COULD US EXIT FROM NUCLEAR PACT TRIGGER WAR BETWEEN IRAN AND ISRAEL?
Hassan Rouhani, Benjamin Netanyahu
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right). Photo credit: President of Russia / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0) and US State Department / Wikimedia
A deadly air-war between Iran and Israel erupted shortly after President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement.
Driven by the expanding presence of Hezbollah — the powerful Iran-backed militia — in Syria, tensions between Iran and Israel have been simmering since the beginning of the year, with both sides trading accusations of espionage and attacks on each other’s military bases.
In February, Israel accused Iran of downing one of its jets — the first to fall in combat in more than three decades — before killing at least 13 Iranian nationals in a retaliation strike. But neither has yet unleashed a full-blown military operation.
This week’s big news tipped the conflict into the open: Trump, after years of lacerating the multinational nuclear pact many considered a high-water mark of his predecessor’s reign, finally nixed it on Tuesday. (The deal imposed reductions to Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions that had stifled the country’s economy.)
Just one hour after Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement, Israel reportedly fired a missile near the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing 15 — at least eight of them Iranians.
The next day, Iranian troops fired 20 rockets into the Israeli-controlled area of Golan Heights. Four were intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile defense system, while the rest fell short of their target, according to an Israeli military spokesman. Iranian media, on the other hand, claimed that Syrian forces orchestrated the attack.
The response, coming just hours later, was thunderous: Israeli warplanes struck critical Iranian bases in Syria overnight, killing at least 23 people.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the counterattack decimated Iran’s entire military infrastructure in Syria. Its targets included intelligence sites, weapons storage facilities, a logistics headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and military compounds.
Trump, building on his pro-Israel stance, immediately condemned Iran for making the first strike. But, as mentioned above, some reports indicate it was actually Israel that struck first.
While relations between the two nations have been cold for a long time, the escalation of military action links directly back to the US. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement emboldened Israel to confront Iran’s growing intervention in Syria. Saudi Arabia, the other major power in the Middle East, said that it is prepared to develop nuclear weapons should Iran restart its program.
As for Iran, desperation could fuel a desire for retribution: the Iranian rial has dropped perilously against the US dollar, and will likely keep dropping in the coming months. Without a diplomatic solution, widening military confrontation, to many experts, seems imminent.
Watch the videos below to learn more about the Israeli-Iranian conflict in Syria.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_cont ... qV2CKAKzC0
https://whowhatwhy.org/2018/05/12/could ... nd-israel/
The Coming American Assault on Iran
Tarek R. Dika 05/11/2018
By Tarek R. Dika
The new American strategy on Iran is to dismantle the nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s most recent Secretary of State, recently visited Saudi Arabia and Israel, and in both countries he focused almost exclusively on Iran. As yesterday’s early morning bombing of Iranian targets in Syria has shown, the Israelis are becoming increasingly concerned that a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria will harm their security.
AFP/File / SAUL LOEB. US President Donald Trump has announced his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, but his administration wants inspections of Tehran’s nuclear sites to continue, officials say.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently expressed dismay when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov refused to rule out a long-term Iranian presence in the Golan Heights. John Kerry recently revealed that the Israelis frequently appealed to the Obama administration to attack Iranian nuclear sites. He also revealed that all American allies in the Middle East have repeatedly implored the United States to take military action against Iran.
The Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was specifically focused on freezing Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium over the next 25 years. In 2014, Pompeo, then Republican senator of Kansas, went on record as stating that “it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.” These are not the words of a man who has much patience for diplomacy.
North Korea is different: it already has nuclear weapons and the ability to strike American targets. Pompeo speaks softly with the North Koreans, but with Iran, which has no nuclear capacities (and according to Pompeo himself, was not seeking them prior to the nuclear deal), he carries a stick. John Bolton, whose support for the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003 is well documented, has long advocated a military strike against Iran, and he has a very cozy relationship with the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an Iranian dissident organization dedicated to regime change in Iran.
No doubt, the Trump administration does not expect the Iranians to accept any renegotiation of the nuclear deal. This is already clear from the absurd requirements they expect the Iranians to accept in any future deal. They want Iran to refrain from pursuing its geopolitical objectives in the region while Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel freely pursue their own policy of further destroying the Palestinians, supporting radical Islamists in Syria against Asad, and creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in Yemen.
For their part, the Iranians already see the nuclear deal as a huge compromise: Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the treaty clearly states that signatories are not under any legal obligation to refrain from enriching uranium, so long as it is used for civilian, not military purposes. The fact that the Iranians even accepted this deal is already a major concession to Western powers, and the only reason they accepted the deal was to escape years of crippling economic sanctions. The idea that they would now return to the table after years of grueling negotiations is highly unlikely.
The Trump administration no doubt knows this, and must already have discussed how to react to the possibility of Iran’s decision to pull out of the deal. The Trump administration will do all it can to freeze Iran’s economy and sanction any European firm that does business with Iran, effectively re-imposing the sanctions the Iranians hoped to escape by signing the nuclear deal: “Even once all nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran have been lifted, Iran will remain one of the most sanctioned countries on earth.”
This de facto blockade will embolden hardliners in Iran who saw in the nuclear deal little more than capitulation to the fickle and ever-changing demands of the West. The Iranians will themselves abandon the deal if the cost of remaining in it becomes higher than the cost of pulling out. They may decide to reinstate their enrichment program. The Trump administration is betting that this will occur, and that it will cause European powers to unite behind an American military strike against Iran. All of the pieces will be in place.
No sooner did Pompeo end his brief visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel than did Netanyahu go live on Israeli television and, standing behind a screen that read “Iran Lied” in big black letters, claim that he has special evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear program. Political theatre: the Washington Post reports that most of the evidence presented dates back to 2015, before the nuclear deal was even signed, and that “intelligence experts and diplomats said he did not seem to have presented a ‘smoking gun’ showing that Iran had violated the agreement, although he may have helped make a case on behalf of hawks in U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration who want to scrap it.” He appears to have succeeded.
The meaning of Trump’s alleged “isolationism” is finally becoming clear: what he really opposes are large-scale ground invasions (which he perceives as a drain on American military resources), not air campaigns against foreign adversaries. He hired Pompeo and Bolton partly in order to pursue a more aggressive strategy against Iran. They know what they are doing.
An American strike against Iran raises the specter of a wider regional war. Unlike their mute response to Israel’s recent strike against Iranian targets in Syria, the Russians will likely see any attack on Iran as an attack on one of their key assets in the region. Those opposed to military action against Iran urgently need to start speaking up now if they hope to inform the American public on the disastrous consequences any attack against Iran is likely to have, for the region and for the Iranian people themselves.
Tarek R. Dika teaches philosophy in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
https://www.juancole.com/2018/05/coming ... sault.html
While the contrast between the Trump administration’s treatment of Iranian and Russian hackers is alarming in its own right, the most troubling aspect of the announcement may be the timing. Less than 24 hours before the indictments were revealed, Trump appointed notorious warmonger John Bolton as his new national security advisor, effective April 9. Bolton has been seeking to invade Iran for at least 15 years
Will The Indictment Of Iranian Hackers Prove The Pretext For John Bolt
Will The Indictment Of Iranian Hackers Prove The Pretext For John Bolton’s War?
This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
On Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of nine Iranians for conspiring to hack and defraud American universities and businesses on behalf of the Iranian government. Rosenstein vowed harsh repercussions for the Iranian hackers, including their extradition to the United States and imprisonment if convicted.
The strongly worded presser stood in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s approach to hacks by Russia, a far more pervasive threat to the United States. Since 2014, Russia has hacked the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, the personal emails of millions of Americans, and most notably, critical infrastructure including the power grid. Despite a Senate ruling of 98-2 to impose sanctions on Russia for their aggressive actions, President Trump has instead mollified the Kremlin, refusing to meaningfully target Russia’s oligarchs and not even discussing the cyberattacks (or, for that matter, Russia’s recent chemical attack on U.S. ally U.K.) in his call this week with President Putin.
While the contrast between the Trump administration’s treatment of Iranian and Russian hackers is alarming in its own right, the most troubling aspect of the announcement may be the timing. Less than 24 hours before the indictments were revealed, Trump appointed notorious warmonger John Bolton as his new national security advisor, effective April 9. Bolton has been seeking to invade Iran for at least 15 years.
Much as he backed the Iraq War long after its premise was proven to be fraudulent, Bolton has insisted, without evidence and in defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s assessment, that Iran is not honoring its commitment to constrain its nuclear program, and that military invasion is necessary. He has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. should abandon the Iran deal completely, appearing on FOX News–Trump’s main repository of policy advice–to argue that Trump should “just get out of it.”
But while Bolton decries the idea of Iran bearing nuclear weapons, he has no such aversion when it comes to the U.S. using theirs. In the fall of 2017, as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea ran sky-high, Bolton repeatedly called for a pre-emptive strike, one that would likely lead to nuclear war. Bolton differs here from Trump only in his experience and bureaucratic prowess: Trump has fantasized about using nuclear weapons for over 30 years – “If we have them, why not use them?” he famously said–and has proposed massive spending on a new nuclear arsenal. Trump is the only person in the White House authorized to order the use of nuclear weapons, but his hawkish cabinet has abetted his desire. In January, the Pentagon announced in its updated nuclear posture review that nuclear strikes were a legitimate response to nonmilitary attacks if they involved “extreme circumstances”, citing a major cyberattack as an example.
Nuclear weapons experts denounced the plan as reckless, but until Friday it seemed unlikely to be put into action: after all, Russia has been aggressively hacking us for all of Trump’s tenure and received sycophancy instead of strikes in response. But the Iranian indictments, combined with the implementation of Bolton, may change that. If the Iranian hacks–which, according to Rosenstein, caused $3.4 billion in damage–are considered “extreme circumstances” by the White House, nuclear strikes may be on the table.
So far, there has been little logic to Trump’s self-guided military incursions: he allegedly bombed Syria on Ivanka’s whim, dropped an unprecedented MOAB on Afghanistan after lapping up media praise for the Syria bombing, and spent the last 16 months antagonizing North Korea on Twitter while having various emotional meltdowns. His only steady foreign policy stance has been deference to Russia, and while both Bolton’s predecessor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are also hawkish on Iran, they have not proposed invading the country to enact “regime change”.
Bolton, who has vowed that the U.S. oust the current Iranian government by 2019, has no such hesitations. For Bolton, the answer to any international crisis is always war, and the indicted Iranian hackers, presented with much fanfare by Rosenstein, give the administration an ostensible pretext. Needless to say, an administration that runs on “alternative facts” will simply invent an excuse where none exists, but the timing of the announcement seems geared to direct the nation’s attention to Iran as a major threat, laying the groundwork for Bolton to pursue military and even nuclear strikes–now justified in official documents by the changes in the Pentagon’s nuclear posture review–when he begins his tenure in April.
Bolton is an apocalyptic appointment, one who endangers not only Iran but the entire world. Bolton’s bloodlust, bad temper, and blind faith in military solutions previously rendered him unhireable, but for Trump, whose most maniacal instincts will be validated, he is a gift—a like-minded sadist who, unlike Trump, knows how to effectively navigate bureaucracy.
There is almost nothing to keep the two of them in check. Bolton will enter a White House with a gutted State Department, multiple officials under investigation for illicit Kremlin ties (which Bolton also shares) and illicit work with Cambridge Analytica (with whom Bolton also worked), and a support team of religious zealots, Islamophobes, kleptocrats, and mercenaries, all of whom would likely find a rearrangement of the Middle East power structure advantageous. It is an administration that has long abandoned accountability, violating both White House protocol and the constitution with impunity, and firing officials—like James Comey and Andrew McCabe—who attempt to investigate the corruption.
Rosenstein presented the arrest of the Iranian hackers as a triumph for the rule of law, and in its own right, any clampdown on harmful hackers is a positive development. But no development exists in isolation, and no opportunity for exploiting the system for nefarious ends goes unused by the Trump team. Under Bolton, expect the worst.
https://www.fastcompany.com/40549085/wi ... oltons-war
The man who launched the war on Iraq now gets awards. Netanyahoo is agitating for war on Iran just like he agitated for war on Iraq. Shady groups of nutty "experts" peddle policy papers for 'regime change'. U.S. "allies" are put under pressure. With their willingness to "compromise" they actually further the prospect of war. When they insist on sticking to international rules malign actors prepare measures to break their resistance. All that is still just a "shaping operation", a preparation of the battlefield of public opinion. This buildup towards the war will likely take a year or two.
