." Written by Frederick Fleitz, former special assistant to John Bolton, the report asserted that the C.I.A. lacked "the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments" on Tehran's nuclear program.

The House report received widespread national publicity, but critics were quick to point out its errors. Gary Sick, senior research scholar at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and an Iran specialist with the N.S.C. under Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Carter, says the report overstates both the number and range of Iran's missiles and neglects to mention that the I.A.E.A. found no evidence of weapons production or activity. "Some people will recall that the IAEA inspectors, in their caution, were closer to the truth about Iraqi WMD than, say the Vice President's office," Sick remarked.

"This is like pre-war Iraq all over again," David Albright said in The Washington Post. "You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."

Curt Weldon's 20-year career in Congress came to an end on November 7, 2006, when he lost his seat to Democrat Joe Sestak, a navy vice admiral who'd served in Iraq. Two weeks later, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that a classified assessment by the C.I.A. had found no conclusive evidence as yet that Iran had a secret nuclear-weapons program.

To Israel, however, it didn't matter whether a secret weapons program existed. For a state as antagonistic as Iran even to know how to make nuclear weapons was unacceptable. Long before the Iraq invasion, Israeli officials had told the Bush administration that Iran was a far greater threat than Iraq. "If you look at President Bush's 'axis of evil' list, all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent," says former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Netanyahu's foreign-policy adviser. "Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the neocons] was 'Let's do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we'll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.'"

Instead, the Americans got bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, and Iran elected a frightening new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2005. His anti-Israel tirades and aggressive pursuit of nuclear technology led Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to say that Iran threatened not just Israel but the entire world. Outside the administration, neocon ideologues responded with bolder calls for military action against Iran. In The Weekly Standard, Gerecht threw down the gauntlet: "If the ruling clerical elite wants a head-on collision with a determined superpower, then that's their choice." (In January, Iran's parliament responded to new U.N. economic sanctions with a rebuke of Ahmadinejad that raised doubts about his political future.)

But just as the neocons put Iran on the front burner, opposition to the Iraq war began to mount within the U.S. As the 2006 midterm elections approached, one Republican after another began to back away from Bush's war. That March, former secretary of state James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, joined forces to found the Iraq Study Group and search for an exit strategy.

Baker's realpolitik is anathema to neocons, but it is worth remembering that Bush, despite pursuing a neoconservative agenda in Iraq, is not a dyed-in-the-wool member of their group. "The president is a true believer in the policies the administration has been engaged in," says one former N.S.C. staffer. "When it is applied to the policies regarding the Palestinians, Hamas, or Iran, there is a common thread. It is not pure neoconservatism, nor is it the pragmatic realism we saw under Bush One."

Bush showed his willingness to depart from the neocon line a year ago, when he received an unusual proposition from Israeli officials together with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud "Abu Mazen" Abbas, and a top administration neoconservative, Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams. According to a Middle East expert, the Israelis and Abbas had determined that Hamas was positioned to fare strongly in the upcoming Palestinian elections, so they came to the administration with a plan to postpone them. "The Israelis and the Palestinians together had worked out a way to do it," says the expert. "The Israelis were going to say that Hamas candidates could not run in Jerusalem, which was under Israeli jurisdiction, because they did not recognize Israel's right to exist. And Abu Mazen was going to say if they can't run in Jerusalem, then we can't have an election now, [because] it wouldn't be fair to Hamas. It was all worked out."

There was just one problem: Bush, whose enthusiasm for spreading democracy had led him to actively lobby for the elections, didn't want to go along. "The president said no," the expert says. "He said elections will be good for Hamas. They would have to be responsible. They expected Hamas to do well, but not get a majority. Now they've become the government and it's a big mess." If anything, Bush had shown himself to be less pragmatic than his neocon advisers.

Reached via e-mail, a spokesperson for the National Security Council responded, "When the elections were rescheduled for January 2006, after earlier being postponed by the [Palestinian Authority], the United States took the position that they should be held and not postponed yet again We were advised during the campaign by some of our Palestinian interlocutors that Hamas would win. We do not believe in cancelling elections because we may not like the outcome."

Martin Indyk, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, says Bush's decision reflects a mistaken belief that "elections are the most important way to promote democracy." Indyk explains, "It would have been better to build up the rule of law, establish independent judiciaries, promote freedom of religion and the press, and insist on the principle of a monopoly of force in the hands of the elected government. Ignoring that last principle in favor of elections was Bush's biggest mistake. As a result, in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon, parties with militias have moved into the government. Hamas, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Hezbollah have taken advantage of elections to promote their policies, which are antithetical to democracy."

Baker's entry onto the scene didn't just raise new questions about Bush's openness to pragmatic solutions; it also introduced an Oedipal element into the drama. Baker and Bush's father, after all, were best friends. Tennis partners. More than 40 years earlier, when George W. was a 16-year-old student at Andover, Baker had given him a summer job as a messenger at Baker Botts, his Houston law firm. Now, along with Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush's former national-security adviser, Baker was leading a coterie of multilateralists and realists who found themselves aghast at the radical direction the younger Bush was taking American foreign policy, and desperate to reverse it.

In July 2006, after Israel's disastrous attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon, Scowcroft offered the administration some foreign-policy advice on the opinion page of The Washington Post, arguing that the crisis in Lebanon provided a "historic opportunity" to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Resolving that conflict, Scowcroft argued, was crucial to stabilizing the region—including Iraq.

According to an article in Salon by Sidney Blumenthal, who was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, Scowcroft, with the assent of Baker and the elder Bush, sought and found support for this notion from the rulers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Scowcroft's former protégé, seemed receptive, so he asked her to help open the president's mind to the forthcoming I.S.G. report.

As the November congressional elections approached, there were a number of indications that foreign-policy realists such as Scowcroft were gaining favor. Key neoconservative architects of the war in Iraq—Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle—were no longer part of the Bush foreign-policy team, and the State Department, all but inoperative during the run-up to the Iraq war, was showing new signs of life. "My sense is that the Iran portfolio has been shifted to State," Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist for the nonprofit International Crisis Group, told me last fall. "Secretary Rice and her deputies are more influential than the vice president and the secretary of defense. It's an about-face in U.S. policy after two decades of not talking to Iran."

Meanwhile, more than a month before its report was due to be released, sources close to the Iraq Study Group had begun talking to the press, and word quickly leaked out that its recommendations would be largely aimed at achieving stability rather than democracy in Iraq. When it came to Iran, a source told me, the I.S.G. might recommend "comprehensive and unconditional talks with the regime" in Tehran—something Bush had already ruled out.

On November 7, the Democrats won both houses of Congress. The next day, Rumsfeld resigned. Bush vowed to "find common ground" with the Democrats. At last, the moderates seemed to have prevailed over the neocons.

On December 6, the Iraq Study Group finally released its report, "The Way Forward—A New Approach." Bipartisan reports tend to be bland affairs, but this one was different. Describing the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating," the I.S.G. report did not shy away from pointing out that the new Iraqi Army, the police force, and even Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki often showed greater loyalty to their ethnic identities than to the ideal of a nonsectarian, democratic Iraq. Ultimately, the report concluded that sending more American soldiers to Iraq would not resolve what were fundamentally political problems. The subtext was clear: America's policies in Iraq had failed. It was time for the administration to cut its losses. A Gallup poll from December 12 showed that, among people who had an opinion on the subject, five out of six supported implementing the report's recommendations.

The only American whose opinion mattered, however, was not impressed. Bush, Salon reported, slammed the I.S.G. study as "a flaming turd." If Rice even delivered Scowcroft's message, it had fallen on deaf ears.

Just eight days later, on December 14, Bush found a study that was more to his liking. Not surprisingly, it came from the American Enterprise Institute, the intellectual stronghold of neoconservatism. The author, Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the A.E.I., is the son of Donald Kagan and the brother of Robert Kagan, who signed PNAC's famous 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton urging him to overthrow Saddam Hussein. According to Kagan, the project began in late September or early October at the instigation of his boss, Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at A.E.I. She decided "it would be helpful to do a realistic evaluation of what would be required to secure Baghdad," Kagan told Vanity Fair.

The project culminated in a four-day planning exercise in early December, Kagan said, that just happened to coincide with the release of the Iraq Study Group report. But he rejected the notion that his study had been initiated by the White House as an alternative to the bipartisan assessment. "I'm aware of some of the rumors," Kagan said. "This was not designed to be an anti-I.S.G. report.… Any conspiracy theories beyond that are nonsense.

"There was no contact with the Bush administration. We put this together on our own I did not have any contact with the vice president's office prior to … well, I don't want to say that. I have had periodic contact with the vice president's office, but I can't tell you the dates. If you are barking up the story that the V.P. put this together, that is not true."

Kagan's report was sharply at odds with the consensus forged by the top brass in Iraq. Iraq commander General George Casey and General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command (CentCom), had argued that sending additional troops to Iraq would be counterproductive. (Later they both reversed course.) Kagan's study, on the contrary, suggested that with a massive surge of new troops America could finally succeed. It cites the military's new counter-insurgency manual, which suggests that a nation can be secured with a force of one soldier for every 40 to 50 inhabitants. That calculus would call for stationing more than 150,000 troops in Baghdad alone (there are currently 17,000 there), far more than is politically feasible today. But Kagan skirts this issue by asserting that "it is neither necessary nor wise to try to clear and hold the entire city all at once." Focusing instead on certain areas of Baghdad, he concludes that the deployment of 20,000 additional troops would be enough to pacify significant sections of the city. Even the title of Kagan's report must have been more appealing to Bush: "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq." Soon, it would be announced that Casey and Abizaid were being replaced with more amenable officers: Lieutenant General David Petraeus and Admiral William J. Fallon, respectively. The escalation was on.

In one sense, the neoconservative hawks—including the authors of "A Clean Break"—have been kept aloft by their failures. The strategic fiasco created by the Iraq war has actually increased the danger posed by Iran to Israel—and with it the likelihood of armed conflict. "[Bush's wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she's been in since 1948," says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell's chief of staff in the State Department. "If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran's No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran's No. 2 enemy."

"Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant," says Martin Indyk.

As a result, many Israelis believe that diplomacy is doomed and that Iran will have to be dealt with sooner or later. "Attacking Iraq when it had no W.M.D. may have been the wrong step," says Uzi Arad, the former Mossad intelligence chief. "But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically."

Even critics of the White House say that Iran's nuclear program poses a grave threat to Israel. "They correctly fear the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel," says retired colonel W. Patrick Lang, who served as an officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and terrorism at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "They are not being silly about this. It really is a threat to Israel."

But waging war against Iran could be the most catastrophic choice of all. It is widely believed that Iran would respond to an attack by blockading the Strait of Hormuz, a 20-mile-wide narrows in the eastern part of the Persian Gulf through which about 40 percent of the world's oil exports are transported. Oil analysts say a blockade could propel the price of oil to $125 a barrel, sending the world economy into a tailspin. There could be vast international oil wars. Iran could act on its fierce rhetoric against Israel.

America's 130,000 soldiers in Iraq would also become highly vulnerable in the event of an attack on Iran. "Our troops in Iraq are supplied with food, fuel, and ammunition by truck convoys from a supply base in Kuwait," says Lang. "Most of that goes over roads that pass through the Shiite-dominated South of Iraq. The Iranians could cut those supply lines just like that—the trucks are easy to shoot at with R.P.G.'s," or rocket-propelled grenades.

In hopes of avoiding that, the Iraq Study Group advised Bush to open direct talks with Iran. Members of both parties in Congress have publicly given similar advice, as have former secretary of state Colin Powell and Robert Gates, the new secretary of defense. Still, it would be naïve to think that either a wall of opposition or the possibility of dire consequences would necessarily deter this president. Even before his January 10 speech, many inside the military had concluded that the decision to bomb Iran has already been made. "Bush's 'redline' for going to war is Iran having the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons—which is probably what they already have now," says Sam Gardiner, a retired air-force colonel who specializes in staging war games on the Middle East. "The president first said [that was his redline] in December 2005, and he has repeated it four times since then."

In April, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that U.S. troops were already on the ground in Iran, negotiating alliances with the Azerbaijanis in the North, the Kurds in the Northeast, and the Baluchis in the Southeast. In September, Time reported that a U.S. campaign to wipe out Iran's nuclear program could entail bombing up to 1,500 targets. More recently, Paul Craig Roberts, a former assistant secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan, asserted in the Baltimore Chronicle that Bush "will attack Iran with tactical nuclear weapons, because it is the only way the neocons believe they can rescue their goal of U.S. (and Israeli) hegemony in the Middle East." Adds former C.I.A. officer Philip Giraldi, "I've heard from sources at the Pentagon that their impression is that the White House has made a decision that war is going to happen."

According to Sam Gardiner, the most telling sign that a decision to bomb has already been made was the October deployment order of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf, presumably to counter any attempt by Iran to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. "These have to be towed to the Gulf," Gardiner explains. "They are really small ships, the size of cabin cruisers, made of fiberglass and wood. And towing them to the Gulf can take three to four weeks."

Another serious development is the growing role of the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom), which oversees nuclear weapons, missile defense, and protection against weapons of mass destruction. Bush has directed StratCom to draw up plans for a massive strike against Iran, at a time when CentCom has had its hands full overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Shifting to StratCom indicates that they are talking about a really punishing air-force and naval air attack [on Iran]," says Lang.

Moreover, he continues, Bush can count on the military to carry out such a mission even without congressional authorization. "If they write a plan like that and the president issues an execute order, the forces will execute it. He's got the power to do that as commander-in-chief. We set that up during the Cold War. It may, after the fact, be considered illegal, or an impeachable offense, but if he orders them to do it, they will do it."

Lang also notes that the recent appointment of a naval officer, Admiral William Fallon, to the top post at CentCom may be another indication that Bush intends to bomb Iran. "It makes very little sense that a person with this background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially 'ground' wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character," he wrote in his blog. "The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign."

Lang predicts that tensions will escalate once the administration grasps the truth about Prime Minister Maliki. "They want him to be George Washington, to bind together the new country of Iraq," says Lang. "And he's not that. He is a Shia, a factional political leader, whose goal is to solidify the position of Shia Arabs in Iraq. That's his goal. So he won't let them do anything effective against [Muqtada al-Sadr's] Mahdi army." Recently, a complicated cat-and-mouse game has begun, with Maliki's forces arresting hundreds of Mahdi militiamen, including a key aide to Muqtada al-Sadr. But there are many unanswered questions about the operations, which could amount to little more than a short-term effort to appease the U.S.

Gary Sick is slightly more optimistic that the Bush administration's Iran strategy entails more than brute force. "What has happened is that the United States, in installing a Shiite government in Iraq, has really upset the balance of power [in the Middle East]," Sick says. "Along with our Sunni allies—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—[the administration is] terribly concerned about Iran emerging as the new colossus. Having created this problem, the U.S. is now in effect using it as a means of uniting forces who are sympathetic [to us]."

In order to do that, Sick says, the administration must reassure America's allies that it is serious about protecting them if the conflict spreads throughout the region—drawing in Shiite Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, which would resist any attempt by the Kurds to create an independent state. "That means providing Patriot missiles, if Iran goes after the Saudi oil ports," he says. "One of the prices we will have to pay is a more active role in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Then there is fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. The president has signed a covert-action finding that allows the C.I.A. to confront and counter Hezbollah in Lebanon. So this is a very broad strategy. It has a clear enemy and an appeal to Saudis, to Israelis, and has a potential of putting together a fairly significant coalition."

For all that, Sick acknowledges, this policy carries a significant risk of provoking war with Iran: "Basically, this is a signal to Maliki that we are not going to tolerate Shiite cooperation with Iran. This could lead to the ultimate break with Maliki. But once you start sending these signals, you end up in a corner and you can't get out of it."

Whatever the administration's master plan may be, parts of it are already under way. In mid-January, the U.S. sent a second aircraft-carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf. According to Gardiner, by the end of February the United States will have enough forces in place to mount an assault on Iran. That, in the words of former national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, would be "an act of political folly" so severe that "the era of American preponderance could come to a premature end."

The Bush White House has already built the fire. Whether it will light the match remains to be seen.

CNN    February 21, 2007     POSTED: 1607 GMT

Iranian official offers glimpse from within:
A desire for U.S. ally
• Senior official offers interpretation of religious leaders' view of United States
• Says cooperation, not conflict, is desire of key leaders, including Khamenei
• Wish for nuclear program is to show strength and independence, he says
• Not all in government agree with the view, unnamed official adds

By Christiane Amanpour

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other.

''Natural allies,'' this official said.

It was a surprising choice of words considering the barbs Washington and Tehran have been trading of late.

"We are not after conflict. We are not after crisis. We are not after war," said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But we don't know whether the same is true in the U.S. or not. If the same is true on the U.S. side, the first step must be to end this vicious cycle that can lead to dangerous action -- war."

He confided that what he was telling me was not shared by all in the Iranian government, but it was endorsed so high up in the religious leadership that he felt confident spelling out the rationale. "This view is not off the streets. It's not the reformist view and it's not even the view of the whole government," he replied.

But he insisted he was describing the thinking at the highest levels of the religious leadership -- the center of decision-making power in Iran. I asked whether he meant Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. "Yes," he said.

The rhetoric between the United States and Iran has intensified of late, with Washington most recently blaming Tehran for funneling weapons into Iraq. Tehran vehemently denies this. Washington has also accused Iran of building up its nuclear program, with the ultimate goal of making a nuclear bomb -- something Tehran has long denied. Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian nuclear power.

Indeed, this senior government official told me the first step between Iran and the United States must be for each side to accept that the other is secure, and to say so. "We do not want to have to prove that we are strong. Our nuclear program is not to show the U.S. we are strong. It is because of our previous centuries of threats and invasions," he said. Aha, I intervened, "so you do want the bomb?"

The official replied: "No, our nuclear program is not about the bomb it's about power. We want to say -- that without the UK, U.S., France, Russia, Germany -- we have done this ourselves [set up a peaceful nuclear program].That is our strength."

He said the need to show power was "just common sense after 300 recent years looking over our shoulder," running through the list of those who have sent armies into Iran -- from Alexander the Great to the Mongols to the Ottomans to Russia to Saddam Hussein. Then he paused. "The one country that never invaded us was America."

Face-to-face dialogue
He said the time is right for the United States and Iran to sit down and talk directly -- to say "we recognize each other." He said neither side has done this so far "because of the mentality on each side." "Each of us is afraid of looking weak if we take the first step," he said. "We have this fear in common with America. Before contemplating recognition, each side feels it necessary to convince the other side that 'I am not weak.'"

When the official waved the column by Friedman in my face at the start of the conversation, his point was this: That despite disagreement over Iran's nuclear program, despite accusations that Iran is supporting anti-American killers in Iraq, despite even the 1979 hostage crisis, Iran and America are "natural allies" and the time has come to restore relations.

"We are natural allies. Why?" he said. "Because now the major threat for both Iran and the U.S.A. is al Qaeda." He said al Qaeda had attacked the "symbol of our faith" when it struck the Golden Dome mosque -- the Al-Askariya Mosque -- in the Iraqi city of Samarra last February, setting off much of the sectarian violence that has plagued the war-torn nation over the last year. Similarly, he said, al Qaeda struck the "symbols of American power" on 9/11.

"Why is the U.S. forcing us to enter a struggle with them that is only in al Qaeda's interest?" he said. I pressed him about Iran's sudden interest in extending an olive branch. "Why now? What's motivating you?" I asked. "Peace for the Iranian people," he said. "But not only peace, peace with security. Peace based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and mutual security."

Mindful of the heated rhetoric flying between Tehran and Washington -- between both presidents no less -- this official said: "If we give the impression that we welcome a battle, this is not because it is our first option. It's our final option."

The official then spoke of some other issues of concern to the United States, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the war it provoked with Israel last summer when it captured and killed Israeli soldiers. "Hassan Nasrallah miscalculated Israel's response to the kidnappings," he said of the Hezbollah leader. When I pressed him, he admitted Hezbollah also miscalculated Israel's need to project deterrence and identity.

I asked him why Iran helped Hezbollah in the war. "We helped Hezbollah in order that they not be wiped out," he said. "We helped the enemy of our enemy [Israel]." I told him many Israelis believe the war's end was inconclusive and fear they face another challenge from Hezbollah this summer. The official replied: "We do not believe Hezbollah will do that again."

And then he turned back to his main point, about America. "Americans must not make the same miscalculation about us."

Like almost every Iranian I met, he fulminated against the infamous "Axis of Evil" reference made by President Bush during the 2002 State of the Union address. Iranians -- from the everyday man and woman on the street to the highest government official -- simply scratch their heads at that, especially since Iran had just worked in partnership with the United States bringing down the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and bringing that country a new democratic government.

And on that note, another senior Iranian official working closely on the Afghanistan issue told me that, after a recent trip there, he was alarmed to conclude that as much as 50 percent of Afghanistan is now once again under control of a resurgent Taliban, al Qaeda and forces of another radical Islamic leader Gulbeddin Hekmatyar. This Iranian official told me the United States must again engage to prevent disaster from overshadowing the success that was made in Afghanistan after 9/11. He said Iran is ready to do its part.

Formula for the future
My 90-minute conversation with the senior Iranian government official ended with him describing a way forward between the United States and Iran. "Everything with Iranian engagement. Everything with U.S. engagement," he said.

