Israeli ‘Document’ on the Netanyahu-Barak Plan to Attack Iran ‘Leaked’

The American presidential election is just two months away, and speculation is rife on whether Israel is about to attack Iran. In a BBC interview, American journalist and blogger on Israeli affairs, Richard Silverstein, says that he has been given a leaked document which outlines a plan for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Silverstein describes the document as a briefing memo that is being used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show ministers that an attack on Iran would go ‘smoothly’ and wipe out key infrastructure with a minimum of Israeli casualties. It reflects what is well known about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – both are overly optimistic about Israel’s military capabilities and grossly underestimate Iran’s capacity to respond to an attack. Silverstein says the document was leaked by an officer in the army, senior members of which oppose attacking Iran. According to Silverstein, the officer received the document from someone who was a senior minister in a previous Israeli government. The ‘document does not mention any possible Iranian response’ to an attack.

The document is described as Netanyahu’s ‘sales pitch’ to persuade the doubters in the cabinet and others in the top Israeli hierarchy. Its existence so close to the U.S. presidential election in November is significant. For President Barack Obama and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney are running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls. Obama is reluctant to attack Iran, Romney is openly supportive of the idea.

The revelation will likely add tension between the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, and raises more important questions. Is the aim to further pressure Obama to change his mind, lest he may lose Jewish votes in November? Or is it to threaten the president with the prospect of defeat and help a Romney victory?


Iran, the Revolution and the Language of War

The Palestine Chronicle, 12 December, 2011

A few days ago, I revisited a lecture given by Fred Halliday, FBA, an intellectual giant among scholars of Middle East and Cold War history, at the London School of Economics in 2009. His topic was “The Islamic Republic of Iran After 30 Years.” For nearly a quarter century, Halliday was professor of International Relations at the LSE and recognized worldwide as a leading expert in the study of Islam, the Middle East and great power relations in the region.

He died just over a year ago, but for more than three decades before that he was also in great demand in media outlets, including the BBC World Service at Bush House, my professional base next door to the LSE. He often came to take part in World Service programs and I came to regard Fred as a friend. Watching him interpret the Iranian Revolution thirty years after was an enlightening experience once again.

An important lesson I have learned in my life is to engage the best when in doubt. For me, going back to Fred Halliday was prompted by a recent experience during an exchange about an article I had written on Iran. My exchange was with an editor. Young, bright and overbearing on this occasion, he thought I was giving Iran a mild treatment, otherwise widely denounced these days as a “dictatorship” representing dark ages and which threatens the world.

Needless to say, I am one of those who do not subscribe to this version of history, past or present. The world is much more complex. It is tempting and easy to grab a news agency copy and throw it at someone to prove our own view of events, based on a narrow interpretation of recent knowledge and conventional wisdom of the present time that is temporary by its nature. It is worse when the agency report thrown at the person contains claims made on a website by one side about casualties at the hands of the other, with no way of checking independently. Anyway, I moved on without rancor on my part.

To recognize, indeed to reflect with caveats, the significance of propaganda war is one thing. It is quite different to be blown away by a current political storm when the objective is to attempt a serious historical analysis.

Halliday had a remarkable capacity to interpret. He used to speak of similarities between the world’s major revolutions in the twentieth century: the Russian (1917), the Chinese (1949), the Cuban (1959), the Nicaraguan (1979) and the Iranian Revolution in the same year. It is a mistake to regard the point in time of a revolution as “Year Zero” and insist that all bad things follow. Neither the claim that “everything has changed” nor that “nothing has changed” is correct. The culture of a country that undergoes a revolution does not change at once.

The truth is very different. As Halliday would say, revolutions are extremely messy phenomena. They involve great chaos, cruelty and generosity. That chaos and cruelty precedes revolutionary upheaval, as well as follows. Revolutions represent dreams, hopes and disappointments. However, they occur because of the fragmentation of societies and exclusion of important sections of populations. There are both internal and external factors responsible for revolutions. Often, the outcome is a realignment of forces. Beneficiaries of the past become losers; victims, at least some of them, gain.

No revolution, as far as I know, has achieved all that it promised. A revolution is a response, rather than a solution, to the problems that triggered it.

In Iran’s case, there had been years of repression under an absolute monarch who was installed by external powers following an Anglo-Soviet invasion in 1941; an Anglo-American intelligence plot that overthrew an elected government in 1953; gradual fragmentation of a traditional society and exclusion of important sections thereof, the clergy and the traders in particular; severe restrictions and coercion directed at the opposition; the offense and the suffering caused by the Shah’s dreaded secret police SAVAK (1957–1979), establishment by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad.

Suppression of liberals and others on the Left, like the Tudeh (party of the masses), had gone on under the monarchy in Iran. Tudeh supported the 1979 revolution while others on the Left opposed it. However, the alliance between the Tudeh Party and Iran’s emergent ruling clergy collapsed in the early 1980s. Then it was back to the past. For the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the United States was the “Great Satan,” and Iran had to follow a course that was neither East (meaning Russia) nor West. America was held responsible for what went wrong in Iran in the decades before the overthrow of the Shah. And the fact about the Soviets having invaded Iran could not be forgotten.

We are into the fourth decade since the founding of the Islamic Republic. It has been a long period of crisis between Iran and the West, with some notable exceptions: the Iran-Contra affair involving the Reagan administration flirting with the Iranian regime to facilitate arms sales to its military to fund Nicaragua’s rightwing Contra guerrillas in the 1980s while the United States was also supporting Iraq that had invaded Iran; during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and for a short period thereafter; and Iran’s acquiescence to getting Shia militias to cease fire in the Iraqi conflict. Each time, hopes of reconciliation between the two bitter enemies were dashed. We are now at a point where war clouds are looming.