What is still needed is an event that pushes the U.S. public into war fever. The U.S. typically uses false-flag incidents - the Tonkin incident, the sinking of the Maine, the Anthrax murders - to create a psychological pseudo-rationale for war. An Israel lobbyist begs for one to launch war on Iran.
One wonders when and how a new 9/11 like incident, or another Anthrax scare, will take place. It will be the surest sign that the countdown to war on Iran has started.
CNPC set to replace Total in Iran gas project
China’s state-owned CNPC is set to take over a leading role held by Total in a huge gas project in Iran in case the French energy giant decides to quit amid US sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Reuters in a report quoted industry sources as saying that it was not clear if CNPC had received approvals from Beijing to do so. However, they said chances that the move could strain relations between the US and China were already high.
"The possibility of Total's pullout is quite high now, and in that scenario CNPC will be ready to take it over fully," Reuters quoted a senior state oil official with knowledge of the contract as saying.
It also quoted an executive with direct knowledge of the project as adding that planning began "the day the investment was approved."
"CNPC foresaw a high probability of a reimposition of (US) sanctions," the executive said.
All the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Reuters had also last December said CNPC had already started talks with Iran over replacing Total.
China launches new Iran train route
China on Thursday launched a freight train service that connects its northern regions to Iran’s capital Tehran in what could be a major connectivity project of vital importance to the flow of trade between the two countries.
The freight train service would take cargoes from Bayannur in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to Tehran.
China sent an inaugural train toward Iran carrying 1,150 tonnes of sunflower seeds. It would travel a distance of around 8,000 kilometers through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and would arrive in Iran within two weeks.
The new train route will shorten transportation time by at least 20 days compared with ocean shipping, according to a report by Xinhua news agency.
Bayannur is China' biggest sunflower seed production area. The city exports about 180,000 tonnes of sunflower seeds every year, with 90 percent of them headed for Middle Eastern, European and US markets, the report added.
The launch of a train service to Iran comes as the United States is preparing to impose what President Donald Trump has described as a tough regime of sanctions against the country.
They Want War With Iran, They’re Settling For Economic War
May 16, 2018Esfandyar Batmanghelidj
by Esfandyar Batmanghelidj
On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Valiollah Seif, governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” accusing him of moving “ millions of dollars on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to Hezbollah.” OFAC’s move opened a new front in the Trump administration’s accelerating conflict with Iran. The designation of a single individual, even the central bank governor, may not seem that significant. After all, Trump announced last week that he would reimpose all primary and secondary sanctions lifted as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as part of withdrawing from the nuclear deal. But targeting Seif may prove to be the pivotal moment in an economic war.
Iranian financial institutions have long been designated for suspected terrorist financing, and the Obama administration used such measures to isolate Iran’s economy in the effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. But the move to target Seif as an individual represents a significant escalation for two reasons. First, it reflects the direct targeting of a member of the Hassan Rouhani administration in a clear role of civilian leadership. Seif is not a rogue actor. He is a public figure, who travels regularly to Europe to engage in technical dialogue. Just recently, he welcomed Swedish central bank governor Stefan Ingves to Tehran. Seif also travels to the United States when invited for meetings at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Moreover, Iran’s central bank is at the heart of an expansive effort to reform the country’s anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) standards. Iran’s parliamentary research center recently concluded in a comprehensive report that “a considerable portion of the problems in Iranian banks’ correspondent relations with global counterparts is rooted in non-sanction reasons” including poor AML/CTF standards. Seif has been a central figure in the effort to improve these standards. Politically speaking, OFAC’s action could not be more different from the routine targeting of Iran’s military brass.
Second, the move represents an escalation because of who was likely behind it. It had long been assumed that OFAC was relatively immune to the more irascible political impulses in Washington. The application of sanctions was informed first and foremost by the need for restraint. As noted by former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in a 2016 speech, OFAC was expected to “guard against the impulse to reach for sanctions too lightly or in situations where they will have negligible impact.” Lew advised his colleagues to be “be conscious of the risk that overuse of sanctions could undermine [America’s] leadership position within the global economy, and the effectiveness of [American] sanctions themselves.”
The Strategy of Economic Warfare
Neither Trump nor his close advisors are averse to undermining America’s leadership position in the world. The decision to sanction Seif under a terror designation carries the hallmarks of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). A 2016 policy brief by FDD’s Mark Dubowitz and Annie Fixler, written on the occasion of Seif’s visit to Washington for meetings at the IMF, identifies the central bank governor as “no stranger to illicit finance” and claims that CBI “stands out for its long rap sheet of financial crimes.” More recently, Richard Goldberg and Saeed Ghasseminejad argued that “the White House should re-impose sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran” in order to push Iran’s currency into a “freefall” and precipitate a deeper economic crisis. This later piece makes it especially clear that FDD is not interested in the application of sanctions to achieve economic coercion. It seeks economic destruction.
As a strategy to confront Iran, economic warfare has clear advantages for the White House. The strategy allows Trump to continue to claim to be a non-interventionist and does not require him to send American troops to die in another quagmire. Economic warfare also allows avowed interventionists such as National Security Advisor John Bolton to pursue their destructive ends without the disapprobation following their support of the Iraq War. By trying to force Iran to collapse from within, by goading the Iranian people to tear down their own state, and by portraying that process as a popular revolution, Bolton can achieve his messianic goal without the high risk of blowback that would certainly face this chaotic administration from a military conflict.
Acknowledging that the Trump administration is adopting a strategy of economic warfare towards Iran means recognizing that the long-held distinction between economic concerns and security concerns vis-a-vis Iran are collapsing. In recent months, European and Iranian officials have made an effort to clarify that the JCPOA is “not an economic deal” but “a very important deal in the field of the non-proliferation regime.” In this formulation, the economic component of the deal is only valuable insofar as it serves a security goal. But Trump’s move to reapply sanctions on Iran—despite the country’s compliance with its commitments under the deal and with the clear purpose of fomenting instability in Iran—transforms the effort to save the JCPOA into an effort to shield Iran from an unjust economic war.
Seeing the economic threat to Iran as a security threat should have a significant bearing on how Europe responds to Trump’s provocations. In its recent formulation of a diplomatic strategy to save the JCPOA, Europe is seeking to preserve the economic benefits of the nuclear deal to incentivize Iran’s continued commitment to its non-proliferation commitments. But in the aftermath of the U.S. snapback of sanctions, and the likely escalation of those sanctions beyond levels previously seen, the imperative must be to insulate Iran’s economy and the Iranian people. The U.S. is seeking to instigate instability by putting pressure on the Iranian people, who know all too well the pain of shortages in foodstuffs and medicines that sanctions portend.
Iran will likely be able to prevent internal instability, but doing so will entail securitizing larger parts of the economy and society as was the case during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration. In such a scenario, the ascendency of the IRGC will risk regional conflict by exacerbating the security dilemma with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Europe must recognize that a strong Iranian economy is fundamental to both internal and regional security, especially in the face of sustained pressure from the United States.
On Tuesday, French officials convened a briefing for French business on possible responses to Trump’s reimposition of secondary sanctions. French Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire reportedly cited Thucydides’s observation that “money is the nerve of war” to describe what is at stake. Later that day, reports emerged that the foreign ministers’ meeting among the EU, France, Germany, the UK, and Iran focused on a “nine-point plan” devoted to “maintaining economic ties with Iran, continuing Iran’s ability to sell oil and gas products and protecting EU companies doing business in Iran.”
The limits of European independence in international relations and tradecraft have been exposed by the break with the United States over Iran. As described by Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser in a recent interview, the corporation’s decision to wind down operations in Iran is a reflection of the “primacy of [the American] political system. If that primacy says ‘this is what we’re going to do’, then that is exactly what we’re going to do.” As in the case of the primacy of American military might, Europe long relied on the primacy of U.S. sanctions enforcement, grafted as it were onto the primacy of the U.S. financial system, in order to lend power to the once cohesive foreign policy of the transatlantic partnership. Now, the primacy of the U.S. system is a liability for Europe and a threat to Iran.
Esfandyar has spent the last 5 years working on projects related to "business diplomacy" between the West and Iran. He is the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum, the leading annual gathering for business, government and civil society leaders committed to Iran's economic development, and the executive editor Bourse & Bazaar, a digital business publication with a focus on Iran. He is a graduate of Columbia University.
https://lobelog.com/they-want-war-with- ... nomic-war/
In Unanimous Vote, House Says No Legal Right to Attack Iran
Rep. Keith Ellison waits for President Donald Trump to deliver his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Ellison introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 that said there is no statutory authorization to go to war with Iran; the amendment was recently passed unanimously by the House.
BILL CLARK / CQ ROLL CALL / GETTY IMAGES
Marjorie Cohn , Truthout
June 4, 2018
In Unanimous Vote, House Says No Legal Right to Attack Iran
In a little noticed but potentially monumental development, the House of Representatives voted unanimously for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 5515) that says no statute authorizes the use of military force against Iran.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), states, “It is the sense of Congress that the use of the Armed Forces against Iran is not authorized by this Act or any other Act.”
A bipartisan majority of the House adopted the National Defense Authorization Act on May 24, with a vote of 351-66. The bill now moves to the Senate.
If the Senate version ultimately includes the Ellison amendment as well, Congress would send a clear message to Donald Trump that he has no statutory authority to militarily attack Iran.
This becomes particularly significant in light of Trump’s May 8 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. That withdrawal was followed by a long list of demands by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which could set the stage for a US attack on Iran.
Co-sponsors of the Ellison amendment include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-California), Ro Khanna (D-California), Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) and Walter Jones (R-North Carolina).
“The unanimous passage of this bipartisan amendment is a strong and timely counter to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran deal and its increasingly hostile rhetoric,” Ellison said in a press release. “This amendment sends a powerful message that the American people and Members of Congress do not want a war with Iran. Today, Congress acted to reclaim its authority over the use of military force.”
Likewise, Khanna stated, “The War Powers Act and Constitution is clear that our country’s military action must first always be authorized by Congress. A war with Iran would be unconstitutional and costly.”
McGovern concurred, stating, “Congress is sending a clear message that President Trump does not have the authority to go to war with Iran. With President Trump’s reckless violation of the Iran Deal and failure to get Congressional approval for military strikes on Syria, there’s never been a more important time for Congress to reassert its authority. It’s long past time to end the White House’s blank check and the passage of this amendment is a strong start.”
Moreover, the Constitution only grants Congress the power to declare war. And the War Powers Resolution allows the president to introduce US Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” or when there is “specific statutory authorization.”
But even if the Ellison amendment survives the Senate and becomes part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Trump would likely violate it. He could target Iranian individuals as “suspected terrorists” on his global battlefield and/or attack them in Iran with military force under his new targeted killing rules.
Unilateral Sanctions Against Iran Are Illegal
Although the Ellison amendment states that no statute authorizes the use of US armed forces in Iran, it does not prohibit the expenditure of money to attack Iran. Nor does it proscribe the use of sanctions against Iran.
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In fact, other amendments the House adopted mandate the imposition of sanctions against Iran.
An amendment introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) reflects the sense of Congress that “the ballistic missile program of Iran represents a serious threat to allies of the United States in the Middle East and Europe, members of the Armed Forces deployed in those regions, and ultimately the United States.”
The Roskam amendment then states the US government “should impose tough primary and secondary sanctions against any sector of the economy of Iran or any Iranian person that directly or indirectly supports the ballistic missile program of Iran as well as any foreign person or financial institution that engages in transactions or trade that support that program.”
And the House mandated the imposition of sanctions against people connected to named groups in Iran that “commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism,” in an amendment introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).
When Trump announced his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, he also reinstated US nuclear sanctions and “the highest level” of economic restrictions on Iran. Those sanctions could remove over one million barrels of Iran’s oil from the global market.
The unilateral imposition of sanctions by the United States, without United Nations Security Council approval, violates the UN Charter. Article 41 empowers the Council, and only the Council, to impose and approve the use of sanctions.
