July 9, 2009

Will Israel Attack Iran Or Is It Selling Wolf Tickets?

Today will be the first test of how well the Iranian people’s movement has rebounded from the wave of repression that hit it two weeks ago and weathered the arrests and repression of suspected activists that have become business as usual as the Revolutionary Guard assumes more and more power.

An Iranian friend wrote me yesterday:

By the way, do you know that a massive silent demonstration is planned for tomorrow. The government has closed the universities for two weeks, but the student are organizing. The streets that marches are going to take place have been published on the web and the organizers have asked people who are afraid to march help the protesters by parking their cars at the end of route or even pretending that there is a car accident so as to block the road and make it difficult for the police to attack.
(Yesterday’s FotM post on Iran and even moreso the Freedom Road “Statement on Iran” of June 28 provide crucial context for today’s events.)

But in the last few days, Iran has been back in the news for a more familiar reason—a renewed buzz in the mainstream media and the blogosphere alike about the imminence of an Israeli missile and bombing raid on Iran. This would target Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program, which means its very real nuclear power program.

What’s up?

I have been among the skeptics about such reports for years, starting when it was supposed to be the Bush administration launching the attacks back in 2004 or so. I remain skeptical but there are issues about the current situation that need some thought.

I first became aware of the new discussion when the worthy Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies forwarded this note from Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel and progressive military analyst:
Six months ago I was a non-believer. I did not think Israel had the military capability to pull off an effective strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. New pieces of information have pushed me to believe otherwise.

First, within the past few months, we have read that production of a conventional Jericho missile has been stepped up. This is an important new capability. This is a new strategic condition

On Friday, there were numerous reports that Egypt has recently allowed Israeli submarines to transit the Suez Canal. (Some sources say all three submarines; some sources report only one transited.) These boats have been operating in the Mediterranean for many years but have not moved into waters that would give them greater access to Iran with their conventional cruise missiles. This is a new strategic condition.

This morning the Times Online is reporting that Israel and Saudi Arabia have an agreement that would allow Israeli aircraft to transit Saudi airspace to conduct an attack. That makes sense from the Saudi perspective, given their position on the Iran nuclear program. This is a new strategic condition.

My new position, Israel is putting the pieces together to conduct an attack on Iran.
Note that Gardiner doesn’t predict an attack, simply argues that Israel is seeking to develop a capacity to conduct such a criminal assault which it has not heretofore had.

The Administration’s Twostep

What put this whole kerfluffle on the front pages, though, were the bizarre remarks Vice President Biden made on ABC's "This Week" when asked about Israeli saber-rattling toward Iran:
Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else. Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.
For starters, this is hypocrisy of a very high order—hey, never mind anyplace else the US is meddling in, Iran is a sovereign nation and the US is hell-bent on interfering with their building of nuclear power plants or weapons.

More striking to most observers, it seemed like a barely disguised endorsement of an Israeli attack, “You’re sovereign; do what you gotta do.” So great was the outcry at Biden’s statement that the White House made a particular point of “walking it back.” From a Russian trip President Obama denied that this was a green light to Israel, “Absolutely not.” The head of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen, hastily chimed in about what a bad idea it is.

Is An Attack Likely?

A lot of this makes very little sense. Take Saudi Arabia. Sure, its feudal ruling family is Sunni and Arab; Iran is Shi’ite and Persian. Let’s stipulate that they are afraid of a nuclear armed Iran and glad that someone else is going to do something about it. Still complicity in an attack by Israel on a Muslim nation would destabilize the rule of the Sa’ud family and its bought and paid for influence within Islam.

What are the calculations in Israeli ruling circles? A go-it-alone attack just might do real damage to Iran’s nuclear program, but bear in mind that those facilities are considered to be widely scattered, seriously hardened and located in some cases in or near population centers. A truly serious effort would have to try and degrade a lot of Iran’s industrial and research capacity, and its military establishment to pull the teeth of a retaliatory strike. This is still well beyond Israel’s capacity—unless, of course, it employs its own nuclear weapons in the attack.

The international rage and disgust aroused by even a conventional attack with low (i.e. in the thousands) casualties would be a heavy price to pay. It may be that the Israeli government and the IDF feel that the tide of global opinion is turning irreversibly against the Zionist experiment after the Gaza invasion and the Obama election in the US, so striking where there’s still goodwill on the plus side of the ledger makes a certain sense. I have seen little to suggest that this is really the case.

Last fall Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was leaving office and gave an interesting interview to The New York Review of Books. In it he fretted:
One senses a megalomania and a loss of proportion to the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of scale. The assumption is that if America, Russia, China, England, and Germany don’t know how to deal with the Iranians, but we, the Israelis, will know, and that we’ll do something, we’ll act, is an example of this loss of proportions.
Now that’s a little frightening.

