The Big Lie: ‘Iran Is a Threat’ By Scott Ritter

Dandelion Salad

By Scott Ritter
10/08/07 “Common Dreams

Iran has never manifested itself as a serious threat to the national security of the United States, or by extension as a security threat to global security. At the height of Iran’s “exportation of the Islamic Revolution” phase, in the mid-1980’s, the Islamic Republic demonstrated a less-than-impressive ability to project its power beyond the immediate borders of Iran, and even then this projection was limited to war-torn Lebanon.

Iranian military capability reached its modern peak in the late 1970’s, during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlevi. The combined effects of institutional distrust on the part of the theocrats who currently govern the Islamic Republic of Iran concerning the conventional military institutions, leading as it did to the decay of the military through inadequate funding and the creation of a competing paramilitary organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Command (IRGC), and the disastrous impact of an eight-year conflict with Iraq, meant that Iran has never been able to build up conventional military power capable of significant regional power projection, let alone global power projection.

Where Iran has demonstrated the ability for global reach is in the spread of Shi’a Islamic fundamentalism, but even in this case the results have been mixed. Other than the expansive relations between Iran (via certain elements of the IRGC) and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, Iranian success stories when it comes to exporting the Islamic revolution are virtually non-existent. Indeed, the efforts on the part of the IRGC to export Islamic revolution abroad, especially into Europe and other western nations, have produced the opposite effect desired. Based upon observations made by former and current IRGC officers, it appears that those operatives chosen to spread the revolution in fact more often than not returned to Iran noting that peaceful coexistence with the West was not only possible but preferable to the exportation of Islamic fundamentalism. Many of these IRGC officers began to push for moderation of the part of the ruling theocrats in Iran, both in terms of interfacing with the west and domestic policies.

The concept of an inherent incompatibility between Iran, even when governed by a theocratic ruling class, and the United States is fundamentally flawed, especially from the perspective of Iran. The Iran of today seeks to integrate itself responsibly with the nations of the world, clumsily so in some instances, but in any case a far cry from the crude attempts to export Islamic revolution in the early 1980’s. The United States claims that Iran is a real and present danger to the security of the US and the entire world, and cites Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear technology, Iran’s continued support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s “status” as a state supporter of terror, and Iranian interference into the internal affairs of Iraq and Afghanistan as the prime examples of how this threat manifests itself.

On every point, the case made against Iran collapses upon closer scrutiny. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), mandated to investigate Iran’s nuclear programs, has concluded that there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, the IAEA has concluded that it is capable of monitoring the Iranian nuclear program to ensure that it does not deviate from the permitted nuclear energy program Iran states to be the exclusive objective of its endeavors. Iran’s support of the Hezbollah Party in Lebanon – Iranian protestors shown here supporting Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during an anti-Israel rally – while a source of concern for the State of Israel, does not constitute a threat to American national security primarily because the support provided is primarily defensive in nature, designed to assist Hezbollah in deterring and repelling an Israeli assault of sovereign Lebanese territory. Similarly, the bulk of the data used by the United States to substantiate the claims that Iran is a state sponsor of terror is derived from the aforementioned support provided to Hezbollah. Other arguments presented are either grossly out of date (going back to the early 1980’s when Iran was in fact exporting Islamic fundamentalism) or unsubstantiated by fact.

The US claims concerning Iranian interference in both Iraq and Afghanistan ignore the reality that both nations border Iran, both nations were invaded and occupied by the United States, not Iran, and that Iran has a history of conflict with both nations that dictates a keen interest concerning the internal domestic affairs of both nations. The United States continues to exaggerate the nature of Iranian involvement in Iraq, arresting “intelligence operatives” who later turned out to be economic and diplomatic officials invited to Iraq by the Iraqi government itself. Most if not all the claims made by the United States concerning Iranian military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been backed up with anything stronger than rhetoric, and more often than not are subsequently contradicted by other military and governmental officials, citing a lack of specific evidence.

Iran as a nation represents absolutely no threat to the national security of the United States, or of its major allies in the region, including Israel. The media hype concerning alleged statements made by Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has created and sustained the myth that Iran seeks the destruction of the State of Israel. Two points of fact directly contradict this myth. First and foremost, Ahmadinejad never articulated an Iranian policy objective to destroy Israel, rather noting that Israel’s policies would lead to its “vanishing from the pages of time.” Second, and perhaps most important, Ahmadinejad does not make foreign policy decisions on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the sole purview of the “Supreme Leader,” the Ayatollah Khomeini. In 2003 Khomeini initiated a diplomatic outreach to the United States inclusive of an offer to recognize Israel’s right to exist. This initiative was rejected by the United States, but nevertheless represents the clearest indication of what the true policy objective of Iran is vis-à-vis Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the “Iranian Threat” is derived solely from the rhetoric of those who appear to seek confrontation between the United States and Iran, and largely divorced from fact-based reality. A recent request on the part of Iran to allow President Ahmadinejad to lay a wreath at “ground zero” in Manhattan was rejected by New York City officials. The resulting public outcry condemned the Iranian initiative as an affront to all Americans, citing Iran’s alleged policies of supporting terrorism. This knee-jerk reaction ignores the reality that Iran was violently opposed to al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan throughout the 1990’s leading up to 2001, and that Iran was one of the first Muslim nations to condemn the terror attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.

