December 24, 2005
Never has an imminent war been so loudly
and publicly advertised as Israel's forthcoming military attack
against Iran. When the Israeli Military Chief of Staff, Daniel
Halutz, was asked how far Israel was ready to go to stop Iran's
nuclear energy program, he said "Two thousand kilometers"
the distance of an air assault.
More specifically Israeli military
sources reveal that Israel's current and probably next Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israel's armed forces to prepare
for air strikes on uranium enrichment sites in Iran According
to the London Times the order to prepare for attack went
through the Israeli defense ministry to the Chief of Staff.
During the first week in December, "sources inside the special
forces command confirmed that 'G' readiness the highest
state for an operation was announced" (Times, December
On December 9, Israeli Minister
of Defense, Shaul Mofaz, affirmed that in view of Teheran's nuclear
plans, Tel Aviv should "not count on diplomatic negotiations
but prepare other solutions". In early December, Ahron Zoevi
Farkash, the Israeli military intelligence chief told the Israeli
parliament (Knesset) that "if by the end of March, the international
community is unable to refer the Iranian issue to the United
Nations Security Council, then we can say that the international
effort has run its course".
In other words, if international
diplomatic negotiations fail to comply with Israel's timetable,
Israel will unilaterally, militarily attack Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu,
leader of the Likud Party and candidate for Prime Minister, stated
that if Sharon did not act against Iran, "then when I form
the new Israeli government (after the March 2006 elections) we'll
do what we did in the past against Saddam's reactor." In
June 1981 Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.
Even the pro-Labor newspaper,
Haaretz, while disagreeing with the time and place of
Netanyahu's pronouncements, agreed with its substance. Haaretz
criticized "(those who) publicly recommend an Israeli military
option" because it "presents Israel as pushing (via
powerful pro-Israel organizations in the US) the United States
into a major war." However, Haaretz adds "Israel
must go about making its preparations quietly and securely
not at election rallies." (Haaretz, December 6, 2005).
Haaretz's position, like that of the Labor Party, is
that Israel not advocate war against Iran before multi-lateral
negotiations are over and the International Atomic Energy Agency
makes a decision.
Israeli public opinion apparently
does not share the political elite's plans for a military strike
against Iran's nuclear program. A survey in the Israeli newspaper
Yedioth Ahronoth, reported by Reuters (December 16, 2005)
shows that 58 per cent of the Israelis polled believed the dispute
over Iran's nuclear program should be handled diplomatically
while only 36 per cent said its reactors should be destroyed
in a military strike.
All top Israeli officials have
pronounced the end of March, 2006, as the deadline for launching
a military assault on Iran. The thinking behind this date is
to heighten the pressure on the US to force the sanctions issue
in the Security Council. The tactic is to blackmail Washington
with the "war or else" threat, into pressuring Europe
(namely Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia) into approving
sanctions. Israel knows that its acts of war will endanger thousands
of American soldiers in Iraq, and it knows that Washington (and
Europe) cannot afford a third war at this time.
The end of March date also
coincides with the IAEA report to the UN on Iran's nuclear energy
program. Israeli policymakers believe that their threats may
influence the report, or at least force the kind of ambiguities,
which can be exploited by its overseas supporters to promote
Security Council sanctions or justify Israeli military action.
A March date also focusses
the political activities of the pro-Israel organizations in the
United States. The major pro-Israel lobbies have lined up a
majority in the US Congress and Senate to push for the UN Security
Council to implement economic sanctions against Iran or, failing
that, endorse Israeli "defensive" action.
On the side of the Israeli
war policy are practically all the major and most influential
Jewish organizations, the pro-Israeli lobbies, their political
action committees, a sector of the White House, a majority of
subsidized Congressional representatives and state, local and
party leaders. On the other side are sectors of the Pentagon,
State Department, a minority of Congressional members, a majority
of public opinion, a minority of American Jews and the majority
of active and retired military commanders who have served or
are serving in Iraq.
Most discussion in the US on
Israel's war agenda has been dominated by the pro-Israeli organizations
that transmit the Israeli state positions. The Jewish weekly
newspaper, Forward, has reported a number of Israeli attacks
on the Bush Administration for not acting more aggressively on
behalf of Israel's policy. According to the Forward,
"Jerusalem is increasingly concerned that the Bush Administration
is not doing enough to block Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons"
(December 9, 2005).
Further stark differences occurred
during the semi-annual strategic dialog between Israeli and US
security officials, in which the Israelis opposed a US push for
regime change in Syria, fearing a possible, more radical Islamic
regime. Israeli officials also criticized the US for forcing
Israel to agree to open the Rafah border crossing and upsetting
their stranglehold on the economy in Gaza.
Predictably the biggest Jewish
organization in the US, the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations immediately echoed the Israeli
state line. Malcolm Hoenlan, President of the Conference, lambasted
Washington for a "failure of leadership on Iran" and
"contracting the issue to Europe" (Forward,
December 9, 2005). He went on to attack the Bush Administration
for not following Israel's demands by delaying referral of Iran
to the UN Security Council for sanction. Hoenlan then turned
on French, German and British negotiators accusing them of "appeasement
and weakness", and of not having a "game plan for decisive
action" presumably for not following Israel's 'sanction
or bomb them' game plan.