The other parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the Iran deal, oppose ending it. Known as P5+1, they include the permanent members of the Security Council — the US, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China — plus Germany, as well as the European Union.
At a minimum, France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom are not likely to cooperate with the US’s re-imposition of sanctions.
Trump Administration Gunning for War on Iran and Regime Change
Before Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, Iran was complying with its obligations under the pact.
Once Trump named John Bolton, notorious for advocating regime change in Iran, as national security adviser, it was a foregone conclusion the United States would pull out of the pact.
Pompeo also supported renunciation of the deal. His over-the-top demands on Iran include the cessation of all enrichment of uranium, even for peaceful purposes (which is permitted by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty).
“Taken together, the demands would constitute a wholesale transformation by Iran’s government, and they hardened the perception that what Trump’s administration really seeks is a change in the Iranian regime,” the Associated Press reported.
Jake Sullivan, who served in the Obama administration and was Hillary Clinton’s lead foreign policy advisor during the presidential campaign, said of the Pompeo demands, “They set the bar at a place they know the Iranians can never accept.”
Ellie Geranmayeh, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, called the demands “conditions of surrender.”
Meanwhile, it is unclear how long it will take to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act. Constituents who become aware of the risk of a US attack on Iran will invariably lobby their senators to include an admonition comparable to the House’s Ellison amendment.
https://truthout.org/articles/in-unanim ... tack-iran/
TRUMP is seriously dangerous
Donald Trump could be ready to order a strike against Iran, Australian Government figures say
Exclusive by political editor Andrew Probyn and defence reporter Andrew Greene
Thu at 8:31pm
US President Donald Trump points a finger straight ahead Photo: Australian Government sources believe the US is prepared to strike Iran's nuclear capability. (AP: Markus Schreiber)
Senior figures in the Turnbull Government have told the ABC they believe the United States is prepared to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, perhaps as early as next month, and that Australia is poised to help identify possible targets.
Senior Government figures say Australian defence facilities would likely play a role in identifying possible targets
But another senior source, in security, emphasises there is a difference between providing intelligence and "active targeting"
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he has no reason to believe the US is preparing for a confrontation
It comes amid intense sabre-rattling by US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
The ABC has been told Australian defence facilities would likely play a role in identifying targets in Iran, as would British intelligence agencies.
But a senior security source emphasised there was a big difference between providing accurate intelligence and analysis on Iran's facilities and being part of a "kinetic" mission.
"Developing a picture is very different to actually participating in a strike," the source said.
"Providing intelligence and understanding as to what is happening on the ground so that the Government and allied governments are fully informed to make decisions is different to active targeting."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said this morning he had no reason to believe the US was preparing for a military confrontation.
"President Trump has made his views very clear to the whole world, but this story … has not benefited from any consultation with me, the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister or the Chief of the Defence Force," he said.
The top-secret Pine Gap joint defence facility in the Northern Territory is considered crucial among the so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence partners — the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand — for its role in directing American spy satellites.
A warning sign next to a road says "No through road. Joint defence facility Pine Gap. Turn around now." Photo: Pine Gap is considered crucial to Five Eyes intelligence partners. (Wikimedia Commons, file photo)
Analysts from the little-known spy agency Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation would also be expected to play a part.
Canada would be unlikely to play a role in any military action in Iran, nor would the smallest Five Eyes security partner New Zealand, sources said.
Iran is a signatory to international agreements such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is not known to currently possess any weapons of mass destruction, but Mr Rouhani has recently boasted his nation's nuclear industry is advancing at a fast pace.
Last month Iran's nuclear chief opened a new nuclear enrichment facility that he said would comply with the nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers in 2015.
Middle East braces for Trump
Middle East braces for Trump
As Israel faces off against Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, all eyes are on Donald Trump's next move.
Any US-led strike on Iranian targets would be fraught for a region bristling with tensions. Israel would have reason to be anxious about retaliation, given Iran rejects Israel's right to exist.
That said, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April invoked the so-called "Begin Doctrine" that calls on the Jewish state to ensure nations hostile to Israel be prevented from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
"Israel will not allow regimes that seek our annihilation to acquire nuclear weapons," Mr Netanyahu said.
An Australian Government source said when it came to Iran, Australia relied on intelligence sourced from its Five Eyes partners, not Israel.
Government split on whether Trump's tweets are real threats
While some in the Turnbull Government firmly believe Mr Trump is prepared to use military force against Iran, others maintain it might be more bluster, given the consequence of conflict with Tehran might include unpredictable, dangerous responses in the Middle East.
Earlier this week, Mr Trump fired off an all-caps tweet directed at the Iranian President, seemingly warning of war:
He was responding to Mr Rouhani, who was quoted telling Iranian diplomats: "America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.
"Do not play with the lion's tail or else you will regret it," he said.
Mr Trump has since adjusted his rhetoric, suggesting Washington is ready to go back to the negotiating table with Tehran for a new nuclear deal.
"I withdrew the United States from the horrible one-sided Iran nuclear deal, and Iran is not the same country anymore," he told a convention in Kansas City.
"We're ready to make a deal."
Donald Trump, in the background, gazes at Malcolm Turnbull as he speaks at a podium with his hands gesturing Photo: Malcolm Turnbull has previously said he and Donald Trump had "different perspectives" on the Iran nuclear deal. (AP: Carolyn Kaster)
Grappling with whether Mr Trump's Twitter missives should be believed has become a global quest — and not just his tweets about Iran or North Korea.
In response to the US President's all-caps tweet on Monday, a high-ranking Iranian army official told the ISNA news agency, a Tehran Government mouthpiece, that Mr Trump's threats were merely "psychological warfare".
General Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, the chief of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard's volunteer Basij force, said Mr Trump "won't dare" take military action against Iran.
It was an assessment echoed by Iranian MP Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, who told Associated Press he doubted the escalating rhetoric would lead to a military confrontation.
Australia is urging Iran to be a force for peace: Bishop
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has emphasised diplomatic efforts to bring Iran to heel.
"Australia is urging Iran to be a force for peace and stability in the region," she told ABC's AM program on Thursday.
"The relationship between the United States and Iran is a matter for them.
"What we are looking to do is to ensure that all parties embrace peaceful and stable principles to ensure that our region is safe."
Julie Bishop speaking at AUSMIN with Marise Payne, Mike Pompeo, and James Mattis Photo: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne have been speaking with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis at AUSMIN in San Francisco this week. (Twitter: Secretary Pompeo)
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, when asked whether Mr Trump's threats against Iran should be believed, said: "Certainly President Trump has indicated that he's a person who's prepared to act in a way that previous presidents haven't.
"And for that reason, one should always take anything that he says extremely seriously."
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis reinforced America's hard line on Iran while speaking alongside Ms Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo at the AUSMIN meeting in San Francisco mid-week.
Mr Mattis said Iran had been a destabilising influence throughout the region.
"The only reason that the murderer Assad is still in power [in Syria] — the primary reason — is because Iran has stuck by him, reinforced him, funded him," he said.
"We see the same kind of malfeasance down in Yemen, where they're fomenting more violence down there. We've seen their disruptive capabilities demonstrated from Bahrain to the kingdom.
"And it's time for Iran to shape up and show responsibility as a responsible nation.
"It cannot continue to show irresponsibility as some revolutionary organisation that is intent on exporting terrorism, exporting disruption across the region. So I think the President was making very clear that they're on the wrong track."
Is that a tweet or foreign policy?
Is that a tweet or foreign policy?
Australia is still learning how to deal with an unpredictable US President in Donald Trump.
The ABC understands AUSMIN discussed Iran, largely in the context of increasing sanctions on Tehran.
"We're concerned about its ballistic missile program and we talked about ways of constructively engaging with Iran to prevent the development of that program," Ms Bishop told AM.
"But more specifically, we talked about urging Iran to not support proxy groups, whether it's in Syria, Yemen or elsewhere."
Mr Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in May and now seeks complete, verifiable and total denuclearisation, rather than the roll-back and temporary freeze of Iran's nuclear program.
The US plans on reinstating sanctions lifted by the Iran deal by November 4. This includes trade and investment by US firms with Iran and sanctions on Iranian oil exports.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-27/d ... y/10037728
Presidential election: Donald Trump will impose martial law if he wins, says ‘Art of the Deal’ ghostwriter | The Independent
Wednesday 26 October 2016 18:00
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of the 1987 bestseller, has said he regrets the way it presented ‘the most dangerous human being I have ever met’ in a falsely positive light
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of the 1987 bestseller, has said he regrets the way it presented ‘the most dangerous human being I have ever met’ in a falsely positive light ( AP )
Tony Schwartz spent the best part of a year trailing Donald Trump when he ghostwrote the tycoon’s 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal.
He believes he knows him well enough to predict that if Mr Trump is elected president, he would try and impose martial law, attack the free press and launch an attack on people he felt had slighted him that could make Richard Nixon’s actions against his enemies appear like "child’s play".
“I started out saying … that my highest fear was that because he was so thin-skinned, and because he is so insecure, he is a huge risk to set off, to punch in, the nuclear codes, because he happens to be irritated or frustrated by an enemy,” Mr Schwartz told The Independent.
Mr Schwartz said he was embarrassed by his work with Mr Trump (PBS)
“When I said that, I got a lot of rolling of the eyes from people in the media and other people to whom I was making that case. I think today, people do really begin to understand that this is a volatile man with very low self control.”
Mr Schwartz first broke his silence and revealed his views about what he considered Mr Trump’s unsuitability for the White House this summer, in an extended interview with The New Yorker. At the time, he expressed sadness about helping produce a glowing portrait of the businessman, that was in reality a work of fiction. He said he was obliged to “put lipstick on a pig”.
“I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is,” he said.
Since then, Mr Schwartz has been an outspoken thorn in the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign, launching scathing assaults from his Twitter account and appearing frequently as a guest on television panels.
On Friday, he will be speaking to students at Oxford University, with an address entitled “Into the belly of the beast: How Donald Trump led me on the path to dharma”.
But if Mr Schwartz can claim to have found a position of Zen calmness, on the topic of the man he once trailed, he can sound impassioned, emotional and even worried.
Most polls and simulations suggest that Mr Trump faces a very tough battle to beat Ms Clinton, but if he does make it to the White House, Mr Schwartz said he believed three things would happen very quickly.
“On day one he would end a free press,” he said, speaking from Washington DC. “In any way that he could, he would use the government to shut down a free press, and listen, he has plenty of precedents for doing that, including his hero Vladimir Putin.”
He said he believed Mr Trump would then “conduct an ‘enemies’ campaign that would make what Nixon did in the Sixties and early Seventies look like child’s play”. He said he would go after every person he felt had wronged him in the the most “intense way” he felt he could get away with.
Donald Trump said he'd love to fight Vice President Joe Biden
He added: “I think before very long, its quite possible that he would find a way to declare martial law.”
Asked how Mr Trump would go about undertaking such a drastic measure, he said many of Mr Trump’s supporters were police, members of the border guards force and the “far right wing” of the military.
“He controls the levers of powers. There is nobody standing between him and punching those nuclear codes other than the guy standing there is who is obligated to do what he is asked to do,” he said.
“Just look at any country that has been taken over by the military. He’d say there is a threat to the republic and the military needs to crack down and he would start with curfews, and the stop and frisk of anyone who is not white, male and rich.”
Mr Trump's campaign did not respond to inquiries. However, the tycoon has over the months dismissed Mr Schwartz’s comments, saying on Twitter: “Dummy writer @tonyschwartz, who wanted to do a second book with me for years (I said no), is now a hostile basket case who feels jilted!”
On another instance, he wrote: “I haven’t seen @tonyschwartz in many years, he hardly knows me. Never liked his style. Super lib, Crooked H supporter. Irrelevant dope.”
Asked if he was being paranoid about the dangers of a Trump presidency, Mr Schwartz said: “There is that phrase, just because you’re paranoid does’t mean people aren’t out to go you. I think it’s a healthy paranoia.”
He added: “It’s just a deep knowledge of who this human being is, and a recognition … that he is a classic sociopath, the most critical quality of a sociopath is an absence of conscience. It is a reflection of deep inner emptiness and the way to fill that emptiness is through power.”
