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Tomgram: Juan Cole, Israel's Gift to Iran's Hardliners

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Check out Pepe Escobar's "Infinite War" at Asia Times . It's a review of my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's (published next week). Then, if you're in the mood, consider pre-ordering it by clicking here. And while you're at it, Timothy MacBain, for his latest TomCast audio interview, has produced a wonderful stroll down memory lane, a "best of" selection from the growing TD audio archives. It can be heard by clicking here or downloaded to your iPod by clicking here. And remember, if you go to the iTunes store via the "podcast" icon at the main screen of this site -- scroll down looking to the right -- or via the above link, and purchase anything (the TomCasts themselves are free), we get a small cut of the proceeds! Tom]

On May 24th, a piece headlined "U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast" appeared on the front page of the New York Times. It clearly involved a leak of a key, previously unknown document, though not as far as a reader could tell by someone unfriendly to its policy implications; nor did the Obama administration make a fuss about it. In fact, despite its front-paging, it vanished from the news with next to no commentary or follow up, and few expressions of surprise.

Too bad. It should have been attended to. According to the Times' Mark Mazzetti, in September 2009 Centcom commander General David Petraeus signed a "secret directive" expanding the use of U.S. Special Operations forces throughout the Greater Middle East "and beyond" -- "to build networks that could "penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy' al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to "prepare the environment' for future attacks by American or local military forces..."

Among the most striking, if least discussed, aspects of this leaked story were the brief summaries of Centcom's military policy towards Iran where, we were told, the seven-page directive "appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country's nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive." The report -- too ho-hum for most Americans to concern themselves with -- was surely read with care in Tehran, for it offered a genuine gift to the present Iranian regime. How useful to its hardline leaders to know that the U.S. military has already inserted, or is considering inserting, Special Forces teams into their country to "identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive."

And there was more. The piece quoted an unnamed "Pentagon official with knowledge of General Petraeus's order" saying, "The Defense Department can't be caught flat-footed" -- in the event, that is, "that President Obama ever authorizes a strike [on Iran]."

In fact, this sort of thing is little better than a poison pill for that country's dissident Green Movement, reinforcing the claims Iranian hardliners find it so convenient to make -- that some reformist elements are proxies for foreigners, even paving the way for future U.S. military action. From a purely practical point of view, this new policy is delusional, whether ordered only by General Petraeus or by President Obama himself, since -- despite raging fears on the left in the U.S. -- the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is functionally incapable of launching a military operation against Iranian nuclear facilities, no less the Iranian fundamentalist government, while it has two wars on its hands. It is, however, remarkably typical of the blustering and blundering in Washington that has left Iranian dissidents saying, as one did in the Los Angeles Times recently, "Just leave us alone, please."

Juan Cole, who runs Informed Comment, the blog that offers the single best running commentary on the Middle East available and whose most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World, considers other ways in which, on the first anniversary of the fraudulent Iranian elections and the rise of the Green Movement, both U.S. and Israeli policy moves have continued to backfire in Iran. Tom

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Iran's Green Movement: One Year Later
How Israel's Gaza Blockade and Washington's Sanctions Policy Helped Keep the Hardliners in Power

By Juan Cole

Iran's Green Movement is one year old this Sunday, the anniversary of its first massive demonstrations in the streets of Tehran. Greeted with great hope in much of the world, a year later it's weaker, the country is more repressive, and its hardliners are in a far stronger position -- and some of their success can be credited to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sanctions hawks in the Obama administration.

If, in the past year, those hardliners successfully faced down major challenges within Iranian society and abroad, it was only in part thanks to the regime's skill at repression and sidestepping international pressure. Above all, the ayatollahs benefited from Israeli intransigence and American hypocrisy on nuclear disarmament in the Middle East.

Iran's case against Israel was bolstered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's continued enthusiasm for the Gaza blockade, and by Tel Aviv's recent arrogant dismissal of a conference of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories, which called on Israel to join a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Nor has President Obama's push for stronger sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council hurt them.

And then, on Memorial Day in the United States, Israel's Likud government handed Tehran its greatest recent propaganda victory by sending its commandos against a peace flotilla in international waters and so landing its men, guns blazing, on the deck of the USS Sanctions. Yesterday's vote at the U.N. Security Council on punishing Iran produced a weak, much watered-down resolution targeting 40 companies, which lacked the all-important imprimatur of unanimity, insofar as Turkey and Brazil voted "no" and Lebanon abstained. There was no mention of an oil or gasoline boycott, and the language of the resolution did not even seem to make the new sanctions obligatory. It was at best a pyrrhic victory for those hawks who had pressed for "crippling" sanctions, and likely to be counterproductive rather than effective in ending Iran's nuclear enrichment program. How we got here is a long, winding, sordid tale of the triumph of macho posturing over patient and effective policymaking.

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Suppressing the Green Movement

From last summer through last winter, the hardliners of the Islamic Republic of Iran were powerfully challenged by reformists, who charged that the June 12, 2009, presidential election had been marked by extensive fraud. Street protests were so large, crowds so enthusiastic, and the opposition so steadfast that it seemed as if Iran were on the brink of a significant change in its way of doing business, possibly even internationally. The opposition -- the most massive since the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 -- was dubbed the Green Movement, because green is the color of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, among whom losing presidential candidate Mirhossein Moussavi is counted. Although some movement supporters were secularists, many were religious, and so disarmingly capable of deploying the religious slogans and symbols of the Islamic Republic against the regime itself.

Where the regime put emphasis on the distant Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Levant, Green Movement activists chanted (during "Jerusalem Day" last September), "Not Gaza, not Lebanon. I die only for Iran." They took their cue from candidate Moussavi, who said he "liked" Palestine but thought waving its flag in Iran excessive. Moussavi likewise rejected Obama administration insinuations that his movement's stance on Iran's nuclear enrichment program was indistinguishable from that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He emphasized instead that he not only did not want a nuclear weapon for Iran, but understood international concerns about such a prospect. He seemed to suggest that, were he to come to power, he would be far more cooperative with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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