In other words, instead of the United States saying, ''Iran out of the Persian Gulf, Iran out of Lebanon, Iran out of Iraq,'' the United States should welcome Iran's presence and work with Iran to help keep the region stable, he said.

The question now is which country will take the first step and show they're not being weak by putting diplomacy back on track. History awaits the answer.

Wall Street Journal    February 21, 2007

Table Talk
by Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka

Iran faces a deadline today to suspend its enrichment of uranium or, according to the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution unanimously adopted last December, face further sanctions. While it is only proper that the world wait for the deadline to pass before responding, Tehran's answer is already clear. Gholam Reza Aghzadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, has said that "Iran will not comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737."

How will the West respond? Earlier this month Sir Richard Dalton, until recently Britain's ambassador in Tehran, called for direct talks between U.S. and Iranian officials and suggested the West modify demands that the Islamic Republic suspend uranium enrichment. Unfortunately, his eagerness for dialogue is being echoed and amplified elsewhere, especially in the wake of the Bush administration's deal to pay North Korea for similar disarmament. Needless to say, former luminaries such as ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Jimmy Carter think sitting down with the mullahs is a very good idea, Security Council resolutions notwithstanding.

Why not talk? The logic of engagement sounds good. But experience shows that engagement means something different in Iran than in the West.

In May 1992, for example, then German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel launched a "critical dialogue" with Tehran. Berlin sought to use trade and incentives to encourage the Islamic Republic to alter its behavior. And, indeed, it did. But not in the way Mr. Kinkel expected.

On Sept. 17, 1992, Iranian hit men assassinated three Iranian dissidents and their translator in a Berlin restaurant. The subsequent German investigation determined that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Foreign Minister Ali Velayati ordered the murders. What about the dialogue? "We don't give a damn about your ending the critical dialogue," said Supreme Leader Khamenei upon hearing the German court ruling. "We never sought such a dialogue."

Neither Iran's terrorism nor intelligence indications of an accelerating nuclear weapons program dampened European enthusiasm for engagement, however, especially after the election of President Muhammad Khatami and his subsequent call for a "dialogue of civilizations." "There is more to be said for trying to engage and to draw these societies into the international community than to cut them off," EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten explained in February 2002. And engage they did.

Between 2000 and 2005, EU trade with Iran almost tripled. Officials from both sides of the Atlantic fawned on the "reformist" Mr. Khatami. But the rapprochement -- including an embarrassing "apology" for past American sins against Iran from Ms. Albright -- did not stop Mr. Khatami from flying to Moscow in March 2001 to sign a $7 billion arms and nuclear technology deal. Indeed, under Mr. Khatami, Tehran spent more on arms than it had under Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Iran's exploitation of engagement to advance its agenda is the rule rather than the exception. In December 2001, in the midst of what many cite as the heyday of Iran-U.S. cooperation in Afghanistan, Iranian forces dispatched 50 tons of weaponry to Palestinian militiamen to derail a U.S.- and European-brokered ceasefire between Israeli and Palestinian forces. On June 8, 2002, three days after a Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bus bomber killed 17 Israelis, the Islamic Republic announced a 70% increase in that group's funding.

Western efforts to game the Iranian system, in short, misunderstand the nature of politics in the Islamic Republic. Politicians rise and fall, but the supreme leader's authority remains supreme. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the president is more figurehead than commander. Factional differences add color to the Iranian scene, and there are nuances in economic and social policies. But politicians do not alter the regime's ideological underpinnings.

Upon his accession to supreme leader, analysts labeled Mr. Khamenei a weak compromise candidate. They underestimated him, and all who have attempted to encroach upon his power have found themselves marginalized. Iranians once speculated upon Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi's meteoric rise. A stint in prison ended that.

In 2005, Mr. Khamenei rigged elections to teach frontrunner Mr. Rafsanjani a lesson. The result was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And as Mr. Ahmadinejad himself has proven obstreperous, Mr. Khamenei has built alternative institutions to undercut him.

Still, the Iranian government is not monolithic, and many academics argue that outreach to more pragmatic factions might encourage them at the hardliners' expense. This is American mirror imaging at its worst: Mr. Ahmadinejad may be a bad guy, but that doesn't make Mr. Rafsanjani a pragmatist or Mr. Khatami a reformer. On key issues relating to nuclear enrichment and terror sponsorship, their differences are rhetorical, not substantive. Thus the "pragmatic" Mr. Rafsanjani on Feb. 1, 2007, dismissing U.N. demands to throttle back nuclear enrichment: "We will break the [international] consensus through wisdom and bravery and foil U.S. conspiracies against Iran."

Despite the Iranian government's unified commitment to forge ahead with the nuclear program, some Western observers persist in their belief that the Islamic Republic is searching for a graceful way back from the brink. They point to mounting economic hardship inside Iran and a backlash against President Ahmadinejad's demagoguery. Couldn't engagement empower his critics?

This makes no sense. Dialogue and the attendant relaxation of U.N. sanctions will strengthen and validate the Ahmadinejad regime.

Far from being susceptible to Western machinations, the Iranians have proven adept at manipulating us. Consider that, since the beginning of the current tensions, the West has retreated from demands that Iran cease conversion of yellowcake to uranium gas and end enrichment entirely to the current demand for nothing more than a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment activities. And all this while Iran funneled weapons to Hezbollah, shipped explosives into Iraq and defied Security Council resolutions.

Proposals for renewed engagement may be well-intentioned, but they are naove and dangerous, and indeed will undercut any possibility of a diplomatic solution. Let's review the current situation.

On Sept. 24, 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency determined that Iran was in violation of its nuclear non-proliferation safeguards agreement. Still, the IAEA deferred referral to the U.N. Security Council to give diplomacy a chance. After consulting with her European partners, on May 31, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered Tehran two ways forward: Either Iran could defy its international commitments and "incur only great costs," or it could suspend enrichment and enjoy "real benefit and longer-term security." The Iranian regime chose to forego the benefit. On Dec. 23, 2006, the U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions.

The 60-day deadline to comply with U.N. demands is up, so what next? Those eager to sit down with Tehran say that dialogue does not mean abandoning sanctions. This is hardly serious. Washington has already offered and delivered inducements to the regime -- a clear path to World Trade Organization accession and spare aircraft parts -- in exchange for behavior modification. In response, Tehran has offered no confidence-building measures. All that remains are direct talks, and even there, Washington has dropped the price from ending Iran's nuclear program to a temporary suspension of enrichment.

The Security Council has spoken. To change course now would signal the impotence of international institutions and multilateral diplomacy. History shows that when the supreme leader believes Western resolve is faltering, Iran will be more defiant and dangerous. Now is not the time to talk. If Washington and Europe truly believe in the primacy of multilateralism and diplomacy, now is the time to ratchet up the pressure.

Ms. Pletka and Mr. Rubin are, respectively, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

February 23, 2007

Arab States, Wary of Iran, Add to Their Arsenals but Still Lean on the U.S.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 22 — As fears grow over the escalating confrontation between Iran and the West, Arab states across the Persian Gulf have begun a rare show of muscle flexing, publicly advertising a shopping spree for new weapons and openly discussing their security concerns.

Typically secretive, the gulf nations have long planned upgrades to their armed forces, but now are speaking openly about them. American military officials say the countries, normally prone to squabbling, have also increased their military cooperation and opened lines of communication to the American military here.

Patriot missile batteries capable of striking down ballistic missiles have been readied in several gulf countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, analysts say, and increasingly, the states have sought to emphasize their unanimity against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “There has always been an acknowledgment of the threat in the region, but the volume of the debate has now risen,” said one United Arab Emirates official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject. “Now the message is there’s a dialogue going on with Iran, but that doesn’t mean I don’t intend to defend myself.”

The Persian Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms, mostly small and vulnerable, have long relied on the United States to protect them. The United States Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain; the United States Central Command is based in nearby Qatar; and the Navy has long relied on docking facilities in the United Arab Emirates, which has one of the region’s deepest water ports at Jebel Ali.

The United States, too, has begun a significant expansion of forces in the gulf, with a second United States aircraft carrier battle group led by the John C. Stennis now in the Persian Gulf and with minesweeping ships. The expansion has helped calm fears among gulf governments that the United States could pull out of the region in the future, even as it has raised concerns about a potential American confrontation with Iran, accidental or intentional.

As tensions with Iran rise, many gulf countries have come to see themselves as the likely first targets of an Iranian attack. Some have grown more concerned that the United States may be overstretched militarily, many analysts say, while almost all the monarchies, flush with cash as a result of high oil prices, have sought to build a military deterrent of their own. “The message is first, ‘U.S., stay involved here,’ and second, ‘Iran, we will maintain a technological edge no matter what,’ ” said Emile el-Hokayem, research fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a research center based in Washington. “They are trying to reinforce the credibility of the threat of force.”

Military officials from throughout the region descended this week on the Idex military trade fair, a semiannual event that has become the region’s largest arms market, drawing nearly 900 weapons makers from around the world. They came ready to update their military capacities and air and naval defenses. They also came armed with a veiled message of resolve.

“We believe there is a need for power to protect peace, and strong people with the capability to respond are the real protectors of peace,” said Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, at the exposition. “That is why we are keen to maintain the efficiency of our armed forces.”

The Persian Gulf has been a lucrative market for arms. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman spend up to 10 percent of their gross domestic product on the military, amounting to nearly $21 billion, $4 billion and $2.7 billion, respectively, estimates John Kenkel, senior director of Jane’s Strategic Advisory Services.

If they follow through on the deals announced recently, it is estimated that countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia will spend up to $60 billion this year. The biggest buyer in 2006, according to the defense industry journal Defense News, was Saudi Arabia, which has agreed to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets for $11 billion. It also has a $400 million deal to upgrade 12 Apache AH-64A helicopters to the Longbow standard. The kingdom also reportedly plans to acquire cruise missiles, attack helicopters and tanks, all for a total of $50 billion.

Kuwait reportedly bought 24 Apache Longbow helicopters, while the United Arab Emirates has continued to take delivery of 80 F-16 Block 60 fighters, with plans to buy air tankers, missile defense batteries and airborne early warning systems. Bahrain ordered nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in an estimated $252 million deal, while Oman reportedly bought 30 antitank rocket launchers in a $48 million purchase and is planning a naval overhaul. “It is a message to enemies that ‘We are taking defense seriously,’ ” Mr. Kenkel said, emphasizing that the new arms were for deterrence. “If the U.S. ever does pull back, these countries in the gulf have realized, they may have to fend for themselves,” Mr. Kenkel said. “As the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared.”

The most marked change is in the public nature of the acquisitions, which previously would have been kept secret, many analysts here said, itself a form of deterrence. “They have been doing these kinds of purchases since the ’90s,” said Marwan Lahoud, chief executive of the European missile maker MBDA. “What has changed is they are stating it publicly. The other side is making pronouncements so they have to as well,” he said, speaking of Iran’s recent announcements about its weapons capacity.

Senior United States military officials say gulf countries have become more nervous as Iran has conducted naval maneuvers, especially near the Straits of Hormuz, the main artery through which two-fifths of the world’s oil reaches markets. “A year ago you could have characterized the interaction with the Iranians as professional,” said Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, departing commander of the Fifth Fleet. “What’s different today has been the number and amount of exercises and the proximity of those exercises to the Straits of Hormuz themselves.”

The exercises were among the reasons for the expansion of Navy forces in the region, he said, but have also raised alarm about the potential for accidents to lead to an unintended war. Admiral Walsh said that American warships remained in international waters, and that Iranian and American ships kept close watch on one another. Some critics of the Bush administration have alleged that the increased military presence in the gulf risks igniting a conflict.

Admiral Walsh said the increased American presence was aimed at o reassuring gulf states that the United States remained committed to their security, but also welcomed their efforts to build deterrence. “We have found that we need to be physically present to prevent such armed behavior,” he said of the Iranian maneuvers. “We’re mindful we’re not giving up any water, but also being careful not to take a provocative stance.”

Op-Ed Contributor

February 23, 2007

What Scares Iran’s Mullahs?
By ABBAS MILANI, Stanford, Calif.

IRAN has once again defied the United Nations by proceeding with enrichment activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported yesterday. And yet, simultaneously, Iranian officials have been sending a very different message — one that has gone largely unremarked but merits close attention.

After a meeting with the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader’s chief foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, declared last week that suspending uranium enrichment is not a red line for the regime — in other words, the mullahs might be ready to agree to some kind of a suspension. Another powerful insider, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said much the same thing in a different setting, while a third high-ranking official acknowledged that the Islamic Republic is seriously considering a proposal by President Vladimir Putin of Russia to suspend enrichment at least long enough to start serious negotiations with the United Nations.

There have also been indications that the Iranians are willing to accept a compromise plan presented by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That plan calls for the suspension of all major enrichment activities but allows the regime to save face by keeping a handful of centrifuges in operation.

The mullahs are keen on damage control on another front as well. After his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei, Mr. Velayati announced that the Holocaust is a fact of history and chastised those who question its reality. Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, also declared the Holocaust a “historical matter” to be discussed by scholars (and not, he implied, by ignorant politicians). In short, there is a new willingness among the Iranian political elite to avoid the rhetoric of confrontation and to negotiate.

There are three ways to analyze this turn. Advocates of an American invasion of Iran say that last month’s strengthening of the American armada in the Persian Gulf has frightened the Iranian regime. What diplomacy could not do for years, a few destroyers did in less than a month. These advocates encourage more of the same, hoping either that the mullahs will accept defeat in the face of an imminent attack, or that a Gulf of Tonkin incident will lead to a full attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

A second camp attacks the build-up of the armada as dangerous saber-rattling at best, and at worst as camouflage for already settled plans to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. Such an attack, they say, might provide a much-needed feather for President Bush’s empty cap at a time when his Middle East policy has manifestly failed. According to this camp, what changed the minds of Iranian officials was only the United Nations resolution threatening economic sanctions, and the possibility of other resolutions and more serious sanctions.

Both camps are partly right and yet dangerously wrong. There is a third way of looking at the facts.

The mullahs have historically shown an unfailing ability to smell out and, when pragmatic, succumb to credible power in their foes. Indeed, the presence of the American ships has helped encourage them to negotiate. But no less clear is the fact that the mullahs’ attitude change began in late December, when the United Nations Security Council finally passed a resolution against the regime in Tehran.

The passage of the resolution hastened the demise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s confrontational approach to the West. And the falling price of oil, leading to declining revenues for the regime, magnified the resolution’s economic impact. Top leaders of the Islamic Republic, from Ayatollah Khamenei to Mr. Rafsanjani, have made it clear that they consider sanctions a serious threat — more serious, according to Mr. Rafsanjani, than the possibility of an invasion.

In other words, what the unilateral and increasingly quixotic American embargo could not do in more than a decade, a limited United Nations resolution has accomplished in less than a month. And the resolution succeeded because few things frighten the mullahs more than the prospect of confronting a united front made up of the European Union, Russia, China and the United States. The resolution was a manifestation of just such a united front.

While the combination of credible force, reduced oil prices and a United Nations resolution has worked to create the most favorable conditions yet for a negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis, any unilateral American attack on Iran is sure to backfire. It will break the international coalition against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear adventurism; it will allow China, Russia and even some countries in Europe to legitimately side with the mullahs; it will lead to higher oil prices and an increase in Iranian government revenues; and finally, it will help revive the waning power of the warmongers in Tehran.

Those convinced that only the combination of credible might and diplomatic pressure will work worry rightly that the Bush administration, frustrated by its failures in Iraq and goaded by hawks in Washington, will do to Iran what it did to Iraq. In confronting Saddam Hussein and the threat of his weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration insisted that amassing an armada in the Persian Gulf was necessary to frighten Mr. Hussein into submission. But once the armada was in place, they used it to carry out a long-ago planned invasion of Iraq.

Today, many worry that the plans for an invasion of Iran, too, were made long ago, and that the armada is there to make possible either another Gulf of Tonkin resolution or an Iranian act of provocation against American forces, which could then serve as an excuse for an attack on Iran.

War and peace with Iran are both possible today. With prudence, backed by power but guided by the wisdom to recognize the new signals coming from Tehran, the United States can today achieve a principled solution to the nuclear crisis. Congress, vigilant American citizens and a resolute policy from America’s European allies can ensure that this principled peace is given a chance.

Abbas Milani is the director of Iranian studies at Stanford and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The New Yorker    March 3, 2007    Posted 2007-02-25

Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?


In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee told me that he had heard about the new strategy, but felt that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. “We haven’t got any of this,” he said. “We ask for anything going on, and they say there’s nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, ‘We’re going to get back to you.’ It’s so frustrating.”

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney’s office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.”)

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that “the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War.” Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. “The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq,” he said. “It’s doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down.”

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Administration National Security Council official, told me that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. “The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett said. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.”

President George W. Bush, in a speech on January 10th, partially spelled out this approach. “These two regimes”—Iran and Syria—“are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq,” Bush said. “Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

In the following weeks, there was a wave of allegations from the Administration about Iranian involvement in the Iraq war. On February 11th, reporters were shown sophisticated explosive devices, captured in Iraq, that the Administration claimed had come from Iran. The Administration’s message was, in essence, that the bleak situation in Iraq was the result not of its own failures of planning and execution but of Iran’s interference.

The U.S. military also has arrested and interrogated hundreds of Iranians in Iraq. “The word went out last August for the military to snatch as many Iranians in Iraq as they can,” a former senior intelligence official said. “They had five hundred locked up at one time. We’re working these guys and getting information from them. The White House goal is to build a case that the Iranians have been fomenting the insurgency and they’ve been doing it all along—that Iran is, in fact, supporting the killing of Americans.” The Pentagon consultant confirmed that hundreds of Iranians have been captured by American forces in recent months. But he told me that that total includes many Iranian humanitarian and aid workers who “get scooped up and released in a short time,” after they have been interrogated.

“We are not planning for a war with Iran,” Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary, announced on February 2nd, and yet the atmosphere of confrontation has deepened. According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.

At Rice’s Senate appearance in January, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, of Delaware, pointedly asked her whether the U.S. planned to cross the Iranian or the Syrian border in the course of a pursuit. “Obviously, the President isn’t going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq,” Rice said, adding, “I do think that everyone will understand that—the American people and I assume the Congress expect the President to do what is necessary to protect our forces.”

The ambiguity of Rice’s reply prompted a response from Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, who has been critical of the Administration:

Some of us remember 1970, Madam Secretary. And that was Cambodia. And when our government lied to the American people and said, “We didn’t cross the border going into Cambodia,” in fact we did.
I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee. So, Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the President is talking about here, it’s very, very dangerous.

The Administration’s concern about Iran’s role in Iraq is coupled with its long-standing alarm over Iran’s nuclear program. On Fox News on January 14th, Cheney warned of the possibility, in a few years, “of a nuclear-armed Iran, astride the world’s supply of oil, able to affect adversely the global economy, prepared to use terrorist organizations and/or their nuclear weapons to threaten their neighbors and others around the world.” He also said, “If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk with the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried. . . . The threat Iran represents is growing.”

The Administration is now examining a wave of new intelligence on Iran’s weapons programs. Current and former American officials told me that the intelligence, which came from Israeli agents operating in Iran, includes a claim that Iran has developed a three-stage solid-fuelled intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads—each with limited accuracy—inside Europe. The validity of this human intelligence is still being debated.

A similar argument about an imminent threat posed by weapons of mass destruction—and questions about the intelligence used to make that case—formed the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. Many in Congress have greeted the claims about Iran with wariness; in the Senate on February 14th, Hillary Clinton said, “We have all learned lessons from the conflict in Iraq, and we have to apply those lessons to any allegations that are being raised about Iran. Because, Mr. President, what we are hearing has too familiar a ring and we must be on guard that we never again make decisions on the basis of intelligence that turns out to be faulty.”

Still, the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

In the past month, I was told by an Air Force adviser on targeting and the Pentagon consultant on terrorism, the Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment: to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible regime change.

Two carrier strike groups—the Eisenhower and the Stennis—are now in the Arabian Sea. One plan is for them to be relieved early in the spring, but there is worry within the military that they may be ordered to stay in the area after the new carriers arrive, according to several sources. (Among other concerns, war games have shown that the carriers could be vulnerable to swarming tactics involving large numbers of small boats, a technique that the Iranians have practiced in the past; carriers have limited maneuverability in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s southern coast.) The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring. He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House’s not being “foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq, and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008.”


The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed.

Last November, Cheney flew to Saudi Arabia for a surprise meeting with King Abdullah and Bandar. The Times reported that the King warned Cheney that Saudi Arabia would back its fellow-Sunnis in Iraq if the United States were to withdraw. A European intelligence official told me that the meeting also focussed on more general Saudi fears about “the rise of the Shiites.” In response, “The Saudis are starting to use their leverage—money.”

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

The split between Shiites and Sunnis goes back to a bitter divide, in the seventh century, over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis dominated the medieval caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, and Shiites, traditionally, have been regarded more as outsiders. Worldwide, ninety per cent of Muslims are Sunni, but Shiites are a majority in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, and are the largest Muslim group in Lebanon. Their concentration in a volatile, oil-rich region has led to concern in the West and among Sunnis about the emergence of a “Shiite crescent”—especially given Iran’s increased geopolitical weight.

“The Saudis still see the world through the days of the Ottoman Empire, when Sunni Muslims ruled the roost and the Shiites were the lowest class,” Frederic Hof, a retired military officer who is an expert on the Middle East, told me. If Bandar was seen as bringing about a shift in U.S. policy in favor of the Sunnis, he added, it would greatly enhance his standing within the royal family.