He said that however extreme and bleak his comments sounded, they were not made as someone who was crazed or out control, but as a “trained observer of human beings”.
“This is the most dangerous human being I have met. I am not saying he is the most dangerous human being who has ever lived,” he said. “But he is the most dangerous human being I have ever met by a long distance, by virtue of the absence of a conscience.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/peop ... 82086.html
Iran says it held military exercises in Strait of Hormuz
Eyes are on strait as US-Iran tensions build
(CNN)Iran said its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps held a naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz last week "within the framework of their annual training program."
The exercise was held with aim of "controlling and maintaining the security of the international waterway of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and to proportionately counter any threats by the enemy," semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported.
"Operation was part of IRGC's annual training program," Tasnim said. It said it included naval and aerospace units, and was described as "successful" by IRGC Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Ja'fari,
Iran's actions in the globally significant waterway raised concerns last week after a US assessment found IRGC assembled a fleet of more than 100 boats and hundreds of Iranian troops were expected to participate.
CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson witnessed more than 100 oil tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman on Friday, waiting to enter the strait and load up with oil.
US officials say Iran has begun a naval operation in the Middle East
US officials said the major naval exercise was meant to demonstrate Iran's ability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which would have ripple effects across the globe.
The strait connects the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. The US Energy Information Administration calls it "the world's most important oil transit chokepoint," with 20% of oil traded worldwide moving through the waterway, which is about 30 miles wide at its narrowest point.
The US military has been trying to encourage other nations in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, to take a strong line on keeping the Gulf open in the face of rising Iranian rhetoric. They have also expressed concern about keeping open the waterways off Yemen where Iranian-backed rebels have attacked oil tankers.
US and allies looking at options to protect shipping lanes from Iranian threats
The Iranian military maneuvers are normally held later in the year and heavily publicized by Iran, Robertson reported. But this year's exercise was timed to take place as US prepares to reimpose sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump pulled out of Iran nuclear deal.
Outrage by Iran's leaders when Trump took the decision in May is now being supercharged by small street protests against the government over the economy and the threat of more as the situation worsens.
The Iranian riyal is down 25% against the dollar. Monday, US sanctions will kick in, banning the purchase of US dollars, gold and other precious metals, and in early November oil, shipping and ports will be hit by the second phase of the same sanctions.
Hardship is coming to Iran. Hormuz is the place they can transfer that pain to the rest of the world.
CNN's Sarah El Sirgany contributed to this report.
https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/05/middleea ... index.html
Iran announces war games in Gulf to 'confront possible threats'
More than 100 vessels potentially involved in the drills, according to US official
5 hours ago
Iran's Revolutionary Guard has announced it held war games in the Gulf this week as it increases its preparedness for "confronting possible threats" from enemies, according to state news state news agency IRNA, as US sanctions against the state resume.
Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif "expressed satisfaction over the successful conduct of the Guards naval exercise, emphasising the need to maintain and enhance defence readiness and the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and to confront threats and potential adventurous acts of enemies," IRNA said.
"This exercise was conducted with the aim of controlling and safeguarding the safety of the international waterway and within the framework of the programme of the Guards' annual military exercises.”
US officials believe Iran began carrying out naval exercises in the Gulf, ahead of the scheduled annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington as sanctions were re-imposed on Sunday.
The increased Iranian naval activity, which was confirmed by the US military’s central command, extended to the Strait of Hormuz - a strategic waterway for shipments that the Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block to oil traders
One US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said more than 100 vessels were potentially involved in the drills, including small boats.
They said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but has so far stopped short of using the its military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.
The rhetoric between the US and Iran remains heated, despite Donald Trump tweeting last week that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran has been furious over Mr Trump’s decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran's nuclear programme and re-impose sanctions on Tehran.
The nuclear deal lifted international sanctions in return for Iran limiting its nuclear program and allowing regular inspections.
UN inspectors said Iran was complying with the deal, but Mr Trump felt the agreement did not go far enough and he called for a new accord that would force Iran to radically decrease its military support for the Syrian government and regional militant groups.
The US has been pushing its allies to stop importing Iranian oil ahead of the November deadline. China, India, Turkey and South Korea are among the top importers of Iranian oil.
Senior Iranian officials, however, have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed US campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.
But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to the drills. Iranian authorities had not commented on them earlier and several officials contacted by Reuters this week had declined to comment.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
Wall Street Journal: White House requested plans last year from Pentagon to attack Iran
(2018) Bolton to Iran: Hell to pay if you cross us
Washington (CNN)The White House's National Security Council asked the Pentagon last year for plans for launching a military attack against Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported early Sunday, citing current and former US officials.
The request from the council, which is led by national security adviser John Bolton, came after an attack in September on the US Embassy in Baghdad by a militant group aligned with Iran, according to the Journal.
According to the paper, Mira Ricardel, the former deputy national security adviser, described the attacks in Iraq as "an act of war," and said that the US needed to respond accordingly.
The request was met with concern by both the Pentagon and the State Department, according to the Journal, with one former administration official telling the paper that people were "shocked" by the request.
Although the Pentagon obeyed the request by the council, the Journal reported, it is unknown whether or not the plans for striking Iran were ever fully developed or even provided to the White House. The Journal also said that it is unknown whether President Donald Trump had knowledge of the request.
The National Security Council did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment on Sunday.
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the council, told the Journal that it "coordinates policy and provides the President with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats."
"We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests," he said, according to the paper.
The Journal, citing conversations with people familiar with the talks, also reported that the council requested options for launching strikes at both Iraq and Syria when they made the request for Iran.
https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/13/politics ... index.html
Israel, in Rare Admission, Confirms Strike on Iranian Targets in Syria
Jan. 13, 2019
Israeli soldiers showing the opening in December of a tunnel from Lebanon into Israel. The military says it is wrapping up a six-week operation to seal six tunnels it has found.Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press
Israeli soldiers showing the opening in December of a tunnel from Lebanon into Israel. The military says it is wrapping up a six-week operation to seal six tunnels it has found.Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel acknowledged on Sunday that Israeli forces had attacked Iranian weapons warehouses in Syria, after years of ambiguity over involvement in specific attacks on the country.
“We worked with impressive success to block Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, adding that the Israeli military had struck Iranian and Hezbollah targets “hundreds of times.”
“Just in the last 36 hours, the air force attacked Iranian warehouses with Iranian weapons at the international airport in Damascus,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “The accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria, just as we promised.”
The rare admission came hours after the Israeli military announced that it had exposed the sixth and final tunnel under its border with Lebanon, which it says the Iranian-backed organization Hezbollah dug, wrapping up a six-week operation to seal the cross-border tunnels.
By lifting the veil on its campaign to curb Iranian influence in the region, as well as Tehran’s efforts to upgrade the capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israeli government appeared to be trying to convey confidence that the threats from across its northern frontiers were under control.
The public airing of security achievements came as the departing military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, is ending his four-year term and 40-year army career and as Mr. Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election under a cloud of corruption investigations.
Mr. Netanyahu also appears to be demonstrating that Israel will not be deterred from acting in Syria despite Russia having supplied the Syrian military with the sophisticated S-300 ground-to-air missile system.
Relations between Israel and Russia frayed after a Russian military plane was shot down over Syria in September, killing 15 Russian service members. The plane was accidentally shot down by Syria in response to an Israeli airstrike, and Russian officials blamed Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arriving at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. In a highly unusual disclosure, he acknowledged an Israel strike on Iranian weapons warehouses near the Syrian capital.Pool photo by Ariel Schalit
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arriving at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. In a highly unusual disclosure, he acknowledged an Israel strike on Iranian weapons warehouses near the Syrian capital.Pool photo by Ariel Schalit
Syrian state media reported early Saturday that Israeli warplanes had launched missiles toward the outskirts of Damascus shortly before midnight on Friday, causing material damage to the ammunition warehouses at Damascus International Airport.
Israeli officials have acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes against weapons convoys and Iranian targets in Syria, but they have traditionally refused to confirm or deny responsibility for specific attacks immediately after they take place, to avoid pushing the other side into having to retaliate.
The new confidence on display on Sunday may stem from the paucity of responses so far, both to the strikes in Syria and to the dismantling of tunnels from Lebanon.
In interviews marking his departure, General Eisenkot expressed pride in the policy known as the “campaign between the wars,” including continued efforts to curb Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and said Israel had struck thousands of targets there.
Mr. Netanyahu, who, in addition to being prime minister is serving as defense minister and foreign minister, among other roles, would stand to benefit from projecting the image of being tough about security ahead of the April 9 election, even as he faces possible bribery charges.
His opponents had accused him of over-dramatizing the anti-tunnel operation and of fear-mongering to distract the public’s attention after the Israeli police recommended that Mr. Netanyahu be indicted on bribery, fraud and other charges in a third corruption case against him.
Regarding the disclosure about the attack in Syria, Omer Bar-Lev, a lawmaker in the opposition Labor party, wrote on Twitter on Sunday, “It’s a shame and disgrace that the prime minister is violating the policy of ambiguity that was appropriate for the last three years in the campaign between the wars in Syria, for political purposes.”
Avi Dichter, a lawmaker in Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party and a former security chief, dismissed any political motives, saying in a radio interview: “ Israel has a great interest in creating deterrence. Some deterrence is better achieved with ambiguity, some deterrence is better achieved with open statements.”
It was a busy last weekend on the job for General Eisenkot. The Israeli military struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday and Saturday night after Palestinian protests and attempts to breach the border fence, during which a Palestinian woman was killed by Israeli sniper fire, and after Gaza militants fired a rocket into Israel.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/13/worl ... nnels.html
War Against Iran Becoming Ever More Likely
January 25, 2019Jim Lobe
Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump, and John Bolton (State Department via Wikimedia Commons)
by Jim Lobe and Ben Armbruster
Donald Trump’s domestic troubles, combined with the current makeup of his foreign policy team, provide a confluence of circumstances, perhaps a perfect storm, to pull the United States into a war with Iran.
Indeed, the walls are closing in around Trump. The president’s poll numbers—once seemingly impervious to an already unprecedentedly tumultuous administration—are sinking, even among his most ardent supporters, as he increasingly boxes himself into the corner of a government shutdown for which the public says he’s largely responsible. At the same time, impeachment looms on the horizon. House Democratic committee chairs are winding up for some serious investigations into a whole range of alleged misdeeds by the president and some of his Cabinet appointments, and Robert Mueller is wrapping up his investigation into Trump’s highly questionable ties to Russia.
In short, Trump’s position has never been weaker. And despite what appears to be his personal desire to extract U.S. troops from the Middle East, as shown by his order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and his assertion two weeks later that Iran’s leaders “can do what they want” there, his deepening political problems may make war more attractive.
As Jim Lobe pointed out in September, Trump has previously signaled that a president could benefit politically by starting a war with Iran, as he predicted President Obama would do no less than half a dozen times between late 2011 and 2013 in order to win reelection or “show how tough he is.” At least back then, Trump correlated political redemption with war against Iran. And with what’s left of his domestic agenda on hold indefinitely due to the Democratic takeover of the House, Trump’s attention—as erratic as it is—is very likely to shift to foreign policy where he not only enjoys greater freedom of action but can also deflect attention from his disastrous presidency.
Bolton Increasingly in Charge?
At the same time, Trump’s top foreign policy advisers have been gunning for war with Iran for years. And the one Cabinet official largely responsible for pumping the brakes on military confrontation with Tehran throughout this administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis, is gone. With an interim enabler installed as acting Pentagon chief, there’s no permanent replacement in sight (although things could get much worse if Trump opts for Tom Cotton or Lindsey Graham).
According to recent reporting, Mattis helped quash a plan last fall—conjured up by National Security Advisor John Bolton—to retaliate militarily against an alleged Shiite militia mortar attack that landed harmlessly near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Indeed, the leaks that have come out of the Pentagon since Mattis’s departure strongly suggest that Bolton is looking for a pretext for an attack, even if Iranian forces are not directly involved. In the words of The New York Times’s headline editors, “Pentagon Officials Fear Bolton’s Actions Increase Risk of Clash With Iran.”
