Obama Doesn’t Understand Blowback

There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Barack H. Obama

Well, he’s got one thing right. No country would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. And that goes for Gaza just as much as it does for Israel. Having lived in what David Cameron referred to as a “prison camp” for all their lives — Israel controls Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters and border crossings — and living under constant threat of Israeli F16 and drone raids, should Israel really find it surprising that young Gazans are fighting back? Hamas may have a counterproductive and dangerous strategy driven by a violent religious ideology that ends up hurting the Palestinians more than anyone else, but that’s not the point. The point is that nations don’t tolerate missiles raining down on citizens. That’s just as true for Palestine as it is Israel.

There are other examples which Obama would do well to consider. In the first twenty four hours after his re-election, Obama ordered yet another drone strike in Yemen — setting the tone for the next four years. During the Obama administration drones — or perhaps more accurately, flying death robots — have rained down missiles across a vast tract of the world. Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia. Quite possibly also Iran and Syria. No trial, no hard evidence, just summary execution.

Every drone strike creates blowback. It increases hostility to Americans throughout that part of the world. It drives angry young people into the arms of violent extremists like the Taliban and Hamas. Because — as Obama rightly points out — no country would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. That means that in the long run Obama’s drone strikes are probably America’s greatest national security problem.

The 71%

According to a recent FPI poll, 60% of Americans want go to war with Iran to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons.

This in spite of the fact that the US intelligence community is fairy unanimous that Iran is not even currently pursuing nuclear weapons. According to Micah Zenko:

First, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has repeatedly reaffirmed since late January, “we don’t believe they’ve actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon.” Just yesterday, James Risen reported in the New York Times that the IC continues to believe (based on an assessment first made in November 2007) that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei halted his country’s nuclear weapons activities in 2003.

This might be hard for many to grasp, since polling has found the American people disagree with the collective judgment of the 210,000 civilian and military employees and 30,000 private contractors comprising the IC. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans think Iran is developing nuclear weapons, while another from February 2010 concluded that 71 percent of Americans believe that Iran currently has nuclear weapons.

So 60% of Americans believe Iran should be attacked to prevent nuclear proliferation. Simultaneously 71% of Americans — in total contradiction to the evidence recognised by both the CIA and Mossad that Iran is not currently even developing a nuclear weapon — believe that Iran currently has nuclear weapons. There is almost certainly a high degree of overlap — and that’s some severe cognitive dissonance. Where are such ideas coming from?

There are some voices in the wilderness that are expressing the view that Iran already has a nuclear weapon to anyone who will listen.

According to Reza Kahlili, who claims to be a former CIA spy who infiltrated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard:

The pressure the United States and the West is bringing to bear on Iran to keep it from acquiring nuclear weapons is all for naught. Not only does the Islamic Republic already have nuclear weapons from the old Soviet Union, but it has enough enriched uranium for more. What’s worse, it has a delivery system.

And where did Iran supposedly get those weapons?

In the early 1990s, the CIA asked me to find an Iranian scientist who would testify that Iran had the bomb. The CIA had learned that Iranian intelligence agents were visiting nuclear installations throughout the former Soviet Union, with particular interest in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, Paul Muenstermann, then vice president of the German Federal Intelligence Service, said Iran had received two of the three nuclear warheads and medium-range nuclear delivery systems from Kazakhstan. It also was reported that Iran had purchased four 152 mm nuclear shells from the former Soviet Union, which were reportedly stolen and sold by former Red Army officers.

To make matters worse, several years later, Russian officials stated that when comparing documents in transferring nuclear weapons from Ukraine to Russia, there was a discrepancy of 250 nuclear weapons.

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, an experienced intelligence officer and recipient of a Bronze Star, told me that his sources say Iran has two workable nuclear warheads

Unlike the 71%, I’m not really convinced by this — if anything, it could be Iranian disinformation to try and avoid an American or Israeli attack. More importantly, the US and Israeli intelligence community at large don’t buy it. If they had any real evidence that Iran had a bomb today, Netanyahu would have been presenting it at the UN instead of drawing red lines on Wile E. Coyote bomb diagrams.

But if it were true, it would illustrate an extremely important point — that Iran with a nuclear weapon has not tried to obliterate Israel or the United States.