The Saudis are driven by their fear that Iran could tilt the balance of power not only in the region but within their own country. Saudi Arabia has a significant Shiite minority in its Eastern Province, a region of major oil fields; sectarian tensions are high in the province. The royal family believes that Iranian operatives, working with local Shiites, have been behind many terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, according to Vali Nasr. “Today, the only army capable of containing Iran”—the Iraqi Army—“has been destroyed by the United States. You’re now dealing with an Iran that could be nuclear-capable and has a standing army of four hundred and fifty thousand soldiers.” (Saudi Arabia has seventy-five thousand troops in its standing army.)

Nasr went on, “The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis”—Sunni extremists who view Shiites as apostates. “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.”

The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family’s myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The Administration’s new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain.

Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

The Saudi said that, in his country’s view, it was taking a political risk by joining the U.S. in challenging Iran: Bandar is already seen in the Arab world as being too close to the Bush Administration. “We have two nightmares,” the former diplomat told me. “For Iran to acquire the bomb and for the United States to attack Iran. I’d rather the Israelis bomb the Iranians, so we can blame them. If America does it, we will be blamed.”

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, the U.S. government consultant told me. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran.

Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

The third component was that the Bush Administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shiite ascendance in the region.

Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah. The Saudi government is also at odds with the Syrians over the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, in Beirut in 2005, for which it believes the Assad government was responsible. Hariri, a billionaire Sunni, was closely associated with the Saudi regime and with Prince Bandar. (A U.N. inquiry strongly suggested that the Syrians were involved, but offered no direct evidence; there are plans for another investigation, by an international tribunal.)

Patrick Clawson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, depicted the Saudis’ coöperation with the White House as a significant breakthrough. “The Saudis understand that if they want the Administration to make a more generous political offer to the Palestinians they have to persuade the Arab states to make a more generous offer to the Israelis,” Clawson told me. The new diplomatic approach, he added, “shows a real degree of effort and sophistication as well as a deftness of touch not always associated with this Administration. Who’s running the greater risk—we or the Saudis? At a time when America’s standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings.”

The Pentagon consultant had a different view. He said that the Administration had turned to Bandar as a “fallback,” because it had realized that the failing war in Iraq could leave the Middle East “up for grabs.”


The focus of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, after Iran, is Lebanon, where the Saudis have been deeply involved in efforts by the Administration to support the Lebanese government. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is struggling to stay in power against a persistent opposition led by Hezbollah, the Shiite organization, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has an extensive infrastructure, an estimated two to three thousand active fighters, and thousands of additional members.

Hezbollah has been on the State Department’s terrorist list since 1997. The organization has been implicated in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed two hundred and forty-one military men. It has also been accused of complicity in the kidnapping of Americans, including the C.I.A. station chief in Lebanon, who died in captivity, and a Marine colonel serving on a U.N. peacekeeping mission, who was killed. (Nasrallah has denied that the group was involved in these incidents.) Nasrallah is seen by many as a staunch terrorist, who has said that he regards Israel as a state that has no right to exist. Many in the Arab world, however, especially Shiites, view him as a resistance leader who withstood Israel in last summer’s thirty-three-day war, and Siniora as a weak politician who relies on America’s support but was unable to persuade President Bush to call for an end to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. (Photographs of Siniora kissing Condoleezza Rice on the cheek when she visited during the war were prominently displayed during street protests in Beirut.)

The Bush Administration has publicly pledged the Siniora government a billion dollars in aid since last summer. A donors’ conference in Paris, in January, which the U.S. helped organize, yielded pledges of almost eight billion more, including a promise of more than a billion from the Saudis. The American pledge includes more than two hundred million dollars in military aid, and forty million dollars for internal security.

The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda.

During a conversation with me, the former Saudi diplomat accused Nasrallah of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.

In 2005, according to a report by the U.S.-based International Crisis Group, Saad Hariri, the Sunni majority leader of the Lebanese parliament and the son of the slain former Prime Minister—Saad inherited more than four billion dollars after his father’s assassination—paid forty-eight thousand dollars in bail for four members of an Islamic militant group from Dinniyeh. The men had been arrested while trying to establish an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon. The Crisis Group noted that many of the militants “had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.”

According to the Crisis Group report, Saad Hariri later used his parliamentary majority to obtain amnesty for twenty-two of the Dinniyeh Islamists, as well as for seven militants suspected of plotting to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, the previous year. (He also arranged a pardon for Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian militia leader, who had been convicted of four political murders, including the assassination, in 1987, of Prime Minister Rashid Karami.) Hariri described his actions to reporters as humanitarian.

In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. “We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here,” he said. He related this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a “theatre of conflict.”

The official said that his government was in a no-win situation. Without a political settlement with Hezbollah, he said, Lebanon could “slide into a conflict,” in which Hezbollah fought openly with Sunni forces, with potentially horrific consequences. But if Hezbollah agreed to a settlement yet still maintained a separate army, allied with Iran and Syria, “Lebanon could become a target. In both cases, we become a target.”

The Bush Administration has portrayed its support of the Siniora government as an example of the President’s belief in democracy, and his desire to prevent other powers from interfering in Lebanon. When Hezbollah led street demonstrations in Beirut in December, John Bolton, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., called them “part of the Iran-Syria-inspired coup.”

Leslie H. Gelb, a past president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the Administration’s policy was less pro democracy than “pro American national security. The fact is that it would be terribly dangerous if Hezbollah ran Lebanon.” The fall of the Siniora government would be seen, Gelb said, “as a signal in the Middle East of the decline of the United States and the ascendancy of the terrorism threat. And so any change in the distribution of political power in Lebanon has to be opposed by the United States—and we’re justified in helping any non-Shiite parties resist that change. We should say this publicly, instead of talking about democracy.”

Martin Indyk, of the Saban Center, said, however, that the United States “does not have enough pull to stop the moderates in Lebanon from dealing with the extremists.” He added, “The President sees the region as divided between moderates and extremists, but our regional friends see it as divided between Sunnis and Shia. The Sunnis that we view as extremists are regarded by our Sunni allies simply as Sunnis.”

In January, after an outburst of street violence in Beirut involving supporters of both the Siniora government and Hezbollah, Prince Bandar flew to Tehran to discuss the political impasse in Lebanon and to meet with Ali Larijani, the Iranians’ negotiator on nuclear issues. According to a Middle Eastern ambassador, Bandar’s mission—which the ambassador said was endorsed by the White House—also aimed “to create problems between the Iranians and Syria.” There had been tensions between the two countries about Syrian talks with Israel, and the Saudis’ goal was to encourage a breach. However, the ambassador said, “It did not work. Syria and Iran are not going to betray each other. Bandar’s approach is very unlikely to succeed.”

Walid Jumblatt, who is the leader of the Druze minority in Lebanon and a strong Siniora supporter, has attacked Nasrallah as an agent of Syria, and has repeatedly told foreign journalists that Hezbollah is under the direct control of the religious leadership in Iran. In a conversation with me last December, he depicted Bashir Assad, the Syrian President, as a “serial killer.” Nasrallah, he said, was “morally guilty” of the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the murder, last November, of Pierre Gemayel, a member of the Siniora Cabinet, because of his support for the Syrians.

Jumblatt then told me that he had met with Vice-President Cheney in Washington last fall to discuss, among other issues, the possibility of undermining Assad. He and his colleagues advised Cheney that, if the United States does try to move against Syria, members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would be “the ones to talk to,” Jumblatt said.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a branch of a radical Sunni movement founded in Egypt in 1928, engaged in more than a decade of violent opposition to the regime of Hafez Assad, Bashir’s father. In 1982, the Brotherhood took control of the city of Hama; Assad bombarded the city for a week, killing between six thousand and twenty thousand people. Membership in the Brotherhood is punishable by death in Syria. The Brotherhood is also an avowed enemy of the U.S. and of Israel. Nevertheless, Jumblatt said, “We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria—and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition.”

There is evidence that the Administration’s redirection strategy has already benefitted the Brotherhood. The Syrian National Salvation Front is a coalition of opposition groups whose principal members are a faction led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian Vice-President who defected in 2005, and the Brotherhood. A former high-ranking C.I.A. officer told me, “The Americans have provided both political and financial support. The Saudis are taking the lead with financial support, but there is American involvement.” He said that Khaddam, who now lives in Paris, was getting money from Saudi Arabia, with the knowledge of the White House. (In 2005, a delegation of the Front’s members met with officials from the National Security Council, according to press reports.) A former White House official told me that the Saudis had provided members of the Front with travel documents.

Jumblatt said he understood that the issue was a sensitive one for the White House. “I told Cheney that some people in the Arab world, mainly the Egyptians”—whose moderate Sunni leadership has been fighting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades—“won’t like it if the United States helps the Brotherhood. But if you don’t take on Syria we will be face to face in Lebanon with Hezbollah in a long fight, and one we might not win.”


On a warm, clear night early last December, in a bombed-out suburb a few miles south of downtown Beirut, I got a preview of how the Administration’s new strategy might play out in Lebanon. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, who has been in hiding, had agreed to an interview. Security arrangements for the meeting were secretive and elaborate. I was driven, in the back seat of a darkened car, to a damaged underground garage somewhere in Beirut, searched with a handheld scanner, placed in a second car to be driven to yet another bomb-scarred underground garage, and transferred again. Last summer, it was reported that Israel was trying to kill Nasrallah, but the extraordinary precautions were not due only to that threat. Nasrallah’s aides told me that they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives, as well as Sunni jihadists who they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda. (The government consultant and a retired four-star general said that Jordanian intelligence, with support from the U.S. and Israel, had been trying to infiltrate Shiite groups, to work against Hezbollah. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that a Shiite government in Iraq that was close to Iran would lead to the emergence of a Shiite crescent.) This is something of an ironic turn: Nasrallah’s battle with Israel last summer turned him—a Shiite—into the most popular and influential figure among Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. In recent months, however, he has increasingly been seen by many Sunnis not as a symbol of Arab unity but as a participant in a sectarian war.

Nasrallah, dressed, as usual, in religious garb, was waiting for me in an unremarkable apartment. One of his advisers said that he was not likely to remain there overnight; he has been on the move since his decision, last July, to order the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid set off the thirty-three-day war. Nasrallah has since said publicly—and repeated to me—that he misjudged the Israeli response. “We just wanted to capture prisoners for exchange purposes,” he told me. “We never wanted to drag the region into war.”

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean “insurrection and fragmentation within Islam.” “In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other,” he said. “I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence.” (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.) He said that the U.S. war in Iraq had increased sectarian tensions, but argued that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. (Sunni-Shiite confrontations increased, along with violence, in the weeks after we talked.)

Nasrallah said he believed that President Bush’s goal was “the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq. Iraq is not on the edge of a civil war—there is a civil war. There is ethnic and sectarian cleansing. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shiite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shiite.”

He went on, “I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, ‘I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.’ ”

Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country “into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq.” In Lebanon, “There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state.” But, he said, “I do not know if there will be a Shiite state.” Nasrallah told me that he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was “the destruction of Shiite areas and the displacement of Shiites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shiites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq,” which is dominated by Shiites. “I am not sure, but I smell this,” he told me.

Partition would leave Israel surrounded by “small tranquil states,” he said. “I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

In fact, the Bush Administration has adamantly resisted talk of partitioning Iraq, and its public stances suggest that the White House sees a future Lebanon that is intact, with a weak, disarmed Hezbollah playing, at most, a minor political role. There is also no evidence to support Nasrallah’s belief that the Israelis were seeking to drive the Shiites into southern Iraq. Nevertheless, Nasrallah’s vision of a larger sectarian conflict in which the United States is implicated suggests a possible consequence of the White House’s new strategy.

In the interview, Nasrallah made mollifying gestures and promises that would likely be met with skepticism by his opponents. “If the United States says that discussions with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings,” he said. “But, if their aim through this meeting is to impose their policy on us, it will be a waste of time.” He said that the Hezbollah militia, unless attacked, would operate only within the borders of Lebanon, and pledged to disarm it when the Lebanese Army was able to stand up. Nasrallah said that he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel. However, he added that he was anticipating, and preparing for, another Israeli attack, later this year.

Nasrallah further insisted that the street demonstrations in Beirut would continue until the Siniora government fell or met his coalition’s political demands. “Practically speaking, this government cannot rule,” he told me. “It might issue orders, but the majority of the Lebanese people will not abide and will not recognize the legitimacy of this government. Siniora remains in office because of international support, but this does not mean that Siniora can rule Lebanon.”

President Bush’s repeated praise of the Siniora government, Nasrallah said, “is the best service to the Lebanese opposition he can give, because it weakens their position vis-à-vis the Lebanese people and the Arab and Islamic populations. They are betting on us getting tired. We did not get tired during the war, so how could we get tired in a demonstration?”

There is sharp division inside and outside the Bush Administration about how best to deal with Nasrallah, and whether he could, in fact, be a partner in a political settlement. The outgoing director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in a farewell briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in January, said that Hezbollah “lies at the center of Iran’s terrorist strategy. . . . It could decide to conduct attacks against U.S. interests in the event it feels its survival or that of Iran is threatened. . . . Lebanese Hezbollah sees itself as Tehran’s partner.”

In 2002, Richard Armitage, then the Deputy Secretary of State, called Hezbollah “the A-team” of terrorists. In a recent interview, however, Armitage acknowledged that the issue has become somewhat more complicated. Nasrallah, Armitage told me, has emerged as “a political force of some note, with a political role to play inside Lebanon if he chooses to do so.” In terms of public relations and political gamesmanship, Armitage said, Nasrallah “is the smartest man in the Middle East.” But, he added, Nasrallah “has got to make it clear that he wants to play an appropriate role as the loyal opposition. For me, there’s still a blood debt to pay”—a reference to the murdered colonel and the Marine barracks bombing.

Robert Baer, a former longtime C.I.A. agent in Lebanon, has been a severe critic of Hezbollah and has warned of its links to Iranian-sponsored terrorism. But now, he told me, “we’ve got Sunni Arabs preparing for cataclysmic conflict, and we will need somebody to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It used to be the French and the United States who would do it, and now it’s going to be Nasrallah and the Shiites.

“The most important story in the Middle East is the growth of Nasrallah from a street guy to a leader—from a terrorist to a statesman,” Baer added. “The dog that didn’t bark this summer”—during the war with Israel—“is Shiite terrorism.” Baer was referring to fears that Nasrallah, in addition to firing rockets into Israel and kidnapping its soldiers, might set in motion a wave of terror attacks on Israeli and American targets around the world. “He could have pulled the trigger, but he did not,” Baer said.

Most members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities acknowledge Hezbollah’s ongoing ties to Iran. But there is disagreement about the extent to which Nasrallah would put aside Hezbollah’s interests in favor of Iran’s. A former C.I.A. officer who also served in Lebanon called Nasrallah “a Lebanese phenomenon,” adding, “Yes, he’s aided by Iran and Syria, but Hezbollah’s gone beyond that.” He told me that there was a period in the late eighties and early nineties when the C.I.A. station in Beirut was able to clandestinely monitor Nasrallah’s conversations. He described Nasrallah as “a gang leader who was able to make deals with the other gangs. He had contacts with everybody.”


The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”

The issue of oversight is beginning to get more attention from Congress. Last November, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for Congress on what it depicted as the Administration’s blurring of the line between C.I.A. activities and strictly military ones, which do not have the same reporting requirements. And the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, has scheduled a hearing for March 8th on Defense Department intelligence activities.

Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, a Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, told me, “The Bush Administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the Intelligence Committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been ‘Trust us.’ ” Wyden said, “It is hard for me to trust the Administration.”

Associated Press    Wed Feb 28, 4:05 PM ET

Russia warns U.S. against striking Iran

Russia's foreign minister warned Washington not to use force against Iran and criticized what he described as the United States' unilateral approach to other global crises in an interview published Wednesday.

Russia was worried about Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comment that "all options are on the table" to stop Tehran from becoming a nuclear power, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. "We are concerned about the possibility of a military scenario," Lavrov was quoted as saying, in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta. "We are observing a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Such a buildup of forces always threatens to trigger a military conflict, even by accident."

Iran has ignored a U.N. deadline to halt the enrichment of uranium, which the U.S. says is part of a secret effort to build nuclear weapons. Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but highly enriched uranium can be used in an atomic bomb.

Russia has repeatedly spoken out against the use of military force against Iran, and has warned that harsh punishment would be counterproductive. In December, Russia supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed limited sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt enrichment, but only after the council dropped an initial proposal to impose curbs on a nuclear power plant Russia is building in Iran.

Senior diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany met Monday in London to discuss ways to pressure Iran to suspend enrichment. Officials in London and Washington said new measures would likely include incremental restrictions on trade and arms.

Lavrov asserted that the talks on the Iranian issue were deadlocked, saying both the United States and Iran were unwilling to compromise. "It would be unforgivable to miss a chance to use every opportunity to start such talks because of a false notion of prestige, because of the unyielding stance taken by both parties," he was quoted as saying.

Echoing recent comments made by President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov also assailed Washington for what he called a unilateralist approach to global issues. "When they offer us a unilateral strategy and urge us to express solidarity in combating one or another evil ... that's not the behavior of a partner," he was quoted as saying. Lavrov added that Putin's harsh criticism of U.S. policy earlier this month voiced an opinion many other nations shared, but were afraid to express publicly.

Putin told a security conference in Munich Feb. 10 that the United States "has overstepped its national borders in every way" and accused it of triggering a global arms race.

Lavrov praised Putin's blunt talk: "Someone had to say it ... to show the need for candid talk about how to deal with global affairs." Russia can speak independently, he said, because of its resurgence following the troubled years after the 1991 Soviet collapse. "There are those who cannot say 'no' to the United States," he said, according to the newspaper. "But we can allow ourselves to tell the truth, and not just reject unilateral calls for support but offer concrete constructive alternatives."

In a bid to increase its role in Middle East peace efforts, Russia this week hosted Khaled Mashaal, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Lavrov said Tuesday the Hamas chief pledged to end missile attacks and violence against Israel, although Mashaal reaffirmed his group's refusal to recognize Israel.

Lavrov also called for lifting the financial aid blockade of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The United States, the Europeans and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Hamas' renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel are key demands of the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers — Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

In the newspaper interview, Lavrov said Russia will continue to support the Quartet's demand that Hamas recognize Israel. But he warned the West's refusal to deal with the militant group could undermine a fragile accord among the Palestinians. "It's wrong and shortsighted not to see the real progress that already has been made," he said.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.


Webb bill limits Iran fight
By Christina Bellantoni

Freshman Sen. James H. Webb Jr. yesterday introduced legislation to force President Bush to seek congressional authorization before using force against Iran.
    Democratic leaders, who indicated general support for the Virginia Democrat's plan last week, are still deciding whether they will attach it to an upcoming spending bill.
    "This presidency has shot from the hip too many times for us to be able to trust it to act on its own," said Mr. Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran who won a hotly contested Senate race last fall in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war. "We need the Congress to be involved in any decision to commence military activities absent an attack from the other side or a direct threat."
    The backdrop of the discussion is the continuing Capitol Hill debate over the Iraq war. Democrats are still negotiating details of what legislative proposals they will offer to try to block Mr. Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
    Mr. Webb's proposal comes in the form of an amendment to the Bush administration's $100 billion supplemental war-spending request, which Congress will consider in the coming month.
    He said the measure is meant to restore a system of legislative checks on executive power that he thinks Mr. Bush has skirted since Congress approved the Iraq war in October 2002. Though Mr. Webb wants troops to come home from Iraq as soon as possible, he noted Congress' inability to block funding U.S. forces in that conflict.
    "Unlike the current situation in Iraq, where cutting off funds might impede or interrupt ongoing operations, this legislation denies funding that would be necessary to begin such operations against Iran in the first place," Mr. Webb said.
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on Thursday before the bill was drafted that he would be "very, very confident" that he can support Mr. Webb's plan "in real generalities."
    "The reason we have to look at Iran every day of our legislative lives is there are many out there much smarter than I am who believe that the administration is ramping up to have the same thing happen in Iran that happened in Iraq," he said, noting intelligence suggesting Iranian involvement with Iraqi insurgents.
    A Reid spokesman yesterday said the leader's position has not changed but declined to say whether the amendment would be attached to the supplemental-spending bill. Democratic leaders in the House are discussing similar language and are generally supportive of Mr. Webb's efforts, according to a senior aide in that chamber.
    Aides for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky did not respond to calls for comment, but House Minority Leader John A. Boehner labeled Mr. Webb's measure as "a solution in search of a problem."
    "We should continue to work with responsible members of the international community to put pressure on the Iranians to dismantle their nuclear-weapons programs and to halt their support for terrorism," the Ohio Republican said. "I don't think it is productive or responsible to place arbitrary restrictions on what is now a hypothetical national security scenario, especially since the language -- if not carefully worked -- could hamstring our efforts against insurgents and terrorists in Iraq."
    The Webb amendment as drafted outlines that no funds may be "obligated or expended for military operations or activities within or above the territory of Iran, or within the territorial waters of Iran, except pursuant to a specific authorization of Congress."
    Mr. Webb also noted he worked carefully to craft a bill that wouldn't impede any ongoing tactical missions or intelligence gathering and so it would allow the U.S. to "directly repel an attack" initiated from or about to be launched from Iran. It also includes an exception for when troops are led into Iran in "hot pursuit" of forces outside that country.
    Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week told senators the U.S. is not planning to attack Iran, but Mr. Webb and others worry the 2002 Iraq resolution is viewed by the president as broad authorization for military action against other nations.
    Mr. Webb, a former Republican who served in the Reagan administration as Navy secretary, declined to name supporters at this early stage, but he said it should not be a "party" issue, noting a measure sponsored in the House by anti-war Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican.
    Mr. Jones said his bill makes it "crystal clear that no previous resolution passed by Congress authorizes such a use of force."
    "If the president is contemplating committing our blood and treasure in another war, then he and his administration must come to Congress and make their case," Mr. Jones said.
    In 1999, Mr. Jones was one of two dozen lawmakers who went to the Supreme Court to block President Clinton's military action in Yugoslavia, arguing Congress must grant him such authority.
    Still, because of potential nuclear capability and the possibility Iran is providing weapons to terrorists in Iraq, Congress "should never underestimate the potential that Iran might act irresponsibly," Mr. Webb said.
    "My hope is we can calm this issue down a bit," he said. "[A]nd hopefully over a period of time bring Iran into the world community. That should be our goal."

