Israeli Strike on Iran Not Imminent - Bush Tries Diplomacy
JNV Anti-War Briefing 115
17 July 2008
is available as a pdf here.
Posted 1 December
BUSH SENDS DIPLOMAT TO MEET IRANIANS
On 16 July, US President George W. Bush stunned
observers by agreeing to send a high-level US diplomat to Geneva
to meet Iranian negotiators face-to-face as part of the EU-led
talks to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.
As the Independent pointed out, State Dept.
spokesperson Sean McCormack had said just the month before that
the US would boycott such meetings unless 'Iran suddenly has a
change of tune'. (17 July,
In the event, it was the US that 'changed
Analyst Steve Clemons of the New America
Foundation said: 'I think it's clear that Bush has pushed Cheney
back twice now' (referring to the recent decision to remove North
Korea from the US 'terrorist' list). (FT,
17 July, p.5)
The Bush U-turn on Iraq had two features.
First, he dropped the demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment
before being allowed face-to-face meetings on the subject (US
officials have met Iranian diplomats, but only to discuss security
Secondly, he accepted the EU 'freeze-for-freeze'
proposal, whereby the West holds off on further sanctions for
a set period while Iran holds off on escalating uranium enrichment.
'Previously, Washington had stated that if Iran continued enriching
uranium, the international pressure would only increase.' (Telegraph,
17 July, p.15)
The Bush diplomatic opening is very limited,
however. William Burns, the third most senior State Department
official, an undersecretary of state, is indeed being sent to
Geneva to sit in the same room as Iranian negotiators, but his
role is officially to do no more than reiterate the US line -
on this one occasion.
THE OTHER PROPOSALS
The coverage of these recent developments
has conformed to the Chomsky-Herman propaganda model of the mass
media, demonstrating once again the key role of media self-censorship
in maintaining what they call 'brainwashing under freedom'.
In the current reporting, the starting point
of discussion is invariably the EU-led proposals put to Iran on
14 June, and the question is whether Tehran will accept this framework
for negotiations. What is almost totally absent is any awareness
that Iran had made its own highly significant proposals on 13
May this year.
One rare recognition of this simple reality
came in an important commentary by Sir John Thomson.
Thomson, a former UK Permanent Representative
at the UN, was told by Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki,
in early July that EU negotiator Javier Solana 'had assured him
the Iranian package could be part of the agenda for substantive
negotiations between Iran and the 5-plus-1' (the five permanent
members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany). (Independent
on Sunday, 13 July, p.56)
So the negotiations are proceeding because
Iran's negotiating proposals (which have been almost entirely
erased from history by the Western media) have been admitted to
the negotiating chamber.
Ali-Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister
who advises Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, on
foreign affairs, made a critical point on 1 July.
Apart from saying it was 'expedient' for
Iran to resume nuclear negotiations on the 5-plus-1 offer, Velayati
said: 'They say Iran should not make an atomic bomb and we say
Iran needs nuclear energy. These two principles are your and our
red lines which should be the basis for negotiations and [can
be] agreed on'. (FT, 2 July)
But how can these two 'red lines' both be
agreed as a basis for negotiation? By going back to Iran's 13
May proposal for uranium enrichment to continue on Iranian soil
- but under international control.
On the basis of his discussions with Foreign
Minister Mottaki, Thomson believes that Iran is 'ready to make
some compromise agreements (as yet unspecified) on Middle Eastern
issues that worry the west'.
And on the nuclear issue 'it is ready to
compromise to the extent of putting its enrichment-related facilities
under the control of an international consortium - including,
for example, France, Germany and the UK - which would then operate
a modern, commercially oriented business producing nuclear fuel
in Iran for sale globally.
This is not what the 5-plus-1 are asking
for, but in my view it is the best that is obtainable, and so
long as it remains in force it precludes Iran from making a nuclear
weapon.' (IOS, 13 July, as above. See also MIT.)
WHAT OF THE ISRAELI THREATS?
So while Ayatollah Khamanei gives the 'green
light' for negotiations on the basis of rather vague 5-plus-1
proposals, President Bush is reported to have given the 'amber
light' for an Israeli airstrike on Iran. Despite this, an Israeli
strike looks unlikely, for the next few months at least.
The Sunday Times reported: ' "Amber
means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack
and tell us when you're ready," the official said. But the
Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from
American forces and will not be able to use US military bases
in Iraq for logistical support.'
This is not a formality: 'Nor is it certain
that Bush's amber light would ever turn to green without irrefutable
evidence of lethal Iranian hostility. Tehran's test launches of
medium-range ballistic missiles last week were seen in Washington
as provocative and poorly judged, but both the Pentagon and the
CIA concluded that they did not represent an immediate threat
of attack against Israeli or US targets.
"It's really all down to the Israelis,"
the Pentagon official added. "This administration will not
attack Iran. This has already been decided. But the president
is really preoccupied with the nuclear threat against Israel and
I know he doesn't believe that anything but force will deter Iran."
The official added that Israel had not so
far presented Bush with a convincing military proposal. "If
there is no solid plan, the amber will never turn to green,"
he said.' (Sunday Times, 13
Retired US Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner,
concluded from the Israeli aerial exercises in June that 'Israel
does not have the capability to effectively attack Iran's nuclear
Interviewed by Robert Naiman of the Huffington
Post website, Gardiner pointed to a 2006 MIT paper by Whitney
Raas and Austin Long, assessing Israeli military planners' thinking.
Raas and Long believe Israel would want to
attack the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the uranium
conversion facility at Esfahan and the heavy water plant at Arak
- with a combined total of 36 aircraft. (With supporting aircraft,
this would match up with the reports of a 100-aircraft exercise
'An Israeli strike would not be much of a
strike,' Gardiner says. The US would probably think in terms of
about 10 times more aim points for a similar strike, he observes.
(Robert Naiman, 'Is Israel
Really Preparing to Attack Iran? Col. Gardiner Says No', 20 June)
On this analysis, an Israeli strike could
not destroy even the three best-known Iranian nuclear facilities,
never mind facilities which might be hidden.
The strike could not meet the minimum required
by the US, which would want the assault to 'set back the Iranians
by at least five years for an attack to be considered a success',
according to the Pentagon source consulted by the Sunday Times.
It appears, therefore, that there will never
be a 'solid' Israeli plan to strike Iran's nuclear facilities,
and so, if it acts rationally, the White House will never green
light such an attack.
The danger, of course, is that the White
House will not act rationally, particularly if it sees the Bush
'legacy' being lost to an incoming Obama administration.
Hence, perhaps, the startling decision to
mimic the Democratic presidential candidate in his popular decision
to offer unconditional talks with official enemies.
In Nov. 2007, before the publication
of the NIE that Iran had no nuclear weapons programme, a poll
found 73% of people in the US favouring nonviolent options in
dealing with Iran; 45% opposed violence even if diplomacy and
sanctions failed (only 46% favoured force in those circumstances).
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