Trita Parsi / IPS News & Nathan Guttman / The Jewish Daily Forward – 2007-01-14 22:12:04
Bush’s Iraq Plan – Goading Iran into War
Analysis by Trita Parsi / IPS News
WASHINGTON (January 12, 2007) — President George W. Bush’s address on Iraq Wednesday night was less about Iraq than about its eastern neighbour, Iran. There was little new about the US’s strategy in Iraq, but on Iran, the president spelled out a plan that appears to be aimed at goading Iran into war with the US
While Washington speculated whether the president would accept or reject the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations, few predicted that he would do the opposite of what James Baker and Lee Hamilton advised.
Rather than withdrawing troops from Iraq, Bush ordered an augmentation of troop levels. Rather than talking to Iran and Syria, Bush virtually declared war on these states. And rather than pressuring Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the administration is fuelling the factional war in Gaza by arming and training Fatah against Hamas.
Several recent developments and statements indicate that the administration is ever more seriously eyeing war with Iran. On Wednesday, Bush made the starkest accusations yet against the rulers in Tehran, alleging that the clerics were “providing material support for attacks on American troops.”
While promising to “disrupt the attacks on our forces” and “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq,” he made no mention of the flow of arms and funds to Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Instead, he revealed the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf and of the Patriot anti-missile defence system to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to protect US allies. The usefulness of this step for resolving the violence in Iraq remains a mystery.
Neither the Sunni insurgents nor the Shia militias possess ballistic missiles. And if they did, nothing indicates that they would target the GCC states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The deployment of the Patriot missiles can be explained, however, in light of a US plan to attack Iran. Last year, Tehran signalled the GCC states in unusually blunt language that it would retaliate against the Arab sheikhdoms if the US attacked Iran using bases in the GCC countries.
Mindful of the weakness of Iran’s air force, Tehran’s most likely weapon would be ballistic missiles — the very same weapon that the Patriots are designed to provide a shield against. A first step towards going to war with Iran would be to provide the GCC states with protection against potential Iranian retaliation.
Perhaps the starkest indication of an impending war with Iran is Washington’s recent arrest of Iranian diplomats in Iraq. Around the time of President Bush’s speech, US Special Forces — in blatant violation of diplomatic regulations reminiscent of the hostage taking of US diplomats in Tehran by Iranian students in 1979 — stormed the Iranian consulate in Erbil in northern Iraq, arresting five diplomats.
Later that day, US forces almost clashed with Kurdish peshmerga militia forces when seeking to arrest more Iranians at Arbil’s airport.
These operations incensed the Iraqi government, including its Kurdish components that otherwise are staunchly pro-Washington. “What happened… was very annoying because there has been an Iranian liaison office there for years and it provides services to the citizens,” Iraq’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshiyar Zebari, who is himself a Kurd, told Al-Arabiya television.
The Bush administration has justified the raids — including the arrests of several Iranian officials in December last year — on the grounds that evidence is collected on Iranian involvement in destabilising Iraq.
But if the purpose is intelligence gathering, it would make more sense to launch a simultaneous mass raid of Iranian offices rather than the current incremental approach that provides the Iranians forewarning and an opportunity to destroy whatever evidence they may or may not have in their possession.
The incremental raids and arrests may instead be aimed at provoking the Iranians to respond, which in turn would escalate the situation and provide the Bush administration with the casus belli it needs to win Congressional support for war with Iran.
Rather than making the case for a pre-emptive war with Iran over weapons of mass destruction — a strategy the US pursued with Iraq that is unlikely to succeed with Iran — the sequence of events in the provocation and escalation strategy would make it appear as if war was forced on the US
Prominent Republican and Democratic Senators seem to have picked up on the president’s war strategy. At Thursday’s hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska drew parallels with the Richard Nixon administration’s strategy of lying to the US people and expanding the Vietnam war into Cambodia. “[W]hen you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here,” he warned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “it’s very, very dangerous.”
Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware added that war with Iran would require congressional authority. Still, Congress is yet to pose a major challenge to Bush’s war plan beyond holding hearings with heated exchanges between frustrated Senators and defensive administration officials.
The next move may be Iran’s. Tehran has likely sniffed the trap and will sit idly by for now and deprive the Bush administration of a pretext for escalation. But continued provocations from the US through additional raids of Iranian consulates and offices will likely lead to an intentional or unintentional response, after which escalation and war may become reality. Iran has at times failed to exhibit the discipline necessary to refrain from responding to aggressions.
While the administration’s calculation may be that lethal pressure on Iran will force Tehran to compromise, faith in Iran that offering concessions will prompt a change in the US’s Iran-policy is next to nonexistent due to the Bush administration’s past rejections of Iranian offers.
But Tehran may be able to change the political climate and escape Bush’s war trap by reinitiating talks with the European Union to address regional matters as well as the nuclear impasse. Europe’s patience and faith in Iran has largely been depleted due to Tehran’s failure to fully appreciate efforts by Javier Solana, high representative for the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, to negotiate an agreement on enrichment suspension last fall.