Le Temps  Samedi 2 juin 2007

«Pour sanctionner l'Iran, notre meilleur allié est le secteur privé»

Question à Stuart Levey
Sous-secrétaire américain au Trésor

Pour la deuxième fois en neuf mois, Stuart Levey, sous-secrétaire américain au Trésor, chargé des sanctions financières envers l'Iran, s'est déplacé en Suisse. Cette visite intervient près de trois mois après les nouvelles restrictions commer-ciales visant l'Iran. La Suisse appli-que la résolution du conseil de l'ONU depuis le 15 février. A l'occa-sion de sa venue, Stuart Levey livre son point de vue dans un entretien exclusif.

Le Temps: Quelles sont les raisons de votre visite?
Stuart Levey: Nous sommes venus donner de nouvelles informations aux dirigeants des banques suisses pour les rendre attentifs aux risques de réputation qu'elles peuvent encourir en maintenant des relations financières avec l'Iran. Nous avons apporté des nouvelles preuves concernant l'implication d'institutions financières iraniennes dans le programme d'enrichissement de l'uranium, voire à des fins de terrorisme. L'Iran est le banquier central du terrorisme. Il offre chaque année 200 millions de dollars au Hezbollah. Ces fonds sont conditionnés au succès d'attaques terroristes.

- Crédit Suisse et UBS ont gelé leurs affaires avec l'Iran. Qu'en est-il de la collaboration des autres banques suisses?
- Je ne veux citer aucun nom. La collaboration est bonne, mais il s'agit d'un effort continu pour empêcher le système financier iranien de se développer. Celui-ci tente par tous les moyens d'enlever les noms des personnes reliées aux transactions.

- Certains experts doutent des effets des sanctions sur l'Iran, notamment en raison du maintien des relations commerciales avec la Russie et la Chine. Que leur rétor-quez-vous?
- Les sanctions auront un effet sur le long terme. Nous comptons sur le secteur privé, notre meilleur allié. Aujourd'hui déjà, les sociétés étrangères ne sont plus attirées à effectuer des investisse-ments en Iran. Les perspectives à long terme n'y sont plus réjouis-santes, ce qui affaiblit le pays.

- Après les fausses preuves montrées par les Etats-Unis sur l'Irak, quelles sont les vôtres qui permettent de dire que le programme iranien d'enrichissement de l'ura-nium est destiné à obtenir la bombe atomique?
-Je ne fais aucun commentaire à ce sujet.

- Etes-vous satisfaits du rôle de médiation et de représentation des intérêts américains en Iran assuré par la Suisse?
- Je ne fais aucun commentaire à ce sujet.
Propos recueillis par D. E., Zurich

Al Arab Al Yom (Jordan), 8/8/2007

The resistance became Shi’i
so Washington and Iran agreed in secret
By Nahed Hatar

 The editor writes that Iran and the United States have reached a secret agreement aimed at protecting the Americans against a Shi'i explosion and at helping Iran maintain its influence over Iraq following the decline in the standing of its client Shi'i leaders. He states that the Sunni resistance should merge with the rising Shi'i resistance to oust the Americans. The Arabs should support the Shi'i nationalists to protect themselves from both America and Iran.

The Daily Star    August 9, 2007

Bloody strategy: today's plans and yesterday's tragedies
By Bouthaina Shaaban

Every time US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses Palestinians and Arabs she reminds them that "deeds speak louder than words." If we want to apply this maxim to Rice herself in her 13th visit to the region and to the actual consequences of US policy in the Middle East, we will be able to discover the future objectives of current US policy in the region without having to decipher the new terminology they introduce every day to the language in order to cover up acts of occupation and settlement and to deny the Palestinian people their basic and inalienable rights.

The statements of Vice President Dick Cheney also help us to understand these future objectives. In an interview with CNN, Cheney said: "The Bush administration would still send troops into Iraq if it could do it all over again, even knowing what it knows now, including that more than 3,000 US military personnel would be killed."

Needless to say, the vice president never mentioned the millions of Iraqis killed, maimed and displaced, as the Iraqis do not enter as a variable in his calculations. Cheney added: "I firmly believe that the decisions we've made with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan have been absolutely the sound ones in terms of the overall strategy."

Of course, what Cheney said about Iraq and Afghanistan no doubt applies to Darfur, Somalia, Palestine and Lebanon, as the US policies toward all these countries serve the strategy and objectives highlighted by the US vice president.

The questions now are, do the latest arms deals worth about $20 billion to the Gulf states and the "security aid" to Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also serve the same strategy and objectives, and, if the answer is yes, then how?

In order to reach the most plausible answer we have to recall the US strategy toward Saddam and Iran in the early 1980s and how the US started a kind of contest to make Saddam a star visited by dozens of foreign ministers per month and how the Iraqi Army was elevated in US reports into the fourth-strongest army in the world in order to prepare the psychological, military and political climate for a needless war between Iraq and Iran which effectively led Saddam to the gallows and destroyed Iraq as a country and brought a horrid catastrophe on the Iraqi people.

If deeds speak louder than words, as Rice is fond of saying, then her visit with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the region and the $50-billion arms deals to Arab allies and Israel are an enlarged application of the pilot project they started with Iraq in the 1980s, implemented in a number of Arab countries in order to deprive them of their wealth and create for them a conflict with Iran to deplete all their resources and get Israel off the hook by replacing the Arab-Israeli conflict with a mirage of a conflict between neighboring Muslim countries: Arab states and Iran.

Hence the visit of Rice and Gates to the region and the signing of arms deals with rich Arab states coincided with news from Washington leaked by senior American intelligence personnel that US President George W. Bush "has decided not to strike the supposed nuclear Iranian installations." Thus the argument between Cheney and Rice about Iran seems to have been resolved by working on creating a new conflict in the region that will be very profitable for the US arms industry and will save the United States launching another war by convincing others to fight this war on their behalf.

This war would also exhaust the Arab resources and wealth exactly as the Iran-Iraq war did to Iraq, and this would mean a much weaker Arab presence and, of course, a stronger Israeli presence in the region.

The one element this strategy did not include is that Iran may well emerge stronger, just as it did after the US-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. But the objective may be only the exhaustion of the Arabs in their different countries and putting an end to their claim to Palestine, Jerusalem and all other occupied territories, even if that means that Iran and Turkey will emerge as stronger players in the region.

Within this framework, the statement of Cheney that they would have launched the war on Iraq, even with the knowledge they have today, makes sense because the strategy, then, is to destroy Iraq as first step, and then move to destroy other Arab countries, so that the Arabs become the Native Americans of this region and Israel becomes the Mideast American Empire.

In light of this analysis, the so-called peace conference that will convene in the fall aims to normalize relations between Israel and few more Arab countries. That is why vagueness is central to the endeavor, as the right of return for the Palestinians, Jerusalem and the Palestinian state become "political horizons" or "basic issues" or "matters of difference" without even being mentioned.

This US-Israeli strategy may achieve short-term objectives: a flow of money to the US countering Iran, but, in the long run, it is going to backfire, just as supporting fundamentalism to get rid of the Soviet Union has backfired. The Arab peoples are thousands of years old and they will not give up their rights to their lands and water.

The struggle will go on for decades, but, as history has taught us, in the end right will prevail and not military might.

Bouthaina Shaaban is the expatriates minister of Syria.

Elysée    27 août 2007

Allocution de M. Nicolas SARKOZY, Président de la République,
à l'occasion de la conférence des Ambassadeurs (extrait).

"Quatrième crise, au confluent des trois autres : l'Iran. La France maintient avec ses dirigeants un dialogue sans complaisance, qui s'est avéré utile en plusieurs occasions. La France a pris l'initiative, avec l'Allemagne et le Royaume-Uni, d'une négociation où l'Europe joue un rôle central, rejointe par les Etats-Unis, la Russie et la Chine. Les paramètres en sont connus ; je n'y reviens pas, sinon pour réaffirmer qu'un Iran doté de l'arme nucléaire est pour moi inacceptable, et souligner l'entière détermination de la France dans la démarche actuelle alliant sanctions croissantes mais aussi ouverture si l'Iran fait le choix de respecter ses obligations. Cette démarche est la seule qui puisse nous permettre d'échapper à une alternative catastrophique: la bombe iranienne ou le bombardement de l'Iran. Cette quatrième crise est sans doute la plus grave qui pèse aujourd'hui sur l'ordre international."

August 28, 2007

French Leader Raises Possibility of Force in Iran

PARIS, Aug. 27 — In his first major foreign policy speech as president, Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Monday that Iran could be attacked militarily if it did not live up to its international obligations to curb its nuclear program.

Addressing France’s ambassadorial corps, Mr. Sarkozy stressed that such an outcome would be a disaster. He did not say France would ever participate in military action against Iran or even tacitly support such an approach.

But the mere fact that he raised the specter of the use of force is likely to be perceived both by Iran as a warning of the consequences if it continues its course of action, and by the Bush administration as acceptance of its line that no option, including the use of force, can be excluded.

Mr. Sarkozy praised the current diplomatic initiative by the world’s powers, a two-pronged approach that threatens tougher United Nations-mandated sanctions if Iran does not stop enriching uranium for possible use in a nuclear weapon, but holds out the possibility of incentives if Iran complies.

That approach, he said, “is the only one that can enable us to avoid being faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”

Calling the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program “the most serious weighing on the international order today,” Mr. Sarkozy also reiterated his position that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable” for France.

Although Mr. Sarkozy’s aides said French policy had not changed, some foreign policy experts were stunned by his blunt, if brief, remarks.

“This came out of the blue,” said François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris and author of a coming book on Iran’s nuclear program. “To actually say that if diplomacy fails the choice will be to accept a nuclear Iran or bomb Iran, this is a diplomatic blockbuster.”

Mr. Sarkozy’s speech, an annual ritual outlining France’s foreign policy goals, came as a new poll indicated that he had extraordinarily high approval ratings more than three months into his presidency.

According to a TNS-Sofres telephone poll of 1,000 people published Monday in Le Figaro, 71 percent say they are satisfied with Mr. Sarkozy’s performance. A number of other polls put his approval rating higher than 60 percent.

But his debut before his ambassadors was marred by a diplomatic imbroglio involving his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who was forced to apologize to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq for calling for his resignation.

Mr. Maliki had demanded the apology from Mr. Kouchner, who was quoted on Newsweek’s Web site as saying that the Iraqi government was “not functioning” and that he told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by phone, “He’s got to be replaced.”

Mr. Sarkozy made no mention of the diplomatic gaffe. Instead, he went out of his way to repeatedly praise Mr. Kouchner, an outspoken humanitarian activist and former United Nations administrator of Kosovo who left the Socialist Party to join Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative government.

In a subsequent speech to the 180 visiting ambassadors, Mr. Kouchner veered from his prepared remarks to say he had apologized to Mr. Maliki on Monday morning.

But Mr. Kouchner has a reputation for being unable to hide his true feelings. He also suggested in the same sentence that the beleaguered Iraqi prime minister was already on his way out, saying that he “may be leaving us soon.” The audience, made up of ambassadors, other invited guests and journalists, laughed.

Most of Mr. Sarkozy’s speech was devoted to plotting a new, activist course for France’s role in the world, particularly in preventing what he called a confrontation between Islam and the West by working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and crises in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.

Praising his predecessor, he reiterated, “France was — thanks to Jacques Chirac — is and remains hostile” to the American-led war in Iraq. “History proved France right,” he added.

Calling for a concrete deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he described it as “a nation that is falling apart in a merciless civil war,” where the Sunni-Shiite divide could ignite conflict throughout the Middle East and where terrorists are setting up permanent bases to attack targets around the world.

During a headline-grabbing three-day visit to Iraq last week, Mr. Kouchner offered France’s help in stabilizing the country, including mediating among warring communities, and working with the United Nations to play a bigger role.

Although Mr. Sarkozy praised Mr. Kouchner’s mission and said in his speech that France was prepared to engage with Iraq, he did not make a specific proposal.

Mr. Sarkozy, who is often faulted for being too pro-American, proudly restated France’s friendship with the United States, where he spent a two-week vacation this summer.

In a move that is certain to be welcomed in Washington, he announced that France would send more troops to Afghanistan to train the Afghan Army, despite his statement during the campaign that France would not remain in Afghanistan forever. The Defense Ministry confirmed that France would send 150 additional troops.

But Mr. Sarkozy harshly criticized the Bush administration for going to war against Iraq on its own and for failing to address the global warming crisis adequately.

“It is clear now, and I mean it, that the unilateral use of force leads to failure,” he said of the Iraq crisis. As for the environment, he said the United States “unfortunately is not demonstrating the ‘leadership’ capacity that it claims in other areas.”

“When you make a claim of leadership, you have to assume it in every domain,” he added.

Iran Addresses U.N. Questions

    VIENNA, Aug. 27 (Agence France-Presse) — Iran has cleared up questions from the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency about its experiments with plutonium, according to a United Nations-Iran working document released by Iran on Monday.
    The plutonium issue is one of several over which the United Nations Security Council has imposed sanctions to get Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the watchdog that is investigating American charges that Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons.
    Iran’s mission to the agency released in Vienna the five-page text of a timetable for cooperation with the nuclear watchdog that was agreed upon in closed-door talks with agency officials last week in Tehran.
    The agency is scheduled to file a report on Iran this week, before a meeting of its 35-nation board of governors in September.

Syria Comment    September 12th, 2007, 10:10 pm

ERIC said: ... and if you all are wrong?
(on the use of foreign jets in Syria - and in Iran next?)

    Remember the nice speed contest beween the hare and the porky-pic, which the porky pic always won to the surprise of the hare. The trick: at the one end of the track papa porky pic was starting the race with the hare and at the end of the track mama porky pic was waiting for the hare … papa porky pic resting on the way.
    If in the case of American figther jets from Iraq simulate an entry into Syria at the Eastern side and Israely figther jets do the same from the Western side:
-    Who knows with certainty that any of these planes overflew Syria?
-    How well can one distinguish between American and Israeli figther jets?
My guess is: not much better than between mama and papa porky pic!

October 24, 2007

Turkey not only focus of Kurdish guerilla fighting
Iran accuses US of backing militants on its border, writes Richard Oppel in Baghdad.

DEADLY raids into Turkey by Kurdish militants holed up in northern Iraq are the focus of urgent diplomacy, with Turkey threatening to invade Iraq and the United States begging for restraint while expressing solidarity with Turkish anger.

But out of the public eye, a chillingly similar battle has been under way on the Iraqi border with Iran. Kurdish guerillas ambush and kill Iranian forces and retreat to their hideouts in Iraq. The Americans offer Iran little sympathy. Tehran even says Washington helps the Iranian attacks, a charge the US denies. Whatever the truth the conflict, like the Turkish one, has explosive potential.

On a recent trip to the Iran-Iraq border, Salih Shevger, an Iranian Kurdish militant, was interviewed as he lay flat on a slab of rock atop a 3010-metre mountain, with binoculars pressed to his face as he watched Iranian military outposts perched on peaks about six kilometres away.

He and his comrades told how they ambushed an Iranian patrol between the bases a few days before, killing three soldiers and capturing another. "They were sitting and talking on top of a hill, and we approached, hiding ourselves, and fired on them from two sides," said Bayram Gabar, who commanded the raid, and who like all the fighters here uses a nom de guerre.

The militants from the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, who have been waging an insurgency in Iran are an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, the Kurdish guerillas who fight Turkey.

Like the PKK, the Iranian Kurds control much of the craggy, boulder-strewn frontier and routinely ambush patrols on the other side. But while the US calls the PKK groups terrorists, guerilla commanders say PJAK has had "direct or indirect discussions" with US officials. They would not divulge details of the discussions or the level of the officials involved, but they said the group's leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, visited Washington last northern summer.

Biryar Gabar, one of 11 members of the group's leadership, said there had been "normal dialogue" with US officials, declining to be specific.

Iranian officials have accused the US of supplying the militants and using them in a proxy war, although the US military denies this. "The consensus is that US forces are not working with or advising the PJAK," said Commander Scott Rye, a US military spokesman in Baghdad.

A senior US diplomat said that there had not been any official contacts with the group and that he was unaware of its having received any support from the US. He also said that Haj-Ahmad did not meet administration officials while in Washington.

Because the PKK is on the State Department's list of terrorist organisations and aiding such groups is illegal, the US is eager to avoid any hint of co-operation with the PJAK.

Guerilla leaders said the Americans classified the PKK as a terrorist group because it was fighting Turkey, an important US ally, while the PJAK was not labelled as such because it was fighting Iran. In fact, the two groups appear to be largely one, sharing the same goal: fighting campaigns to win new autonomy and rights for Kurds in Iran and Turkey.

They share leadership, logistics and allegiance to Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader imprisoned in Turkey.

While most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, the militants reject Islamic fundamentalism. Instead they trace their roots to a Marxist past. They still espouse what they call "scientific socialism" and promote women's rights.

After skirmishes between the guerillas and Iranian forces intensified this year, the Iranian military began shelling border villages in August, sending villagers fleeing and killing livestock. The shelling drew angry criticism from Iraqi leaders, who condemned it as a disproportionate response.

But the militants suggest they have inflicted considerable damage on Iran. While it is impossible to verify the claims, the PKK leader, Murat Karayilan, said the PJAK fighters had killed at least 150 Iranians in Iran since August. And Biryar Gabar says 108 Iranians were killed in August alone. The group said the intensity of its military actions varied with the degree of persecution of Kurds within Iran.

The PJAK guerillas are based in small, spartan bases in the valleys equipped with generators, satellite television, spring wells and gardens of eggplant, pomegranates, tomatoes and peaches.

Typically they will attack a few soldiers at the fringe of a larger group, said Sadun Edesa, 22, an Iranian Kurd who said he had been fighting for five years. That was usually all it took to derail an Iranian operation aimed at rooting out guerillas inside Iran, he said.

At one outpost, the fighters allowed a brief interview with the Iranian soldier they said was captured in an ambush. The prisoner identified himself as Akbar Talibi, a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His uniform bore the corps' insignia, and he sat cross-legged on a thin carpet as six guerillas stood or squatted nearby. The prisoner said that out of his 70-man unit 15 had been killed and 17 wounded since August.

The Iranian military, the prisoner added, "wants to destroy PJAK". Iranian officials in Tehran did not respond to requests for comment about the guerillas or the captured soldier.

A former member of the Iranian parliament, Jalal Jalilizadeh, who is Kurdish, said the militant group increased its attacks and began singling out Revolutionary Guard members and assassinating other officials on the Iranian side of the border a year ago.

There are no official tallies of Iranian casualties, although Mr Jalilizadeh put the total at about 100 since last year. He also confirmed several recent attacks described by the guerillas, including the downing of an Iranian helicopter near the border last month, which killed at least six.

The group now had "far more" than 2000 militants fighting Iran, said Biryar Gabar, who added that most of them were based in Iran. There was no way to verify his claim.

But the group still has enough fighters in this part of Iraq to control the few roads in the area with checkpoints. A guerilla outpost on the crest of a ridge of mountains straddling the border suggests that it holds sway over much of the border, while Iranian soldiers are garrisoned several kilometres away.

The PJAK's growing attacks inside Iran this year have put pressure on the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the dominant political party in the eastern sector of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which sees Iran as a crucial trading partner. For their part, the militants believe that the party, whose leader is the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, has become a toady for Iran.

But party officials say it would be foolish and shortsighted not to cultivate better relations with Iran and Turkey, from whom the landlocked Kurds obtain petrol and other critical supplies. Kurdish leaders are also keenly aware that the guerillas remain popular with the Kurdish public.

Op-Ed Contributor

April 13, 2008
Israel Can Stand Up for Itself

THE failure of diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program became obvious this week, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed the installation of 6,000 new centrifuges at the country’s main uranium enrichment complex. His announcement was accompanied by the now customary assertion that outsiders can do nothing to stop Iran from fulfilling its nuclear destiny.

Once, not so long ago, this kind of boast would elicit clear American declarations that Iran would never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Everything, President Bush would say ominously, is on the table. This time he has been quiet. I wish I believed that it is the quiet before a storm of laser-guided action. It seems more likely that it is the abashed silence of an American president whose bluff has been called in front of the entire world.

