Sunday, December 24, 2006

War With Iran?

With the new UN sanctions on Iran, the Bush administration may be provided with the political cover it needs to raise the stakes in its policy towards Tehran. While most Americans might believe that the administration wouldn't risk the potentially catastrophic consequences of war with Iran, several indications point to the very real possibility of military conflict, much of it thanks to Iran's own intransigence over its nuclear program.

Although the Security Council demanded that Iran immediately suspend its enrichment program and its reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, Tehran has unequivocally rejected the resolution, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling it "a piece of torn paper." Rather than cease enrichment activity, as called for in the resolution, Ahmadinejad vowed to accelerate uranium enrichment immediately.

US officials nevertheless jumped on the resolution as a major diplomatic and propaganda victory.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called the vote "humiliating" for Iran. He added that the vote "would open the way for further action outside the Security Council," and that the United States would continue to press Japan, European governments and international financial agencies to impose their own penalties on Iran. link

While seizing on the resolution as a "humiliating" defeat for Iran, Burns also emphasized, "We don't think this resolution is enough in itself." And he strongly hinted that the US would now intensify its pressure on Iran, saying, "we're certainly not going to put all our eggs in a UN basket."

Although Burns was careful not to reveal too much detail on US intentions, the message seems to remain that "all options are on the table," including the military option.

So, despite the Iraq Study Group's recommendation that the Bush adiminstration reach out to Iran diplomatically, the administration instead appears to be intensifying the sabre-rattling. Of course, that recommendation was never exactly welcomed by the administration, with Condoleezza Rice immediately rejecting the idea of seeking help from Iran and Syria. "If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," she said dismissively.

Rice also emphasized that there would be no retreat from the administration's push to "promote democracy" in the Middle East, saying, "Get ready. We are going to the Middle East a lot." It was unclear whether she meant it as a threat or a promise.

Indeed, the US presence in the Middle East is growing at a troubling rate and is already sounding some alarms, particularly in regards to Iran. Dave Lindorff writes at This Can't Be Happening that

It now appears that the idea of attacking Iran is again moving forward. The Eisenhower strike force, armed with some 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as a fleet of strike aircraft, and already on station in the Arabian Sea for over a month and a half, has moved into the Persian Gulf. A second carrier group, led by the USS Stennis, is set to start steaming toward the Gulf, too, from its base in Washington. Already in position are three expeditionary strike groups and an amphibious warship, all suitable for landing Marines on Iranian beaches.

At, for our part, last week we reported that

The first two or three months of 2007 represent a dangerous opening for an escalation of war in the Middle East, as George W. Bush will be tempted to “double-down” his gamble in Iraq by joining with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to strike at Syria and Iran, intelligence sources say.

President Bush’s goal would be to transcend the bloody quagmire bogging down U.S. forces in Iraq by achieving “regime change” in Syria and by destroying nuclear facilities in Iran, two blows intended to weaken Islamic militants in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli army and air force would carry the brunt of any new fighting albeit with the support of beefed-up U.S. ground and naval forces in the Middle East, the sources said. Bush is now considering a “surge” in U.S. troop levels in Iraq from about 140,000 to as many as 170,000. He also has dispatched a second aircraft carrier group to the coast of Iran.

The possibility of a US-Iran war was also discussed recently in an interview between investigative journalist Sy Hersh and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter.

Ritter, who had correctly argued before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction, said in the interview:

And if you can’t confront it successfully diplomatically, that leaves only the military option on the table. And right now, that’s the direction we’re heading, because the debate’s over, apparently, about whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program, even though the IAEA has come out and said there’s no evidence whatsoever to sustain the Bush administration's allegations that such a weapons program exists. Note, I didn’t say that the IAEA said there is no such weapons program -- they can’t prove that.

But note that the Bush administration has taken this and now changed course, like they did with Iraq. Saddam said, “We don’t have any weapons. The inspectors aren’t finding any weapons. Keep looking.” Why? Because the onus isn’t on the inspectors to find the weapons. The onus is on Iraq to prove that none exist. But how can you prove a negative? The same thing is in play today with Iran. We have told the Iranians it is their responsibility to prove to the international community beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran. How can you prove a negative?

But that’s not the point, because it’s not about a nuclear weapons program. It’s about regime change and the Bush administration using the perception of threat from a nuclear weapons program to achieve their ultimate objective of regional transformation, which is, again, a policy born more in Tel Aviv than Washington, D.C.