Mattis’s departure effectively removes from the leadership team a major obstacle to Bolton’s belief that the United States should take strong military action against Iran. Bolton was an unapologetic supporter of the war in Iraq and promoted false claims to make the case for the 2003 invasion. Bolton has since dedicated much of his career—even working closely and surreptitiously as UN ambassador with then-Vice President Dick Cheney and the Israelis—to prepare the grounds for war with Iran or promote regime change. And he isn’t shy about misleading the public to attain those goals. Earlier this month, for example, he claimed, without offering any evidence, that there is “little doubt” that Iran is committed to building a nuclear weapon, even though U.S. intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have made no such conclusions. In fact, both U.S. intel and the IAEA continue to find that Iran is adhering to the 2015 nuclear accord, of which Bolton gave Trump the final push to withdraw from last year.
That Bolton is perfectly capable of ignoring Trump’s own directives and preferences with respect to Middle East policy has already been made clear by what has happened since Trump called last month for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria within 30 days. Bolton publicly walked back Trump’s decision to withdraw, and Trump’s timeline to withdraw has already been extended to four to six months, according to the latest reports (and quite possibly longer in the wake of an attack in Manbij last week that killed three U.S. soldiers and one contractor).
An experienced bureaucratic operator, Bolton reportedly has centralized policy-making in his office, much to the annoyance of other agencies and Cabinet colleagues (notably Mattis). Given Trump’s attenuated attention span and lack of curiosity, Bolton has been steadily positioning himself to pursue his own highly ideological and anti-Iran agenda. Just in the last few weeks, Bolton has bolstered his staff with two Iran ultra-hardliners: Charles Kupperman as his deputy, and former Foundations for Defense of Democracies staffer Richard Goldberg to run point on Iran. Although he has not yet been officially appointed to the National Security Council (NSC) staff, David Wurmser, one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq War who worked closely with both Bolton and Cheney, is reportedly a frequent visitor.
Pompeo Not Much Better
But it’s not just Bolton. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a long-time Iran hawk who, prior to joining the administration, campaigned heavily in the House against the JCPOA in favor of hundreds of air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Pompeo has taken point on the Trump administration’s public campaign to demonize Iran and lay the groundwork for war. As CIA director, Pompeo orchestrated a leak of documents intended to (baselessly) link Iran to al-Qaeda. At the State Department, he has delivered the most hardline anti-Iran speeches. In one last May, he insisted that Iran must accede to 12 demands, including halting all uranium enrichment and withdrawing “all forces under [its] command” in Syria before U.S. sanctions can be eased. He has repeated this ultimatum even though most Iran experts characterize it as totally unrealistic. During his widely panned Middle East tour earlier this month, in which he promised to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria, Pompeo announced that he will cohost with Poland an Iran-bashing summit next month that top EU officials say they intend to boycott.
Pompeo may be somewhat more hesitant these days, now that he’s no longer a carefree congressman happy to engage in all kinds of provocations and freelance diplomacy with super-hawks like Cotton against the Obama administration’s efforts to conclude the nuclear deal with Iran. He actually has to take the sensitivities of foreign governments, such as Washington’s NATO partners (despite Trump’s trashing of same), into account. On the other hand, he has recently behaved pretty much like a bull in a china shop, evidenced by the bombing of his big policy speeches in Brussels, in Cairo, and quite probably next month in Warsaw.
Overall, Bolton and Pompeo’s hawkish rhetoric and anti-Iran activities have proliferated recently, particularly since Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign is failing to force Tehran to return to negotiations on Pompeo’s terms in order to avoid economic collapse and popular insurrection. Their increasingly aggressive stance, however, risks moving the two countries closer to a military confrontation.
The Role of Informal Advisers and Funders
Of course, Trump may choose not to listen to his Cabinet officials and instead seek advice from those who appear to enjoy relatively easy access to him. There’s Fox & Friends, for example, and Sean Hannity, who is probably even more belligerent than Bolton himself. What about Jared Kushner? His family’s long association with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi used to sleep in Jared’s bedroom), business ties in Israel, and support for the settlement movement on the West Bank—not to mention Jared’s efforts to eliminate all aid to Palestinian refugees everywhere and his steadfast support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS)—suggest that he would not be unsympathetic to a massive show of U.S. force against Iran as part of his efforts to implement his much-anticipated Israel-Palestine “peace plan.”
Then there’s Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani who, like Bolton, has served as perhaps the most persistent booster of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a cultish group of anti-regime Iranian exiles formerly on the State Department’s list of terror organizations. Giuliani told an MEK rally in Paris last September that, “We are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran.”
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have become the biggest financial backers of the national Republican Party and appear to get Trump’s ear just about every time they want, especially regarding Israel and their personal financial interests. It was Sheldon who memorably called for the United States to drop a nuclear bomb in “in the middle of Tehran” if Iran refuses to give up its entire nuclear program after a demonstration bomb is detonated in “the middle of the [Iranian] desert.” There’s also billionaire financier Tom Barrack, who reportedly facilitated Trump’s love affair with the Gulf royals, particularly in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Although he’s very unlikely to endorse Adelson’s nuclear suggestion—the Gulf states would suffer a lot of fallout downwind—he may not object to military operations short of it. And then there’s Lindsey Graham who’s been bullish on the outcome of war with Iran.
Of course, Bolton and Pompeo’s aggressiveness may also be designed to provoke Iran itself to renounce the nuclear deal or at least to begin testing the its limits. Indeed, Iran’s adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal, as noted most recently in a comprehensive memo by the International Crisis Group, is increasingly under threat due to the growing stress felt in Tehran by the U.S.-imposed sanctions regime, the failure to date of the European Union to implement its plan for a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to enable Iran to reap at least some of the deal’s economic rewards, and the unrelenting hawkish rhetoric emanating from the Trump administration. That assessment leaves space for the administration to provoke a crisis, pushing Iran to ultimately withdraw from the nuclear deal and thus providing a pretext for military action.
With Trump in political trouble at home, Mattis out, and Bolton centralizing power in an increasingly hawkish NSC, certain foreign powers with a well-established interest in military conflict between the United States and Iran-–notably Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain—may see an unprecedented but transitory window for provocation. Indeed, like Trump, both Netanyahu and MbS are facing difficulties of their own and may be eager to create new distractions that could rally domestic opinion behind them.
Indeed, Israel has exhibited a new boldness in bombing suspected Iranian weapons sites in Syria. “Analysts have warned that Israel’s new openness [in publicly claiming responsibility for the strikes] could ratchet up tensions, making it harder for Iranian leaders to ignore attacks and pushing them to retaliate,” The New York Times reported this week. Netanyahu himself this week even mocked the head of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, in the aftermath of the latest Israeli attack, implicitly daring him to retaliate. There is also Bolton’s history of colluding with Israel to undermine official U.S. policy and his boss, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, any incident involving Iran on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Bahrain on the other in and around the Gulf or off the coast of Yemen could quickly spiral out of control, drawing in U.S. forces. That Bolton asked for military options in response to a minor attack by a Shia militia that may not even have been supported—much less directed—by Iran suggests a very itchy finger on the trigger in both Syria and Iraq. And it was Trump himself who reportedly asked Mattis and the rest of his national-security team repeatedly why U.S. warships don’t sink Iranian fast boats, a somewhat disturbing echo of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. Misjudgments, bad or cooked intelligence, false flags—none of these should be discounted.
But it’s not just hostile states that are capable of and have an interest in staging an incident designed to escalate into a wider conflict between the United States and Iran. The MEK has long had an interest in provoking such a war. So have both al-Qaeda and the virulently anti-Iranian Islamic State. Hard-line rogue commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could also decide to take matters into their own hands.
The potential of some kind of conflict with Iran escalating into a larger regional war is very real, possibly more real than ever. Although some have been sounding the alarm, the attention given to this dire situation is nowhere near the level it deserves. Given the national media’s ever-shifting focus on whatever shiny chaotic moment emerges from Trump and his administration, it’s possible that the United States could find itself in a new Middle East war without anyone really noticing it happen.
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as national security editor at ThinkProgress.
https://lobelog.com/war-against-iran-be ... re-likely/
Netanyahu May Have Accidentally Declared War on Iran
Joshua KeatingFeb 13, 20194:28 PM
Andrzej Duda, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mike Pompeo wearing suits and posing for a group photo.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Middle East summit in Warsaw on Wednesday.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just say the quiet part out loud?
The tweet was part of a translation of remarks Netanyahu made in front of the incongruous backdrop of a Polish skating rink after a meeting with Oman’s foreign minister. Both were in Warsaw for a Mideast summit co-hosted by the U.S. and Poland. According to Mideast analyst Michael Koplow, “war with Iran” is a misleading translation of a phrase that could mean “combating Iran.” The tweet has been deleted and replaced with a statement using “combating Iran,” but the “war” version made it into some headlines, which have since been updated.
Whether it was a simple screw-up, a dog whistle, or a Kinsley gaffe, the confusion over the remark’s intentions is characteristic for this whole conference. When first announced last month, the summit was billed as having a focus on Iran’s “destabilizing influence,” as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed it as a “desperate anti-Iran circus.”
Later, the focus was broadened to the Middle East in general, including issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against ISIS, and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Some officials denied that Iran was the focus at all, likely in a bid to entice participation from more countries, many of which are critical of the Trump administration’s Iran policies.
It didn’t quite work. While around 60 countries are in attendance, the notable absences include most of the signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump has pulled the U.S. out of. Russia and China won’t be there. Neither will France, Germany, or the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is attending but says he mostly wants to talk about Yemen. These so-called E3 countries announced plans last month to set up a payment system to continue conducting trade with Iran in defiance of new U.S. sanctions.
The Palestinian Authority is also boycotting the meeting, as it has most contact with U.S. officials since Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. This doesn’t bode well for the long-anticipated rollout of the Jared Kushner peace plan, which may begin next week.
If the purpose of this summit was to demonstrate international unity behind Trump’s aggressive policies toward Iran, it has fallen short.
The conference does present an opportunity for some of the countries involved. For the host, Poland, which is not normally known for its interest in Middle East politics, the event may have more to do with concerns about Russia than Iran. Poland’s government has been trying to convince Trump, despite his natural inclinations about Vladimir Putin, to maintain U.S. troop deployments in Poland. President Andrzej Duda even went so far as to say, at a meeting in September, that a new base for U.S. troops could be called Fort Trump. The conference is a way for Poland to demonstrate its pro-U.S. bona fides, in contrast to the frosty western Europeans.
For Netanyahu, as he suggested in his statement, the meeting is a rare chance to have public meetings with Arab leaders. After years of regional isolation, Israel has been quietly building contacts and increasing cooperation with Sunni Arab governments against mutual foe Iran. These contacts are still sensitive—most of these countries still don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Israel—and Netanyahu’s “war” remark may draw some unwanted attention to them.
https://slate.com/news-and-politics/201 ... poland.amp
Three Days in Rome
In which a neoconservative jack-of-all-trades, a pair of Pentagon hawks, and an Iranian exile with a knack for tall tales try to outflank the CIA and conjure a coup in Tehran.
Laura RozenJuly/August 2006 Issue
Illustration: Steve Brodner
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On December 21, 2001, military officials and intelligence operatives from three nations—the United States, Italy, and Iran—made their separate ways to a commercial building set anonymously amid the shops, cafés, and fountains of Rome’s bustling Piazza di Spagna, and disappeared inside. Among the tourists enjoying the famous Spanish Steps, and the Romans going about their Christmas shopping in the boutiques nearby, few would have had reason to wonder what was going on in the building, which held an unmarked office provided by the Italian military intelligence organization Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI). Nor would passers-by have likely recognized among the men two Pentagon officials and key figures in the post-9/11 push to redraw the political map of the Middle East. Rome’s centro storico, locus of a few millennia of international intrigue, was the perfect setting for the business at hand.
Though little-known outside the Beltway, the Pentagon officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, were at the height of their powers among a small, tight-knit coterie of Washington Iran hawks determined, in the wake of 9/11, to push for regime change not just in Kabul and Baghdad, but in Tehran as well. Farsi speakers both, they had become increasingly influential as advisers to top Pentagon officials consumed with planning a response to the terror attacks. Franklin was the Iran desk officer in a Pentagon policy office that would eventually include the Office of Special Plans, an alternative intelligence shop that became closely allied with Ahmed Chalabi and his band of Iraqi exile informants. Joining the pair in Rome was Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative historian and activist who is among the most impassioned advocates for overthrowing the Iranian regime.