Despite all that is said about the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, it was, in fact, a very modern revolution. It was a populist response to an unpopular ruler. Nothing illustrates it better than the way the Shah’s armed forces collapsed in the end. More than thirty years on, we see men and women mixing in Iranian society at the workplace and in the streets. Women learn and teach with men at co-educational institutions. Iranian scientists are engaged in research in medicine, other scientific and technological fields and, more controversially, in the nuclear program.

Is Iran a dictatorship? Power certainly resides in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Guardian Council, the president, the Majlis (parliament) and institutions like the judiciary. It is more dispersed than we are led to believe. There are instances of strong-arm tactics against some opponents and publications regarded as “outside the system,” for instance during and after the 2009 presidential election. But other critics have a surprising degree of freedom to express dissent––more than in some neighboring countries in the region.

Have miscalculations and errors of judgment been made? Sure. The Carter administration’s support in the late 1970s until the very end of the Shah’s regime was one such error; and the American hostage crisis (November 1979–January 1981) at the U.S. embassy in Tehran was a miscalculation which sealed the fate of Carter’s presidency, ensuring the victory of Ronald Reagan and all that followed in the 1980s. Opportunities have presented themselves in the last thirty years for Iran and the West to improve relations, only to be lost.

Where is Iran’s nuclear program going? I do not know. Nor do in my view most other people who talk endlessly in the media about the Iranian threat and how to deal with it. Despite the amount of coverage, Iran’s nuclear program remains a subject of inference, speculation and conspiracy theories. The Iranians have before them examples of China, North Korea, India and Pakistan. They know realpolitik. A nuclear power has a greater sense of security and others look up to it. Given the past and the present, the idea of their country having nuclear weapons is popular among Iranians. If one were to make a guess, it would be that Iran would probably want to acquire the capacity to make the bomb, but would not actually go ahead unless it was felt in Tehran that external events warranted that step.

As the governments in London, Paris and Washington continue to play the game of brinkmanship, wiser heads have warned against the current dangerous path and have advised engagement with Iran. At a recent conference at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, former British ambassador and one of the foremost Iran experts, Sir Richard Dalton, was very critical of the West’s policy on Iran, in particular of the British foreign secretary William Hague. Lord (Norman) Lamont, former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer, agreed. But in the light of escalating rhetoric and military maneuvers, the prospects of the situation taking a ruinous turn are real.


Except drone killings, US policy is achieving little else

Militants armed with guns, grenades and suicide car bombs attacked the American consulate and a political rally in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, killing nearly 50 people and wounding many more on Monday.

The attacks were launched within minutes and were the most serious this year in Pakistan. Monday’s events raise serious questions about America’s continuing military operations against Pashtun opposition in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for the consulate bombing in Peshawar, claiming it was in retaliation to America’s drone war. The Taliban threatened further attacks on US targets.

The White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the attack on the consulate was of “great concern” and that “we strongly condemn the violence.”

Monday’s first bomb struck a political rally in the town of Timargarah in Lower Dir.

A spokesman for the Awami National Party said that members of his party had been celebrating plans to change the name of North-West Frontier Province, where Lower Dir is located, when a suspected suicide bomber detonated his explosives.

Al Jazeera’s Pakistan correspondent Kamal Hyder described the attack on the US consulate as well coordinated. It shook the entire city, yet did not cause the kind of mayhem seen in Dir. “That will be the only consolation for the security agencies,” Hyder said.

These events underscore the fact that, despite American drone attacks, the Taliban remain a serious force.

Al Jazeera correspondent suggested that although the militants have been driven out of their strongholds in key areas, a substantial number have infiltrated into the settled areas. 

Meanwhile, a group of Afghan parliamentarians says that President Hamid Karzai, angry and frustrated at Washington and its allies criticizing and belittling his government, has threatened to step down and join the Taliban if foreign pressure on him continues.

The Afghan MPs said it was the second time in recent days that Karzai had threatened to quit and join the Taliban.  

Karzai reportedly said that ‘if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban,’ Farooq Marenai, MP from Nangarhar province, said. Karzai repeated his threat at a closed-door meeting at a time when tension between him and the United States is increasing. Only a few days before, the Afghan president, installed by Washington after the Taliban’s overthrow in late 2001, had alleged that foreigners were behind the fraud in last year’s presidential election.

Karzai has bitterly complained that he and his government are not sovereign and exercise little control over military operations.

Defying pressure from Washington to boycott Iran, the Indian government has decided to appoint its Tehran ambassador Sanjay Singh to represent the country at a two-day conference on nuclear disarmament in the Iranian capital beginning on April 17.  Delhi also insists it has not shut its door on the pipeline project running from Iran through Pakistan to India.

Sanjay Singh will attend the Tehran conference “Nuclear energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None” – a sign of India’s annoyance over constant diplomatic pressure from Washington that goes back to the Bush administration. The Times of India newspaper quotes Indian government sources as saying that, as well as civilisational ties with Iran, Tehran is important for Delhi not just for energy but also for strategic reasons in Afghanistan.

The Tehran Times reports today the Indian envoy as saying that Iran can help India greatly in meeting its energy needs, including oil, gas and electricity.

India, Iran and Russia all cooperated in helping the Northern Alliance in the US-led campaign to remove the Taliban, before President Bush turned against Iran in his ‘axis of evil speech’ in January 2002.

Why, oh why?

Deepak Tripathi cannot understand why China and Russia would support the United States on the issue of sanctions against Iran when Washington’s real agenda is regime change. To see Iran fall into the American sphere in a region where most regimes already are in the American sphere? It would be like chopping the branch one is sitting on.