Washington’s performance should concern anyone who cares about long-term American influence in the Islamic world. But for Israel (and Israel’s supporters), this is an urgent problem. It is Israel, after all, that has been set by the Iranian leadership as the target for annihilation.

In response to the news from Iran, some supporters of Israel have started to suggest that the failed efforts at prevention be replaced by assured American deterrence: any Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would be treated as an attack on the United States. Charles Krauthammer, a Washington Post columnist, recently referred to this as “the Holocaust doctrine.”

From Israel’s perspective, the thought is tempting — but it’s not realistic.

In 1981, Israeli planes destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. The world’s reaction was harshly critical. Even the Reagan administration, usually a close ally, denounced the operation.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was undaunted by the fury. At a press conference in Jerusalem he announced that he felt obligated to do anything in his power to stop Israel’s enemies from getting their hands on means of mass killing.

Begin mentioned the Holocaust; it was never far from his mind. But his primary focus was strategic, not historical. Israel was no different from any other country. It would bear the ultimate responsibility for its own security.

Begin was right. Here’s why:

First, in exchange for assistance, Washington would naturally (and rightly) demand a very strong say in Israeli policies. A misstep, after all, could embroil it in a nuclear exchange. Within a very short time, Israel’s sovereignty and autonomy would come to resemble Minnesota’s. This is not a bad thing if your country happens to border Iowa. It works less well in Israel’s neighborhood.

I’m not questioning American friendship. But even friendship has practical limits. Presidents change and policies change. George W. Bush, the greatest friend Israel has had in the White House, hasn’t been able to keep a (relatively easier) commitment to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is a good thing that Israel didn’t build its deterrence on that commitment.

What’s more, it is fair to say that Israel is not a weak country. It has developed a powerful set of strategic options. In the best case, it would be able to act on its own to degrade and retard the Iranian nuclear program as it did in Iraq (and, more recently, Syria). In a worse case, if the Iranians do get the bomb, Iranian leaders might be deterred by rational considerations. If so, Israel’s own arsenal — and its manifest willingness to respond to a nuclear attack — ought to suffice.

If, on the other hand, the Iranian leadership simply can’t resist the itch to “wipe Israel off the map” — or to make such a thing appear imminent — then it would be up to Israel to make its own calculations. What is the price of 100,000 dead in Tel Aviv? Or twice that? The cost to Iran would certainly be ghastly. It would be wrong for Israel to expect other nations to shoulder this moral and geopolitical responsibility.

Don’t misunderstand. It would be a noble thing for the United States to support Israel’s efforts to stop an Iranian bomb or, if it comes to that, to back Israel’s response to an attack. But no country can rely on the kindness of others.

Next month Israel celebrates its 60th Independence Day. Sovereignty comes with a price. Israel’s willingness to pay it is the only Holocaust doctrine that it can really rely on.

Zev Chafets, who served as director of Israel’s government press office under Menachem Begin, is the author of “A Match Made in Heaven,” about American evangelical support for Israel.


10 June 2008

Threatening Iran

Israeli leaders spent last week talking tough about Iran and threatening possible military action. The United States and the other major powers need to address Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but with more assertive diplomacy — including greater financial pressures — not more threats or war planning.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who is bedeviled by a corruption scandal that could drive him from office, led the charge. “The Iranian threat must be stopped by all possible means,” he said in Washington, a day before meeting President Bush at the White House.

Then Israel’s transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz, who is jockeying to replace Mr. Olmert as head of the ruling Kadima Party if the prime minister is forced to resign, declared that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites looks “unavoidable.”

We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors in Washington — or what Mr. Olmert heard from Mr. Bush. But saber-rattling is not a strategy. And an attack on Iran by either country would be disastrous.

Unlike in 1981, when Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, there is no single target. A sustained bombing campaign would end up killing many civilians and still might not cripple Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran also has many frightening ways to retaliate. And even Arab states who fear Iran shudder at the thought of America, or its ally Israel, bombing another Muslim country and the backlash that that could provoke.

Mr. Olmert may be trying to divert attention from his political troubles. Still, there is no denying a growing and understandable sense of urgency in Israel, which Iran’s president has threatened with elimination. A recent report by United Nations inspectors on Iran’s nuclear progress, and worrisome links to military programs, has only fanned those fears.

Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is scheduled to visit Tehran later this month to discuss, in more detail, an incentives package first offered in 2006 by the United States and other major powers. It is likely to fall far short — both in incentives and punishments — of what is needed to get Tehran’s attention.

There is no indication it will contain tougher sanctions — including a broader ban on doing business with Iranian banks and bans on arms sales and new investments. It also needs a stronger commitment from Washington to lift sanctions and to fully engage Iran if it abandons its nuclear efforts. The United States is the only major power not sending a diplomat with Mr. Solana.

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain disagree on holding direct talks with Iran (Mr. Obama would; Mr. McCain would not). But last week, both endorsed enhanced sanctions, including limiting gasoline exports to Iran. That is an idea well worth exploring. Iran relies on a half-dozen companies for 40 percent of its gasoline imports. The United Nations Security Council is unlikely to authorize a squeeze, but quiet American and European appeals might persuade some companies to slow deliveries, and it would grab Tehran’s attention.

On his trip to Europe this week, President Bush is expected to press the Europeans to further reduce Iran-related export credits and cut ties with Iran’s financial institutions. He also must make clear that America will do its part on incentives. We wish he had the will and the skill to propose a grand bargain — and to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver it. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of that. At a minimum, he should send a senior official with Mr. Solana to Tehran.

If sanctions and incentives cannot be made to work, the voices arguing for military action will only get louder. No matter what aides may be telling Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert — or what they may be telling each other — an attack on Iran would be a disaster.

Iconoclast comments (10.6.08    05.19 pm):

What about SCR 255, "protecting" have-nots also against nuclear threats?

Going a bit further - and deeper into the archives - in the direction of Richard Young's blog 168, those also concerned with the fate of the system of law and the principle of pacta sunt servanda may want to know the legal implications notably for the United States of a nuclear attack or a "threat of such aggression against a non-nuclear-weapon State". For in order to achieve a politically sufficient appearance of balanced rights and obligations, the Nuclear Weapon States UK, US and USSR participating in the elaboration of the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the UN Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee offered to the have-nots a paper "guarantee" against nuclear attacks and related threats in the form of a Security Council Resolution (S/Res/255 of 19 June 1968), stating that the Security Council (with Algeria, Brasil, France, India and Pakistan abstaining in the 10 to 0 vote):

    1. Recognizes that aggression with nuclear weapons or the threat of such aggression against a non-nuclear-weapon State would create a situation in which the Security Council, and above all its nuclear-weapon State permanent members, would have to act immediately in accordance with their obligations under the United Nations Charter;
    2. Welcomes the intention expressed by certain States that they will provide or support immediate assistance, in accordance with the Charter, to any non-nuclear- weapon State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that is a victim of an act or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used;
PS: those wishing to see the - curiously twice-suppressed - blog outlining some Swiss lawmakers' efforts to help resolve both some apparent and some hidden problems in US-Israeli/Iranian relations may consult it at:

Swiss lawmakers' good offices

   Meister Eckhart drew papal condemnation on his writings because he “wanted to know more than what was permitted to know" ("plura sapere voluit quam oportuit ", Pope John XXII, Bull In Agro dominico, 27 March 1329: At that time it was considered to be politically correct, and it was to be enforced strictly urbi et orbi, i.e. in Rome’s entire sphere of influence: “In the field of the Lord over which we, though unworthy, are guardians and laborers by heavenly dispensation, we ought to exercise spiritual care so watchfully and prudently that if an enemy should ever sow tares over the seeds of truth (Mt. 13:28), they may be choked at the start before they grow up as weeds of an evil growth. Thus, with the destruction of the evil seed and the uprooting of the thorns of error, the good crop of Catholic truth may take firm root."
    Today, 373 years after the condemnation of Galileo by the Inquisition, it is as if the Age of Enlightenment had passed its apogee and given way to the twilight and forces of darkness, with disciples of the flat earth theory gaining the upper hand. Essential discoveries, principles and achievements are called into question or slighted. This includes deeply-rooted international rights and obligations which are the hallmark of sovereign states. And it pertains to fundamental rights and corresponding trade-offs which honourable members of the family of nations have mutually and conventionally agreed to, notably in the field of peaceful nuclear energy research, development and application (.../NPT.htm).
    Concern thus arises from the growing imbalance between related  rights and obligations. It is indicated actively to reduce corresponding tensions and to prevent related conflicts. And it is in line with Switzerland's tradition to avail itself accordingly, and to point out useful facts, ideas and opportunities. Reference may thus be made to the model of volontarily and conventionally submitting a politically sensitive national facility to sovereign control by a friendly foreign country. This model draws inspiration from the U.S./Swiss agreement providing for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to exercise exclusive control over the operation of the Saphir demonstration reactor exhibited during the Atoms for Peace Conference held at Geneva in 1955 (.../Saphir.tif). Another example of imaginative diplomacy may be brought to bear by way of an unprejudicial partial or complete suspension of contested nuclear activities until after a promptly-held follow-up to the 1968 Geneva Conference of Non-Nuclear-Weapon States.

    For the reasons detailed below, I not only share the Times' concern about the high probability - my current estimate stands at 95% - of an attack against Iranian nuclear installations. But I have not given up hope either for principled, visionary and competent statesmen and diplomats to unlock the apparently engaged automatic pilot into disaster and to enlighten in time the apprenti-sourcerers and flat earth fellows which seem to be in command here and there.
    The Iranians and their Russian allies have long ago accepted the idea of applying US President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace 1955 treaty with Switzerland to the contested Iranian enrichment facilities by placing them under Russian souvereignty (first proposed in a letter to the UN Secretary General of 31.1.06, .../iranmail.htm, then taken up in a parliamentary motion supported by 24 Swiss lawmakers "Good Offices on Current Nuclear Energy Matters", .../3103.htm). Israel's and US' apparent rejection so far suggests other, hidden agendas which have little if anything to do with nuclear matters. President Putin was quoted of  responding to a Western query on a possible attack on Iran by saying darkly: "Don't even think of it!"
    Switzerland has a long-standing obligeing tradition of armed neutrality and good offices. Since the traumatic take-over of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979 by "uncontrolled" Iranian students (.../edouardbrunner.htm), the Swiss flag hangs over that embassy. Since then, Swiss good offices represent US interests in Iran and Swiss diplomats serve as go-betweens (and more, if desired). Not accustumed to limit themselves to post-disaster white flag operations, some Swiss lawmakers have become experts in parallel diplomacy - though occasionally provoking the ire, envy and contempt by the official gardians of the holy grail, i.e. the pretended-to-be holders of the monopoly for good ideas.
    Neither discouraged nor derailed by such unhelpful, short-sighted and self-damaging official reactions to their mostly unorthodox ways, means and initiatives, Swiss lawmakers, in the case of the Iranian/US-Israeli dispute, have thus continued to search for practical avenues towards resolving legitimate concerns, and for setting up confidence-building long-term cooperation projects. One such idea has been introduced at Israel's recent presidential birthday party: A pipeline for transporting Kasakhstan oil via Iran, Northern Iraq, Jordan and Israel to Asia (.../app.htm). And in light of the war drums swelling again, Swiss lawmakers are currently pondering the politically uncorrect against-the-grain out-of-the-box idea of a joint Israeli/Iranian r&d program on NPT-compatible contained nuclear micro-explosions (laser fusion, involving a Swiss patent initiated in 1973: .../NPT.htm). And though this may sound like another non-starter, this might build on and evolve from the reportedly on-going (sic!) Israeli/Iranian contacts/cooperations in nuclear science under the direct sponsorship of the Jordanian King (

Auszug aus der NPT-Botschaft 12083 des Bundesrates vom 30.Oktober 1974 (BBl 174 II 1009-1065)

312     Die Entschliessung Nr. 255 des Sicherheitsrats
    Am 19. Juni 1968 hat der UNO-Sicherheitsrat eine Entschliessung (S/Res/255) verabschiedet (vgl. Beilage 2), die eine Garantieerklärung gegen atomare Drohungen oder Angriffe der Kernwaffenmächte gegen Nichtkernwaffenstaaten enthält. Dieser Entschliessung waren entsprechende Garantieerklärungen der USA, der UdSSR und Grossbritanniens vorausgegangen (17. Juni 1968).
    Rechtlich verpflichten sich die erwähnten Staaten dadurch nur zu dem, wozu sie als Mitglieder des Sicherheitsrats gemäss der UNO-Charta ohnehin schon verpflichtet sind; denn in den Garantieerklärungen und in der Entschliessung wird jeweils auf diese bestehenden Pflichten Bezug genommen. Die ganze Problematik der UNO-Sanktionen - Blockierung des Sicherheitsrats durch ein Veto - bleibt somit erhalten. Diese Auslegung wurde auch in den Verhandlungen des amerikanischen Senats verschiedentlich unterstrichen.
    Eine rechtliche Folge ist allerdings mit der Resolution insofern verbunden, als sie den politischen Spielraum der drei Kernwaffenmächte einschränkt. Diese werden nämlich verpflichtet, gegebenenfalls sofort nach den ihnen durch die UNO-Charta auferlegten Pflichten zu handeln, was sonst ihrem Ermessen unterstellt ist. Am Endresultat wird dadurch jedoch nichts geändert.
    Im Zusammenhang mit der Sicherheit der Nichtkernwaffenstaaten ist noch auf Punkt 12 der Präambel hinzuweisen, worin auf die entsprechenden Bestimmungen der UNO-Charta Bezug genommen wird. Daraus ergibt sich, dass die Anwendung von Gewalt unter den Vertragsparteien als Vertragsbruch betrachtet werden kann. Eine Garantie gegen solche Aktionen ist jedoch dieser Bestimmung nicht zu entnehmen.

Comments    September 19, 2008, 5:14 PM

It is time to act

Iran is just a heartbeat away from the A-bomb. Last Friday the Daily Telegraph reported Teheran has surreptitiously removed a sufficient amount of uranium from its nuclear production facility in Isfahan to produce six nuclear bombs. Given Iran's already acknowledged uranium enrichment capabilities, the Telegraph's report indicates that the Islamic Republic is now in the late stages of assembling nuclear bombs.

It would be a simple matter for Iran to assemble those bombs without anyone noticing. US spy satellites recently discovered what the US believes are covert nuclear facilities in Iran. The mullocracy has not disclosed these sites to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with inspecting Iran's nuclear sites.

As to the IAEA, this week it presented its latest report on Teheran's nuclear program to its board members in Vienna. The IAEA's report claimed that Iran has taken steps to enable its Shihab-3 ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads. With their range of 1,300 kilometers, Shihab-3 missiles are capable of reaching Israel and other countries throughout the region.

In support of its swiftly progressing nuclear program, Iran has escalated both its conventional military and terroristic adventurism. It has also ratcheted up its diplomatic assault on the US. This week, Teheran conducted a countrywide air defense exercise. Gen. Khatim al-Anbiaa, the commander of Iran's Air Defense Corps, explained that the exercise was aimed at defending against both electronic jamming systems and actual bombing strikes.

Also this week, Yahya Rahim Safavi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and current senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for security affairs, announced that Iran has shifted responsibility for naval warfare on the Persian Gulf from its regular naval forces to its more fanatical Revolutionary Guards. The Iranian navy will now be deployed only in the Gulf of Oman and along the Caspian Sea.

The deployment of the Guards along the Persian Gulf means that the force will be responsible for naval operations in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of global oil shipments travel. Issuing Iran's most explicit threat to US naval forces in the area and global oil shipments to date, Safavi declared, "The entire Strait of Hormuz is under the tight control of the Iranian security forces, which are ready to defend Iran against any threat."

As for terror, al-Qaida boss Ayman Zawahiri's recent tirade against the Islamic Republic notwithstanding, Iran has apparently intensified its cooperation with al-Qaida. Over the past two weeks, Israeli counterterror officials have issued explicit warnings to Israeli vacationers to immediately depart from Sinai. They have stated that terror cells from al-Qaida and Hamas are working with Iran's Hizbullah to abduct groups of Israeli vacationers to Gaza. Moreover, as Hamas and Teheran have openly acknowledged their "brotherly" ties, more and more reports have been published about al-Qaida's escalating presence in Gaza.

Beyond all this, both regionally and globally Iran is escalating its diplomatic and strategic offensive against the US. It has widened its diplomatic operations in the Western hemisphere from Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua to the Caribbean by opening diplomatic relations with Grenada and St. Vincent, and it is pursuing diplomatic ties with Jamaica.

Teheran has initiated its own pro-Russian diplomatic initiative to "stabilize" the Caucasus. This week Iran's Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki caught the US State Department by surprise when he arrived in Tblisi to meet with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. That meeting was part of a regional tour that took Mouttaki to Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as Germany.

Finally, of course, there is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's annual trip to New York for the UN's General Assembly opening session next week. Aside from being honored by leaders of the supposedly pacifist and clearly anti-Semitic Quaker and Mennonite churches, Ahmadinejad will be feted by newly elected General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann from Nicaragua.

COUNTERING TEHERAN'S sprint to the nuclear finish line and its intensifying threats against Israel and the West are three Western initiatives to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

First, the US, France and Britain have stepped up their rhetoric calling for additional economic sanctions against Iran. During the General Assembly meeting in New York, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet her counterparts from the other permanent members of the Security Council and Germany to try to agree on such sanctions. But this will be an exercise in futility.

Russia has made clear that it will reject any further sanctions. Indeed it is intensifying its military and financial ties to Teheran. Moscow has pledged to have the Bushehr nuclear plant up and running by the end of the year. And Iran is already suspected of diverting plutonium from the plant to develop still more nuclear weapons.

Germany, too, has evinced no interest in curtailing its financial ties to Teheran. To the contrary, German trade with Iran expanded 12% in the last year, from $2.7 billion to $3b.

So the US will fail to pass additional sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council. And this is a shame. But even if a miracle occurred and Russia, China and Germany agreed to adopt and enforce stiff sanctions against Iran, those sanctions would come too late to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The uranium that the Iranians took from their Isfahan plant will be weapons grade and attached to Shihab-3 missiles or transferred to Hizbullah, al-Qaida or Hamas terrorists for use long before such hypothetical sanctions would even be noticed.

The second way that the West - and particularly the US and Israel - have sought to stymie Iran's nuclear ambitions is through sabotage. As Yediot Aharonot reporter Ronen Bergman documented in his book, The Secret War with Iran, over the past few years the Mossad and US intelligence agencies have had some success killing personnel involved in Iran's nuclear weapons program. They have also managed to sell faulty nuclear components to Teheran that have slowed down and sabotaged its operations. As the assassination of Iran's terror master Imad Mughniyah in Damascus in February demonstrated, Israel has the capacity to carry out sensitive covert operations deep inside enemy territory. And more successful covert operations could no doubt cause still more damage to Iran's nuclear program.

But it is all but impossible to see how any such operations can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the short term. With that uranium from Isfahan hidden away in one of its covert facilities, with terror operatives deployed all over the globe and in charge of Lebanon and Gaza, and with the Shihab-3 missiles happily accepting nuclear warheads, it is apparent that no matter how bold, limited covert operations have not and will not prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold.

Finally, there are the private initiatives to use international law, capital markets and political pressure to deter Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to persuade states not to cultivate ties with Iran.

A year ago, The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs began a push to indict Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for his breach of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. His calls for Israel's annihilation make him guilty of the explicit crime of inciting genocide. The JCPA's initiative has fomented similar calls by groups in Canada and Australia and, most recently, by tens of thousands of evangelical Christians.

The Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC are waging public campaigns against European oil and gas companies that are involved in developing Iran's oil and gas fields.

The Center for Security Policy in Washington spearheaded the initiative to divest US public employee pension funds from companies that do business with Iran and other state sponsors of terror.

Several major American Jewish organizations are organizing a massive protest outside UN headquarters that will take place during Ahmadinejad's address to the body next Tuesday. Other groups, like the Israel Project, conduct intensive briefings for the media in the US and Europe to educate reporters and editors about the Iranian nuclear program.

All of these private initiatives are vital for raising public awareness in the West about the lethality of the Iranian threat to Israel and to global security in general. They are also important for embarrassing governments - particularly Germany, Austria and other European governments with histories of anti-Semitic violence - that refuse to end their bilateral trade with Teheran. Beyond that, they serve the important goal of weakening the Iranian economy.

But again, none of these programs can do a thing against that uranium for six bombs that Iran removed from its plant in Isfahan. They can't stop those centrifuges in Natanz and in covert facilities throughout Iran from buzzing along. They can't destroy those Shihab-3 missiles. They can't kill the scientists assembling the bombs.

IN LIGHT of Iran's unrelenting and rapid progress toward the nuclear finish line, it is clear today that while positive in their own rights, none of the actions the West is taking will succeed in blocking its path to the atomic bomb.

For that matter, the one option short of war that might have put an end to the mullahs' race to the bomb three years ago - namely supporting the Iranian people in their wish to overthrow their regime - cannot be adopted fast enough to prevent the likes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad from pushing the button now.

Today, there is only one way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Israel must bomb Iran's nuclear installations. Such a strike will not end Iran's nuclear program. It will not overthrow the regime. It will not cripple Iran's economy. It will not end Iran's active support for international terrorist groups.

All an Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities will do is set its nuclear program back for a couple of years. Such a strike will buy Israel and the rest of the world time. And during that time, Iran will no doubt expand its diplomatic, terror and political offensives against Israel and the US. But if Israel and the US are wise, they can use the time as well.