Given that Italian intelligence was hosting the gathering, protocol would have called for the CIA to be involved and the U.S. Embassy to be notified. Yet no one from Langley or Foggy Bottom had been invited—and for good reason. Among those who had come to meet with the Pentagon team was an Iranian exile who was not exactly an unknown quantity in Washington. Manucher Ghorbanifar, an arms dealer, intelligence peddler, and former military intelligence official in the Shah’s regime, had been a key figure in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, in which Washington secretly sold missiles to Iran’s Islamic rulers. Even before that, he had been so unreliable as a CIA informant that the agency had issued a “burn notice” directing agency personnel not to deal with him. When, in the midst of Iran-Contra, the CIA gave Ghorbanifar a polygraph test, he was deemed not to be showing deception on only 2 of the 15 questions—his name and his place of birth.
“One test of a source is his ability to tell you something accurate that cannot be known through any other means,” Bill Murray, the former CIA station chief in France, told me. Ghorbanifar not only has never been able to do that, Murray said, “he has a proven track record of fabrication—making up the information he reports from his own imagination.” Washington insiders of a certain vintage cringe at the mention of Ghorbanifar’s name—and grow alarmed when they hear that, as another ex-CIA official puts it, “anyone in the U.S. government would still talk to Ledeen and Ghorbanifar after what happened.”
But someone was. For three days, the international group met to discuss Middle East political machinations, alleged Iran-backed terrorism threats, and, most of all, rumors of discontent and divided loyalties in the Iranian security services. Even as Chalabi and company were spinning tales in Washington about how Saddam’s regime would collapse with only a minor effort from the United States, the administration’s Iran hawks were eager to hear the same about Tehran—and to that end, Ghorbanifar had delivered a special guest. The guest was “a very high-level ex-Revolutionary Guard,” Ghorbanifar later told me. “His situation was so high that the Italian intelligence network, in order to prove he had a special mission to Italy, created a kind of fake cover itinerary to give him an excuse to the Iranian authorities.”
CIA sources are unconvinced. “They drag these guys out and say they’re from the Revolutionary Guard,” Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA director for Europe, told me. “In fact, they’re actually from some rug store. In any city, it’s an industry.”
Rhode and Franklin, in any event, were impressed. As the meeting was breaking up, Rhode sent a classified cable from the telex room of the U.S. Embassy in Rome back to the Pentagon, reporting that the group had “made contact with Iranian intelligence officers who anticipate possible regime change in Iran and want to establish contact with the United States government.” The cable, portions of which were obtained by Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, continued, “A sizable financial interest is required.”
Intelligence sources have their suspicions about what the money was to go for. “My thought is that he was trying to do a Chalabi, asking them to tell the president that there’s Iranians waiting to rise up,” one former U.S. intelligence official told me. “It would be comical except that they have a lot of money, and people pay a lot of attention. All they need is purchase someplace, and the virus spreads very quickly.”
Just how far did it spread? In the four years since the Rome meeting, the Pentagon has refused to answer many questions about it, including those from congressional investigators examining whether the trip constituted an unauthorized “intelligence activity” by the Bush administration. It has also insisted that the meeting’s purpose was merely to follow up on a tip about threats to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and that the Ghorbanifar intelligence pipeline was quickly shut down.
The real story, as I learned in the course of a two-year investigation that took me from sterile Washington offices to smoky exile pubs in Paris, is more interesting. It’s also not over. As the crisis with Iran deepens and moves to the fore, the Bush administration is putting in place key elements of the vision spun in part by the men at the Rome meeting. In a new campaign to ramp up pressure on the Iranian regime, millions of dollars are pouring into exile groups, anti-regime propaganda, pro-democracy projects, and intelligence gathering. State Department and intelligence personnel are being deployed to the region and new Iran operations offices are being “stood up” in the State Department and Pentagon—the latter even featuring some of the names familiar from the pre-Iraq-war Office of special Plans.
In his 1988 memoir of the Iran-Contra affair, Perilous Statecraft, Ledeen described the role of the “trusted envoy,” a kind of freelance government agent who shuttles between world leaders with few of the constraints of a government job but all of the thrill. “There are certain kinds of secret information that move between friendly countries quite outside the routine channels of government,” he wrote. “The bearers of these messages can be anything from businessmen and journalists to actors and trusted personal assistants; they are rarely top officials themselves. Frequently, their names do not even appear on official calendars or appointment schedules; they are slipped in between the formal appointments, or they are ushered into the leaders’ private residences on weekends or after dinner.”
It was the kind of role Ledeen, who counts among his contacts Karl Rove and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, has relished for 20 years. Having come of age in the 1960s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he says he was friendly with the activists who helped launch Students for a Democratic Society, he later became an avid anticommunist. While living in Italy in the 1970s, he was a political historian, a correspondent for The New Republic, and a consultant to SISMI on terrorism issues. Adventurous, impatient, and seemingly unconstrained by the professional boundaries of any of his multiple avocations, Ledeen eventually worked in the Reagan administration at the National Security Council, where he helped set up the Iran-Contra missile sales to Tehran—and became a close ally of Ghorbanifar, Washington’s liaison to the Islamic regime.
Ledeen—who has argued in many articles and media appearances that Tehran is the chief sponsor of Islamic terrorism—is part of a subclan of neoconservatives for whom Iran is not an afterthought to Iraq but has long been the primary target. For almost a quarter century, these hardliners have been waiting for Washington to go on the offensive against the Islamic Republic. But to engineer such a radical shift, to outmaneuver a CIA and State Department gone soft on the mullahs, as they saw it, they had to introduce the Pentagon and the White House to an alternate intelligence network—much as Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress had done with their clique of Iraq “insiders.” In that pursuit, the Rome back channel was the opening gambit.
As several iran-contra histories and congressional investigations relate, Ghorbanifar has alternately bedeviled and infuriated most every U.S. official who ever dealt with him. Reagan’s own national security adviser, Bud McFarlane, once said that while Ghorbanifar “seemed to have a rather agile and creative mind for intrigue,” he was “corrupt, duplicitous…not to be trusted.” Even Ledeen himself admits to never having figured out what Ghorbanifar was really up to: “Was he, as some have suggested, an infiltrator within the ranks of the émigrés…? Was he simply looking for useful contacts in the hopes of reviving his business career…? Or was he a man with a fairly consistent political agenda, constantly searching for some way to change the policies of the Iranian government…? The very fact that even those who worked quite closely with him wonder about his real identity testifies to the complexity of his personality and the cunning of which he is capable.”
With a persona somewhere between a salesman and a Syriana-style operative, Ghorbanifar operates in a twilight world of exiles, international arms dealers, front companies, passports in multiple names and nationalities, and Swiss bank accounts, all suffused with a kind of desperate con artistry based on the larger dysfunction of the U.S.-Iranian relationship of the past quarter century. For 25 years now, Ghorbanifar has been selling American conservatives on the promise of regime change in Tehran; at the same time, and with the tacit knowledge of his U.S. partners, he has operated as a freelance agent of that regime.
Looking with his enormous mustache, balding pate, and cigar like a wheeler-dealer out of central casting, the 60-year-old Ghorbanifar lives with his family in Nice and maintains a Paris presence through an aging aide who happens to be Iran’s former minister of commerce. In conversation he is cajoling, flattering, with a glint of a sharper edge beneath. “When you come to Paris, we will chat for hours,” he told me. The intelligence he has given his American contacts has been “1 million percent” accurate. For $20 million, he would open doors all over Tehran for his American paymasters. And so on.
During Iran-Contra, Ghorbanifar conveyed Iran’s weapons wish list to the Americans, via Ledeen. In return for sophisticated missiles to be used in Iran’s war against Iraq, he promised, Tehran would intervene to gain the release of U.S. hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon; what’s more, he told his American and Israeli contacts, the weapons sales would bolster regime moderates, in the midst then, he claimed, of a power struggle.
Disgraced in Washington along with his coconspirators, Ghorbanifar faded from view in the late 1980s. His associates in France say that he has continued to set up import-export projects, including a recent deal in Spain to sell peas to Sudan, and that his business of late has involved trips to Iraq. He is also known to have maintained a relationship with a company in Milan called Atlas Trading, according to U.S. intelligence sources. The company, Corriere della Sera journalist and terrorism expert Guido Olimpio told me, is one of several that acquire technology from Europe on behalf of the Iranian regime—marking another instance of Ghorbanifar serving the rulers whom he simultaneously seeks to help overthrow.
To Ghorbanifar, as to his American friends, 9/11 offered a chance for vindication. Ledeen has said that not long after the attacks he got a call from Ghorbanifar offering information—from his brother Ali, who once ran a rug store in Paris—about a threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan; it was that tip that would provide the ostensible reason for the Rome meeting. Also among Ghorbanifar’s intelligence wares was a tip about an alleged Iranian threat to assassinate former president George H.W. Bush, which the Secret Service checked out and deemed useless, as well as a bizarre tale about smugglers getting sick from radiation poisoning after transporting highly enriched uranium from Iraq to Iran back in the 1990s.
But it was one thing for Ghorbanifar to rekindle his rapport with Ledeen; it was another to get the Bush administration to start paying attention. That would require more strategizing—and as Douglas Feith, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, noted in a 2004 letter to the Washington Monthly, the initiative did not come from the Pentagon. “DoD learned from the White House that there were some Iranians who had information about terrorist threats to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and who wanted to defect,” Feith wrote. “It turned out that the Iranians did not want to defect, but they did want to share information directly with the U.S. Government. The Iranians did not, however, want to deal with the CIA.” It was classic Ghorbanifar-Ledeen fare—the hint to the White House, the handoff to the Pentagon, the quickly deflated promises, the end run around the CIA.
Not that the CIA had any desire to be involved. CIA headquarters “was extremely goosey about this,” a former senior agency official knowledgeable about the Rome meeting told me. “You don’t want to be sucked into Iran-Contra. Many of us were around when that happened, and went over a cliff with them. [Then-CIA Director George] Tenet was on the Senate intelligence committee staff when that happened. The answer from Langley was: We don’t want anything to do with this.” When the CIA learned that the Rome meeting was going ahead, its local station chief even fired off a memo to Langley reporting that an unauthorized covert action might be taking place—a memo that would eventually find its way into the files of Senate staffers investigating the matter. The State Department likewise complained to the White House, and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reportedly promised that the channel would be shut down. (Hadley’s office has referred questions about the meeting to the Defense Department, where spokeswoman Lt. Colonel Tracy O’Grady Walsh first told me to email questions, then did not respond.)
Despite the complaints, it appears that the dalliance between U.S. government officials and Ghorbanifar continued beyond the Rome meeting. Rhode would travel to Paris in June 2003 to meet with Ghorbanifar again—a meeting the Pentagon later claimed was “unplanned.” Also in June 2003, three months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a CIA case officer was sent to meet in Baghdad with a Ghorbanifar associate known to U.S. intelligence officials as a London-based fraudster. As Newsday’s Knut Royce—who first broke the story of the Rome meeting in 2003—discovered, Ghorbanifar and his associate claimed to have information about a secret cache of weapons-grade uranium in Iraq that Iranian intelligence had allegedly discovered and stolen part of.
At their tense meeting in Iraq, the CIA officer gave the associate a series of test questions, all of which he flunked. Then the officer asked him to provide a small sample of the uranium. He refused and walked out. “He’s a fabricator,” a former U.S. intelligence official told Royce. “These fabricators were produced by Ghorbanifar. They read headlines, try to cater to your fears, and they draw from real facts.”
Ghorbanifar had better luck with Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who has met with him in Paris and has now published most of his claims in a book, Countdown to Terror, that promises to reveal Iran as “the iron glove behind all our enemies.” Weldon’s main source, a mysterious Iranian whom the congressman code-names “Ali,” is, in fact, Ghorbanifar’s longtime business partner and personal secretary, Fereidoun Mahdavi. (“Dear Curt,” begins one memo from “Ali” that Weldon quotes in the book. “I confirm again a terrorist attack within the United States is planned before the American elections.”) Mahdavi, in turn, told me that the information he gave Weldon came from Ghorbanifar, who appears to have used him as a kind of cutout—a vehicle for laundering intelligence. U.S. intelligence sources confirmed to me that Weldon has identified Mahdavi as his source. Weldon, they say, has also demanded that Mahdavi be put on the U.S. payroll.
