16 February 2008
The increasing encirclement of Iran
By Daan de Wit
Translation by Ben Kearney
Earlier this month the Annual Threat Assessment was released by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell. The assessment, provided as a testimony for the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, offers an insight into the current outlook of the president's most important intelligence advisor. In his testimony McConnell emphasizes Iranian attempts to enrich uranium as well as Iran's capacity to fire long-range weapons. The combination of these two are now being presented at the highest levels of power as the central argument for branding Iran as a danger to world peace. As if the National Intelligence Estimate never even existed.
The Annual Threat Assessment that Michael McConnell presents is the first important document to be released on this matter since the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in December of 2007. McConnell says that, looking back, he would like to have seen the now infamous NIE formulated differently: 'If I had 'til now to think about it, I probably would change a few things. [...] I would have included that there are the component parts, that the portion of it, maybe the least significant, had halted'. In his Threat Assessment he corrects the balance regarding something that he feels was relatively unimportant - an Iranian program to develop nuclear warheads. The testimony of 'the leader of our entire intelligence community', as President Bush calls him, makes it clear once and for all: The American government was, and apparently still is, on a collision course with Iran.
The American argument as it relates to Iran is a dynamic process. In a speech on global terrorism in 2006, President Bush earned applause when he said that America would not bow down to tyrants. Both before and after this, he explained to his audience how Iran has it in for Americans, and that it wants to destroy Israel. 'And now the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons. The world is working together to prevent Iran's regime from acquiring the tools of mass murder'. A year later the tone is the same, though content-wise there is a noticeable change, possibly with an eye to the upcoming publication of the National Intelligence Estimate: Bush says that anyone who is interested in preventing WWIII should see to it that Iran never gets the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. In December of 2007 the NIE is being published which in the view of the world took the wind out of the sails of those wanting a war with Iran. Now at the beginning of 2008 the argument is shifting still further. While any number of countries are capable of enriching uranium and/or possess nuclear weapons, and at the same time receive support from the United States - such as Israel, India and Pakistan - Iran is presented as a threat to world peace by the American government, even after the publication of the NIE. This on account of the ambition to master the process of uranium enrichment, suitable for the generation of energy in nuclear power plants. Little by little the White House has scaled back on their argument concerning the Iranian threat. In the meantime the bar is set so low that the country can comply with the greatest of ease. With which it thus qualifies for an American response. The merit of Washington's argument is now being beefed up considerably by the new Threat Assessment by the Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell.
The scaling back of the argument has also been noticed by advisor and former counterterrorism specialist for the CIA, Phil Giraldi. In an interview [12'45"] toward the end of January 2008, he points out that Bush and Cheney 'have shifted the terms of the debate. It's no longer a question of Iran having a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program. It's having the knowledge to construct a nuclear weapon. Which of course there are probably 130 countries in the world where that knowledge exists. [...] Any kind of Iranian access to anything that he or Dick Cheney are suspicious about is [to them] clearly an act of war'. According to Giraldi, Bush and Cheney are part of a political spin process, with the purpose of achieving something that goes well beyond American defense policy. 'That's called remaking the world, and you either buy into that or you don't. I personally of course don't'.
Anyone who reads the Annual Threat Assessment can come to no less a conclusion than that Iran is an unacceptably huge threat to world peace. The subject matter of the document concerns the threats to which America is exposed, and thus deals with a broad spectrum of global issues that could constitute a threat to the United States. Yet the word 'Iran' appears almost an average of two times per page of McCollums testimony The report repeatedly points to the nuclear ambitions of Iran - ambitions which once materialized could be put to dual use, namely for the production of energy and in advanced form the production of weapons - after which the reader each time immediately is reminded that Iran has missiles that they are perfecting, and that those missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear payload. The only way to read it is as such: With the NIE we said that Iran's secret nuclear weapon program was suspended from 2003 up through mid-2007. It's possible that the program has since been restarted. What we do know for sure is that the country wants to learn how to enrich uranium with which it will then be able to produce nuclear warheads in the future, and that the country has missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload. The formula that McConnell presents the reader with is clear - uranium plus missiles equals the end of our safety: 1 + 1 = 2. It's a formula that, in spite of the publication of the NIE, has been created in the same manner by the U.S. Congress in a law adopted and already signed by the president. As a consequence of the weight that the words in the Threat Assessment carry - this due to the fact that they come from the pen of the head of the intelligence pyramid - Iran comes off as extremely threatening to the reader. One of those readers is President George Bush.