The role of AIPAC, the Conference
and other pro-Israeli organizations as transmission belts for
Israel's war plans was evident in their November 28, 2005 condemnation
of the Bush Administration agreement to give Russia a chance
to negotiate a plan under which Iran would be allowed to enrich
uranium for non-military purposes under international supervision.
AIPAC's rejection of negotiations and demands for an immediate
confrontation were based on the specious argument that it would
"facilitate Iran's quest for nuclear weapons"
an argument which flies in the face of all known intelligence
data (including Israel's) which says Iran is at least 3 to 10
years away from even approaching nuclear weaponry.
AIPAC's unconditional and uncritical
transmission of Israeli demands and criticism is usually clothed
in the rhetoric of US interests or security in order to manipulate
US policy. AIPAC chastised the Bush regime for endangering US
security. By relying on negotiations, AIPAC accused the Bush
Administration of "giving Iran yet another chance to manipulate
(sic) the international community" and "pose a severe
danger to the United States" (Forward, Dec. 9, 2005).
Leading US spokesmen for Israel
opposed President Bush's instruction to his Ambassador to Iraq,
Zalmay Khaklilzad, to open a dialog with Iran's Ambassador to
Iraq. In addition, Israel's official "restrained"
reaction to Russia's sale to Teheran of more than a billion dollars
worth of defensive anti-aircraft missiles, which might protect
Iran from an Israeli air strike, was predictably echoed by the
major Jewish organizations in the US.
Pushing the US into a confrontation
with Iran, via economic sanctions and military attack has been
a top priority for Israel and its supporters in the US for more
than a decade (Jewish Times/ Jewish Telegraph Agency, Dec. 6,
2005). In line with its policy of forcing a US confrontation
with Iran, AIPAC, the Israeli PACs (political action committees)
and the Conference of Presidents have successfully lined up a
majority of Congress people to challenge what they describe as
the "appeasement" of Iran.
Representative Illeana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-Florida), who has the dubious distinction of being a collaborator
with Cuban exile terrorist groups and unconditional backer of
Israel's war policy, is chairwoman of the US House of Representative
Middle East subcommittee. From that platform she has denounced
"European appeasement and arming the terrorist regime in
Teheran". She boasted that her Iran sanctions bill has
the support of 75 per cent of the members of Congress and that
she is lining up additional so-sponsors.
Despite pro-Israeli attacks
on US policy for its 'weakness' on Iran, Washington has moved
as aggressively as circumstances permit. Facing European opposition
to an immediate confrontation (as AIPAC and Israeli politicians
demand) Washington supports European negotiations but imposes
extremely limiting conditions, namely a rejection of the Non-Proliferation
Treaty, which allows uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes.
The European "compromise"
of forcing Iran to turn over the enrichment process to a foreign
country (Russia), is not only a violation of its sovereignty,
but is a policy that no other country using nuclear energy practices.
Given this transparently unacceptable "mandate", it
is clear that Washington's 'support for negotiations' is a device
to provoke an Iranian rejection, and a means of securing Europe's
support for a Security Council referral for international sanctions.
Despite the near unanimous
support and widespread influence of the major Jewish organizations,
20 per cent of American Jews do not support Israel in its conflict
with the Palestinians. Even more significantly, 61 per cent
of Jews almost never talk about Israel or defend Israel in conversation
with non-Jews (Jerusalem Post, Dec 1, 2005). Only 29 per cent
of Jews are active promoters of Israel. The Israel First crowd
represents less than a third of the Jewish community. In fact,
there is more opposition to Israel among Jews than there is in
the US Congress. Having said that, however, most Jewish critics
of Israel are not influential in the big Jewish organizations
and the Israel lobby, excluded from the mass media and mostly
intimidated from speaking out, especially on Israel's war preparations
Myth of the Iranian Nuclear Threat
The Israeli Defense Forces
Chief of Staff, Daniel Halutz, has categorically denied that
Iran represents an immediate nuclear threat to Israel, let along
the United States. According to Haaretz (12/14/05), Halutz
stated that it would take Iran time to be able to produce a nuclear
bomb which he estimated might happen between 2008 and 2015.
Israel's Labor Party officials
do not believe that Iran represents an immediate nuclear threat
and that the Sharon government and the Likud war propaganda is
an electoral ploy. According to Haaretz, "Labor
Party officialsaccused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister
Shaul Mofaz and other defense officials of using the Iran issue
in their election campaigns in an effort to divert public debate
from social issues".
In a message directed at the
Israeli Right but equally applicable to AIPAC and the Presidents
of the Major Jewish Organizations in the US, Labor member of
the Knesset, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer rejected electoral warmongering:
"I hope the upcoming elections won't motivate the prime
minister and defense minister to stray from government policy
and place Israel on the frontlines of confrontation with Iran.