Still, the EU understands that the tidal waves of a regional war in the Middle East will reach Europe much sooner than they reach US shores. Whether Europe will stand up for its own values and security and against Bush’s war plans, however, remains to be seen. Here, Tehran’s offers are likely not inconsequential.
Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of Treacherous Triangle — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States (Yale University Press, 2007).
Book: Israel, Lobby Pushing Iran War
Nathan Guttman / The Jewish Daily Forward
NEW YORK (December 29, 2006) — A former United Nations weapons inspector and leading Iraq War opponent has written a new book alleging that Jerusalem is pushing the Bush administration into war with Iran, and accusing the pro-Israel lobby of dual loyalty and “outright espionage.”
n the new book, called “Target Iran,” Scott Ritter, who served as a senior U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and later became one of the war’s staunchest critics, argues that the United States is readying for military action against Iran, using its nuclear program as a pretext for pursuing regime change in Tehran.
“The Bush administration, with the able help of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel Lobby, has succeeded,” Ritter writes, “in exploiting the ignorance of the American people about nuclear technology and nuclear weapons so as to engender enough fear that the American public has more or less been pre-programmed to accept the notion of the need to militarily confront a nuclear armed Iran.”
Later in the book, Ritter adds: “Let there be no doubt: If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel and nowhere else.”
Ritter’s book echoes recent high-profile attacks on the pro-Israel lobby by former President Jimmy Carter and by scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Ritter, who recently returned from a weeklong speaking engagement on The Nation cruise, speaks of a “network of individuals” that pursues Israel’s interests in the United States.
The former weapons inspector alleges that some of the pro-Israel lobby’s activities “can only be described as outright espionage and interference in domestic policies.” Ritter also accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee of having an inherent dual loyalty. He called for the organization to be registered as a foreign agent.
Representatives for both Aipac and the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Ritter’s accusations.
In his book, Ritter also accuses the pro-Israel lobby of invoking the memory of the Holocaust and of crying antisemitism whenever Israel is accused of betraying America.
“This is a sickening and deeply disturbing trend that must end,” Ritter writes.
According to Ritter, Iran is far from developing a nuclear weapons program and will not do so in the future if the world makes sure that stringent inspections are in place to verify that the Iranians live up to the requirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“If Iran does make a political decision to develop nuclear weapons, it will take them a decade and it won’t go undetected,” Ritter said. “But it will take the U.S. only five weeks to build up a force capable of destroying Iran by air strikes. It’s a timeline of five weeks compared to a decade, so I’m not worried about taking a risk.”
As for Israeli and American fears regarding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who vowed to “wipe Israel off the map,” Ritter dubbed the leader a “sick joke” and asserted that he does not make the decisions in Tehran.
Ritter argues that the Bush administration knows that inspections can solve the Iranian nuclear problem but, at the urging of Jerusalem and its American allies, is in reality pursuing a different goal: regime change in Tehran.
“Israel has, through a combination of ignorance, fear and paranoia, elevated Iran to a status that it finds unacceptable,” Ritter writes in his book. “Israel has engaged in policies that have further inflamed this situation. Israel displays arrogance and rigidity when it comes to developing any diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue.”
Ritter is no stranger to controversy.
As a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, he headed several surprise inspection missions that were denied access to suspicious sites, and led to the Saddam Hussein regime accusing Ritter of being an American spy. The frequent refusal of the Iraqis to provide Ritter and his team access to sites of interest led eventually to the abandonment of the inspection regime in Iraq. Ritter resigned his post in 1998, accusing the United States and the U.N. of caving in to the Iraqis.
But Ritter later became a leading voice warning against taking military action against Iraq, arguing that a resumption of inspections would be sufficient to contain Hussein. He accused the United States of trying to use the UN inspection force for spying purposes and claimed that Iraq was deliberately held to higher standards than other countries in order to justify a military invasion.
In early 2004, Ritter charged in an interview on the Web site Ynet, operated by the daily Yediot Aharonot, that Israeli intelligence had deliberately overstated what it knew to be a minimal threat from Iraq in an effort to push America and Britain to launch a war.
Ritter’s accusations were roundly rejected across the Israeli political spectrum. Security officials interviewed by the Forward insisted that no branch of the military could or would deliberately skew the findings in that way, but they also said that Israeli intelligence tended to exaggerate threats because it was operating under flawed assumptions.
Now Ritter is arguing that a similar effort is under way to produce an attack against Iran.
Speaking to the Forward this week, Ritter stressed that he is not accusing all American Jews of having dual loyalty, saying that “at the end of the day, I would like to believe that most of American Jews will side with America.”
Ritter is already working on his next book, due for publication in March 2007. In this tome, he sets out to teach the anti-war movements that he supports how to wage an effective campaign to win over American public opinion.
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