A sentence from the written testimony such as 'We do not know if these [nuclear weapons] activities have been restarted' is not a sentence that is going to please President Bush. Recently he said, NIE or no NIE, what he thought about Iran: 'I believe they want a weapon, and I believe that they're trying to gain the know-how as to how to make a weapon under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. [...] The problem is knowledge can be transferred from a civilian program to a military program. [...] If you had a military program once, you can easily start it up again'. Should there have been any doubt about it before, Bush and Cheney are again clearly on the same page as far as how to deal with the problem of Iran. Also for Cheney it's impossible to live with the notion that Iran may have restarted its program, or is going to restart it. For Cheney lives according to the 'rules'. His own rules, to be precise. 'Action was liberated from evidence. Even a '1 percent chance that some conjectured terrorist threat would materialize was good enough for a preemptive strike', writes Sidney Blumenthal in reference to Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine. 'They are trying very hard to develop this nuclear bomb. The question is not if the Iranians develop a nuclear bomb in 2009, 2010, or 2011. The main question is are they going to have the knowledge to do it?' The person saying this is not George Bush during a recent speech, but Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in February of 2005. It looks as if Bush has adopted this Israeli line of reasoning and in so doing has characterized Iran as a country that forms a huge threat to the world and must be dealt with - NIE or no NIE. Bush in reaction to the NIE: 'Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon'. And now there is McConnell's Threat Assessment which has diverted the world's focus after the NIE from the reassuring notion - that Iran had, but no longer has a nuclear weapons program - to the terrifying prospects created by Iran wanting to learn how to master the uranium enrichment process for the production of nuclear energy. Cheney and Bush's argument in response to the NIE has been formalized with the Threat Assessment. This means that it can be referred to later in the event of war with Iran should there be any questions about the decision making process.
The question is of course whether Iran ever had a nuclear program at all. It's written in black and white in the NIE, but publicly there has been no evidence provided. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says: 'We have no information that such efforts had been conducted before 2003, even though our American colleagues said it was so'. Suspicions that Iran had a nuclear weapons program - on the basis of suspicious traces of highly enriched uranium found in Iran - was repudiated in 2005 when it appeared that the traces came from contaminated equipment purchased from America's nuclear ally Pakistan. Iran is responding to the unceasing Why did you beat your wife accusations coming from America by denying that it desires a nuclear weapons capability. Under the headline How dangerous is Iran, I wrote previously that the Iranian leader Ahmadinejad could be lying about his belief that his faith forbids the production of a nuclear weapon. Depending on which cleric you ask, a nuclear weapon would actually be permitted, so long as it is not used offensively (in contrary to the U.S. view)'. Earlier this month the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said to the national radio station Voice of Israel: 'Iran is not threatening Israel and does not want nuclear weapons'. Mottaki said that it was Israel that possessed nuclear weapons and that 'it is threatening Teheran'
The release of McConnell's testimony can be compared to the next blow in a boxing match playing out at the highest levels. While the rumble created by the NIE still reverberates in the ears of the neoconservative inhabitants of the White House, the next blow is parcelled out by way of the Threat Assessment from January of 2008. John Negroponte, the previous Director of National Intelligence, was responsible to the creation of the NIE by the collective American intelligence services. He resigned suddenly in January of 2007 because he did not wish to rewrite the document. Negroponte was replaced by Vice Admiral John Michael 'Mike' McConnell. 'Mike' is undoubtedly the way Dick Cheney addresses McConnell, since he personally approached McConnell for the post. There is 'overwhelming evidence' that Tehran is supporting insurgents in Iraq and it is abundantly clear that the notorious explosives that are producing so many American casualties in Iraq are traceable to Iran. These are not the comments of Cheney, but of McConnell. Under pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, the NIE was not immediately published after its completion; publication of the report would wait for another year. During that year McConnell also did his part to influence the NIE and any effect it might have, by going back and analyzing old information and by making it more difficult to declassify the key judgments made in the NIE (presumably this concerns passages that do not support the political agenda of the White House). Ultimately it was unavoidable that a NIE was published in December of 2007 that was contrary to the views of the White House. The world heaved a sigh of relief, and the White House together with Israel chose to keep their distance from the analysis of the American intelligence community. Now there is McConnell's Threat Assessment that the White House can point to: Iran is a huge threat. Just like with a boxing match, it's all about who manages to land the final, decisive blow. The Annual Threat Assessment is like a left uppercut, but the question is - what will the right jab that's going to end the match look like? The situation is causing fear on all levels for the future of Iran. This gives way to different possible scenarios, listed here in random order.