The nuclear issue is an international issue and there is no
reason for Israel to play a major role in it" (Haaretz,
December 14, 2005).
Israeli intelligence has determined
that Iran has neither the enriched uranium nor the capability
to produce an atomic weapon now or in the immediate future, in
contrast to the hysterical claims publicized by the US pro-Israel
lobbies. Mohammed El Baradei, head of the United Nations International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspected Iran for several
years, has pointed out that the IAEA has found no proof that
Iran is trying to construct nuclear weapons. He criticized Israeli
and US war plans indirectly by warning that a "military
solution would be completely un-productive".
More recently, Iran, in a clear
move to clarify the issue of the future use of enriched uranium,
"opened the door for US help in building a nuclear power
plant". Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza
Asefi, stated "America can take part in the international
bidding for the construction of Iran's nuclear power plant if
they observe the basic standards and quality" (USA Today,
Dec. 11, 2005).
Iran also plans to build several
other nuclear power plants with foreign help. This Iranian call
for foreign assistance is hardly the strategy of a country trying
to conduct a covert atomic bomb program, especially one directed
at involving one of its principal accusers.
The Iranians are at an elementary
stage in the processing of uranium, not even reaching the point
of uranium enrichment, which in turn will take still a number
of years, and overcoming many complex technical problems before
it can build a bomb. There is no factual basis for arguing that
Iran represents a nuclear threat to Israel or to the US forces
in the Middle East.
Scores of countries with nuclear
reactors by necessity use enriched uranium. The Iranian decision
to advance to processing enriched uranium is its sovereign right
as it is for all countries, which possess nuclear reactors in
Europe, Asia and North America. Israel and AIPAC's resort to
the vague formulation of Iran's potential nuclear capacity is
so open-ended that it could apply to scores of countries with
a minimum scientific infrastructure.
The European Quartet has raised
a bogus issue by evading the issue of whether or not Iran has
atomic weapons or is manufacturing them and focused on attacking
Iran's capacity to produce nuclear energy namely the production
of enriched uranium. The Quartet has conflated enriched uranium
with a nuclear threat and nuclear potential with the danger of
an imminent nuclear attack on Western countries, troops and Israel.
The Europeans, especially Great Britain, have two options in
mind: To impose an Iranian acceptance of limits on its sovereignty,
more specifically on its energy policy; or to force Iran to reject
the arbitrary addendum to the Non-Proliferation Agreement and
then to propagandize the rejection as an indication of Iran's
evil intention to create atomic bombs and target pro-Western
The Western media would echo
the US and European governments position that Iran was responsible
for the breakdown of negotiations. The Europeans would then
convince their public that since "reason" failed, the
only recourse it to follow the US to take the issue to the Security
Council and approve international sanctions against Iran.
The US then would attempt to
pressure Russia and China to vote in favor of sanctions or to
abstain. There is reason to doubt that either or both countries
would agree, given the importance of the multi-billion dollar
oil, arms, nuclear and trade deals between Iran and these two
countries. Having tried and failed in the Security Council,
the US and Israel would, on the scenario of the War Party, move
toward a military attack. An air attack on suspected Iranian
nuclear facilities would entail the bombing of heavily populated
as well as remote regions leading to large-scale loss of life.
The principal result will be
a huge escalation of war throughout the Middle East. Iran, a
country of 70 million, with several times the military forces
that Iraq possessed and with highly motivated and committed military
and paramilitary forces could be expected to cross into Iraq.
Iraqi Shiites sympathetic to or allied with Iran would most likely
break their ties with Washington and go into combat. US military
bases, troops and clients would be under fierce attack. US military
casualties would multiply. All troop withdrawal plans would
be disrupted. The 'Iraqization' strategy would disintegrate.
Most likely new terrorist incidents
would occur in Western Europe, North America, and Australia and
against US multinationals
Sanctions on Iran would not
work, because oil is a scarce and essential commodity. China,
India and other fast-growing Asian countries would balk at a
boycott. Turkey and other Muslim countries would not cooperate.
The sanction policy would be destined to failure; its only result
to raise the price of oil even higher.
Here in the United States there are few if any influential organized
lobbies challenging the pro-war Israel lobby either from the
perspective of working for coexistence in the Middle East or
even in defending US national interests when they diverge from
Israel. Although numerous former diplomats, generals, intelligence
officials, Reformed Jews, retired National Security advisers
and State Department professionals have publicly denounced the
Iran war agenda and even criticized the Israel First lobbies,
their newspaper ads and media interviews have not been backed
by any national political organization that can compete for influence
in the White House and Congress.
As we draw closer to a major
confrontation with Iran and Israeli officials set short-term
deadlines for igniting a Middle East conflagration, it seems
that we are doomed to learn from future catastrophic losses that
Americans must organize to defeat political lobbies based on
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at
Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in
the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless
in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization
Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social
Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina,
will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at: email@example.com