The potentially disastrous consequences of such a war have been studied in-depth by think tanks and NGOs, as well Pentagon war planners. The price of oil would surely skyrocket, and the response of Iran would likely be extremely deadly for Americans and Israelis. The Moneterrey Institute notes,

Open source information suggests that currently Iran possesses more than 500 Shehab ballistic missiles. Most of these missiles are Shehab-1 and -2, with a 300- to 500-kilometer (km) range and a 700- to 985-kilogram (kg) payload. With these missiles, Iran is capable of reaching U.S. bases in Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and Iraq. Iran is also believed to possess 25 to100 Shehab-3 ballistic missiles, displayed in a military parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war on September 22, 2003. The Shehab-3 has a 1,300km range, a 700kg payload, and is capable of reaching Israeli cities and bases (See: Chart 1). Iran could launch dozens of these ballistic missiles in the direction of Israel; and U.S. targets in the region, over a long period, depending on the size of the Iranian arsenal, the desired severity of the counterattack, and the ability of U.S. forces to find and destroy their missile launchers.

On the one hand, the destructive potential of these ballistic missile systems should not be underestimated. Although these Scud variants are relatively inaccurate - they are certainly incapable of the pinpoint accuracy associated with U.S. cruise missiles and guided munitions - they do have much greater accuracy and higher payloads than the Iraqi al-Husseins that turned out a mediocre CEP (circular error probability) of 1 to 3km in 1991. Multiple missiles attacks on U.S. or Israeli targets carrying large warheads can potentially be very deadly, as demonstrated by an Iraqi Scud attack on barracks in Saudi Arabia in early 1991. It turned out to be the deadliest such incident of the entire war for U.S. troops, killing 28 and injuring 98.

Iran could also move to further destabilize Iraq, and possibly even Afghanistan, potentionally leading to a regional conflagration that could quickly spiral out of control.

Of course, the current stituation is not helped by the belligerence shown by Iran, and the way that Tehran has systematically alienated whatever allies it may have had through actions such as its recent Holocaust deniers conference. That action was particularly foolish in light of the fact that Germany is one of the three EU negotiators seeking some sort compromise over Iran's nuclear program. In Germany, of course, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust, so it is difficult to imagine exactly what Ahmadinejad hoped to accomplish by so thoroughly alienating this potential ally with the Holocaust conference.

Considering how certain that action was to force Germany into a more hawkish position, and increase the international perception that Iran's rulers are irrational, belligerent, and pose an existential threat to Israel, the possibility that Tehran is intentionally escalating the situation should not be discounted. To the outside observer, indeed, it certainly seems that both Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush are doing everything in their ability to ensure that military conflict takes place between the US and Iran.

Some Americans, increasingly alarmed by this possibility, will be gathering in Washington, DC on Jan. 27 for a mass march demanding an end to the war in Iraq, as well as sending the message, "No War on Iran."

1 comment:

magnant said...

Look at the Big Picture!
In the wake of September 11th…
I drafted a positive, 17-page memoir that I sent to a few friends at Christmastime to counter the growing prejudices that began to surface then. It was based on my memories of working in Iran in 1971. In 2005, I decided to expand those memories into a novel that I called The Last Transition..., which was also intended to address the growing issues of globalization and Internet security.

In January 2006, after I had received my first printed copies of the original 275-page story, Iran had just jumped into the headlines with its opposition to the UN's ongoing nuclear inspection program. Then in April, Seymour Hersh’s article in The New Yorker magazine warned of the ‘planned US air attacks’ on Tehran's nuclear enrichment facilities. He saw this as a replay of the war in Iraq and it made me realize that my story was incomplete. This motivated me to complete my fact-based adventure, which is now is now a 470-page book and a free PDF download for anyone at

My main theme is a positive one, insisting that it only takes one person to make the difference. I recognize that there are difficulties in getting smart people involved with these somewhat enormous problems, so I have used a novel to lure in readers to show them some of what is, in fact, going on around them. I kept the original title, but now I address the need for a more secure Internet in this broader context of the Middle East and with the greater stakes of no war with Iran!

Unfortunately, the real issues of Iran, Iraq and Israel are not going to simply go away by themselves anytime soon. It is time for more concerned people everywhere to get involved with these issues...

Peace on Earth…
Bob Magnant