A careful fact-based assessment of Iran clearly demonstrates that it poses no threat to the legitimate national security interests of the United States. However, if the United States chooses to implement its own unilateral national security objectives concerning regime change in Iran, there will most likely be a reaction from Iran which produces an exceedingly detrimental impact on the national security interests of the United States, including military, political and economic. But the notion of claiming a nation like Iran to constitute a security threat simply because it retains the intent and capability to defend its sovereign territory in the face of unprovoked military aggression is absurd. In the end, however, such absurdity is trumping fact-based reality when it comes to shaping the opinion of the American public on the issue of the Iranian “threat.”

Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including “Iraq Confidential” (Nation Books, 2005) , “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement” (Nation Books, April 2007).

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Iran terror label bites deep By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Dandelion Salad

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
10/03/07 “Asia Times

In the aftermath of the US House of Representatives’ recent resolution branding the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as terrorist, the White House is reportedly poised to formally place it on the terrorist list of the US State Department, with ramifications to follow, such as a freeze on the IRGC’s assets wherever the US can get its hands on them.

This is considered a small victory by anti-Iran hawks, who know the important side-effects of this initiative in inching the US closer to war against Iran. Veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, meanwhile, has written about a “policy shift” in Washington. This involves a thirst for confrontation with Iran less on the grounds of Iran’s nuclear program and more as a result of the situation in Iraq, where Iran has gained substantial influence, to the detriment of US-led coalition forces.

Justifying the anti-IRGC resolution in the name of an attempt to protect US soldiers, various lawmakers, such as Senator Joe Lieberman and Congresman Tom Lantos have accused the IRGC of supporting terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied territories. They dismiss the small yet loud dissent by fellow legislators, such as Senator Chuck Hagel and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, that this is a misguided initiative that could increase the possibility of war with Iran.

The case for the designation of the IRGC as terrorists has been built on thin empirical grounds and even thinner legal grounds, and is bound to complicate the US’s Iraq policy. The arguments against the move can be listed as:

1. Illicit use of the term terrorist: Following the United Nations’ definition of terrorism as the use of violence against unarmed civilians for political objectives, it is difficult to see how the activities of the IRGC alleged by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan can be fitted into this definition. Per the recent testimony of top US commanders, the IRGC, particularly its elite Quds Force, has been giving arms and explosives to Shi’ite militias which, in turn, use them against US forces. Assuming this is true, given the fact that Shi’ite (or Sunni) militias opposed to the US military presence are not referred to by the US itself as terrorists, but “insurgents”, the question is: Why then brand the Iranian backers of those insurgents as a step worse than those directly fighting the US, and name them terrorists?

2. Scant empirical proof: The US has until now failed to lay out the facts against Iran and that is one reason the senior leadership in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as certain members of the international community, are not going along with the US’s accusations against Iran. A case in point is Chris Alexander, the deputy UN representative to Kabul, who had this to say recently: “We are, quite frankly, trying to encourage everyone to recommit to having a sense of proportion, to putting the reality of the insecurity of Afghanistan into proportion. That means not saying that Iran is the principle source of arms shipments to the Taliban. That’s simply not true.”

In Iraq, the US has reportedly apprehended a number of Iranian operatives linked to the Quds Force, yet none of those individuals, including the five doing consular work in Ibril until kidnapped by US special forces nearly a year ago, has admitted to the crime alleged by the US. Nor has the US military introduced any documents that corroborate the allegations. The question, then, is how to justify the IRGC’s terrorist labeling in the absence of viable hard proof?

3. Questionable assumptions about the IRGC: Key to the designation of the IRGC’s designation as terrorists is the assumption that it, and the Quds Force in particular, are “rogue” or “government-within-government” operatives. To paraphrase recent articles in the Washington Times and by the Council on Foreign Relations, they are “mafia-type” institutions. The problem with this is that, again, there is little about Iranian polity that endorses it.

The IRGC is very influential and some members of Parliament (Majlis), the cabinet, government ministries and local administrations have backgrounds in the IRGC. This actually shows the depth of integration of the IRGC (past and present) in formal government structures.

