There is no doubt that the recent US National Intelligence Estimate
, which noted that Iran had stopped nuclear weapons development some time in 2003, stymied the Bush administration campaign to impose stiffer sanctions on Iran, though it should not have done so. As the Deputy Director of Intelligence hastened to clarify, Iran is not benign, and is probably going to build a bomb eventually. John Bolton
and others, have charged that the estimate is an attempt to manipulate Bush administration policy, and that may be true. It is just as likely an oracular bureaucratic attempt to cover you know what
. There is no doubt however, that it has been used and interpreted in that way.
In the controversy over the NIE, participants have lost sight of the fact that it is totally irrelevant to the issue of whether or not to impose further sanctions on Iran. The sanctions follow from UN Security Council Resolution 1747
, which called for further sanctions if Iran had not stopped its uranium enrichment program. Nobody, including Iran, argues that Iran has stopped uranium enrichment. Moreover, EU negotiator Javier Solana says he believes Iran is not going to renew negotiations over stopping enrichment.
Therefore, in a logical world, one would think that the sanctions should be imposed, regardless of what Iran did in 2003. But the considerations in this issue have nothing to do with logic, and everything to do with Russian policy vis-a-vis the United States, Democrat vs Republic in Washington and bureaucracy wars in DC.
The NIE report has sent Israel advocacy organizations
scurrying to battle positions, perhaps a bit too hastily:
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations organized an emergency conference call of its members on Tuesday to address how the news could threaten its recent campaign to isolate Iran.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the umbrella group's executive vice chairman, told the membership that the NIE presented a "challenge" and suggested that advocates of isolating Iran should reframe the argument to stress that Tehran still backs terrorism and could potentially provide nuclear material to terrorists.
Sure, and if nobody believes that, we can say Iran should be isolated because Ahmadinajed needs a shave. Maybe that'll convince them. Hoenlein's mistake is that the Iran nuclear weapons issue is not spin. It is not a PR campaign. If Iran is building a bomb, and we believe it is, then it must be stopped, and since it is an important issue, we had better get an accurate assessment of Iran's intentions and development plans and capabilities. If we make a mistake, we will not lose a few contributors to AIPAC. Lives may be lost - a lot of lives. The economy of the United States and the entire balance of power in the Middle East will be upset.
But the error of Israel advocacy groups in general is more serious. Iran's nuclear program is not just about Israel. It was never just about Israel. The Iranian program is a threat to the entire Middle East, especially its Arab neighbors in the Gulf, and to the United States. They aren't necessarily going to use the bomb. They are going to use the possession of the bomb as leverage to out the US, from the Gulf and impose their own will there and in the rest of the Middle East. The NIE report, which causes such jubilation in Tehran, caused fear among Arab states. Ahmadinejad has tried very hard to make the issue into an Israel issue, because that defuses Arab opposition and recruits domestic support in Iran for the project. As a bonus, it recruits automatic opposition to confrontation with Iran in the US from the anti-Israel lobby lobby. The more AIPAC and other organizations sound the alarm about nuclear Iran, the easier it is for the friends of Iran in the United States to claim that it is all a scare cooked up by neoconservatives and the "Israel Lobby." The louder Jews yell about the Iranian bomb, the harder it is for Arab countries to oppose it. Ahmadinejad has cleverly crafted a double bind, tying the hands of his most effective opponents.
The pressure for military action against Iran has the same paradoxical effect. Pressuring Iran to stop its nuclear development project is clearly much less effective if military options are off the table, so opponents have to play a clever and dangerous game of brinksmanship. But talk about attacking Iran has been used by Ahmadinejad internally to rally domestic support for his unpopular regime, and to rally Arab opposition to invasion of a Muslim country, which is inevitable. No Arab regime can say they are in favor of attacking a Muslim country. Inevitably, it has also been used cleverly by US administration opponents and opponents of Bush administration policies. They conjured up phantom U.S. and Israeli attacks that were supposed to have taken place several times already and never happened. These are supposedly being planned by diabolical and trigger happy neoconservatives and Zionist warmongers led by Dick Cheney and American "Likud supporters" ("Likud" being synonymous with the Elders of Zion in their lingo). Now they can say that the NIE report foiled the plans of the international Zionist conspiracy. Realistically an attack on Iran by either the US or Israel is unlikely and was probably never seriously planned for the immediate future. Iran can retaliate on US targets in Iraq, and through Hezbollah, with massive rocket attacks on Israel. We have to no way to neutralize this threat at present. Israel probably doesn't have the weapons to knock out hardened underground nuclear facilities, or any way to get those weapons to Iran. Our submarines at present don't have the range to cruise submerged to Iran. Our aircraft might get to Iran one way without refueling or they might not. Despite science fiction stories in the London Times, there is no evidence that Israel has cruise missiles armed with tactical nuclear warheads. Neither Israel nor the United States have the intelligence information to know for certain that they have eliminated all nuclear facilities in Iran including clandestine ones. If there are such facilities, the US announced to the Iranians that they can't find them by publishing the NIE. That may be the real cause of jubilation in Tehran. The ruse worked. As long as the above are true, Ahmadinejad can be reasonably certain that he is safe.
