I was just re-reading Seymour Hersh’s article from last April, on US planning for starting a war with Iran. It’s very interesting, even though events haven’t quite developed as per the plans he described (e.g. last year’s Israeli attempt to ‘take out’ Hezbollah prior to starting a war with Iran, to remove them as a factor in Iranian retaliation didn’t exactly come off as intended, despite the horrible spectacle of our slimy Prime Minister Mr Blair trying to prevent a cease-fire while the IDF bombed Lebanese civilians.)
An awful lot of it is very consistent with the stuff we’ve been seeing lately though and I found that re-reading it strongly confirmed my concerns that we’re seeing the build up to some sort of ‘double or nothing’ attempt to start a war with Iran while they still have the opportunity.
With regard to the possibility of a nuclear attack, I think it depends what they’re trying to do. If they’re actually trying to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability, then it probably looks very tempting to use nukes. Especially if due to Bush’s current huge credibility problem, the Israelis are going to have to start the party before the US can find itself ‘forced’ to join in.
On the other hand, the motivation of the neo-cons may be less to do with Iran’s nuclear weapons programme (which even the CIA can’t find any evidence of and thinks they’re years away from having even if they’re somehow doing it invisibly) and more to do with competition for regional dominance. In which case the arguments for using nuclear weapons on Iran are far less persuasive because all you’re really trying to do is create a provocation that would allow the US to destroy Iran’s infrastructure with a massive bombing campaign and do a variety of other things intended to weaken the regime and to significantly reduce its capability as a regional competitor.
In that scenario all the talk of Iranian nuclear weapons and an immediate pressing need to destroy them functions rather more like all the talk of Saddam’s WMD did when the same people were trying (and sadly succeeding) to produce some big fat stinking lies scary enough to get enough of the public onside with the idea to go ahead with their proposed military adventures. I don’t think it’s by any means impossible that this is happening again, and if it is, all the talk of an imminent threat causing Israel to use nukes is probably just some more propaganda bullshit.
Here’s an article that makes a reasonably convincing argument that the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons is merely a propaganda issue.
Just as the true reasons for the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq were not “weapons of mass destruction” or “links to Al Qaeda,” so too, the real reason for the present U.S.-Iran crisis is not about the ostensible “nuclear threat” posed by Iran. The Iranians are nowhere near to developing highly-enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. In fact, they appear to be far from even producing sufficient low-level enriched uranium to use in fuel rods for their Russian-built nuclear power plant. But, even if they were near to building a nuclear bomb, Iranian nukes would not, per se, be why Washington wants to remove the mullahs from power. Just this February Bush was very pleased to recognize India as a nuclear power—a country that has actually done what Washington is accusing Teheran of trying to do. He did this after India sided with the U.S. against Iran on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) critical report to the UN. So too, Bush hasn’t insisted that Pakistan, a country which admits to having proliferated nuclear weapons, and which has powerful Islamic fundamentalist movements, give up its illegally developed nuclear weapons—rather, he has called Pakistan a “close ally” of the U.S.
No, the true reason for the U.S. push against Iran’s nuclear program and for “regime change” is about maintaining U.S. hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), about 60 percent of the world’s conventional oil reserves are located in essentially five countries in the Persian Gulf region. Whoever has predominant influence there has their hand on “the global oil spigot”—a prize that brings enormous power and leverage. Washington has worked since the 1979 Iranian Revolution to keep the Iran of the mullahs from once again becoming the oil-producing powerhouse it was under the Shah. Indeed, gradually, especially in the years just after the Iran-Iraq War, Washington came to an absolutely firm, bi-partisan consensus that, no matter what promises the mullahs might make, the mullahs simply cannot be trusted. Even when the mullahs have offered quite stunning compromises, Washington has rejected them. Its reasoning is that, if Iran’s production were allowed to rapidly climb (and indeed, it has the potential for significant growth), the mullah’s would become rich and powerful players and would use their position to undermine the U.S.-backed Saudi royals and the Kuwaiti emir—and thereby U.S regional hegemony.
You never quite know with fanatics like Bush, Blair and the paranoid loons running Israel though, so it’s at least worth examining the possibility that they really are that irresponsible.
Here’s some of the reasoning from Hersh’s sources on the need to use nuclear weapons to be sure of destroying hardened facilities. The discussion here is about US military options, but due to its rather weaker strike capability, it applies even more strongly to Israel (nominally) ‘going it alone’
One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.
There is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons. In the early nineteen-eighties, the American intelligence community watched as the Soviet government began digging a huge underground complex outside Moscow. Analysts concluded that the underground facility was designed for “continuity of government”—for the political and military leadership to survive a nuclear war. (There are similar facilities, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, for the American leadership.) The Soviet facility still exists, and much of what the U.S. knows about it remains classified. “The ‘tell’ ”—the giveaway—“was the ventilator shafts, some of which were disguised,” the former senior intelligence official told me. At the time, he said, it was determined that “only nukes” could destroy the bunker. He added that some American intelligence analysts believe that the Russians helped the Iranians design their underground facility. “We see a similarity of design,” specifically in the ventilator shafts, he said.