“Anything involving Ghorbanifar is always going to cost a lot of money,” former Paris CIA station chief Murray told me after Weldon’s book appeared. “His usual first ploy is to try to set up an expensive front company allegedly to do business with Iran. That means you pay for the company and whatever is sold and Ghorbanifar does the business, keeps the books, and uses the ‘profits’ to fund his nonexistent group in Iran: in short, himself. Some people always fall for it, but nothing ever comes out of it.”
On july 9, 2004, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Jay Rockefeller, stepped to the podium in the Senate Radio and TV Gallery to announce the release of his committee’s first report on the intelligence community’s pre-Iraq-war mistakes. The report tore into the CIA, finding that the intelligence community had consistently “overstated” the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But it stopped short of looking at the most troubling issues raised by those failures, chief among them whether the administration had cherry-picked intelligence that served its agenda; those issues would be addressed in a Phase II report that would not be released until after the presidential election. Among the specific targets of that probe, according to a February 2004 document agreed to by the committee, were the still-mysterious intelligence activities of the Feith operation at the Pentagon. Committee investigators were intrigued by documents they had obtained about the Rome meeting, including the cable mentioning a “sizable financial interest.” Under U.S. law, notes one committee staffer, the committee is to be notified of any government intelligence activities. “So if they are conducting intelligence activities and didn’t inform us, that’s unlawful.”(In a separate effort, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee in 2003 persuaded that committee’s chairman, Rep. Bill Young [R-Fla.], to investigate the activities of Feith’s office and the Ghorbanifar pipeline, but committee Republicans eventually killed the probe.)
Two years later, the Phase II investigation is still barely limping along. Last August, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a close White House ally, delayed the process once more by turning the Feith probe over to the Pentagon’s inspector general for an inquiry with no specific deadline. By last November, Senate Democrats were so frustrated they literally shut down the Senate until Roberts promised to get things moving. Feith departed the Pentagon in the summer of 2005; even before then, his office had stopped responding to any questions from the Senate committee about its activities, including the Rome meeting. “They freaked out at Defense,” the Senate staffer told me. “They said, ‘If you’re starting a criminal probe, we are not going to cooperate.’”
To many who saw the Iran-Contra scandal unfold, it all adds up to a familiar picture. Jonathan Winer worked for a Senate committee led by John Kerry that, in the mid-1980s, probed rumors of the secret arms deals and of the funneling of the profits to Nicaragua’s right-wing Contra rebels. For years as the investigation continued, critics—led by then-congressman Dick Cheney—“called us conspiracy nuts,” says Winer. The committee kept hearing tips about private individuals secretly carrying out the government’s business, he recalls. “officials tell you none of it is true, because there’s no record that any of these things took place. It creates a situation where oversight is practically impossible because official reality is completely misleading, and unofficial reality—which is the truth—does not exist.” In the end, the scandal was uncovered after control of Congress shifted to the Democrats and, simultaneously, more and more evidence was revealed in Iran-Contra-related lawsuits and media investigations.
“What has to happen is, you have to have the press and Congress and the courts all playing their constitutional role for the truth to come out,” Winer says. “If any of those components don’t function, you can wind up with serious problems.”
Comparisons between Ghorbanifar and Chalabi—and there have been a few, from sources including Ledeen himself—are imperfect; for one thing, Ghorbanifar has never shown political ambition. Yet there’s a striking parallel in the way that Pentagon hawks relentlessly promoted both players long after they had been deemed unreliable and possibly treacherous by other agencies, in particular the CIA. The difference is that Chalabi’s fictions have been exposed in a bloody and costly war, while Iran action is only now moving toward the front burner. And as it does, the notion that Ledeen and other Iran hawks have advocated for so long—that Iran’s regime will fall if only the United States will give it a push—is emerging as the main policy trajectory for the Bush administration. In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested an additional $75 million for promoting democracy in Iran; that same month, a team of U.S. government Iran experts traveled to Los Angeles to talk to exiles there. State Department Iran watchers are being “forward deployed” to the Persian Gulf and surrounding region; in Washington, think tanks and exile groups are launching Iran initiatives, all of them jostling for the money and launching whisper campaigns against their competitors in a game whose stakes have suddenly risen. More covert measures are also reportedly under way, including the cultivating of proxies among the Kurds and some of Iran’s ethnic tribes to gather intelligence in the border regions of Iran; and there have been reports that some in the administration believe missile strikes against Iran’s nuclear program would embarrass the regime and lead to a revolution.
For the irrepressible Ledeen, none of this is quite enough. “I was recently asked if I saw signs of action,” Ledeen told me in April. “I see nothing.” Not much later, when the exile community buzzed with stories to the effect that Ledeen was involved in a new back channel to Iran’s rulers, and that Vice President Cheney had authorized the Pentagon to use Ghorbanifar as a source, he shrugged off both rumors. “I can’t imagine it. The Pentagon cannot, so far as I know, do intelligence operations without getting the approval of the CIA. It’s impossible and illegal.” Then he excused himself—he was headed out of town, to Italy, on vacation.
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/20 ... days-rome/
President-Elect Donald Trump Taps Michael Flynn for National Security Adviser
America’s Next Phony War: Will Iran Be Trump’s Iraq?
By Jeff Stein On 2/11/19 at 4:47 PM
The president was upset. Watching TV in his White House residence, his usual morning routine, Donald Trump saw his intelligence chiefs kick the legs out from under yet another of his pet campaigns: Iran. Trump and two of his top national security officials had been suggesting for two years that the Islamic republic was still in pursuit of a nuclear weapon and posed a mortal threat to its neighbors and the West.
But now, Dan Coats, his national intelligence director, was in a Capitol Hill hearing room saying that wasn’t true: Iran was living up to the letter of the deal the U.S. under President Barack Obama and five other nations had negotiated with the Middle Eastern country to dismantle its nuclear program, Coats said. Not only that, added CIA Director Gina Haspel, but Iran could well decide to restart the program if the sanctions that Trump had just reimposed—breaking America’s end of the bargain—weren’t lifted.
Trump took to Twitter. Coats and Haspel were “wrong,” he posted on January 30. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” But he wasn’t through with Iran. In extraordinary remarks with CBS and The New York Times over the next few days, Trump called Tehran “the number one terrorist nation in the world.” He blamed the Islamic republic for “every single” problem he had inherited in the Middle East, a remarkable—and wholly unsupportable—assertion. He called his intelligence chiefs “extremely passive and naïve when it comes to the dangers of Iran.”
FE_Iran_03_956116366 President Donald Trump leaves after announcing his decision on withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, 2018. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
Trump then hinted at escalating covert activities against Iran or even a military confrontation. “I could tell you stories,” he told the Times, “of things that we were going to do to them as recently as a week ago.”
To many observers with long memories, Trump’s comments were an eerie replay of a pivotal moment 17 years earlier, when another Republican president, George W. Bush, labeled Iraq part of an “axis of evil” that was on the threshold of building a weapon that would end in an Iraqi “mushroom cloud” over America. The following year, in 2003, Bush dispatched nearly 200,000 U.S. troops into Iraq in search of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that turned out not to exist. Neither did Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s alleged connection with Al-Qaeda. What followed was a calamitous decade-long occupation that the U.S. and the entire Middle East are still struggling with.
Veteran Middle East hands worry Trump is steering America into yet another misguided regional disaster, this time with Iran. A longtime former top CIA operations officer compared Trump’s misrepresentations about Iran to the lies a succession of presidents told to justify the war in Vietnam. “I don’t want to overblow the Vietnam analogies, but we’re in the process, from what I can see, of lying to ourselves and the American people about Iran,” he tells Newsweek, speaking on terms of anonymity because he retains close ties to the agency. “It’s not gonna attack us tomorrow. It’s not gonna kill us tomorrow. It’s not interested in direct confrontation with the U.S., despite the war of words.”
“The more you push, the more they resist,” says Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “And the more you overtly push and blunder, the more they can attribute every problem they have to you. So there’s a sort of unholy partnership” between the Trump administration and Tehran’s own hawks. The problem, he and other experts worry, is that Trump’s blunders and Iranian overreactions could lead to a shooting war nobody wants.
FE_Iran_Cover Photo Illustration by Gluekit for Newsweek; Rouhani by Michael Gruber/Getty
Trump’s remarks, meanwhile, had former senior national security officials scratching their heads. Some told Newsweek that they’re skeptical of Trump’s hints that dramatic actions against Iran were considered. But close observers say the broad outlines of Trump’s approach have been evident since he took office, when he renounced the nuclear deal. He seemed to be itching to open a new and dangerous chapter in a 40-year-long war of threats and dirty tricks, this one backed by U.S., and particularly pro-Israel, hawks. Freeman calls it “gesture foreign policy.”
“You’re showing your outrage, and you’re making life difficult for the other party,” he tells Newsweek. “It’s not very purposive.”
Trump’s weapons include sanctions, support for anti-Iran exile groups and a free hand for Israel to attack Iranian outposts in Syria. The rest of his aggressive campaign amounts to a shadow war with Iran, covert actions that include social media manipulation of the kind Moscow wielded against the U.S. during the 2016 election.
Officials are happy to talk in general about their campaign to “make sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence,” as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo puts it, but otherwise decline to share details.
Such actions have been cheered by longtime Iran hawks, including three of Trump’s most favored advisers: Pompeo, White House national security adviser John Bolton and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, both close confidants of Kushner, have long lobbied for more aggressive U.S. policies toward Tehran, including direct military attacks on its nuclear, military and intelligence facilities.
The problem, say a wide variety of experts, is that for every escalation the Trump administration and its predecessors have levied on Iran, the regime has responded with its own threats—and violence. And no one, on either side, seems to know where the increasing tempo of attacks and counterattacks is headed.
FE_Iran_04_480665954 Graffiti with anti-U.S. slogans decorates the wall of a building in Tehran on July 14, 2015. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty
Trump tossed another barb and surprised regional allies when, in early February, he announced plans to keep troops in Iraq to monitor Iran. “We’re going to keep watching,” he told CBS, “and we’re going to keep seeing, and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” Iraqi President Barham Salih quickly slapped that down. “Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” he told Trump through the news media. The U.S. is also pressuring electricity-starved Iraq to stop purchasing energy from Iran as part of new sanctions, further fraying relations with Baghdad.
All this just added confusion about what the Trump administration was planning—with potentially dangerous repercussions. “The U.S. has no idea what it wants, and Iran has no way to read Washington with all the mixed messages coming from the Trump administration,” says Ali Alfoneh, an Iran analyst who is a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, funded by Iran’s arch-enemy Saudi Arabia.
Iran has engendered fear and fascination ever since Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile and led a broadly popular Islamic revolution in 1979. The overthrow effectively reversed a CIA-organized coup a quarter-century earlier that had toppled the socialist government of Mohammed Mossadegh on behalf of Anglo-American oil interests. Relations between Washington and Tehran further hardened when Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy and took more than 50 Americans hostage in a crisis that dominated television news coverage for 444 days. From then on, Iran was branded a rogue nation.
President Ronald Reagan designated the regime “a state sponsor of terrorism” and in 1981 threw his weight behind Iraq’s invasion of Iran in a war that lasted nearly a decade and devastated the country. After Khomeini died in 1989, his successor, Ayatollah Ali .Khamenei, expanded Iran’s regional influence, first by backing the Shiite Lebanese resistance to Israel’s 1982 invasion, which led to the creation of the powerful Hezbollah militia that carried out terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. Then came the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which led to Iranian proxies assuming power in Baghdad. In 2011, when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced a popular revolt, Iran and Hezbollah provided critical support. On February 11, to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech to tout the country’s military might. “We have not—and will not—ask for permission from anybody for improving our defensive power,” he said.