And if America were to attack Iran to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, and Iran already has a nuclear weapon, the consequence could be thousands or millions of death — an attack on Iran would be even more dangerous and misadventurous for both the West and Israel than it already seems.

That makes the fact that a majority of Americans — as well as a disturbing number of hawkish policy analysts and talking heads like Reza Kahlili — agree that Iran already has a nuclear weapon, and that Iran should be attacked even more mind-boggling. To conclude (based on rumours and hearsay) that Iran already has a nuclear weapon, and simultaneously to encourage an attack on them is the height of foolishness.

Iran’s Imminent Nuclear Weapon

Here’s some context behind the claims that Iran will imminently possess a nuclear weapon.

It started a long time ago (but not, unfortunately, in a galaxy far, far away):

1984: Soon after West German engineers visit the unfinished Bushehr nuclear reactor, Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes West German intelligence sources saying that Iran’s production of a bomb “is entering its final stages.”US Senator Alan Cranston claims Iran is seven years away from making a weapon.

Seven years away? And did they have a bomb in 1991?

1992: Israeli parliamentarian Binyamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the US.”

1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells French TV that Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999. “Iran is the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East,” Peres warned, “because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militancy.”

1992: Joseph Alpher, a former official of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, says “Iran has to be identified as Enemy No. 1.” Iran’s nascent nuclear program, he told The New York Times, “really gives Israel the jitters.”

So was there a bomb by the late 1990s?

1995: The New York Times conveys the fears of senior US and Israeli officials that “Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought” – about five years away – and that Iran’s nuclear bomb is “at the top of the list” of dangers in the coming decade. The report speaks of an “acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program,” claims that Iran “began an intensive campaign to develop and acquire nuclear weapons” in 1987, and says Iran was “believed” to have recruited scientists from the former Soviet Union and Pakistan to advise them.

1997: The Christian Science Monitor reports that US pressure on Iran’s nuclear suppliers had “forced Iran to adjust its suspected timetable for a bomb. Experts now say Iran is unlikely to acquire nuclear weapons for eight or 10 years.

So now we’re looking at a nuclear-armed Iran by 2007. Scary stuff, right?

2007: President Bush warns that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III.” Vice President Dick Cheney had previously warned of “serious consequences” if Iran did not give up its nuclear program.

2007: A month later, an unclassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran is released, which controversially judges with “high confidence” that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons effort in fall 2003.

June 2008: Then-US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton predicts that Israel will attack Iran before January 2009, taking advantage of a window before the next US president came to office.

May 2009: US Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports states: “There is no sign that Iran’s leaders have ordered up a bomb.”

And Iran still doesn’t have a bomb today — all of those reports, all of that scaremongering and warmongering was wrong. Both the CIA and Mossad agree that there is no specific evidence that Iran is working on nuclear weapons today. And many experts believe that even if Iran were working on a bomb it could take up to ten to fifteen years.

Yet, it seems that nothing except a war will satisfy Binyamin Netanyahu, who felt the same way about Iraq:

There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is working towards nuclear weapons.

And how did that work out? A hugely expensive war and occupation, American imperial overstretch, thousands of dead soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and no weapons of mass destruction. We should judge people on their predictive record.

On one level, I understand Netanyahu’s paranoia especially in the context of the 20th Century and the holocaust. Iranian Generals have talked about annihilating Israel.

In August 2012, Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, who heads Iran’s Passive Defence Organisation, said “No other way exists apart from resolve and strength to completely eliminate the aggressive nature and to destroy Israel.”  And just six days ago in September 2012 Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh threatened to attack Israel and trigger World War III, saying that “it is possible that we will make a pre-emptive attack” which would “turn into World War III.” In the same statement, Hajizadeh threatened to attack American bases in the Middle East as well. Hajizadeh said that as a result of this attack, Israel would “sustain heavy damage and that will be a prelude to its obliteration.”

All disturbing rhetoric, yet almost certainly baseless threats given the context of Iran’s technological and military disadvantage. Iranian missiles fired at Israel would likely be shot down long before they reached Israeli airspace by Israel’s advanced missile defence systems that can intercept even short-range fire from Gaza and Lebanon. And Israel’s nuclear submarines in the Persian Gulf would almost certainly retaliate in kind. As Shimon Peres noted in 2006: “The President of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map.” Most importantly, if Iran attacked Israel, it seems far less likely that other powers would come to Iran’s aid.