1. Before leaving the White House, Bush can carry out an attack on Iran. This option is noted by the Cato Institute as well, a thinktank specializing in American foreign policy and the Middle East, by way of Leon T. Hadar. Bush in a recent interview: 'You know, there's this great myth about how the President, because there's an election, or because it's the last year of his presidency, not much is going to get done. Quite the contrary. We'll get a lot done'. In his most important speech of the year, the State of the Union Address, which he made almost two months after the publication of the NIE, he said that Tehran is developing missiles with an ever-greater range and is continuing to develop techniques that allow the enrichment of uranium, 'which could be used to create a nuclear weapon'. He underscored these threats with words that seem to contain a double meaning, aimed at the Iranian people: 'We look forward to the day when you have your freedom'. An attack on Iran by Bush is also something being taken into account at the highest levels of the Iranian defense establishment, as well as by Daniel Ellsberg, the man who once demonstrated that an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin was misused to start the American war against Vietnam.
2. Israel could launch a unilateral strike. It's an option that the country is leaving open, something which has been given serious consideration for some time by Vice President Dick Cheney, and which was most recently articulated by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Just as it is with his colleagues in the White House, a nuclear Iran for him is not an option. For Sarkozy it is 'unacceptable that Iran should have, at any point, a nuclear weapon'. According to him it would lead to war. And he says that he isn't so much worried about America intervening militarily in Iran, but more about Israel doing so. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Israeli Premier Olmert to talk about the question of Iran and how to increase pressure on the country. In 2006 Merkel said that Iran should be prevented from developing a nuclear program and compared the situation with Iran to Germany at the beginning of the 1930's when Nazism was on the rise and was allowed to go unchecked; 'Germany is obliged to do something at the early stages'. The comparison between Iran and Hitler's Germany is made quite often in neoconservative circles in America and Israel, as well as by Richard Holbrooke, advisor to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. If Iran attacks Israel, America will stand by Israel, promised president Bush, 'no ands, ifs or buts'. It's not said that America will assist Israel in the event of an Iranian attack, but it is quite probable. Iran is considered by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad to be the greatest threat and the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is convinced that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon, in part by way of a clandestine project. He is getting support on that point from American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who says that Iran could start its nuclear weapons program at any moment, 'if it has not done so already'.
3. War against Iran as the result of a provoked conflict. This option is discussed at length in the previous part of this series. Recently it's become clear that the account of the incident in the Straits of Hormuz was manipulated by the White House. It looks very much as if the goal here was to create a second Gulf of Tonkin incident whereby a casus belli would arise for an attack on Iran. Another possibility is that the incident was manipulated in order to lend weight to Bush's argument on his recent tour of the Middle East.