If Israel and the US are wise, they will use the extra time to ratchet up international economic sanctions on Iran. They will use the time to conduct covert operations against nuclear and regime targets. They will use the time to increase international pressure on countries that do business with Iran and sell it arms. And they will use the time that an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities will buy to support Iranian democracy movements and so weaken the regime and perhaps eventually topple it.

It is clear today that the Bush administration will not take action against Iran. This week five former secretaries of state said that the US should pursue diplomatic ties with Teheran regardless of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. There will be no will in Washington to act against Iran until after Iran has attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

So it is up to Israel. Too bad we don't have a government in Jerusalem.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.


There is only one sure option ,it was written of by the Jewish prophets long ago and it is now coming to pass before the eyes of those not blinded by their false gods and idols which will not save them.
It is the Armageddon Option which has arrived in our generation.
There is no good outcome. Caroline assumes that Israel bombing Iran set iran back and give Israel and the world more time.
This delusional thinking ignores the reality that Russia,China and Iran's many other allies will just sit this one out as they did with Afghanistan and Iraq and that the Islamic sleeper cells which have crossed into the U.S unhindered will no do immense,catastrophic damage.
Already we see a sizable Russian Naval Fleet parked in Syria's port of Latkia with missiles aimed towards Israel and her IAF jets, ready for that sure day which is almost upon us.
The only real option for sane Jews and Christians is to stop trusting in corrupt, political fools and return to God and fear Him ,seek His face and hide from His wrath which He is sending upon a wicked,godless,perverted earth.
Posted by Marcel Cousineau | September 19, 2008 5:38 PM

A sobering and timely message, Caroline.
It is frustrating and depressing that the government in Israel has been so weak, inept and foolish and now are in a period of limbo whilst a coalition is sought.
However, thankfully the fate of Israel is not in the hands of blind and spineless leaders that have blighted Israel recently nor is it in the hands of genocidal maniacs like Ahmadinejad.
..."Behold, he that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep". Psalms 121:4
Posted by Paul, England. | September 19, 2008 6:07 PM

Iran knows that Israel's current political situation is unstable. The Iranians know that the US is experiencing economic turmoil, and a possible repeat of the 2000 disputed presidential election. With Israel and America preoccupied, the Persians are exploiting an opportunity to accelerate their covert nuclear program. No amount of sanctions and embargoes will deter Iran from obtaining and deploying nuclear weapons. It has come to the point of no return, and diplomacy won’t stop Iran. An inevitable regional Mid-East war is coming soon. And Israel and America need to wake up.
Posted by Marc Handelsman, USA | September 19, 2008 6:46 PM

Just last week the Pentagon approved the sale, to Israel, of 1000 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs otherwise known as bunker-busting smart bombs. These bombs can be released up to 40 miles from their target and will glide into it with amazing precision. An F-16 can carry several of them. This bomb would be perfect for attacking the Iranian underground nuclear installations.
The question is, have any restrictions put on their use? Has the Bush Administration had a change in heart about Israel attacking Iran or are these bombs to be used just against Hezbollah tunnels and bunkers in Lebanon?
Posted by Bill K. | September 19, 2008 7:48 PM

you should have also said a word about the alliance between Iran and Turkey that's getting stronger day by day.Recently they signed a memorandum of understanding on maritime cooperation which could have diplomatic,commercial and military significance in the days to come.
Posted by pan | September 20, 2008 1:14 AM

It is clear that Iran is ganging up full speed for a 'surprise' nuclear attack on Tel Aviv. It's vicious president should be arrested immediately upon arrival in NY.
Israel will survive, but at what cost? Wake up people!
Posted by Avi Solomon | September 20, 2008 3:53 AM

Thank you Caroline for that very sobre and solid assessment. Israel and the United States have right now weak leaders--leaders whose vision (temporal and spiritual) completely blinded--leaders who excel in appeasing the enemy.
The only alternative; the most formidable avenue for Israel's redemption is YHWH the Lord God of Israel. He has aleady laid out plans for the redemption of Israel. Read the Prophetic Book of Daniel "AND AT that time of the end, Michael shall arise, the great angelic prince who defends and has charge of your [Daniel's] people. And there shall be a time of trouble, straitness, and distress such as never was since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the Book of God's plan for His own." (Daniel 12:1; Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary) Shalom, Lawrence
Posted by W.Lawrence Prabhakar, Ph.D., | September 20, 2008 6:29 AM

Very good article. Caroline, you are one of Ezekiel's watchmen. These are perilous times, not only with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, but also as Russia continues to expand its influence in the Middle East. For example, they are expanding their military presence in Syria on a scale not seen since the Cold War. In the meantime, the U.S. is very anemic about all of this and should Barack Obama be elected, an Islamo-Marxist Trojan Horse will be unleashed on America that may lead to the downfall of the U.S. itself. May God bless and keep Obama and Ahmednijad far away from all of us.
Posted by Jay | September 20, 2008 8:48 PM

You're a liar. The IAEA has proven everything you said wrong. People like you aren't happy unless you're killing people.
Caroline responds: The IAEA has also just announced that there was no nuclear installation in Syria. That the US is lying about the North Korean built, Iranian financed reactor in Syria that the IAF destroyed last September.
For the past 5 years, Baradei has stated repeatedly that it is more important to prevent Israel or the US from attacking Iran's nuclear installations than to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But if you think that he is the credible source for information about issues of life and death, you're certainly within your rights to believe him. From an Israeli perspective, it would be an act of grave irresponsibility to believe Baradei's denials.
Posted by Greg | September 21, 2008 4:17 PM

AMEN Caroline Glick My Precious Holy Ghost Annoited Sister FOR ZION'S SAKE (Esther 4:14 & Joel 2:21-32 AMEN). Please Continue To SOUND Relentlessly The SHOFAR FOR ZION'S SAKE, AND FOR JERUSALEM'S SAKE NEVER EVER BE SILENT AMEN.
Thank You Bringing Into THE LIGHT What So-Called "World Leaders" Have CONTINUED TO PLOT IN THE SPIRITUAL DARKNESS OF THE U.N.,E.U. And In Other So-Called "Governing Bodies" Of People World Wide. The FACT That Shortly After The GAZA Surrender To Terrorists That Hate Israel And The USA, Israel's War Hero Ariel Sharon Was Surely STRUCK DOWN BY THE LORD, YET REMAINS ALIVE BY JEHOVAH EL SHADDAI'S GRACE ALONE COULD VERY WELL BE THAT THE LORD OF GLORY WANTS To Miraculously HEAL Ariel Sharon (WHICH WOULD THRILL ME TO NO END, I LOVE ISRAEL AND ALL HER PEOPLE WORLD WIDE WITH AN EVER-LASTING LOVE) And THEN The LORD Can Bless Ariel Sharon And ISRAEL GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE By Allowing Ariel Sharon To Witness FIRST HAND What He Set In Motion By Caving In To The WORLD's Pressure.
We ALL Make Mistakes, We ALL Have Sinned And Fallen Short Of The SHAKINA GLORY OF THE LORD AMEN. Even The Precious Gold Meir Made Mistakes But The LORD Gave Her Favor With A Person In A Position Of Authority Whom Could And DID HELP ISRAEL DURING THE 1973 YOM KIPPUR WAR, AMEN??? STAY STRONG SIS, AND KEEP ON DOING WHAT YOU DO SOO VERY VERY VERY WELL FOR ZION'S SAKE AMEN :)
Posted by Timothy Kriete FOR ISRAEL FOREVER MORE Genesis 12:1-3,Isaiah 62 AMEN | September 22, 2008 4:23 AM

We better remove our ego for the sake of our children. No nation is the greatest in such a scenario. You will be suprised God doesn't work with nations to redeem Israel(JUST LIKE IN THE BIBLE) but spiritually inspired and gifted men and women who can discern and act, of course first with prayers to Adonai then......
Posted by Leaky M. | September 22, 2008 10:44 AM

Bloggers would you please, I'm begging you, please stop using 5000 year old biblical text to address the political environment of really is annoying.
As for all of the hysterical, "If Iran is not bombed...Israel is doomed" bullshit, I say...We've seen and heard it all before! Remember in 2002 all of the evedince about yellow cake...aluminum tubes...and Iraq's nuclear program? These same warmongers said, "We don't want to wait until we see a mushroom cloud." Not this time.
If Ms. Glick and her fellow Israeli neocons want to bomb Iran. Have at it! Only this time have your sons and daughters sign up to serve in the military. This time you share in the heartbreak of getting the knock on the door. You watch your sons and daughters come home with all facial features burned away.Not like last time where warmonger Richard Perle set up an investment group to take advantage of Haliburton's meteroric rise in value.
You want war. Let Israel do the fighting...or are they "Shackled Warriors" as Ms. Glick so laughingly refers to them?
Posted by Dsmith | September 22, 2008 2:35 PM

It's not hard to see the next chapter in this book after Israel deals with Iran and her other neighbors who seek to exterminate them. I call it the Greg effect. Israel will be blamed for everything bad that happens. Don't worry ,it's all part of God's plan to lure the nation's to form a coalition of the willing to come against Israel so He can personally destroy them. It's amazing to see all of this falling into place in our day. By the time the God of Israel is done,Israel will not have even one enemy left on the earth and will become the head of the nations,no longer the muchabused tail of the nations.
Posted by marcel cousineau | September 22, 2008 2:47 PM

Your analysis in this article makes perfect sense and your facts are undeniable. Recently, Fox News stated that next month the U.S. will be at increased risk for a major terrorist attack. I believe that the U.S. is at risk for such an attack because she has abandoned the Israeli people during a critical time of need. Here are some questions that the Israeli government should be asking the U.S. as the Iran continues to build their nuclear arsenal. Where was the U.S. when Russia and Iran formed an alliance to wipe Israel off the map? Where is President Bush and the U.S. Congress as Israel currently faces a second holocaust? Where are they? Nowhere to be found...
This week was a major win for Iran on the diplomatic front with Sarah Palin being dis-invited from an anti-Ahmadinejad rally. I can't believe that America would be willing to sell out a loyal friend...and under a Republican president. What would Israel face under an antisemitic, Democratic president. It's times like this that make me be ashamed to be an American. I'm also ashamed of a liberal, secular Jewish community worldwide that is oblivious to the threats rising to Israel, America, and the West and would choose to make peace with the evildoers who would seek to destroy them. May God have mercy on us all.
Posted by Jay Di Napoli | September 23, 2008 3:52 AM    September 25, 2008, 19:02 BST

Israel asked US for green light to bomb nuclear sites in Iran
US president told Israeli prime minister he would not back attack on Iran,
senior European diplomatic sources tell Guardian
Jonathan Steele

A view of the nuclear enrichment plant of Natanz in central Iran. Photograph: EPA

Israel gave serious thought this spring to launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites but was told by President George W Bush that he would not support it and did not expect to revise that view for the rest of his presidency, senior European diplomatic sources have told the Guardian.

The then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, used the occasion of Bush's trip to Israel for the 60th anniversary of the state's founding to raise the issue in a one-on-one meeting on May 14, the sources said. "He took it [the refusal of a US green light] as where they were at the moment, and that the US position was unlikely to change as long as Bush was in office", they added.

The sources work for a European head of government who met the Israeli leader some time after the Bush visit. Their talks were so sensitive that no note-takers attended, but the European leader subsequently divulged to his officials the highly sensitive contents of what Olmert had told him of Bush's position.

Bush's decision to refuse to offer any support for a strike on Iran appeared to be based on two factors, the sources said. One was US concern over Iran's likely retaliation, which would probably include a wave of attacks on US military and other personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on shipping in the Persian Gulf.

The other was US anxiety that Israel would not succeed in disabling Iran's nuclear facilities in a single assault even with the use of dozens of aircraft. It could not mount a series of attacks over several days without risking full-scale war. So the benefits would not outweigh the costs.

Iran has repeatedly said it would react with force to any attack. Some western government analysts believe this could include asking Lebanon's Shia movement Hizbollah to strike at the US.

"It's over ten years since Hizbollah's last terror strike outside Israel, when it hit an Argentine-Israel association building in Buenos Aires [killing 85 people]", said one official. "There is a large Lebanese diaspora in Canada which must include some Hizbollah supporters. They could slip into the United States and take action".

Even if Israel were to launch an attack on Iran without US approval its planes could not reach their targets without the US becoming aware of their flightpath and having time to ask them to abandon their mission.

"The shortest route to Natanz lies across Iraq and the US has total control of Iraqi airspace", the official said. Natanz, about 100 miles north of Isfahan, is the site of an uranium enrichment plant.

In this context Iran would be bound to assume Bush had approved it, even if the White House denied fore-knowledge, raising the prospect of an attack against the US.

Several high-level Israeli officials have hinted over the last two years that Israel might strike Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent them being developed to provide sufficient weapons-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Iran has always denied having such plans.

Map showing nuclear activity in Iran

Olmert himself raised the possibility of an attack at a press conference during a visit to London last November, when he said sanctions were not enough to block Iran's nuclear programme.

"Economic sanctions are effective. They have an important impact already, but they are not sufficient. So there should be more. Up to where? Up until Iran will stop its nuclear programme," he said.

The revelation that Olmert was not merely sabre-rattling to try to frighten Iran but considered the option seriously enough to discuss it with Bush shows how concerned Israeli officials had become.

Bush's refusal to support an attack, and the strong suggestion he would not change his mind, is likely to end speculation that Washington might be preparing an "October surprise" before the US presidential election. Some analysts have argued that Bush would back an Israeli attack in an effort to help John McCain's campaign by creating an eve-of-poll security crisis.

Others have said that in the case of an Obama victory, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, the main White House hawk, would want to cripple Iran's nuclear programme in the dying weeks of Bush's term.

During Saddam Hussein's rule in 1981, Israeli aircraft successfully destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak shortly before it was due to start operating.

Last September they knocked out a buildings complex in northern Syria, which US officials later said had been a partly constructed nuclear reactor based on a North Korean design. Syria said the building was a military complex but had no links to a nuclear programme.

In contrast, Iran's nuclear facilities, which are officially described as intended only for civilian purposes, are dispersed around the country and some are in fortified bunkers underground.

In public, Bush gave no hint of his view that the military option had to be excluded. In a speech to the Knesset the following day he confined himself to telling Israel's parliament: "America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.''

Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, tonight reacted to the Guardian's story saying: "The need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is raised at every meeting between the prime minister and foreign leaders. Israel prefers a diplomatic solution to this issue but all options must remain on the table. Your unnamed European source attributed words to the prime minister that were not spoken in any working meeting with foreign guests".

Three weeks after Bush's red light, on June 2, Israel mounted a massive air exercise covering several hundred miles in the eastern Mediterranean. It involved dozens of warplanes, including F-15s, F-16s and aerial refueling tankers.

The size and scope of the exercise ensured that the US and other nations in the region saw it, said a US official, who estimated the distance was about the same as from Israel to Natanz.

A few days later, Israel's deputy prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, told the paper Yediot Ahronot: "If Iran continues its programme 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 programme."

The exercise and Mofaz's comments may have been designed to boost the Israeli government and military's own morale as well, perhaps, to persuade Bush to reconsider his veto. Last week Mofaz narrowly lost a primary within the ruling Kadima party to become Israel's next prime minister. Tzipi Livni, who won the contest, takes a less hawkish position.

The US announced two weeks ago that it would sell Israel 1,000 bunker-busting bombs. The move was interpreted by some analysts as a consolation prize for Israel after Bush told Olmert of his opposition to an attack on Iran. But it could also enhance Israel's attack options in case the next US president revives the military option.

The guided bomb unit-39 (GBU-39) has a penetration capacity equivalent to a one-tonne bomb. Israel already has some bunker-busters.

Israel Matzav    September 26, 2008

So what if the US turned down Israel's 'green light' request

Al-Guardian reported Thursday night that in May the United States turned down an Israeli request for a 'green light' to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).

Israel gave serious thought this spring to launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites but was told by President George W Bush that he would not support it and did not expect to revise that view for the rest of his presidency, senior European diplomatic sources have told the Guardian.

The then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, used the occasion of Bush's trip to Israel for the 60th anniversary of the state's founding to raise the issue in a one-on-one meeting on May 14, the sources said. "He took it [the refusal of a US green light] as where they were at the moment, and that the US position was unlikely to change as long as Bush was in office", they added.

The sources work for a European head of government who met the Israeli leader some time after the Bush visit. Their talks were so sensitive that no note-takers attended, but the European leader subsequently divulged to his officials the highly sensitive contents of what Olmert had told him of Bush's position.

Bush's decision to refuse to offer any support for a strike on Iran appeared to be based on two factors, the sources said. One was US concern over Iran's likely retaliation, which would probably include a wave of attacks on US military and other personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on shipping in the Persian Gulf.

The other was US anxiety that Israel would not succeed in disabling Iran's nuclear facilities in a single assault even with the use of dozens of aircraft. It could not mount a series of attacks over several days without risking full-scale war. So the benefits would not outweigh the costs.

Consider the source of this story. Al-Guardian is long-known as a virulently anti-Israel newspaper. My guess is that the "European head of government who met the Israeli leader some time after the Bush visit" is Britain's own Gordon Brown, who met with Olmert in July. Brown is no Tony Blair, and while he may be cooperative on sanctions against Iran, he is less likely to be cooperative on striking Iran's nuclear facilities.

But as Caroline Glick pointed out last week, Israel may no longer have a choice as to whether to act, even if the only damage is to set Iran back a few years. Note how dispersed Iran's nuclear facilities are in the map below and read on.

Today, there is only one way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Israel must bomb Iran's nuclear installations. Such a strike will not end Iran's nuclear program. It will not overthrow the regime. It will not cripple Iran's economy. It will not end Iran's active support for international terrorist groups.

All an Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities will do is set its nuclear program back for a couple of years. Such a strike will buy Israel and the rest of the world time. And during that time, Iran will no doubt expand its diplomatic, terror and political offensives against Israel and the US. But if Israel and the US are wise, they can use the time as well.

If Israel and the US are wise, they will use the extra time to ratchet up international economic sanctions on Iran. They will use the time to conduct covert operations against nuclear and regime targets. They will use the time to increase international pressure on countries that do business with Iran and sell it arms. And they will use the time that an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities will buy to support Iranian democracy movements and so weaken the regime and perhaps eventually topple it.

It is clear today that the Bush administration will not take action against Iran. This week five former secretaries of state said that the US should pursue diplomatic ties with Teheran regardless of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. There will be no will in Washington to act against Iran until after Iran has attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

So it is up to Israel. Too bad we don't have a government in Jerusalem.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that what Glick is proposing is Samson committing suicide and taking as many Philistines as possible with him. But I believe that she is right that even if the costs of a strike against Iran are high, and even if they outweigh the benefits in the short-term, there may no longer be any choice. As I noted yesterday, sanctions are a dead letter.

For the record, Olmert spokesman Mark Regev has denied the Guardian's story:

Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, tonight reacted to the Guardian's story saying: "The need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is raised at every meeting between the prime minister and foreign leaders. Israel prefers a diplomatic solution to this issue but all options must remain on the table. Your unnamed European source attributed words to the prime minister that were not spoken in any working meeting with foreign guests".
And there is every indication that if Bush said no in May, it did not convince Israel to abandon the military option against Iran:
Three weeks after Bush's red light, on June 2, Israel mounted a massive air exercise covering several hundred miles in the eastern Mediterranean. It involved dozens of warplanes, including F-15s, F-16s and aerial refueling tankers.

The size and scope of the exercise ensured that the US and other nations in the region saw it, said a US official, who estimated the distance was about the same as from Israel to Natanz.

A few days later, Israel's deputy prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, told the paper Yediot Ahronot: "If Iran continues its programme 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 programme."

The exercise and Mofaz's comments may have been designed to boost the Israeli government and military's own morale as well, perhaps, to persuade Bush to reconsider his veto. Last week Mofaz narrowly lost a primary within the ruling Kadima party to become Israel's next prime minister. Tzipi Livni, who won the contest, takes a less hawkish position.

The US announced two weeks ago that it would sell Israel 1,000 bunker-busting bombs. The move was interpreted by some analysts as a consolation prize for Israel after Bush told Olmert of his opposition to an attack on Iran. But it could also enhance Israel's attack options in case the next US president revives the military option.

The guided bomb unit-39 (GBU-39) has a penetration capacity equivalent to a one-tonne bomb. Israel already has some bunker-busters.

When it comes to Iran, there is wall-to-wall agreement in this country that we cannot allow Iran to go nuclear. Even Livni understands that. Here's what to watch for: If Netanyahu and the Likud go into a government headed by Kadima, an attack against Iran is coming. Just like Menachem Begin brought the Likud's predecessor into the Labor-led government just before the Six Day War in 1967.

While George Bush may have said no in May, he may feel differently toward the end of the first week in November. And Israel has always had a contingency plan for attacking Iran that did not require a flyover of Iraq.

Don't count us out yet.

May 17, 2009

Israel’s Fears, Amalek’s Arsenal

WHEN the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visits the White House on Monday for his first stage-setting visit, he will carry with him an agenda that clashes insistently with that of President Obama. Mr. Obama wants Mr. Netanyahu to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu wants something else entirely: the president’s agreement that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Mr. Netanyahu, in his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s, earned a reputation for conspicuous insincerity. It is therefore possible to interpret his fixation on Iran — he told me in a recent conversation that it is ruled by a “messianic apocalyptic cult” — as a way of avoiding the mare’s nest of problems associated with the Middle East peace process, especially the escalating pressure from the Obama administration to curb Jewish settlement on the West Bank.

