Washington ratchets up war threats against Iran

The Obama administration is ratcheting up its war threats against Iran in a calculated effort to provoke a crisis with Tehran that could produce a general war in the Middle East. In multiple venues—planted articles in the press, the release of a think tank study on military options, speeches at the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and congressional declarations—Washington is building a case for a new eruption of US military aggression.

The appearance of two articles in the Sunday edition of the New York Times underscored this campaign. The paper published a front-page lead reporting CIA and State Department allegations that Iran is accelerating its nuclear development; as well as the summary of a war game based on an Israeli air strike against Iran, published in the Week in Review section.

The lead story, written by David Sanger and William Broad, contains no evidence about Iranian nuclear development, but instead takes as its point of departure that “international inspectors and Western intelligence agencies say they suspect that Tehran is preparing to build more sites in defiance of United Nations demands.”

The article thus makes no pretense of objective reporting, but puts the Times in its favorite role, as the mouthpiece for the US military-intelligence apparatus, publishing their “disclosures”—i.e., official Washington propaganda—even while admitting that US officials have “no solid clues” and were simply speculating in the absence of actual knowledge.

The Times reports that US intelligence agencies are revising their 2007 finding that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program—which upset the Bush White House at the time—and are now “joining European and Israeli assessments that research and development work, if halted seven years ago, has probably resumed.”

In its Week in Review section, the Times publishes in diagram form the findings of a war game conducted by the Saban Institute in Washington, a think tank on the Middle East founded by a major Democratic Party fundraiser. The actual course of events outlined in the scenario is far less apocalyptic than many such exercises: an Israeli air strike on Iran leads to retaliatory attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah, and some disruption of Persian Gulf shipping, but no general war.

The likelihood of such a limited outcome can be doubted. What is certain is that for its senior Washington correspondent, Sanger, to participate in such an exercise, even as an observer, makes the Times a direct accomplice of those who are seeking to incite a US-Israeli attack on Iran, an action that would, under international law, constitute a war crime of the same dimensions as the unprovoked US invasion of Iraq.

The two Times articles come at the end of a week of anti-Iran agitation in Washington, focused on the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the principal pro-Zionist lobby, which was addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a slew of Democratic and Republican congressmen and senators.

Bipartisan groups from both houses of Congress are circulating letters calling on the Obama administration to impose “crippling” sanctions on Iran, language that endorses what amounts to an economic declaration of war, such as the cutoff of gasoline shipments.

The letter on the House side was originated by liberal Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois and conservative Republican Mike Pence of Indiana, and has already been co-signed by 214 House members, 76 Democrats and 138 Republicans. The letter effectively condemns China and Russia, declaring, “We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts.” It calls on Obama to “fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do ‘everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.’”

A similar letter was drafted in the Senate by Democrat Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Both addressed the AIPAC gala dinner on Monday, with Graham making a particularly bellicose statement.

“My belief is a military strike stopping the Iranian government from having a nuclear weapon is more effective than trying to deal with the Iranian government after they have one,” he told AIPAC members. “And if military force is ever employed, it should be done in a decisive fashion. The Iranian government’s ability to wage conventional warfare against its neighbors and our troops in the region should not exist.”

Given that Iran is a country of 75 million people with bitter experience in protracted military conflict in the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War, eliminating its “ability to wage conventional warfare” would require either a full-scale invasion and conquest of the country or its nuclear annihilation. Graham did not explain himself, but there have been ominous suggestions in the last few days that a nuclear first-strike against Iran is being contemplated by the Israeli government.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a well-connected Washington think tank, released a major study Friday by Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan, titled “Options in Dealing with Iran’s Nuclear Program.” The 208-page report examines the military alternatives in chilling detail, considering such factors as the blast radius of various nuclear weapons believed to be in the Israeli arsenal.

After considering the scenario of a conventional air assault by Israel on Iran, the report goes on to discuss the use of tactical nuclear warheads, noting: “Another scenario is using these warheads as a substitute for conventional weapons to attack deeply buried nuclear facilities in Iran. Some believe that nuclear weapons are the only weapons that can destroy targets deep underground or in tunnels.”

Such weapons could be delivered against Iranian targets by an Israeli Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM), with a range of 1,500 km, launched from the German-built Dolphin-class submarines that Israel acquired in the 1990s. These vessels are already on station in the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas, and could be moved into the Persian Gulf with US naval protection.

These threats of war and open discussions of nuclear genocide are no doubt intended to browbeat the Iranian regime into complying with the demands made on it by the P5+1 group, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. But they also serve to prepare public opinion for impending Israeli or US military aggression.

On the diplomatic front, the G8 foreign ministers begin a two-day meeting Monday outside Ottawa, the Canadian capital, with discussion of both Iran and North Korea expected to top the agenda. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, the meeting’s host, told Reuters, “I will discuss with my G8 colleagues what we can do to put additional pressure on Iran to persuade it to stop its nuclear enrichment activities. Unfortunately I believe we are left with little choice but to pursue additional sanctions against Iran, ideally through the United Nations Security Council.”

The Obama administration has already declared its intention to seek a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran in the next few months, if it succeeds in overcoming the opposition of China, the biggest customer for Iranian oil exports. Since the beginning of the year, Royal Dutch Shell, the Russia-based Lukoil and three other European oil companies announced they would stop selling gasoline to Iran, leaving Iran dependent on only four sources: China, Kuwait, Malaysia and the French company Total.

In a further escalation of tensions, the US State Department last week issued a warning against travel by US citizens to Iran, particularly those of Iranian origin.