Another Explanation?

Although this is only my speculation, let’s start with the fact that all the previous the-US-and/or-Israel-are-about-to-bomb-Iran scares did serve a political purpose even as they evaporated. They contributed to the demonization of Iran as part of the Axis of Evil invented by Bush’s speechwriters. And in foreign policy think tanks, the task of the day became figuring out really bad but less dangerous things the US and countries following its lead could do to isolate Iran and harm its economy.

Can it be mere happenstance that all this is happening on more time in the midst of an unanticipated mass upsurge in Iran? I sure don’t think so. Remember that the Israeli rulers and their amen corner among US neo-cons have been ardently rooting for Ahmadinejad to come out on top. Meir Dagan, the head of the secret service, the Mossad, told the Knesset: “If the reformist candidate Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived internationally as a moderate element.”

What has happened is a nightmare for them. As the FRSO/OSCL statement points out:
Perhaps the most important effect so far has been to humanize the people of Iran in the eyes of millions here. The courageous millions who are risking and indeed giving their lives to protest repression and dictatorship have struck a chord in the hearts of freedom-loving people everywhere.
So with this as background, the beating of the war drums takes on another meaning—it amounts to campaigning for Ahmadinejad and his backer, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The threat of military intervention strengthens their call for national unity, directed at the protesters and at disgruntled clerics and makes it easier to paint opposition as unpatriotic. If the regime can be provoked into bellicose rhetoric and thus more easily isolated so much the better.

This is not to say an attack is impossible, but to point out that the best way to forestall one right now is for us to spread the word on the popular movement there and build support for it and to expose Zionist and neo-con schemes to strengthen the Iranian reactionaries’ hold on power.


Bill Fletcher, Jr. said...

This is an excellent analysis. Certainly the threats to attack Iran always create anxiety because most reasonable people are aware of the potential consequences. What is important in this post is the reminder of how the threat to attack has been used as part of the larger demonization effort. For the US Left, threats to attack Iran should, in either case, lead us to defend Iran's sovereignty, but also NOT step away from the progressive popular movements in Iran that are seeking internal change.

Anonymous said...

When a country operates within the boundaries of honor and integrity it has no need to be concerned about security. Those who don’t, need to have big armies and powerful weapons and still they feel they are not safe. Guilt always seeks punishment and therefore feels insecure as a nation or as an individual. It really pays well to show respect and kindness to others. Israel should try it sometimes! It instills cooperation instead of resistance.

Americans would have done that 300 years ago when they were stealing land from the Natives, had they been more evolved. So, Israel, what’s your excuse? God gave you that land? Did God give you a deed? Pretty lame excuse if you ask the other inhabitants of the world. What if the whole world did that, the world would be playing musical chairs!
Iran hasn't attacked another country in 300 years! They do get attacked a lot because they have all that oil that everyone covets so much? How would you like to be a young Iranian and hear nothing but threats of attack from Israel and US since you can remember? The evil calling you evil!
Funny how the media focuses on Iran when there are so many other protest going on in the world. Over 400 killed by Chinese government but where is the outrage?

Julietta Wilder, Ph.D. said...

Connie Lane said: How would you like to be a young Iranian and hear nothing but threats of attack from Israel and US since you can remember? The evil calling you evil!

One moment, Ms. Lane: how would you like to be a young Israeli and hear nothing but threats of total annhilation from Iran, Hammas, even African warlords, since before you can remember? Feeling safe in an Arab-owned coffee shop isn't even a total option! Actually, I am just making this statement to balance yours. (I doubt if young Iranians are feeling threatened by Israel, but maybe -- a lot of Americans are feeling threatened by Al-Quida; just go to Times Square any night and see the hundreds of police vehicles lined up.)
To continue: Evil is a quantitative term -- I wonder if you can measure it on a scale, with those who torture outside their borders (Cheney/Bush) to those who "marry" virgins and forceably rape them before they are executed (Iran).
Again, Ms. Lane, to continue with what you wrote:
Funny how the media focuses on Iran when there are so many other protest going on in the world. Over 400 killed by Chinese government but where is the outrage?
Bravo - and Sri Lanka, Sudan, throughout the mid-East and Africa, and is so many places. The outrage against the Taliban by media and/or governments is only political, not humanitarian. The media focusses on what sells papers (Michael Jackson's doctor, Glenn Beck's meltdown) and not on the heroes of the world who valiantly risk their lives to help people (e.g. the young Korean who smuggled a hundred people out of North Korea, the human rights worker who rescued young Indian girls from the slavery brothels of Bombay, and so on - their they courage and energy seems superhuman!)
PS - at this point, I really don't think Israel is planning on attacking Iran, but of course I have no inside knowledge. None of us do -- we just blog and blow from our safe and privileged perches.