FE_Iran_05_686823164 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference on May 22, 2017, in Tehran. Majid Saeedi/Getty
Trump’s vows to contain Iran, which he views as more of a threat to regional and global security than ISIS, feel like a throwback to 1978. But Iran, too, seems to be “trying to turn the clock back to the bad old days of the 1980s and early 1990s,” dispatching hit teams abroad to assassinate exile opposition figures, as Alfoneh wrote last fall for FDD’s Long War Journal, a website run by the pro-Israel Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The Long Arm of Tehran
After opening for business in 1980, Iran’s spy agencies wasted no time liquidating the country’s enemies at home and abroad. One of the early foreign operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, was the killing of an exile opposition leader just outside Washington, D.C. Taking a page from a famous scene in the 1975 spy thriller Three Days of the Condor, the assassin, an American recruit to the revolution who had taken the name Dawud Salahuddin, disguised himself as a letter carrier, rang the target’s doorbell and fatally shot him when he answered.
FE_Iran_06_495460513 Dawud Salahuddin on March 16, 2014, in Tehran. A fugitive from American justice who was recruited for the 1980 assassination of a Shah-era diplomat in Bethesda, Maryland, he has lived in Iran for more than three decades. Scott Peterson/Getty
Tehran continued to pursue its enemies abroad in those early years, ruthlessly mowing down exile officials plotting to overthrow the regime. But after years of relative quietude, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security has again stepped up attacks overseas. In 2015 and again in 2017, it was suspected of liquidating dissidents in the Netherlands.
The tempo and scope of attacks escalated last year, when security agencies across Europe uncovered various murder plots against anti-Iran groups abroad—and one target in particular: the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political front of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK. Once branded a terrorist group by the U.S., the quasi-Marxist Iranian exile organization has long attracted the support of U.S. hawks, but it gained momentum in 2017 with the public embrace of Bolton and Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, who spoke at a rally the MEK arranged in Paris last June.
FE_Iran_09_988410000 Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Free Iran-The Alternative gathering in Paris on June 30, 2018. Siavosh Hosseini/NurPhoto/Getty
According to European authorities, Iran schemed to place a powerful bomb amid the attendees. The plot was discovered when German authorities arrested Assadollah Asadi, an Iranian accredited as a diplomat in Vienna. They said Asadi had delivered 500 grams of the powerful explosive TATP to two Iranian-born Belgians in Antwerp. Another three Iranian-born suspects linked to the plot were arrested in France. Iran’s spokesman at the United Nations denied having anything to do with the plot and suggested it was a so-called false flag operation by the MEK itself or Israel to discredit Iran, but in early February European intelligence officials said they had dug up text messages or chat logs between Asadi and Tehran about the plot.
Iran was reaching into the United States as well. In August, the Justice Department charged two California men—one an Iranian citizen with permanent residence status in the U.S., the other with dual citizenship—on charges of conspiring to spy on and infiltrate the MEK at events in New York and Washington. The FBI also said the men scouted Jewish targets, including Rohr Chabad House, a student center at the University of Chicago. Campus Jewish groups have functioned as support groups for Israel’s hard-line government. But Iran’s main enemy remains the MEK. Some experts say Tehran has established sleeper cells in the U.S., Europe and Persian Gulf countries to assault such targets should war break out.
Iran “has a crazy obsession” with the MEK that is “divorced from reality,” says Bruce Hoffman, a leading longtime terrorism expert at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. It’s “a subversive threat, but so are other groups,” he tells Newsweek. In fact, according to Muhammad Sahimi, an Iran expert at the University of Southern California, the Trump administration has been throwing its support behind a wide array of anti-regime personalities and organizations, from Iranian Kurds to ultra-right student groups to monarchists, personified in Reza Pahlevi, the exiled son of the late shah, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C. But Iran’s prime target seems to be the MEK.
FE_Iran_07_539562040 Mojahedin-e-Khalq women train during the Iran-Iraq War. José Nicolas/Corbis/Getty
It’s somewhat bizarre to Luis Rueda, a retired 28-year CIA veteran with deep Middle East experience. The MEK “has no support inside Iran—everybody views them as nutjobs.” But the Trump administration’s backing of the organization, which is loathed inside Iran because it took Iraq’s side in the bitter Iran-Iraq War, has no doubt given the regime pause. “They’re worried that we, Israel and Saudi Arabia are using the MEK to help destabilize Iran and pumping them money,” Rueda tells Newsweek.
The IRGC was also fingered in what would have been a spectacular bombing in the heart of Washington, D.C. In 2011, the U.S. busted a plot to assassinate then–Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir at the fashionable Café Milano, a plush Georgetown restaurant frequented by prominent U.S. and foreign officials, lobbyists and journalists. Manssor Arbabsiar, a Texan with dual Iranian and U.S. citizenship, was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to organizing the plot at the request of a cousin who worked for the IRGC’s Quds Force, its paramilitary arm. The plot unraveled early on, when Arbabsiar hired a Mexican hit man who turned out to be an undercover informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Milano plot puzzles some. Nuclear talks were in full bloom. A bombing—killing scores of the capital’s elites, as well as al-Jubeir—would have wrecked the negotiations. One party interested in derailing them: hard-liners in the IRGC, which “would like nothing more than to create greater tension and mistrust between the West and Iran,” Rueda says.
Had the White House been able to pin the plot on Iranian leaders, its response “would’ve almost certainly been kinetic”—a military strike, says a senior former Obama administration national security official, asking for anonymity in exchange for discussing such a sensitive issue.
Like America’s other major adversaries, the Iranians engage in stealthy cyberoperations as well, according to the latest annual report on worldwide threats from the Office of National Intelligence. Six years ago, the Justice Department charged last March, hackers connected to the IRGC stole huge amounts of academic data and intellectual property from 144 U.S. universities and 176 universities in 21 other countries in what it called one of the largest state-sponsored hacks ever prosecuted. According to the Rand Corp., an independent research organization with close ties to U.S. defense agencies, Iranian hackers have also penetrated “the unclassified Navy-Marine Corps Internet,” as well as U.S. bank sites and the computers of oil giant Saudi Aramco and Las Vegas Sands, the casino company owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor and pro-Israel hawk.
Then, in late November, the Justice Department indicted two Iranians for a series of ransomware attacks on the computer systems of Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, as well as some 200 other targets, including hospitals and health care agencies. The accused perpetrators remain at large.
Iran denied responsibility for these and the earlier attacks, which may well have been retaliation for the infamous Stuxnet virus, a joint U.S.-Israeli operation that caused thousands of centrifuges to spin out of control at its Natanz nuclear facility beginning around 2009. Since then, Iran has discovered at least three more viruses attacking its systems.
Tit for Tat
Iran’s go-to argument: You started it. To be sure, the CIA has sought to penetrate and destabilize the regime from the first days of the revolution. During the 1979–1980 hostage crisis, the CIA’s late master of disguise, Tony Mendez, slipped into Iran to rescue six American diplomats, in an operation later dramatized in the movie Argo. But what’s known of the agency’s record has mostly been splotched with spectacular failures.
By 1989, “virtually the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus in Iran had been detected and successfully disrupted by the Iranians,” according to a 2007 account by veteran regime-watcher Mahan Abedin, director of the research group Dysart Consulting. “U.S. incompetence—as opposed to Iranian prowess—was the chief factor in the unraveling of these networks.”
Then, between 2009 and 2013, dozens of CIA sources were caught and executed in Iran (and China) due to a lapse in the agency’s clandestine communications with agents, according to Yahoo News. Yet another flap erupted in 2011, when Iran announced the arrest of 12 alleged CIA spies. The disaster was caused by the agency “operating a lower threshold of quality control in terms of agent recruitment and management,” Abedin wrote at the time.
Then there was Operation Merlin, a botched effort during the Clinton administration to provide Iran with a doctored design for a component of a nuclear weapon, ostensibly to sidetrack its nuke program. Instead, it may have accelerated it, according to State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, a 2006 book by former New York Times reporter James Risen.
And so it goes: One side whacking the other with no end in sight. The Trump administration has made ever more bellicose noises about squeezing Iran further, citing the Islamic republic’s deployment of rockets and the Quds Force in Syria, its covert support of fellow-Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen and its recent ballistic missile tests. On January 13, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Bolton had asked the Pentagon to draw up a list of options for attacking Iran. “It definitely rattled people,” a former senior administration told the Journal. The same day, Axios reported that in 2017, “Trump repeatedly asked his national security team for plans to blow up Iranian ‘fast boats’ in the Persian Gulf.” The revelations drew condemnation from the foreign policy establishment, but the leaks may well have been deliberate, to rattle Iran further.
FE_Iran_02_1090893128 CIA Director Gina Haspel and Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, arrive to testify at a Senate intelligence committee hearing on January 29. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
Trump should keep up the pressure, says Norman Roule, a 34-year CIA veteran, who helmed U.S. intelligence operations and policies on Iran from 2008 to his retirement in 2017. The West’s response has been “pretty tepid,” he maintains. Tightening sanctions on Iran is good, he tells Newsweek, and he applauds Germany’s recent decision to revoke landing rights for Iran’s Mahan Air on suspicion that the airline has been used for terrorist activities. But, he argues, the U.S. and its allies must go further. “Although military action should always be the last option,” he says, “Tehran must understand that its actions have consequences.”
A military strike doesn’t seem in the cards, at least for now—unless Trump wants another rupture with the NATO alliance. While the allies have voiced deep annoyance with Iranian plots, they are simultaneously struggling to hold the nuclear accord together without the United States, going so far as to set up an alternative payment system to evade the new U.S. sanctions and trade with Tehran. In the face of threats from the Trump administration, its prospects are uncertain.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo spent much of January barnstorming across the Middle East to drum up support for expelling “every last Iranian boot” from Syria (no matter that his boss had ordered a U.S. troop withdrawal that will dilute Washington’s leverage against Tehran there). Pompeo also promoted a mid-February conference he organized in Poland dedicated to “making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.” European objections to Pompeo’s hawkish message forced him to tone down the goals of the gathering.
But the administration is not just talking. The U.S. maintains eavesdropping facilities in Iraqi Kurdistan and has been running agents into Iran from there and Turkey, sources tell Newsweek. Seasoned observers also suspect that U.S. intelligence had a hand in the failure of two Iranian satellite missile launches early last year.
Freeman, who also served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Clinton years, notes that since U.S. officials have virtually bragged about sabotaging North Korea’s missile program, “one has to assume they’re applying that to Iran.” He also suspects the administration of using exile groups to conduct guerrilla operations inside Iran, as the U.S. did in the early years after the Chinese and Cuban revolutions—without success.
Such operations are “stupid,” he says. The CIA rank-and-file aren’t very enthusiastic about them either, an intelligence source tells Newsweek. “The feeling inside the organization is that Iran is a bad actor, but we shouldn’t be close to war with these guys. It’s not worth going to war.”
A U.S. attack would chill some of Washington’s Persian Gulf allies, prompt condemnation from the U.N. Security Council and even rally Iranian dissidents to the flag, says Emile Nakhleh, one of the CIA’s top Middle East experts before retiring in 2006. “Invading Iran without considering the regional realities,” he wrote in an analysis published by The Cipher Brief, a website close to the CIA, “is the height of insanity.”
Iran just does not pose an existential threat to America, says the former top CIA operations officer. Even its ruthless operations abroad to eliminate its foes are defensive, he points out, not directed at the U.S.—whereas ISIS exhorts recruits to murder Americans and their allies wherever and however possible.
He blames Israel for hyping the nuclear issue. “Every year, one or another senior Israeli security official would trundle off to Washington and say, ‘Iran is one year away from having a nuclear weapon.’ And they kept doing this, until finally somebody said, ‘You’ve been saying this for 10 fucking years, dude. How come they don’t have a nuclear weapon?’”
He lets out a frustrated sigh, weary from so many mistaken and indecisive conflicts across the region. With no good end in sight with Iran, he fears that Israel will draw the Trump administration into its conflict with the country. “They are a potential clandestine threat to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and a conventional threat to Israel,” whose nuclear arsenal could obliterate Iran, he says. “But they couldn’t get a battalion across the Gulf if their life depended on it.”
Try this, he says: “Put yourselves in the Iranians’ shoes and look at it how they look at things.” Otherwise, we may well blunder into open conflict. “There’s the potential for misreading on either side,” he says. “There’s gonna be an accident—somebody’s gonna do something that is not intended to start a war, but it will start a war."
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