Yet an attack on Iran by Israel could well trigger a larger conflict, sucking in Iran’s trade partners who do not want to see the flow of oil and resources out of Iran disrupted. Just this week China announced new contracts to provide super-tankers to deliver oil from Iran to China. Would Russia and China sit idly by and see their Iranian investments liquidated while America and Israel invade Iran and destroy its infrastructure? Would they sit idly by and see their ally deposed? China and Pakistan have both hinted that they could defend Iran if Iran were attacked. An attack on or invasion of Iran is an incredibly risky adventure — and in my view the real danger to Israel. And for what? To discover that like Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad is not working on a nuclear weapon, and all the hot air about weapons of mass destruction is once again just bullshit?

Netanyahu’s Red Line

Netanyahu wants a red line on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East:

Where exactly should we draw it?

As Justin Raimondo notes:

Here is a nation which refuses to even admit it acquired nukes long ago, and which disdains the Nonproliferation Treaty, making the case for war against a neighbor that has indeed signed the NPT and is abiding by its requirements.

That treaty gives Tehran the right to develop nuclear power. Furthermore, there is zero evidence Iran is embarked on a nuclear weapons program: our own intelligence community tells us they gave that up in 2003 and show no signs of resuming it. Their own religious and political leaders have denounced the possession of nuclear weapons as sinful: the Israelis, on the other hand, haven’t bothered reassuring us they would never use the nuke they won’t admit they have.

In a rational world, Israel would be in the dock, answering for its unwillingness to come out of the nuclear closet and admit what the whole world knows by now.

The West has sent out a message that the only way for unpopular regimes to avoid invasion is to obtain nuclear weapons. North Korea sought and obtained nuclear weapons and their vicious and economically-failed regime has stayed in power. Qaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions, and was soon deposed by British, French and American airpower. If Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon — and the CIA and Mossad, as well as the IAEA agree they that they are not currently doing so — perhaps the fact that nuclear-armed Israel and the nuclear-armed United States keep threatening non-nuclear Iran with attack has something to do with it?

And even assuming that they are going for a nuclear weapon, how close is Iran to a nuclear weapon? According to former IAEA consultant Clinton Bastin, possibly as much as ten to fifteen years away:

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

Iran may be in your red zone, but can not score.

Sure, Iran could divert a few tons of 3.5% or a ton of 20% enriched uranium hexaflouride gas for enrichment to 90+%. But what then?

No one has ever made a nuclear weapon from gas. It must be converted to metal and fabricated into components which are then assembled with high explosives.

Iran lacks experience with and facilities for these processes which are very dangerous because of potential for a criticality accident or nuclear explosion. Iran would not jeopardize its important, fully safeguarded nuclear programs by an attempt to have a deliverable, one kiloton yield nuclear weapon ten to fifteen years later.

IMPORTANT NOTE: North Korea was able to make and test a nuclear explosive soon after withdrawing from safeguards because plutonium for reactor recycle was in a form usable for a weapon.

So let’s be clear about who is threatening who:

How would Americans feel if Iran had stationed troops and aircraft on the Mexican and Canadian borders and conducted military excursions into American territory, including funding and training armed dissidents to overthrow the American government (as happened to Iran in 1953 when America overthrew a democratically-elected Iranian government and imposed a dictatorship there)? How would Americans feel if Iran, Russia and China were blowing up American scientists and using computer viruses to attack American infrastructure? How would Americans feel if Iran, Russia and China imposed sanctions on America that led to hyperinflation of the dollar?  Under those circumstances, would America not seek the means to defend itself?

Iran is not blameless, and continues to provoke Israel through its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and through eliminationist rhetoric. But given the level of provocation from the Israeli and American side, it is astonishing that Iran remains free of nuclear weapons. Yet it is a fact that Iran is not armed with nuclear weapons, and it remains a fact that Iran has not attacked nor occupied any foreign lands since World War 2. Iran is not an expansionistic country.

As neocon provocateur Patrick Clawson essentially admitted in advocating for a false flag attack to get America to war, Iran is not likely to attack either the United States or Israel. So when it comes to drawing red lines, we in the West would do well to draw a red line around our behaviour — because right now, we in the West are the ones who are stirring up trouble by threatening to strike first.