There are clearly things that need to be done, and they needed to be done regardless of the NIE report. As Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak observed, ""The bottom line is that words don't stop missiles, actions do." Or as Ben-Gurion said, "Never mind what the goyim are going to say. The question is, what are we going to do?"
It has long been evident that the United States will have difficulty getting other Security Council members, especially Russia and China, to agree to sanctions. That means that we have to consider the alternatives of military action or living with a nuclear Iran. If push comes to shove, we cannot depend on the United States to attack Iran. Israel must never be dependent on the support of a third power, however friendly, for its defense. In any case, it is probable that Iran won't stop refining uranium unless they know that someone can make them stop. That means that we must develop a credible military solution, and we must make sure that Iran knows we have such a solution, and we must have the intelligence information to ensure that we are going to hit the right targets and hit all of them.
If Israel has hard intelligence that Iran is building a bomb, as Ehud Barak claims, then Israel needs to produce that intelligence in a way and in a forum that will convince the skeptics. If it is not good enough, then we need to get more data.
If, after all is said and done, we have to live with a nuclear Iran, that too requires a lot of work to ensure that we are reasonably safe from attack and can deal with the unthinkable - a second strike deterrent.
Almost all of the above require the active or passive support of the world community and the United States, and of Israel Advocacy groups, but it is not the sort of support that can be constructively implemented by lobbying congress or flamboyant public statements at this point. Above all, we have to keep our cool, "Du calme, du calme et encore du calme." And we must remember that Iran is not just the problem of Israel and must not ever be portrayed as just the problem of Israel.
Caroline Glick wrote that the sky is falling, as usual. She always writes that the sky is falling. She has her following among people who have not noticed that the sky doesn't fall despite Caroline Glick or maybe they don't care that it isn't really falling. It lends drama to their lives if they believe the sky is falling. This week she outdid herself in "The abandonment of the Jews". An Iranian bomb could spell disaster for every country in the Middle East including Iran, as well as for the US. Oil at a thousand dollars a barrel, Saudis subjected to Shi'a hegemony, mushroom clouds over Riyadh and Cairo. But Caroline takes it personally, it is about the Jews. As the Titanic was going down, a female ancestor of Caroline was heard complaining, "This is the vacation you promised me Harvey? I know you're doing this to get even." Glick tells us that the NIE report is no less than a plot against Israel by Bush himself. This same surmise is offered byDebkafiles, a dependable source of disinformation. Debkafiles' tale is based on the ranting of Jihad el Khazen, known for his "Protocols of the Elders of Neocon," El Khazen concocted a fantastic tale in which the US has cut a deal with Iran, and Debkafiles fleshed it out. It could be happen, after all, but not based on the information offered by Debkafiles. One of their "insights" was that in return for US flexibility, the Hezbulla was now going to allow Michel Suleiman to become President of Lebanon. The only problem with that scoop was that Hezbullah was never opposed to the presidency of Suleiman. It was the March 14 movement that was opposed, and they removed their opposition. In any case, it turns out that Lebanese are as deadlocked as ever.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, US administration officials were working overtime to undo the damage of the report, to shore up support for Israel, and to present a resolute front versus Iran. Secretary of Defense Gates told Arabs and others at a conference in Bahrain:
"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents - Christians, Jews and Muslims alike...There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing."
Gates' speech followed efforts by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press for new sanctions against Iran.
Rice asserted Friday in Brussels, Belgium, that Washington would continue pressing for new sanctions against Iran while holding talks to convince Tehran to come clean about its nuclear program.
Gates ended his speech with a grim warning against underestimating the United States.
"Some countries," he said, may believe our resolve has been corroded by the challenges we face at home and abroad. This would be a grave misconception."
"Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and the former Soviet Union all made that miscalculation," Gates said. "All paid the price. All are on the ash heap of history."
And from another source:
On Friday, a senior Pentagon official stressed that the new reports playing down Iran's nuclear ambitions had not changed the US defence department's view of Iran as a source of instability in the Middle East.
Marine Corps Lieutenant-General John Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said US military crisis planning on Iran had not altered since the report.
Who you gonna believe, Sattler and Gates or Jihad el-Khazen and Caroline Glick? Does that look like "The abandonment of the Jews?"
British intelligence officials and some Americans as well were scathingly critical of the NIE, claiming that Iran had hoodwinked the Americans. Everyone is obviously worried that the report is going to derail the effort to isolate Iran, and nobody is talking about abandoning "the Jews."
Some day the sky may indeed fall, but not this week probably. Meanwhile, we need to have an intelligent, responsible and realistic program and a calm approach for dealing with the Iran nuclear issue and advocacy concerning this issue. Intelligence reports of the US NIC cannot be countered by hysterical op-eds, spin or speeches by heads of Jewish organizations. With due respect to Mr. Hoenlein, he isn't going to make an impression on Mr Putin or Mr. Ahmadinejad. Spin is not going to convince countries to impose economic sanctions on Iran or risk military action, and it won't solve the technical problems involved in countering an Iranian nuclear threat. Spin, PR and hysterical Op-Eds are not a substitute for intelligence gathering, intelligent diplomacy and military preparedness.
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