A former high-level Defense Department official told me that, in his view, even limited bombing would allow the U.S. to “go in there and do enough damage to slow down the nuclear infrastructure—it’s feasible.”
But those who are familiar with the Soviet bunker, according to the former senior intelligence official, “say ‘No way.’ You’ve got to know what’s underneath—to know which ventilator feeds people, or diesel generators, or which are false. And there’s a lot that we don’t know.” The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”
He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”
Here’s what I think might be about to happen. Bush is trying to mobilise additional troops, he’s already sent an additional carrier battle group and according to some sources, what sounds like one or more of their amphibious assault groups each carrying about a brigade of marines with their own armour, helicopters and so on.
Suppose the basic concept described in that Hersh article has changed slightly due to unplanned circumstances, but not all that much. Hersh talks about the US launching an all-out attack on both Iran’s nuclear facilities and at the same time, their various other capabilities, naval and Pasdaran bases and so on, in order to suppress their ability to retaliate. Suppose instead, that Israel will apparently unilaterally, attack the key Iranian nuclear facilities on its own. Israel certainly appears to have the capability to use nuclear weapons, so if we assume the intention really is to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme, then that’d be the only viable approach for them, for reasons explained in the long quote above. If as seems a bit more likely though, they’re just trying to start a war with Iran that’ll give Bush his excuse, then the nukes aren’t necessary.
The Iranians are likely to retaliate to any serious attack though whatever US/Israeli intetions are, and given that they’ve been preparing for war with ‘The Great Satan’ for almost three decades now, they’ve certainly got quite a range of options for doing so. Here’s what Professor Paul Rogers and his team from the Oxford Research Group have to say about this bright idea.
An air attack on Iran by Israeli or US forces would be aimed at setting back Iran’s nuclear programme by at least five years. A ground offensive by the United States to terminate the regime is not feasible given other commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would not be attempted. An air attack would involve the systematic destruction of research, development, support and training centres for nuclear and missile programmes and the killing of as many technically competent people as possible. A US attack, which would be larger than anything Israel could mount, would also involve comprehensive destruction of Iranian air defence capabilities and attacks designed to pre-empt Iranian retaliation. This would require destruction of Iranian Revolutionary Guard facilities close to Iraq and of regular or irregular naval forces that could disrupt Gulf oil transit routes.
Although US or Israeli attacks would severely damage Iranian nuclear and missile programmes, Iran would have many methods of responding in the months and years that followed. These would include disruption of Gulf oil production and exports, in spite of US attempts at pre-emption, systematic support for insurgents in Iraq, and encouragement to associates in Southern Lebanon to stage attacks on Israel. There would be considerable national unity in Iran in the face of military action by the United States or Israel, including a revitalised Revolutionary Guard.
One key response from Iran would be a determination to reconstruct a nuclear programme and develop it rapidly into a nuclear weapons capability, with this accompanied by withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would require further attacks. A military operation against Iran would not, therefore, be a short-term matter but would set in motion a complex and long-lasting confrontation. It follows that military action should be firmly ruled out and alternative strategies developed.
However, the US has already reinforced its carrier presence and possibly also has positioned amphibious assault forces ready to e.g. try to deal with the very numerous Iranian missile sites along the Straits of Hormuz and sent has additional Patriot missile batteries according to some sources. They’ve also got a troop surge planned, if not authorised, to provide additional manpower in the fairly likely event of Iraqi Shiites kicking off.
So in this scenario, Israel to nobody’s surprise, does something mental and Bush doesn’t have to take any official responsibility for it, but when the Iranians start retaliating, he can call that provocation and use it as his casus belli for joining in the nice new war the Israel will have just started for him.
The Democrats just took control of Congress, are likely to use that to bury the Bush administration in subpoenas to drag the skeletons out of their closets with a view to taking the Presidency in 2008. Although the party leaders don’t want it, the Democrat grass-roots are baying for impeachment and may perhaps succeed in getting a state legislature to send up a bill to Congress. Cheney is due to testify under oath shortly in the Libby / Plame case and there is a strong possibility that he’ll get strangled by his own lies. In general, then, control is slowly but surely slipping away from them.
Appearing on TV the other night, smeared in blood and wearing a necklace made from babies heads, President Bush tried to his best to get the US all excited about a resurgent bloodbath in Iraq and the public reaction, aside from his hard-core of drool-case supporters, seemed to largely consist of angry contempt. Blair tried the same thing yesterday and got pretty much the same reaction from the British public, only perhaps more so.
So the lunatics in the White House may view this as their last chance to push their agenda to the next stage. Once they’ve actually started a war with Iran, perhaps with a bit of help from Israel, then whatever the Democrats might think that they’re going to do with control of Congress, they’ll be committed.