Blowback Works Both Ways

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows how to inflame American and Israeli leaders.

He’s claimed 9/11 was an inside job:

Making reference to what he called the “mysterious September 11th incident” and the “slave masters and colonial powers” of the West, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad excoriated Western member nations in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York

Ahmadinejad said after the speech that as an engineer he’s sure the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York were not brought down by jetliners.

Ahmadinejad, in an interview with The Associated Press, says it would have been impossible for two jetliners to bring down the towers simply by hitting them. He says some kind of planned explosion must have taken place.

(Amusingly, this sparked al-Qaeda to supposedly put out a counter-statement defiantly claiming responsibility and condemning Ahmadinejad, although such disputes have not prevented America from claiming that Iran and al-Qaeda were jointly responsible for 9/11).

He’s claimed that the holocaust may have never happened:

During an interview with CNN, which aired Monday on “Piers Morgan Tonight,”the Iranian president said he will not judge Nazi Germany’s extermination of the Jews during World War II.

“Whatever event has taken place throughout history, or hasn’t taken place, I cannot judge that. Why should I judge that? I say researchers and scholars must be free to conduct research and analysis about any historical event,” Ahmadinejad said.

And today, he claimed that Israel was a “nuclear armed fake regime”, and that Israel will be eliminated:

 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated,” ignoring a U.N. warning to avoid incendiary rhetoric ahead of the annual General Assembly session.

Ahmadinejad also said he did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, denied sending arms to Syria, and alluded to Iran’s threats to the life of British author Salman Rushdie.

Ahmadinejad claims that Israel and America are bluffing in their threats to attack Iran:

In a series of combative interviews in New York on the eve of the UN General Assembly, Iran’s political leader said Israel was making a lot of ‘noise’ and encouraging the West to prevent legitimate scientific progress in his country.

Reiterating that he was open to dialogue with the United States on the nuclear issue he also said he was prepared to defend Iran from any external threat.

“Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists,” he said. “We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously.”

He may be right on that count, because America can ill afford another costly invasion, and nothing less than a full invasion and regime change is likely to in the long run prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.Yet while I believe that an American or Israeli attack on Iran is an entirely foolish policy that will only serve to weaken America and Israel in the long run, it is foolish and dangerous for Ahmadinejad to needlessly enrage the ferocious neoconservative beast.

Ahmadinejad may well be playing the same long game as Osama bin Laden:

We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.

Osama bin Laden

And they may succeed (although those who believe that war is a stimulus that can end a depression will surely disagree — as Antal Fekete has noted, Western governments may look to a new hot war in the middle east as an opportunity to exit an economic depression that they cannot control).  But for Ahmadinejad and Iran, it may come at a huge, huge cost — a long painful invasion, ending in death in the street or on the gallows. Neoconservatism — and Obama and Romney are both to lesser and greater degrees neoconservatives — is a violent utopian ideology that seeks to force the entire world — by whatever means and at any cost — to conform to American foreign policy imperatives. As America should have learned a long time ago — and as Ahmadinejad may well soon learn — needlessly pissing off violent utopian ideologues creates blowback.

The Diminishing Chances of an Israeli Strike

From Haaretz:

At 8:58 P.M. on Tuesday, Israel’s 2012 war against Iran came to a quiet end. The capricious plans for a huge aerial attack were returned to the deep recesses of safes and hearts. The war may not have been canceled but it has certainly been postponed. For a while, at least, we can sound the all clear: It won’t happen this year. Until further notice, Israel Air Force Flight 007 will not be taking off.

According to a war simulation conducted by the U.S. Central Command, the Iranians could kill 200 Americans with a single missile response to an Israeli attack. An investigative committee would not spare any admiral or general, minister or president. The meaning of this U.S. scenario is that the blood of these 200 would be on Israel’s head.

Yeah. But I don’t really think that there was any real chance of a strike, even before that, and I haven’t for a long time.

As I wrote in January:

The real threat to Israel and America is not inaction on Iran, but excessive force. Iran poses little threat, but military intervention to effect regime change in Tehran runs the risk of huge and widespread blowback throughout the Muslim world: terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and deeper intergovernmental hostility, a breakdown of regional trade, and even a wider land war involving Eurasian nations who wish to protect Iran, including China and Russia.