The much-scrutinized role of the IRGC in the economy, on the other hand, can be similarly interpreted as further support for the counter-argument that with the growing involvement of those guards in the formal and informal economy, their vested economic interests dictate more and more mainstream, as opposed to terroristic and subversive, behavior.

4. Questionable designation over Lebanon: Although the IRGC has played a prominent role in supporting Lebanon’s Hezbollah since the early 1980s, calling the IRGC terrorists because of this is problematic. This in light of Hezbollah’s powerful mass base, its political clout and its participation in parliamentary politics of Lebanon.

Hence, to designate Hezbollah as terrorist because of its occasional face-offs with the Israelis, is to turn this terminology into a propaganda tool that ignores important realities in the Middle East. Indeed, by labeling the IRGC as terrorists, the US will probably torpedo its own slow coming to terms with Hezbollah’s staying power.

5. Overlooking history: US and Israeli hawks don’t like to hear this, but in both Bosnia-Herzegovina during the early and mid-1990s and more recently in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, the US military and the IRGC interacted positively. In Bosnia, invited by the Bosnian government under siege, the IRGC trained and armed Bosnian fighters, with the tacit blessing of the White House. They continued to provide humanitarian support even after their military role ended shortly after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which called for the exit of foreign forces.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, where the IRGC played a prominent role in supporting the anti-Taliban and anti-al-Qaeda Northern Alliance led by the late Ahmad Shah Masoud long before the US cavalry arrived in 2001, US and IRGC commanders met repeatedly both before and after Kabul’s fall into the hands of the Northern Alliance.

6. Negative costs outweigh benefits: Given Iran’s stern reaction to this initiative, such as reciprocating by branding the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency as terrorist, there is little doubt that this initiative will have a corrosive influence on the diplomatic track between the US and Iran and pave the way to the nightmare scenario of physical confrontation. Dissenting voices in the US Congress have already warned of this.

For one thing, this action will at a minimum put a huge dent in the progress already made in the US-Iran dialogue over Iraq in the form of a joint committee of experts to discuss security-related issues. If the US is correct and Iran’s intelligence operatives in Iraq are from the Quds Force, then the question becomes: How can the US expect to enlist Iran’s cooperation on security and intelligence matters when it has branded its potential counterparts across the table terrorists?

7. No chance of an “incident at sea” agreement: The IRGC is not a one-dimensional army of 125,000 plus soldiers. It has an air force and a navy, in tandem with the regular Iranian army and navy. They are also active as Iran’s coast guards, as seen in their temporary detention of British sailors this year.

This means that the terrorist labeling of the IRGC could be a catalyst for confrontation between the US Navy and IRGC in the Persian Gulf and nearby waters, especially the disputed waters shared by Iran and Iraq. Moreover, the possibility of an “incident at sea” agreement between the US and Iran will be substantially reduced when and if Washington formally categorizes the IRGC as terrorist, thus depriving the region of effective conflict-prevention mechanisms.

8. Difficult enforcement measures: As “terrorists”, the entire IRGC ensemble, including its purely civilian projects, many of which are in partnership with foreign contractors, will come under the purview of US anti-terrorist measures. These include the IRGC’s management of the new Mehrabad International Airport and IRGC-controlled telecommunication companies, not to mention a host of medical, purely charitable, activities.

The IRGC is partly responsible for the health care of about 60,000 victims of Iraq’s chemical attacks in the 1980s, as well as thousands of other war veterans who sustained long-term injuries in the was with Iraq.

There will be complicating effects on European and other companies doing business with the non-military branches of the IRGC, for instance, those involved in building houses for the large number of families of members of the IRGC “martyred” in the war with Iraq.

So the terror designation will affect the IRGC’s charitable foundations, which will swell anti-American anger in Iran to new heights.

9. Terrorist label helps Iranian hardliners: US hawks may have intended the designation as a wrench to cause divisions within Iran, but the exact opposite has already happened. The IRGC are now even more popular than before, basking in their front-line status against the “great Satan”. And political moderates are unhappy with yet another unwise US move that provides a political bonanza for their competition.

Having said that, it is an error to say that the entire IRGC consists of ideological zealots and hardliners, given that most of its rank and file supported moderate former president Mohammad Khatami in his re-election bid six years ago. But the likely net result of the terrorist labeling will be to tilt the majority of IRGC members and their families and friends toward more militant tendencies.

10. Wrong in international law: As mentioned above, the designation does not not fit well with the UN’s definition of terrorism. And it raises serious questions in terms of the UN charter, which calls on member states to resolve disputes through “pacific settlement”.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Iranian official backs labelling U.S. army, CIA as terrorists