This reading of Mr. Netanyahu holds that he is, at bottom, a cynic (or, if you agree with him, a pragmatist), who will bluff vigorously but bend whenever he thinks it expedient or unavoidable. In his first term, he betrayed the principles of the Greater Israel movement by relinquishing part of Judaism’s second-holiest city, Hebron, to the control of Yasir Arafat. His pragmatism evinces itself, as well, in his apparent belief that the relationship between Israel and Washington is sacrosanct. In other words, Mr. Netanyahu, despite his rhetoric, would never launch a strike on Iran without the permission of Mr. Obama — permission that in no way appears forthcoming.

But this is to misread both the prime minister and this moment in Jewish history. It is true that Mr. Netanyahu would prefer to avoid hard decisions concerning the Palestinian issue, for reasons both political (he is not, let us say, sympathetic to the cause of Palestinian self-determination) and strategic (he believes the Palestinians, divided and dysfunctional, their extremists firmly in the Iranian camp, are unready for compromise).

Nevertheless, the prime minister’s preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear program seems sincere and deeply felt. I recently asked one of his advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu’s anxiety about Iran. His answer: “Think Amalek.”

“Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit.

If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think. In our recent conversation, Mr. Netanyahu avoided metaphysics and biblical exegesis, but said that Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons represented a “hinge of history.”

“Iran has threatened to annihilate a state,” he said. “In historical terms, this is an astounding thing. It’s a monumental outrage that goes effectively unchallenged in the court of public opinion. Sure, there are perfunctory condemnations, but there’s no j’accuse — there’s no shock.” He argued that one lesson of history is that “bad things tend to get worse if they’re not challenged early.” He went on, “Iranian leaders talk about Israel’s destruction or disappearance while simultaneously creating weapons to ensure its disappearance.”

Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t believe that Iran would necessarily launch a nuclear-tipped missile at Tel Aviv. He argues instead that Iran could bring about the eventual end of Israel simply by possessing such weaponry. “Iran’s militant proxies would be able to fire rockets and engage in other terror activities while enjoying a nuclear umbrella,” he said. This could lead to the depopulation of the Negev and the Galilee, both of which have already endured sustained rocket attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah.

More broadly, he said, a nuclear Iran “would embolden Islamic militants far and wide, on many continents, who would believe that this is a providential sign, that this fanaticism is on the ultimate road to triumph.”

To understand why Mr. Netanyahu sees Iran as a new Amalek, it is essential to understand two aspects of his intellectual and emotional development: The scholarship of his father, and the martyrdom of his older brother.

His father, Benzion Netanyahu, 99, is a pre-eminent historian of Spanish Jewry. “The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th-Century Spain,” his most notable book, toppled previously held understandings of the Inquisition’s birth.

Over more than 1,300 pages, Benzion Netanyahu argued that Spanish hatred of Jews was not merely theologically motivated but based in race hatred (the Spanish pursued the principle of limpieza de sangre, or the purity of blood) that reached back to the ancient world.

The elder Netanyahu also argued that efforts by the Jews of Spain to accommodate their adversaries were futile, in part because the charges against them were devoid of logic or fact, and, perhaps most important, because the written or spoken expression of Jew hatred (his preferred term for anti-Semitism) inevitably led to physical persecution. “What emerges from our survey,” he wrote, “is that the Spanish Inquisition was by no means the result of a fortuitous concourse of circumstances and events. It was the product of a movement that called for its creation and labored for decades to bring it about.”

A close reading of Benzion Netanyahu suggests a belief that anti-Semitism is a sui generis hatred, one that is shape-shifting, impervious to logic and eternal. The only rational response to such sentiment, in the Netanyahu view, is militant Jewish self-defense.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his two brothers were raised in a home darkened by the history of the Inquisition, and they were taught Benzion’s understanding of the consequences of Jewish weakness. In his 1993 book, “A Place Among the Nations,” Benjamin Netanyahu wrote about what he saw as one of the miracles of the Zionist revolution: “The entire world is witnessing the historical transformation of the Jewish people from a condition of powerlessness to power, from a condition of being unable to meet the contingencies of a violent world to one in which the Jewish people is strong enough to pilot its own destiny.”

If his father provided Mr. Netanyahu with his historical framework, his brother Yonatan bequeathed on him the model of a Jew who devoted his spirit to the cause of his people’s survival. Yonatan, who was killed while leading the 1976 raid on the Entebbe airport in Uganda to free Israeli captives of Arab and German hijackers, is perhaps the most venerated figure in the post-Warsaw Ghetto Jewish martyrology, mainly because Entebbe still symbolizes the purest expression of the modern Jewish rejection of passivity.

Friends and advisers say Benjamin Netanyahu took three lessons from his brother’s death: The first is that those who threaten Jews, and have the means to carry out their threats, should be neutralized pre-emptively. The second is that no one will defend the Jews except the Jews themselves. The third is that destiny has chosen the Netanyahus to expose and battle anti-Semitism — before it reaches the point of genocide.

In his eulogy for Yonatan Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defense minister, said: “There are times when the fate of an entire people rests on a handful of fighters and volunteers. They must secure the uprightness of our world in one short hour. In such moments, they have no one to ask, no one to turn to. The commanders on the spot determine the fate of the battle.”

BENJAMIN Netanyahu faces the daunting task of maintaining Israel’s relationship with the United States, while at the same time forestalling Iran’s nuclear program. If Iran gains nuclear capacity, Israel will have judged him a failure as prime minister; if he does serious damage to his country’s standing in Washington, he will have failed as well.

Mr. Netanyahu may be able to convince Mr. Obama that Iran poses an Amalek-sized threat to Israel, but he will have a much more difficult time convincing him that Iran poses an existential threat to America. It is certainly true that a nuclear Iran is not in the best interests of the United States. It would mean, among other things, the probable beginning of a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region, and it would mean that the 30-year-struggle between America and Iran for domination of the Persian Gulf will be over, with Persia the victor. But the short-term costs, in particular, for an American strike — or an American-approved Israeli strike — could be appallingly high.

As the crisis worsens, Mr. Obama will find his options few, and those that exist will require him to bring to bear all his talents of persuasion. In his effort to engage Iran, he will need to promise a complete end to its international isolation in exchange for a halt to its nuclear program. But at the same time, he must be ready to threaten Iran with total estrangement from the West — the limiting of its gas imports, the choking-off of its banking system — if it continues its nuclear program.

To do this, he must convince Europe, China and Russia that a nuclear Iran will be catastrophic for Middle East stability as well as for their own economies. If he’s unwilling to take military action against Iran, President Obama might soon enough be forced to design a containment strategy meant to scare a nuclear Iran into something resembling quiescence.

Talk of containing Iran after it acquires a nuclear capacity, however, does not make the Israelis (or Iran’s Arab adversaries, for that matter) happy and, in fact, might push them closer to executing a military strike. The president, who has shown he understands the special dread Israelis feel about their precarious existence, surely knows this.

Last year, during his campaign, he told me, “I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens.”

Mr. Netanyahu says he supports Mr. Obama’s plan to engage the Iranians. He also supports the tightening of sanctions on the regime, if engagement doesn’t work. But there should be little doubt that, by the end of this year, if no progress is made, Mr. Netanyahu will seriously consider attacking Iran. His military advisers tell me they believe an attack, even an attack conducted without American help or permission, would have a reasonably high chance of setting back the Iranian program for two to five years.

Around the world, this would be an extraordinarily unpopular step, but Mr. Netanyahu knows he would have much of the Israeli public behind him. Even the man who delivered the eulogy at his brother’s funeral, the far more dovish Shimon Peres, has assimilated the lessons Benzion taught his sons.

When I visited recently with Mr. Peres, who is now Israel’s president, I asked him if there is a chance that his country has over-learned the lessons of Jewish history. He answered, “If we have to make a mistake of overreaction or underreaction, I think I prefer the overreaction.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is the author of “Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.”

The Washington Times    20 May 2009

Set to assess progress of outreach, share intelligence
U.S., Israel forming working group on Iran
By Eli Lake

    The United States and Israel are quietly forming a high-level working group to assess the progress of President Obama'soutreach to Iran and to share intelligence about the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program, officials familiar with the two countries' deliberations said Tuesday.
    The agreement, reached during Monday's meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Obama, gives the U.S. a clear channel for communicating with the new Israeli government and a vehicle for keeping tabs on any military contingency plans Israel might make if diplomacy fails and Iran develops nuclear weapons capability.
    While Mr. Netanyahu publicly endorsed the president's plan for negotiating with Iran, the Israeli leader has also pressed for a timetable for negotiations and is seeking a firm commitment from Mr. Obama about what would happen if diplomacy doesn't persuade Iran to end uranium enrichment, Israeli officials said.
    The Israeli officials, who asked not to be named because they were describing private conversations between the two leaders, said the working group would begin to examine contingency plans now in case Iran continues a nuclear weapons program. Mr. Obama, for his part, refused to set a deadline for diplomacy, but said he would be able to assess the progress of U.S. outreach to Iran by the end of this year.
    After their meeting Monday, Mr. Netanyahu told Israeli reporters that he had "reached a great understanding on Iran" with Mr. Obama, and that the president understood that Iran was a "threat to be countered."
    The two leaders authorized aides to form the working group Monday following one-on-one Netanyahu-Obama talks.
Officials familiar with the consultations said that final details are still being discussed but that the American side would be represented either by deputy national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon or by national security adviser James L. Jones. The Israeli side would be represented by Mr. Jones' counterpart, Uzi Arad.
    Israel and the U.S. have long consulted closely on strategic issues, but the new working group will focus exclusively on Iran. Israel sees Iranian nuclear weapons capability as an existential threat, and Mr. Netanyahu campaigned on a pledge to counter that threat.
    "There's always been a U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue that spends a lot of time focusing on Iran," said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. "So this may just be institutionalizing a dialogue that already exists. To the extent that it gives the Israelis a greater sense of buy-in to the diplomatic process, it's positive. But it could also exacerbate Iranian paranoia about U.S. intentions and Israel's role in formulating U.S. foreign policy."
    Thus far, Mr. Obama has focused on diplomacy, as opposed to military action, and rarely has used the phrase "all options are on the table," in contrast to former President George W. Bush. The terminology refers to military action, which Mr. Obama has made clear he hopes will not occur.
    Instead, Mr. Obama has said that there are a "range of options" if Iran does not respond to U.S. overtures. Those options appear to encompass what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called "crippling sanctions" earlier this month on Capitol Hill. Such sanctions could include penalties against foreign companies that sell Iran refined petroleum and provide an insurance policy for Iranian shipping.
    One Israeli official told The Washington Times that the working group intends to meet at least once a month. "Contingencies would include sanctions and other forms of pressure," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
    President Reagan signed a directive forming the first U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue in 1983. It originally discussed contingency plans for downed pilots in the region, said Steven J. Rosen, the former director of foreign-policy issues for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Since then, consultation between the two countries has expanded and became especially close during the last administration.
    John Hannah, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney's national security adviser said, "As good as the relationship was in the Bush administration, the interagency strategic dialogue was useful, but tended to be formalistic, which is different than high-level strategic consultations. It was not the place for discussing what will happen when and if the balloon goes up with Iran."
    Mr. Hannah added that contingency planning could cover a range of options. "Contingency planning in this context could be anything from developing agreed standards for judging if engagement is working, next steps if engagement fails, under what conditions - if any - military force might be used and coordinating our actions in the event of conflict with Iran."
    He added, "It's been reported that in the last year of the Bush administration, the Israelis made a number of military requests related to a possible Iran contingency, including bunker-buster bombs, refueling capability and overflights of Iraq. The Bush administration left those requests outstanding. Will this group be a place to resurrect them?"
    Flynt Leverett, a former Mideast specialist on the National Security Council and advocate of a "grand bargain" between the U.S. and Iran, said the new working group could undermine the credibility of any U.S. offers to Iran. So far, the Obama administration has not offered new proposals, but has lifted the Bush administration's precondition that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before U.S. diplomats would talk directly with Tehran.
    "It is an idea that unfortunately is in keeping with a number of other statements and decisions by the Obama administration that will completely undercut the credibility of any U.S. overtures in the eyes of Iranian leaders - assuming the U.S. will make such overtures," he said. "The Iranians are going to see this as Israel setting policy toward them."
    Patrick Clawson, the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, however, that it was smart for Mr. Obama to create the working group. "Obama has asked for no surprises. This will let the Obama administration have a better understanding of what Israel is thinking and what it is considering doing."

Barbara Slavin contributed to this report.
Iran Focus

APRIL 12, 2011

Germany Rebuffs U.S. Calls to Shut Iran Bank

Germany is resisting international pressure to freeze the activities of an Iranian-owned bank  based in Hamburg that U.S. officials say provides the financial lifeblood for some of Iran's  blacklisted companies.

U.S. and European Union officials in recent months have stepped up pressure on Germany to  close down the European-Iranian Trade Bank AG—including a Feb. 2 letter from 11 U.S.  senators to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that urged immediate action. The  U.S. says the German-licensed bank, known as EIH Bank for its German initials, has become  a major financial conduit for Iranian companies involved in weapons proliferation. Last  September, it added EIH to its own blacklist of entities banned from the U.S. financial system.

Germany has rebuffed such appeals, arguing that it has no proof of illegal activity. In February,  it also blocked a French proposal presented in Brussels to designate EIH for EU sanctions, two  diplomats familiar with the meetings say.

In a statement, EIH says its activities are legal and that it continues to operate under a German  license.

In a response to the U.S. senators last month, Mr. Westerwelle said the bank operates under  strict German oversight, a person familiar with the letter said. Should the oversight officials  discover any suspicious activity, it would be forwarded to the EU sanctions committee, this  person said.

German officials familiar with the EU discussions of sanctions say a key reason Germany has  been reluctant to support efforts to crack down on EIH is the important role it plays in the  business of legions of the country's mid-size, or Mittelstand, companies with Iran. These  companies fuel much of Germany's export-driven economy and supply the bulk of its jobs.

In Berlin, that's made the Mittelstand a powerful voice in lobbying against taking measures  against EIH, government officials say. Lobbyists have argued the companies' Iranian business  doesn't fall afoul of United Nations or EU sanctions—which focus on proliferation of weapons  and a short list of industries including shipping and development of new energy reserves. They  add that the bank provides a secure conduit for transactions with Iranian trading partners.

"EIH is a confidence builder" for German businesses that have legitimate business with Iran  and might otherwise decide against trading, one German official said. Among dealings that are  legal are sales of humanitarian goods, medical equipment and machinery that doesn't have  military use.

Though a number of large companies such as Siemens AG and ThyssenKrupp AG have  bowed to political pressure and recently moved to retreat from dealings with Iran, Germany is  third largest exporter to the Islamic republic—with €3.8 billion in Iranian exports last year—after  the United Arab Emirates and China. Much of it comes from medium-size companies  specialized in the machine tools and engineering prowess Iran relies on to modernize its  infrastructure.

Siemens and ThyssenKrupp are honoring their existing contracts.

Larger European banks also have withdrawn from Iran in recent years, leaving EIH one of the  few significant conduits in Europe for Iranian trade in euros.

In a meeting between U.S. and German officials in 2008, a German finance ministry official  called it "the only relevant channel for Iran-related financial transactions in Germany,"  according to U.S. State Department cables made available to certain media outlets by  Wikileaks. The Wall Street Journal has reviewed the documents.

Founded by a group of Iranian merchants in Hamburg in 1971, the bank operates openly  under the supervision of German regulators.

Though the U.N. Security Council hasn't designated EIH a supporter of Iranian proliferation,  the U.S. claims that the bank has handled "billions of dollars" of transactions for Iranian banks  and provided financial services to Iranian entities already blacklisted by the U.S. for allegedly  supporting proliferation.

Germany says it has stepped up its scrutiny of the bank. German Bundesbank auditors last  year began reviewing thousands of EIH transactions, looking for evidence that would  substantiate U.S. allegations. A spokesman for the German central bank declined to comment  on the details or status of the audit.

Germany's banking oversight agency, known as BaFin, has begun requiring EIH to report all  transactions exceeding €10,000 ($14,457) and obtain prior government authorization for those  of more than €40,000.

Still, some German banking oversight officials say the government's monitoring of EIH has a  gap because BaFin lacks the authority to supervise activities at EIH's Tehran office, which the  bank opened in 2008 to process some of its transactions. The bank has its headquarters in  Hamburg and two branch offices in Iran. EIH declined to comment on this issue.

A BaFin spokesman said Germany doesn't have an agreement with its Iranian counterparts  that would allow regulators to visit the Tehran branch or conduct an audit in Iran. "We can't  conduct oversight overseas," the spokesman said, "and we have no legal grounds for  prohibiting a bank from opening a branch office outside of Germany," he said.

An E.U. spokeswoman said the issue of sanctions is under constant review and declined to  discuss the status of individual sanction talks. A German foreign ministry spokesman declined  to discuss Germany's sanction discussion with European partners.

A German Economics Ministry says two oversight officials are dedicated to continuously  monitoring EIH activities in Hamburg. "The strict monitoring and control of EIH will continue,"  an Economics Ministry spokeswoman said at a recent press conference.

Write to David Crawford at

CNN    June 2, 2011

Former Israeli intelligence chief to Netanyahu: Don't attack Iran
By Kevin Flower

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel's former top intelligence official says the country does not have the ability to stop Iran's nuclear program and that a pre-emptive attack against the Islamic Republic would result in a regional war that would pose Israel with an "impossible" challenge.

"We do not have the ability to stop Iran's nuclear program. In the best case scenario we can push it off a bit," said former Mossad chief Meir Dagan in widely reported remarks to a Tel Aviv leadership conference Wednesday.

"It is important to know what the outcome of an attack on Iran would be, what would happen on the day after and what situation Israel would find itself in on the international stage," Dagan said.

"An attack on Iran would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given (Iran) the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program because the Iranians would then claim, 'We have been attacked by a foreign country that is reported to have a military nuclear capability. Now we have no choice but to defend ... against a country with strategic capabilities -- a compelling and principled argument for them to move to a large nuclear program," he added.

"It is important to know that that war would not just be against Iran. It would be a regional war that would include Syria -- if we needed to attack Hezbollah targets in Syrian territory. The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible."

The blunt public comments, which have been printed in various Israeli newspapers, are not the first from Dagan, who spent the last eight years heading the Israeli spy agency. Dagan left his position in January and in recent weeks has made a series of comments that have been at odds with the public policy positions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sensitive issue of Iran and it's nuclear program.

Netanyahu has repeatedly maintained in public that all options including military force should be considered to force Iran to halt its nuclear program. Both Israel and the United States believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons -- an allegation leaders in Tehran deny, maintaining the program is for civilian use only.

In his comments, Dagan compared the strategic environment facing Israel to the eve of the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and warned that the country should go to war only if it was attacked "or if there is a gun to your head -- that is to say, conflict is unavoidable and the only way to minimize the threat is to use violence."

Dagan suggested conflict was not yet unavoidable and offered advice to the prime minister "not to make a decision to attack Iran."

"It is important to consider all options and not to run straight for the war option. At the moment no decision has been made to attack Iran, and I am not familiar with any decision to attack in 2011 or 2012," Dagan told the audience.

In addition to Iran, Dagan said it was crucial for Israel to present some sort of plan for getting talks restarted with Palestinians and suggested adopting the 2002 Saudi Peace initiative, which outlines normalization of relations with Arab countries in exchange for a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines with a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee issue.

"We have no other way, and not because they are my top priority, but because I am concerned about Israel's well-being and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel's existence," Dagan said "If we don't make proposals and if we don't take the initiative, we will eventually find ourselves in a corner."

It is not uncommon for former Israeli intelligence chiefs to be speak publicly, but for the widely respected Dagan to speak so openly and so soon after his departure has raised eyebrows in Israel. To that point, Dagan told the Tel Aviv audience "it is important for ex-officials to make their opinions known."

The office of Prime Minister Netanyahu declined to comment on Dagan's remarks.

Earlier in the year Dagan courted controversy when he stated that Iran would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon before 2015. which prompted Netanyahu to disagree publicly stating, "I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates. They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments."    10.11.2011

The 10 Reasons We Know Iran Wants the Bomb - UPDATED
By Bruno Tertrais

On November 8, the IAEA published a damning indictment of the Iranian nuclear program. For the first time, the Agency describes in an extraordinarily detailed fashion (in a 14-page annex to the main report) all the weaponization activities conducted by Tehran that it is aware of. The Agency specifies that this information comes from both its own inquiries and intelligence provided by more than ten Member States (which it then validates by its own means). It is particularly notable that some of these activities were conducted very recently: this means that, as many experts believed, they only had been temporarily “halted” (a word used by the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate). In itself, the sum of all these weaponization activities is a tangible proof, if one was still needed, of the Iranian will to have a nuclear weapon capability. But this conclusion is also grounded in numerous other elements.
How do we know that Iran wants the Bomb? There is no single “smoking gun” (nor could there ever be one absent a nuclear test), but rather a multitude of “smoldering guns”. Most come from the work of the IAEA. Taken together, they lead to the inescapable conclusion that Iran wants at least a nuclear weapon option, and probably the Bomb.