The curious thing is that if the critical wargame was one involving a retaliatory Iranian missile strike, perhaps the people at the Pentagon would be wiser to allocate their not inconsiderable resources to a closure of the Strait of Hormuz, instead? After all, the economic damage of destabilising global trade seems a much greater danger to global, American and Israeli security than an Iranian retaliation.

From the Huffington Post:

Blocking the Strait of Hormuz would create an international and economic calamity of unprecedented severity. Here are the crude realities. America uses approximately 19 to 20 million barrels of oil per day, almost half of which is imported. If we lose just 1 million barrels per day, or suffer the type of damage sustained from Hurricane Katrina, our government will open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which offers a mere six- to eight-week supply of unrefined crude oil. If we lose 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, we will ask our allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to open their SPRs and otherwise assist. If we lose 2 million barrels per day, or 10 percent, for a protracted period, government crisis monitors say the chaos will be so catastrophic, they cannot even model it. One government oil crisis source recently told me: “We cannot put a price tag on it. If it happens, just cash in your 401(k).”

Of course, there are plenty of examples of nations enacting policies that end up damaging their own interests, not least America’s costly, destructive and illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. But given the deep and serious opposition that Netanyahu faces from within the Israeli establishment (e.g. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief), it seems unlikely that they will at any point engage in such a strike. The rhetoric appears to be mostly designed stir up resistance to the Iranian regime (although frankly this appears to have had the opposite effect — galvanising the Iranian people to rally around a relatively unpopular regime).

Does Israel Seriously Believe Iran is a Threat?

From Zero Hedge:

Israeli political sources believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has majority Cabinet support for Israeli military action against Iran without American approval.

Really? Is second-strike-capable 200 megaton Israel really afraid of piddly little Iran? Do they not understand that Iran cannot lay a (nuclear) finger on them, for fear of sheer nuclear obliteration?

As I noted back in January:

Even Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad recognises that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel.

Upon leaving his post, Dagan publicly warned against Israel attacking Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In his latest comments, he said that if Israel attacks Iran, it will find itself at the centre of a regional war that would endanger the state’s existence. Dagan’s intervention is dangerous for Netanyahu because it comes from the right wing of Israeli opinion rather than the left, where the prime minister would expect criticism.

Dagan has been in charge of aggressive Israeli actions abroad in recent years, that have included assassinations in Lebanon, Syria and Dubai and an air attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. He also criticised Israel’s failure to offer any initiative to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians .

The absence of any workable plan, he said, will leave Israel in a dangerous and weak situation.

This really echoes my thinking: the real threat to Israel, and America is not inaction on Iran, but excessive force. Iran poses little threat, but military intervention to effect regime change in Tehran runs the risk of huge and widespread blowback throughout the Muslim world: terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and deeper intergovernmental hostility, a breakdown of regional trade, and even a wider land war involving Eurasian nations who wish to protect Iran, including China and Russia.

For all the verbiage thrown at determining whether or not Iran is “rational”, and despite the obvious fact that there are many “rational” people like Meir Dagan in power in Israel, perhaps we should have looked more closely at the question of whether the Israeli cabinet is “rational” or not.

Does the possibility of creating a wider war not trouble them?  Did they not pay attention to the recent bellicose statements from other Eurasian states in support of Iran? Do they — unlike the Israeli public — honestly believe that a war with Iran can be won without regime change in Iran, and do they believe they have the time, the resources, and the manpower to achieve such a thing? Do they honestly believe that the United States under Obama will back-up an Israeli attack on Iran, should a larger power move to support Iran? Do they honestly believe that the rest of world will be happy to see oil prices spiking as a result of an Israeli attack? Do they honestly believe that Israeli public opinion will countenance more resources being spent on war, and less on health, housing and public services?

In light of all these problems, I find it hard to believe that Israel will hit Iran. I believe instead that Israel and America will continue their covert war against the Iranian regime and hope to foment an Arab Spring-style revolution in Iran.

But that is to assume that Netanyahu and his cabinet are rational. Maybe they want a big, dangerous and scary war that imperils the Jewish state?