4. One shot in the struggle surrounding Iran that no one would have an answer for - a last resort that is guaranteed to be successful - is a false flag operation: an attack that seems to come from the enemy, but is actually a product from one's own ranks. If this happens in the case of Iran, then it will leave all reports, internal strife and jabs at others far behind. If America, Israel or Europe becomes the victim of a shocking attack, and Iran 'appears' to be the culprit, then there will be only one option left, and that is a 'counterattack' - a war against Iran. In his Threat Assessment, the above-mentioned Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell warns against attacks carried out in America by the terrorist organization Al Qaida. An example of a false flag operation that could lead to a war with Iran would be a variation of the Al Qaida attacks planned by the Israeli intelligence agency in Israël, in 2002: for example Al Qaida attacks in the U.S., carried out by elements from within the intelligence services of Israel and/or the U.S., for which Iran gets the blame. A resulting American and/or Israeli attack on Iran could be successful if two conditions in particular are met: a) the establishment of a basis of suspicions in which a given incident is the last straw for the public at large and b) sufficient troop strength in the theater of operations to bring into action quickly, before it becomes clear that Iran is not involved in the harm that was done to America, Israel or Europe. Insinuations made about Iran are in ample supply thanks to the excellent PR and propaganda machinery of America and Israel - just like the troops on the coast of Iran. The attack plans are ready to go. More about false flag operations as they relate to Iran in the previous installment of this series.
5. The next president of the United States will attack Iran. It can be gathered from George Bush's statements that his preference among Democratic presidential candidates is Hillary Clinton. In November of 2007 he called her a 'very formidable candidate' and went on to say: 'One of the interesting things that she brings is that she has been under pressure. She understands the klieg lights.' With this he is saying that he thinks she can handle the burden of the presidency. The two candidates who have spoken out the strongest against Iran are the Democrat Hillary Clinton and the Republican John McCain. It is these two candidates whom the New York Times 'strongly recommends' in its endorsment in early February of 2008. Clinton voted for the notorious Kyl/Lieberman amendment. By branding the Revolutionary Guard - a component of the Iranian army - as a terrorist organization, a path has been cleared to legally proceed against the 'terrorism' of this army, and with it Iran. Clinton's vote was called a 'vote for war' by Barack Obama, but Obama himself chose not to vote against it, but instead simply abstained from voting. What he did support, together with Clinton, was a resolution in the Senate with words to the effect of the amendment (Resolution 970). Obama is less vocal and somewhat more moderate on the issue of Iran than Clinton, yet he has been clear: though it would be a 'mistake' to attack Iran, it's essential that a nuclear-armed Iran be prevented and therefore all options should be left open. 'U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table'. Those are the words not of Bush, McCain or Obama, but of Hillary Clinton, in February of 2007 at a meeting of AIPAC, the most important part of the Jewish lobby in America. According to Hillary Clinton, the Iranians are working on the construction of a nuclear weapon while at the same time are sponsoring terror and committing attacks in Iraq. With that the explosive situation is this: Iran will choose not to stop the activity which Clinton views as the path toward a nuclear weapon, while at the same time it's well-known that she is prepared to intervene militarily. With Clinton as president the world is heading for a head-on collision in the Middle East.
Should the American people choose Republican candidate John McCain for president, that will mean a continuation of the Bush years. Senator Joe Lieberman, the man behind the mentioned amendment, sees in McCain the 'principled leader in time of war'. McCain is clear regarding the situation with Iran: 'There is only one thing worse than military action [against Iran], and that is a nuclear-armed Iran'. McCain recently: 'There's going to be other wars. I'm sorry to tell you, there's going to be other wars. We will never surrender, but there will be other wars'. Even one of the most vociferous trendsetters behind the coming war with Iran, John Bolton, is supporting McCain: 'I think Senator McCain's statement [...] on how he would handle the Iranian program is stronger than the current Bush administration policy'. Bolton has given up hope that the Bush Administration will start a war against Iran. At the same time Bolton, along with neoconservative patriarch Norman Podhoretz, makes these kinds of dramatic statements as an incitement to Israel to take action. Presumably they do this with the thought in the back of their heads that America will show its solidarity with Israel as soon as their ally comes under fire from an Iranian counterattack.
Coming on the heels of the debacle that the presidency of George Bush has been, it's quite possible on the one hand that the American presidential elections will result in the election of the Democratic version of the right-wing one-party state that seems to have maintained power in America for so long. On the other hand the Republican variant can't be ruled out either. For it could be the case that the Republican Party has sustained less damage from it's association with the Bush Adminstration than is sometimes assumed. The extremist character of the current administration might not be ascribed by voters to the less extreme Republican Party, but instead only to the members of the Bush Administration itself.
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