1.      Iran has sought to hide its activities and installations from the IAEA
In 2003, the magnitude of Iran’s efforts became public. Iran had concealed the construction of an enrichment plant at Natanz and of a research reactor at Arak, the fabrication of centrifuges, the existence of a laser enrichment program, and a number of sensitive experiments. [1] Iran then prevented the IAEA from a full inspection of the Lavisan-Shian and Parchin sites, suspected of hosting nuclear activities (which was indeed the case, as is now known). It later failed to declare in advance the construction of the Fordow enrichment plant.

2.      Iran’s most sensitive activities are controlled by the Ministry of Defense
While Iran’s program is officially under the control of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), the IAEA has established that many hidden nuclear-related activities were in fact conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense. [2] In its latest report, the IAEA described in a very precise manner the “structured organization” that had been set up by Tehran to that effect. Until 2003, it was a true parallel program. Since 2003, these activities are more dispersed, probably to ensure more discretion. [3]

3.      Iran’s enrichment program has no economic logic
Iran’s gas reserves would allow the country to be self-sufficient regarding electricity generation for several decades. Tehran’s investment in a costly enrichment program, allegedly to make fuel for nuclear power plants, has no economic rationale.

Natanz has limited capability: if completed, it could fuel only one reactor for a year. No country has ever operated an enrichment facility for just one plant – it is much cheaper, in such a case, to buy fuel on the market.

4.      Iran’s enrichment program is inconsistent with its stated goals
Iran claims that it needs 3% enriched uranium for its nuclear power plants. But Russia provides the fuel for Bushehr – and it would be impossible for Iran to operate it with its own fuel. If the plan was to fuel a hypothetical future reactor, there is no reason why Tehran would have started enrichment as early as 2006.

Iran is now building a second enrichment plant at Fordow, but this buried installation is much smaller than Natanz. Its size is consistent with a military purpose.

In 2010, Iran has started to produce 20% enriched uranium, allegedly to re-fuel the Tehran research reactor. But there is no evidence that Iran has the know-how needed to make fuel rods for this particular reactor. And for technical reasons, 20% enrichment is very close to the 90% level which is deemed ideal for the manufacture of a nuclear weapon. In 2011, Iran announced its intention to transfer the production of 20% enriched uranium to Fordow, to “triple” such production, and to install in Fordow the latest centrifuge models. The Fordow installation would be ideal for quick production of 90% enriched uranium.

5.      Iran possesses a document explaining how to cast uranium into hemispheres
The IAEA has determined that Iran possesses a document which explains how to cast uranium metal into hemispheres – that is, how to make a nuclear weapon core. [4] This document was given by the Khan network.

6.      Iran is building a heavy-water reactor without a clear scientific purpose
Iran is building at Arak a new research reactor. Its characteristics – a 40 MW reactor using natural uranium and heavy water – would make it well-suited for producing weapon-grade plutonium. In fact, it suspiciously resembles reactors used by other countries to produce such plutonium. According to Tehran, this reactor will be operational in 2013. It would then offer another pathway to the Bomb.

It is noteworthy, in this regard, that Iran has conducted experiments of plutonium separation in hot cells. [5]

7.      Iran has conducted many weaponization-related experiments and studies
Iran has produced polonium, which can be used for neutron initiation. [6] It has also conducted studies on neutron initiation using uranium deuteride (a Chinese method). [7] Around 2006, Tehran embarked in experimental work related with neutron initiation, based on nuclear explosive designs acquired to the Khan network. [8]

Organizations reporting to the Ministry of defense have studied and tested the mechanics of nuclear weapon explosion (simultaneous detonation of high explosives around a spherical core). [9] Iran acquired from another state (Pakistan?) the design concept for a multipoint initiation system. [10] Even more worrying: the Khan network has sold weapons designs to Iran, as it had done to Libya, and the Agency is even concerned that Iran may have received more sophisticated designs (which would then be certainly of Pakistani origin). [11]

Tehran has acknowledged experimenting with simultaneous detonations but claims that this is for non-nuclear purposes. [12] However, Iran has proven unable to explain to the exact nature of such purposes. [13] And documents in the possession of the IAEA show that Iranian requirements are only consistent with a nuclear weapon design. [14]

Iran has laid the groundwork for hydrodynamic testing (“cold tests”, without the use of fissile material). [15]

Such activities continued after 2003. Some of the information made available to the Agency concern, for instance, modeling studies (the simulation of the behavior of a nuclear weapon) conducted in 2008 and 2009. [16]

Thus Iran may already have the ability to build not only an experimental prototype, but also a functional weaponized device. In 2009, the IAEA had reportedly concluded that “Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion device”. [17] The information contained in the November 2011 report could only have confirmed that conclusion.

Finally, Iran also has made plans for a future nuclear test: it has studied the architecture of a test site (planning for a 400-meter deep underground detonation), and has designed special equipment for long-distance firing. [18]

8.      Iran has tested a nuclear-capable missile
In 2004, Iran tested a Shahab-3 missile with a new re-entry vehicle of a baby-bottle (tri-conic) design, ideally suited for a nuclear weapon. This test was seen on television.

This is consistent with the IAEA’s finding that Tehran has worked on how to place a spherical payload under the Shahab-3’s nose. [19] The Agency indicates that Iran has proceeded with detailed computer simulations of the behavior of a spherical payload carried by a missile. [20]

Iran has also sought to fabricate a firing system for detonation of a weapon in the air above a target. [21] And Tehran has simulated the explosion of a missile payload at an altitude of 600 meters [22]. All this only make sense if the payload is nuclear and should leave no doubt on Iran’s intentions.

9.      Iran refuses to implement transparency measures
Iran refuses to declare in advance any new nuclear facility it builds or plans to build: in 2007, it suspended its implementation of modified code 3.1, an IAEA regulation to which it had subscribed to in 2003.

Iran also refuses to implement the IAEA’s Additional Protocol (despite having signed it in 2003), which the Agency states is the only way it can ensure the verification of non-diversion of nuclear material. Iran’s refusal also severely limits the IAEA’s ability to discover possible other illegal activities. The Agency also states that it is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes. [23] In diplomatic language, this means that it is almost certain of the contrary.

If Tehran had only peaceful intentions and was eager to prove its good faith, why would it refuse increased transparency?

10.    Iran rejects proposals for a resumption of the negotiations
Iran has rejected the IAEA and the P5+1’s proposals designed to allow for the resumption of negotiations (“Double Time Out” in 2007, “Freeze for Freeze” in 2008). It has not responded positively to the Obama administration overtures. It has rejected a 2009 proposal meant as a confidence-building measure to transfer most of its 3% enriched uranium stockpile in a foreign country in return for the provision of 20% enriched uranium fuel rods for the Tehran reactor. Iran is showing no sign of being interested in any kind of “grand bargain”.

If Tehran had only peaceful intentions and was eager to prove its good faith, why would it reject such proposals?


In sum, Iran’s program is inconsistent with its alleged civilian purpose, but consistent with a military purpose.

Some suppose that Tehran just wants a nuclear weapon option and will refrain from crossing the threshold. This might be wishful thinking. There is no example in history where, absent regime change (e.g. Brazil in the 1980s), a country which has gone so far and invested so much in a nuclear weapon program has stayed under the threshold. [24] The February 2011 appointment of Fereydoun Abbassi Davani, one of the main architects of the military program, as vice-president of the Islamic Republic and head of the AEOI, is an ominous sign.

Dr. Bruno Tertrais is a Senior Research Fellow at the FONDATION POUR LA RECHERCHE STRATEGIQUE (FRS). He formerly was Special Assistant to the Director of Strategic Affairs at the French Ministry of Defense. Dr. Tertrais graduated from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (IEP) de Paris. He also holds a Master's degree in Public law and a DEA in Comparative Politics from the University of Paris, as well as a Doctorate in Political Science from the IEP Paris. His fields of expertise include international relations, strategic and military affairs, nuclear issues (proliferation, deterrence, disarmament), US strategy and transatlantic relations. Dr. Tertrais has published several books and studies on these questions.
Contact:     +33-1-4313-7767     +33-6-7291-7166 (mob)

[1] IAEA, GOV/2003/75, 10 November 2003.
[2] IAEA, GOV/2004/11, 24 February 2004; Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), “Briefing Notes from February 2008 IAEA meeting regarding Iran’s nuclear program”, 11 April 2008.
[3] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011.
[4] IAEA, GOV/2005/87, 18 November 2005.
[5] IAEA, GOV/2003/75, 10 November 2003.
[6] IAEA, GOV/2004/11, 24 February 2004.
[7] IAEA, GOV/2011/29, 24 May 2011.
[8] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011.
[9] IAEA, GOV/2008/15, 26 May 2008; Ibid., GOV/2008/4, 22 February 2008.
[10] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[11] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[12] IAEA, GOV/2008/15, 26 May 2008.
[13] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[14] ISIS, “Briefing notes…”, op. cit.
[15] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[16] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[17] ISIS, “Excerpts from Internal IAEA Document on Alleged Iranian Nuclear Weaponization”, 2 October 2009.
[18] IAEA, GOV/2008/15, 26 May 2008.
[19] IAEA, GOV/2008/15, 26 May 2008.
[20] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[21] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[22] ISIS, “Briefing notes…”, op. cit.
[23] IAEA, GOV/2011/54, 8 November 2011
[24] The comparison sometimes made with Japan is inappropriate: there is no evidence that Tokyo has a nuclear weapon option. Japan has sound economic and technical rationales for uranium enrichment. All its installations are fully open to the IAEA. The Agency has never found or been made aware of any illegal or suspicious nuclear activity in Japan.

TagesAnzeiger    10.Mai 2012  08:13

Die Schweizer Stimme der USA in Teheran
Die Schweizer Botschafterin Livia Leu Agosti vertritt die Interessen der USA im Iran.
Das könnte der Schweiz im Steuerstreit helfen.
Von Walter Niederberger

«Entscheidend ist, mit den einflussreichen Personen in Washington engen Kontakt zu haben.» Livia Leu Agosti in Teheran. Foto: Reuters

Eine Zeit lang hatte Livia Leu Agosti auf eine Kollegin in Teheran gehofft, doch es blieb ein frommer Wunsch. Heute ist sie die einzige ausländische Botschafterin im Iran. Überdies eine mit zwei Hüten: Für die Schweiz vertritt sie die diplomatischen Interessen; und für die USA ist sie die direkte Interessenvertreterin. Verschwiegenheit und Beharrlichkeit sind in dieser heiklen Rolle gefragt – Eigenschaften, die der 51-jährigen Diplomatin schon mehrmals in Krisensituationen geholfen haben.

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Der Iran hat im Westen den Ruf eines unberechenbaren und bedrohlichen Landes; und in den USA gilt der Iran noch immer als ein Teil der «Achse des Bösen». Die Schweizer Diplomatin findet diese Sicht stark verkürzt und ungerecht. Das Image des Iran leide darunter, dass die Medien praktisch nur über die zwei Problemfelder Nuklearprogramm und Menschenrechte berichten. «Dies wird den Leuten nicht gerecht. Die Realität ist viel komplexer», sagt Leu Agosti. «Letztlich liegt hier auch das Kernproblem zwischen den USA und dem Iran.» Weil die Beziehungen seit über 30 Jahren unterbrochen sind und weil man sich nicht mehr von Angesicht zu Angesicht kennt, falle es so schwer, einander zu verstehen und zu vertrauen.

Das Ende eines Dramas
Zwar hat Livia Leu Agosti keinen politischen Einfluss auf die Beziehungen der beiden Länder, aber das der Schweiz 1980 übertragenen Schutzmacht-Mandat fordert von ihr, amerikanische Interessen im Land zu schützen. So musste sie sich bereits wenige Wochen nach dem Amtsantritt 2009 um die Freilassung von drei US-Bürgern aus iranischer Haft bemühen. Sie hatten sich auf einer Wanderung im kurdischen Gebiet des Irak verirrt und wurden unter dem Verdacht der Spionage festgenommen.

Leu Agosti besuchte die Häftlinge mehrmals im Gefängnis und intervenierte jede Woche von neuem im Aussenministerium für deren Freilassung. Zwar sei sie von Beginn an zuversichtlich gewesen, dass die Iraner eine Freilassung ermöglichen würden. Doch es brauchte unter anderem wegen interner Fraktionskämpfe viel Zeit. Im letzten Herbst war es endlich so weit, nach Bezahlung einer Kaution von einer Million Dollar aus dem Oman.

Der Einsatz für die Häftlinge trug ihr in Washington Lob ein, und Leu Agosti traf Aussenministerin Hillary Clinton. «Sie dankte der Schweiz für den Einsatz zur Betreuung und Befreiung der drei Wanderer und hob den Nutzen unserer Guten Dienste hervor.» Als Anerkennung war die Botschafterin letztes Wochenende auch als Gast an der Hochzeit von zwei der Wanderer in Kalifornien. Shane Bauer hatte Sarah Shourd im Januar 2010 im Gefängnis in Teheran den Heiratsantrag gemacht.

«Ausgesprochen höflich, speziell gegenüber Frauen»
Äusserst heikel sind das Nuklearprogramm des Iran und die Frage der Drohgebärden gegen Israel. An einem Treffen mit aussenpolitischen Experten in San Francisco lässt Livia Leu Agosti durchblicken, dass sich der Iran der Risiken einer Eskalation bewusst ist. Auch geben Beobachter zu bedenken, dass Präsident Ahmadinejad nach den Wahlen deutlich geschwächt sei. Als sich der US-Präsident Anfang Jahr in Sachen Nuklearprogramm an die Regierung in Teheran wenden wollte, war Botschafterin Leu Agosti – wie es ihr Mandat vorsieht – eine der Überbringerinnen der Nachricht. Der Iran habe das Recht auf eine zivile Nutzung der Kernenergie, stellte Obama in seinem Brief klar. Und: Er habe keine Sanktionen gegen die Zentralbank ergreifen wollen, doch habe ihm der Kongress keine andere Wahl gelassen.

Tatsächlich brachten die letzten Finanzsanktionen das Land in eine gravierende Situation. Die Sanktionen «haben eine spürbare und für die Iraner schmerzhafte Wirkung», sagt Livia Leu Agosti. Sie würden zur hohen Inflation beitragen und der Wirtschaft enorm schaden. «Dass die Sanktionen in ihrer heutigen Tragweite dem Iran ein Dorn im Auge sind, sehen Sie daran, dass es deren Aufhebung zu einem zentralen Ziel der Verhandlungen gemacht hat.»

In Teheran lebt die Bündnerin mit ihrem Mann, einem selbstständigen Ameisenforscher, und den 9 und 13 Jahre alten Söhnen. Einen Nachteil als Frau in einem strikt islamischen Land sieht sie nicht. Ganz im Gegenteil. «Die Iraner sind ausgesprochen zuvorkommend und höflich, speziell gegenüber Frauen», sagt sie und lacht ihr helles, erfrischendes Lachen. «Natürlich muss ich als Frau ein Kopftuch tragen, wenn ich auf die Strasse gehe. Das Gesetz schreibt dies vor, und ich muss mich daran halten. Es geht nicht wie in anderen Ländern lediglich um die Befolgung lokaler Sitten.»

Goodwill der USA auch in anderen Dossiers?
Letzte Woche war sie in Washington, um im Aussenministerium Bericht zu erstatten. «Was über unseren Kanal übermittelt wird, ist streng vertraulich. Dass wir unsere Arbeit seriös machen, sehen Sie unter anderem daran, dass nichts aus unserer Botschaft je auf Wikileaks aufgetaucht ist.» Im Steuerstreit mit den USA könnte dies einer der wenigen Vorteile sein. Der Bundesrat versucht denn auch seit Monaten, die Guten Dienste im Iran und in Kuba für den Abschluss der Verhandlungen einzusetzen.

Bisher ohne Erfolg. «Das Mandat im Iran hat keinen direkten Zusammenhang mit dem Steuerstreit», sagt Livia Leu Agosti. «Tatsache ist aber, dass unsere Dienste Goodwill in Washington erzeugen und damit indirekt helfen, andere Dossiers voranzubringen.»

Das US-Aussenministerium gebe ihr immer wieder ein erfreuliches Feedback, «und diese Beurteilung fliesst auch in andere Dossiers ein». Entscheidend sei, mit den wirklich zuständigen und einflussreichen Personen in Washington engen Kontakt zu haben. Livia Leu Agosti hat diese Beziehungen, wie ihr Treffen mit Hillary Clinton beweist.

October 12, 2012

Why Netanyahu Backed Down

FOR three years Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, seemed to be united in urging an early military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But last week that alliance collapsed, with Mr. Netanyahu accusing Mr. Barak of having conspired with the Obama administration, in talks behind his back.

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The clash came as a surprise in Israel, but in hindsight, there was a prelude — the speech Mr. Netanyahu delivered a week earlier to the United Nations General Assembly. In a memorable cartoonish graphic, Mr. Netanyahu depicted a “red line” that he said Israel would not let Iran cross. But he also acknowledged that Iran would not be able to cross it until next spring or summer. In doing so, he essentially reset the urgency of his warnings and ended speculation that Israel might mount a unilateral attack on Iran before the American presidential election.

The public row with Mr. Barak illustrated the magnitude of Mr. Netanyahu’s retreat and his difficulty in explaining it. He was left with implying that he had been undermined, if not betrayed by, his own defense minister. But that was not the full story of why he had blinked.

In fact, Mr. Netanyahu’s about-face resulted from a long-building revolt by Israel’s professional security establishment against the very idea of an early military attack, particularly one without the approval of the United States.

For months, former and even serving chiefs of Israel’s defense and intelligence communities have vigorously and publicly opposed Mr. Netanyahu’s case for attacking Iran sooner, rather than after all other means have been exhausted. Meir Dagan, the much respected former head of Mossad, did so to an American audience in an interview with Lesley Stahl broadcast last March by CBS’ “60 Minutes.” In Israel earlier, he had been quoted as saying that such an attack was “the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”

In addition, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak had proved unable to win sufficient support for early military action from other members of the government. Despite months of sustained effort, Mr. Netanyahu was not able to muster a majority even in his nine-member informal inner cabinet, much less Israel’s larger security cabinet, whose agreement he would need before attacking.

And in August, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, took the occasion of his 89th birthday celebration to decisively reject any unilateral Israeli attack. The country’s pre-eminent elder statesman and the father of Israel’s own nuclear project, he broke with the nonpolitical traditions of Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency to argue that the central issue was the harm that going it alone could do to future American-Israeli relations.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Obama administration was conducting a quiet campaign that would strengthen the view, already circulating among Israeli security professionals, that prematurely attacking Iran would not advance Israel’s interests and would damage Israel’s relationship with America. Instead of holding Israel at bay or threatening punitive action, the administration was upgrading American security assistance to Israel — so much so that earlier this year Mr. Barak described the level of support as greater than ever in Israel’s history.

This increase was manifest at every level: intelligence sharing that resulted in a convergence of assessments about Iran’s nuclear efforts; joint cyberoperations to slow Iran’s nuclear program; support of Israel’s development of antimissile defenses; and reaching a common declared strategic approach to Iran’s nuclear program. That approach now focuses the two countries’ efforts on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, while also ruling out the option of a retreat to containing and deterring a nuclear-armed Iran.

Equally important, increased American assistance has been accompanied by closer institutional links between the two countries’ defense and intelligence communities, as well as more intimate personal ties between both communities’ top echelons. Through numerous meetings in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Washington, the Obama administration has used these connections to convey an unambiguous message: Do not attack before all nonmilitary efforts to roll back Iran’s nuclear program have been exhausted.

Ever deeper American-Israeli defense ties have created what might be labeled a “United States lobby” among Israeli security professionals, who now have a strong interest in continuing the close partnership. It is no accident that the security institutions have become among the most vocal opponents of attacking Iran. No one knows better than they what is at stake if they ignore Washington’s concerns.

And their views have resonated with the Israeli general public: a poll conducted jointly last month by the Truman Institute at Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 77 percent of Israelis now oppose a military attack on Iran that is not approved by Washington, although 71 percent would support an attack with American consent.

The plain fact is that the Obama administration achieved its objective of persuading Israel to refrain from a premature attack largely without explicit or implied threats. Instead, it has built a closer relationship with Israel’s defense community, and has capitalized on it.

And that should be a model for the future.
Especially when allies are as close as Israel and the United States, the relationship between them should not depend on whether the personal chemistry between their leaders is strong or weak. Instead, it should be based on firm mutual respect for the enduring national interests each side has. On that score, the professional security officials on both sides can be counted on to put domestic politics aside and to try to find a mutual approach to thorny problems, so long as they can talk candidly, and often, with each other.

A related conclusion is that an American administration will be most successful when it speaks, publicly and privately, with one voice — with the same message coming from the White House, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs. Then, its interests and priorities will be unmistakable to Israeli leaders, all of whom know how important American largess is to their own country.

These are important lessons not only for the future American-Israeli discourse on Iran, but also in the event that the next American administration, re-elected or new, will attempt to resurrect efforts to achieve Arab-Israeli peace. In that case, too, the United States is most likely to gain Israel’s cooperation by coupling a demonstrable commitment to the country’s security with a clear, unambiguous and sustained articulation of American national interests. And a thick, multilayered conversation between the national security elites in Israel and the United States could ensure that the two countries remain in sync, even when their leaders are not.

Graham T. Allison Jr. is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. Shai Feldman is director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies.