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After months of increasing expectations that the Bush administration was preparing to attack Iran, a series of events in the last few weeks indicated a possible shift in strategy. The central question about these events, listed below, is whether they represent a genuine shift away from intended war making, or are just repositioning designed to enhance conditions for the long-planned attack on Iran?
Among those events in question:
- Resolution of the Lebanon’s latest internal conflict, initially trigged by a failed effort to seize Hezbollah’s communications infrastructure, apparently inspired and backed by the Bush administration, after which Lebanon’s government and Hezbollah reached an accommodation, leaving those facilities intact and strengthening Hezbollah’s already dominant military and political position;
- Israel and Syria initiated and acknowledged ongoing negotiations, despite the objections by the Bush administration;
- Iraqi factions agreed to halt the U.S.-back offensive against Sadr City in Baghdad, allowing Iraqi troops, but not U.S. troops, to patrol the district;
- Israel and Hamas, using Egypt as a go-between, negotiated the extension of a developing de facto cease-fire in Gaza;
- Preparations by the Bush administration to give up power at the end of their legal term of office, indicating an acceptance of such a termination;
- Iraq’s government indicating, in the face of White House pressure, that it wants a U.S. withdrawal time table;
- U.S. participation in “direct talks” with Iran and possible establishment of a U.S. interest section in Tehran.
- U.S. reportedly rejected Israeli weapons requests and warned Israel against attacking Iran.
While it is clear that speculation about the future is particularly prone to error, we think it important to acknowledge such misjudgments, as we do now by noting our April 2008 conclusion about a likely US attack on Iran by the end of June:
“Since we continue to believe the attack will likely come before the end of May, or, at the latest June, we think it is likely the attack will come between May 11, 2008 and June 30, 2008. If not, then with near certainty before the US elections in November. Should the attack not come before Bush leaves office, the chances of a major attack on Iran would be greatly diminished, no matter which of the three remaining major candidates takes office in his place, even if potential war provoking incidents between the US and Iran were to occur. And this is why the Israel Lobby is pressing Bush to act before it is ‘too late’.” ~ April 30, 2008.
Covert Acts of War
Nevertheless, acts of war by the U.S. against Iran are occurring. The Bush administration, with Congressional approval, has undertaken covert acts of war against Iran. These ongoing actions, funded by Congressional appropriations for operations within Iran meant to destabilize Iran enough to provoke either regime change or policy modification, include bombings and assassinations. While one could argue that the U.S.- Iran war on a covert level has already begun, these actions, while provocative, have not created within the present government in Tehran a provocation of sufficient magnitude to warrant a state of war, which would presumably result in Iranian attacks on US naval and ground forces in the region, if not wider attacks elsewhere. Attacks the Bush administration appears to be inviting, perhaps with the expectation that the resulting losses and counter-attacks would generate public support for the administration and the Republican presidential candidate.
Recent Events Undermine Support for War with Iran
Advocating a war between the U.S. and Iran suffers from the widely held judgment that the last attempt to contain Iranian influence by war-making, the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon, resulted in exactly the opposite outcome. In addition, increased Iranian influence is one of the few unambiguous results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Economic and political climates have changed from the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, wherein unintended economic consequences of the Iraq war and large U.S. deficits have undermined the U.S. corporate support for Bush and Cheney. A U.S. war with Iran now is seen as bad for “business as usual”, a grave, if not fatal, flaw for any U.S. policy initiative. While some of the same companies that supported and profited from the invasion of Iraq stand to gain from an U.S. – Iran war, a far larger portion of corporate interests see this new conflict as a significant danger to the general economy and their overall interests.
Despite repeated assertions about success in Iraq, the Iraq invasion is widely considered have been a strategic blunder with vast costs and few, if any, benefits. Now, with many of the same advocates of the Iraq invasion pressing to attack Iran, the U.S. military establishment has move from caution to alarm about undertaking a conflict with a potentially more difficult opponent for equally dubious objectives, including the suspicion an attack on Iran may be an ill advised effort to correct problems created by the Iraq invasion and a way to avoid admitting a mistake. These concerns add to widely held doubts about Bush’s competence and judgment to undertake such war, even if it were otherwise consider a viable policy.
In an August 13, 2008 report in Haaretz.com, the online edition of Haaretz Newspaper in Israel, an arms request, passed to Bush during his visit to Israel in May, was subsequently rejected by the Bush administration: “Following Bush’s return to Washington, the administration studied Israel’s request, and this led it to suspect that Israel was planning to attack Iran within the next few months. The Americans therefore decided to send a strong message warning it not to do so.” While the weapons requested were not identified in the story, except to characterize them as “offensive systems”, they apparently were deployable within a short period of time and uniquely applicable to an attack on Iran, likely ordinance such as deep penetration bombs. The story went on to report: “U.S. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen both visited here in June and, according to the Washington Post, told senior Israeli defense officials that Iran is still far from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that an attack on Iran would undermine American interests. Therefore, they said, the U.S. would not allow Israeli planes to overfly Iraq en route to Iran.” While Haaretz’s sources may be part of a disinformation campaign, if true it may indicate resistance to an attack on Iran extends into the Oval Office, further suggesting a rift between Bush and Cheney, whose enthusiasm for attacking Iran instead of negotiating is apparently undiminished. It might also explain why the Israel Lobby’s war starting resolution remains bottled up in committee in both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Israeli and Bush administration claims about Iranian nuclear weapons development appear a red herring on the same order as the Weapons of Mass Destruction claims advanced prior to the invasion of Iraq. Only now, having learned from the Bush administration’s characterizing Whitehouse cherry picking intelligence before the Iraq invasion as institutional “intelligence mistakes”, the U.S. intelligence community made clear its skepticism about administration claims of an Iranian nuclear weapons program in its November National Intelligence Estimate.
European Union and NATO support for an attack on Iran is nonexistent, with the latest conflict between Russia and Georgia raising additional concerns about provoking armed conflict with Iran, a country that receives military equipment and training from Russia and shares its northern borders with former Soviet Union republics Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Especially since the Bush administration used U.S. and Israeli military advisors to train Georgian troops and plan their ill-fated attack on the Georgian secessionist enclave South Ossetia, apparently as part of the deal for Georgian deployment of troops in Iraq. This failed operation reinforcing EU concerns about Bush’s incompetence and recklessness.
Evidence of increasing resistance to the right-wing AIPAC‘s dominance within the Israel Lobby can be found in the emergence of an alternative, the pro-peace, pro-Israel J Street Lobby that opposes a war with Iran and calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the Occupied Territories as part of regional peace agreement. Thoughtful and informed critics of current Israeli policies, such as Daniel Levy, are becoming a more significant factor in the exchange of ideas about policy alternatives open to the U.S. and Israel. A recently reported poll among American Jews indicating diminished support for Senator Lieberman (I-Conn), a leading war advocate increasingly seen as advancing extremist right-wing Israeli interests in the Middle East for which no sacrifice of blood and treasure by the U.S. seems too great. Influential critics within Israel, such as Martin van Creveld, professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and expert on military strategy, are speaking out against an attack on Iran by either the U.S. or Israel.
Israeli Government and Israel Lobby Press for U.S. – Iran War
Given wide opposition to an attack on Iran, why is it being considered at all?
Apart from whatever inclinations Bush/Cheney may harbor to attack Iran, the main advocacy appears to be a coordinated effort by both the Israeli government and its Israel Lobby in the U.S. to maneuver the U.S. into a war with Iran.
Israel sees a U.S. – Iran war strengthening its grip on the Occupied Territories by weakening Iran, whatever its costs to the U.S.. Most fundamentally because Iran is the critical source of support for those forces most effectively challenging Israel’s regional territorial ambitions: Hezbollah in southern Lebanon; Syria on the Galan Heights; and most especially, Hamas’ resistance to occupation and incremental annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as to the maintenance, with Egypt, of the Gaza Strip as essentially the world’s largest prison/concentration camp. By contrast, Iranian’s nuclear program is a more distant concern, but a far more acceptable pretext for war than territorial expansion. It would not do for Israel and its lobby to demand U.S. blood and treasure to make the West Bank safer for Israeli “settlements” or to tap the waters of the Litani River in Lebanon.
Israel’s war provoking effort appears to be divided into two major elements: a U.S. domestic political campaign; and, Israeli military and intelligence programs:
Israel’s U.S. domestic campaign’s most conspicuous component is the Israel Lobby effort, led by AIPAC, introducing on May 22, 2008 concurrent resolutions (H. Con. Res. 362 and S. Res. 580) in both houses of the U.S. Congress, calling on the Bush administration to take certain actions against Iran. Despite a massive lobbying effort and wide nominal congressional support, with 220 co-sponsors in the House and 32 in the Senate, the resolution may have been a tactical blunder, because it over-reached in two critical areas:
Some of the resolution’s whereas assertions have been widely discredited as being false; and,
A provision calling for the U.S. to enforce an embargo against Iran is, in the opinion of many, a virtual declaration of war by the U.S. on Iran.
So, despite a near blackout in corporate media reporting about this resolution and it being advanced under rules reserved for “non-controversial” matters in the House by Speaker Pelosi, the resolution has come under increasing criticism. As a consequence, some of its most influential sponsors have withdrawn their support. In addition, there is a concomitant effort led by Lieberman to build grass roots political support for a U.S. war with Iran, using such allies as Pastor John Hagee, a “leading right-wing Christian Zionist”.
The Israeli military and intelligence programs, publicly centered around preparations for an attack on Iran, appear to be designed to augment Israel’s pressure on the U.S. to attack Iran instead as well as to cover secret preparations for a possible false flag attack on U.S. interests by Israel to be blamed on Iran. The clear intent is to provoke an immediate shooting war between the U.S. and Iran.
An attack on Iran by Israel itself is unlikely, because it would have limited impact on Iran’s nuclear program, military forces, and national infrastructure, while potentially resulting in substantial Israeli naval and air force losses, and therefore ultimately threatening Israel’s political establishment. Clearly, Israel wants to avoid war against its most substantial opponents, Egypt or Iran, when its current territorial interests can be satisfied by attacking its immediate, less capable abutters Lebanon and Syria, especially if Iran is less able to assist them. Given increasing U.S. military resistance to Israel’s efforts as well as many elements among the U.S. political and economic establishment opposing a U.S. war with Iran, a false flag attack on U.S. interests may be Israel’s last, best hope; however, the risks of such an attack, should it be exposed, would create difficulties that even the Israel Lobby would find difficult to contain.
Given Israel’s and the Israel Lobby’s central role in, and success at, helping start Bush’s Iraq War, this effort to start a U.S. – Iran War is considered among the most serious threats to U.S. national security by those who believe such a war both gravely dangerous and manifestly contrary to U.S. national interests.
Likely Future Events
Whether the U.S. will become involved in war with Iran is unclear. What is likely is a set of events or non-events over the next few weeks, indicating the current intensions of the Bush administration and Israeli governments toward Iran and each other.
So what might happen? It seems likely that if Bush is going to start a war with Iran, one would expect the ramp-up PR effort and accompanying threats shortly after the end of August, beginning with complaints about “diplomacy not working”, followed by new “evidence” of Iranian nuclear weapons development and perhaps an Iranian hand in killing American troops in Iraq, then building to “final warnings” as well as “last chances to come clean” etc., before hostilities in October. There may be a naval confrontation and some other casus belli, real or contrived. This timing would give McCain the best possible advantage from the bounce expected when the shooting first starts, especially if Obama is blamed for Iran’s supposed intransigency. If McCain looks to win, then Bush may wait until after the election to strike; if Obama is ahead or the race is too close to predict, then Bush may strike before the election in the hopes of changing McCain’s fortunes.
Among possible war-starting event sequences, would be a limited U.S. attack on Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities near the Iraq border, followed by an Israeli false flag attack on a U.S. vessel, with Bush administration turning a blind eye to evidence of Israeli evolvement, possibly ignoring warnings about such an attack, and then ordering wider ranging attacks on Iran in “defense” of U.S. forces, resulting in a rapid series of escalating military exchanges between the U.S. and Iran.
An early indication of such a new PR effort came from Secretary of State Rice, a leading Iraq war advocate. After the U.S. attended a much publicized, single meeting with Iran, Rice charged Iran was not serious, when attending Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, under her orders, was to say nothing to the Iranian delegation. This ludicrous claim about failed diplomacy is not a good sign. Neither is evidence of a continued build-up of U.S. naval forces in theater. Despite its reputation for secrecy, the Bush administration is much like a giant transparent clock-work, whose movements are often apparent.
If this pre-war event sequence begins to develop, then there may be additional push-back from military-corporate interests against a war with Iran, which would manifest itself in Congress and the corporate media. However, barring highly unlikely multiple resignations at the highest command levels, military objections would be very dependent on support from the U.S. Congress, which is not expected to play any significant role in the decision to go to war. Whatever reluctance the U.S. Congress might manage in the face of current Israel Lobby demands for passage of its war starting resolution, congressional Democratic leadership would likely bow immediately to Bush administration requests for a “show” of support once a confrontation with Iran develops. This is especially true if the Democratic leadership sensed that failing to go along would present any risk to its immediate election prospects, easily triggered by even a hint of criticism from Republicans. Such a show of support would likely be similar to the Iraq War resolution, which the Bush administration could claim, while unneeded, supports military action, and the Democrats could later deny intending to do so, should the war’s consequences be as disastrous as many expect.
So, from the Bush administration’s likely perspective, it would be best that a crisis and demands for congressional support occur before the election, with the timing of the attack before or after the election, based in part on McCain’s fortunes as the election nears. Bush is able to control the timing, provided Israel does not attack or otherwise provoke a conflict, because, as in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a U.S. – Iran war would be a war of choice, decided by the U.S.. In the new American Homeland, all is a matter of the will of the imperial decider.
On the other hand, should the Bush administration not attack Iran, then chances of war between the U.S. and Iran would be greatly reduced, whether McCain or Obama is elected.
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Copyright © 2008 William H. White All rights are reserved; except, permission is granted for anyone to copy and distribute this document on the WEB. ~ The author asks that links in the text be retained.