2012 has brought a flood of war talk and aggressive preparations for war on Iran. Indeed, war looms more ominously week by week.
The U.S., Israel, and the European Union have intensified their economic, political, and diplomatic assault on Iran. They claim it's needed to force Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program, which they say is actually aimed at giving Iran the ability to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is peaceful and is simply for generating nuclear power.
Sanctions have been imposed aimed at crippling its economy and devastating the lives of millions of Iranians. Several Iranian scientists have been assassinated in the streets of Tehran. U.S. drones illegally fly over Iran, violating its airspace. U.S. carrier strike task forces have twice this year sailed within a few miles of Iran's coast, carrying missiles and dozens of war planes which analysts call "larger and more capable than the entire air force of many American allies." Every day some provocative new claim is uttered by some politician or pundit in the U.S. or Israel claims that Iran is a grave and immediate nuclear threat or is hatching world-wide terror plots. In these ways, the U.S. and its allies are already waging forms of warfare on Iran.
Meanwhile, they're openly discussing waging a military war. Foreign Affairs--the premier U.S. imperialist policy journal--has published at least two essays calling for military action: "Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option" (January/February 2012) and "Why Obama Should Take Out Iran's Nuclear Program" (November 9, 2011). On January 25, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy piece, "Will Israel Attack Iran?", laying out the Israeli case for war. Its author, Ronen Bergman, concluded: "After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012." The Washington Post reported Defense Secretary "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June." ("Is Israel preparing to attack Iran?" David Ignatius, February 2, 2012)
Throughout, there have been reports of extremely tense debates within the U.S. ruling class and between the Obama administration and the Israeli government about how to deal with Iran, with one high-level delegation after another shuttling between Washington, DC and Israel's capital Tel Aviv. On Sunday, March 4, President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu--who will reportedly push him to issue an ultimatum to Iran--either halt your nuclear enrichment program entirely or face attack. All this is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing upheaval in the Middle East, in particular in Syria, where Western military intervention is being intensely discussed.
Faced with a campaign to destabilize, crush, or overthrow its rule, the Islamic Republic of Iran has responded with counter-moves of its own. Iran's military has staged exercises and missile tests, and Iranian generals have stated it would be easy for them to close the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil supply flows. Other Iranian military officials warn that Iran could strike first if it felt an attack was imminent. Iran's leader Ayatollah Khamenei has declared Iran will refuse to bow to U.S. pressure to end its nuclear program and will strike back against any attacks.
This U.S.-Israel initiated dynamic of threat and counter-threat, move and counter-move has created an escalating trajectory of confrontation and very possibly war in the not distant future.
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A Narrative Built on Lies, Half-Truths, Innuendo, and Distortions
A narrative is being created--with each spin of the news cycle--that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The New York Times routinely reports that "Western politicians believe Iran is building a nuclear weapons capability," or that "Iran's nuclear program has a military objective." In his interview with NBC's Matt Lauer broadcast during the Super Bowl, President Obama stated: "Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program." He then threatened, "Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be very concerned, and we are as well."
This narrative is built on lies, half-truths, innuendos, and distortions. In reality, top Western politicians know there's no proof that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and that there is no definitive evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing a consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, stated: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." This estimate continues to be upheld as valid, a basic fact that is hardly ever even mentioned in U.S. media coverage or official statements. Nor was this disproved by the oft-cited November 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Officially, Obama and his cabinet also state--at least for the moment--that Iran doesn't have a bomb and hasn't decided to pursue one. But nonetheless, the dominant public perception is that Iran is doing something illegal and probably working on a nuclear weapon.
So this fabricated "certainty" that Iran is building nuclear weapons then becomes grist for even wilder threats and fear-mongering. After Israel claimed that Iran was developing missiles with a 6,000-mile range, capable of hitting the U.S. (without a shred of proof and in contradiction to everything known about Iranian capabilities), Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich warned voters in Ohio: "You think about an Iranian nuclear weapon. You think about the dangers, to Cleveland, or to Columbus, or to Cincinnati, or to New York." Gingrich said, "Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros. And it's 300,000 dead. Maybe a half-million wounded. This is a real danger." ("Gingrich Warns of Iranian Nuclear Attack," New York Times,February 8, 2012)
The specter of Iranian terror attacks has also been added to this nuclear nightmare stew. On January 31, national intelligence director James Clapper testified to Congress that "Some Iranian officials--probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei--have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States." Recent bomb attacks on Israeli embassies in Georgia, India, and Thailand were blamed on Iran. The day after the explosions in Georgia and India, an opinion piece by the head of the New York Police Department's intelligence analysis unit in the Wall Street Journal argued that "As the West's conflict with Iran over its nuclear program heats up, New York City--with its large Jewish population--becomes an increasingly attractive target." ("The Iranian Threat to New York City," Mitchell D. Silber, February 14, 2012)
No evidence has been produced for these charges. Meanwhile, there is evidence of Israeli and perhaps U.S. involvement in the January 11 assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist (the fifth targeted, the fourth killed in the last several years). An Obama official told NBC News that Israel was supplying the reactionary Iranian group M.E.K. with money, training, and weapons in order to carry out these assassinations.
Background to War Threats: The Clashing Interests of Two Historically Outmoded Forces
Weaving together these distortions, half-truths, speculations, and outright lies paints a picture of Iran as a reckless violator of its legal agreements and international law, a rogue state preventing a peaceful resolution of differences, instead escalating the conflict by refusing to agree to the reasonable demands of the U.S. and its allies.
Most fundamentally, this narrative is designed to obscure the actual nature of the regimes that are clashing--the U.S. and Israel versus Iran--what interests they're fighting for and what the clash is really all about, as well as what's driving the dynamic of confrontation and possibly war. Put another way, if Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. and Israel know this, why are they threatening war?
In a nutshell, the U.S., Britain, and France represent the most militarily, politically, and economically dominant coalition of predatory capitalist-imperialist powers on earth, which together possess thousands of nuclear weapons. Israel is their heavily armed surrogate and enforcer in the Middle East with an estimated 75-200 nukes. Iran, on the other hand, is a much less powerful Third World capitalist state without nuclear weapons. The U.S. can project power thousands of miles from its shores and has nearly 800 military bases around the world; Iran's Navy rarely ventures beyond the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea area and has no foreign military bases. The U.S. spends 100 times as much on its military as Iran, and has over 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons. Its population is over three times as large as Iran's; its economy is nearly 18 times larger and much more technologically advanced than Iran's.
At bottom, this is a battle by the U.S. and its allies to maintain their dominance over the Middle East and the world. This need is rooted in the core functioning and power of their entire system, which is based on the global exploitation of labor, control and access to key resources and markets, and the military-political control of vast swaths of the globe. Controlling the Middle East has been a key part of the entire structure of U.S. global dominance for the past 60-plus years because together with Central Asia it contains roughly 80 percent of the world's proven energy reserves. Control of this energy spigot is a key lever on the entire global economy--and on all the other powers that depend on oil and natural gas--from allies in Europe and Japan to rivals Russia and China. The region is a crossroads for global trade and a critical military-strategic pivot.
In short, the U.S., Israel, Britain, and France are battling for empire and hegemony--not for justice, liberation, or a nuclear-free world.
Why the Islamic Republic Is a Problem for the Empire
Why is Iran such a problem for them? The Islamic Republic of Iran is a reactionary theocracy that may or may not be seeking the ability to build a nuclear weapon--nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous in anyone's hands!
However, it is definitely not seeking to break out of the framework of or fundamentally challenge the system of global capitalism-imperialism. It is attempting to maintain its hold on power in Iran, expand its influence in the Middle East, and develop relationships with a range of world powers such as Russia, China, Pakistan, and India. Iran is a relatively strong and coherent state with enormous oil wealth. It has strengthened Islamist trends across the region that are clashing with the U.S. It poses a military, political, and ideological challenge and in some ways is an alternative to the whole structure of U.S. control of the Middle East--from the settler-colonial state of Israel to the U.S.-backed network of torturers, tyrants, and potentates from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States--on which U.S. control rests.
Add to this the fact that Iran has historically been a huge "prize" for rival empires. It sits on the world's second largest reserve of natural gas and third largest oil reserve at a time of growing energy competition. It's located at the crossroads of two key energy routes--the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea--and two key regions--Central Asia and the Middle East.
Shortly after the Islamic Republic took power in 1979 with the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah (who was a key ally in the region), the U.S. broke and never restored diplomatic relations and has never recognized the Islamic regime, but instead sought to contain, undermine, even overthrow it. In the 1980s the U.S. did this by instigating the eight-year-long bloodbath known as the Iran-Iraq War. During the 1990s, the U.S. attempted to strangle Iran through sanctions and "containment." As soon as the so-called war on terror was launched in 2001, Iran was named part of the "axis of evil" and slated for regime change via escalating sanctions, covert actions, and threats of war.
What the U.S.-Israeli Nuclear Position Reveals About Their Actual Motives
The U.S.-Israeli position on Iran's nuclear program only makes sense within this context. This crisis has brought more fully into public view U.S.-Israeli insistence that Iran not even or ever have nuclear capacity. The word "capacity" is often used in the media as if it means having a nuclear weapon. But what the U.S. and Israel mean by nuclear "capacity" or "capability" is actually the technological ability to enrich uranium, even for nuclear power plants and for medical purposes, despite the fact that they are given that right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The answer is because even the possibility that Iran could build a bomb, even if it never did, could change the regional balance of power including the military balance of power--and that's the core issue driving this clash. "Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call 'strategic ambiguity,'" The New York Times acknowledge in a February 24 analysis. "Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions." ("U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb," James Risen and Mark Mazzetti)
So the fear is NOT that Iran will simply build a bomb and wipe Israel off the map. The imperialists' fear is that Iran's influence in the region--which has already broadened in certain ways due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, spiking oil prices, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and the rise of new powers globally--will grow further if it is perceived as militarily stronger and less vulnerable to U.S. and/or Israeli attack. This could erode the U.S. grip on the region, including its ability with Israel to attack anyone, anytime, anywhere--including Iran itself.
Nuclear weapons in anyone's hands are a terrible thing. But the U.S. and Israel are not threatening Iran to eliminate nuclear weapons--they're threatening Iran to maintain their monopoly of nuclear weapons and military dominance of the region.
This is why negotiations have failed and why the U.S. refused Iran's 2003 offer to negotiate all outstanding issues in return for recognizing the IRI and its interests in the region, and calling off the dogs of pressure, intervention, and bullying. The U.S. negotiating position to date has been akin to the godfather attempting to force a smaller rival to accept an offer "they can't refuse": that Iran essentially forfeit its right to enrich uranium.
To this point, Iran's clerical rulers have felt this is not an offer they can accept given the fissures in the Iranian ruling class as well as the mass hatred of their oppressive rule (particularly after the uprising following the June 2009 elections). To do so in their view would amount to a public capitulation which could undercut their strength and legitimacy while not ending U.S. hostility, thus threatening to unravel their rule.
The U.S. refusal so far to make any major agreement with the Islamic Republic has also been shaped by the U.S. refusal to do anything which could strengthen the Iranian regime--because its strategic objective all along has been bringing down the regime.
Why Is the Confrontation Accelerating Now?
This confrontation between the "red line" interests of Israel and the U.S. on one side and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other have also accelerated in the past year because of the profound changes that have shaken the region. This is a key reason the current rise in tensions is much, much more serious than periods of increased U.S.-Iranian tensions in recent decades.
The two key regional developments are first, the U.S. failures--in many senses defeats--in Iraq and Afghanistan, and second, the Arab upheaval. The first has meant that the U.S. has failed in creating reliable bases in the region from which to solidify its dominance, project its power, and, as a part of this, strangle Iran; instead, Iran has been strengthened by these U.S. failures. The second has meant that the region's political terrain is shifting rapidly, and in unpredictable ways--with the potential to seriously shake U.S. influence and control and increase Iran's influence. Iran's insistence on continuing its nuclear program, and the failure of previous U.S.-led efforts to topple or shake the regime, are intensifying these concerns.
Right now Syria, a close ally of Iran, is the focal point. Thousands of Syrians have risen up against the hated Assad regime, which has killed over 6,000 Syrians in attempting to put down the opposition, which is a mixed bag of various political forces. The U.S. and other powers are now attempting to take advantage and take control of this revolt to take down the Assad regime in order to strengthen their position in the region and to weaken Iran.
Efraim Halevel, former director of Israel's intelligence service Mossad, writes in the New York Times: "The public debate in America and Israel these days is focused obsessively on whether to attack Iran in order to halt its nuclear weapons ambitions; hardly any attention is being paid to how events in Syria could result in a strategic debacle for the Iranian government. Iran's foothold in Syria enables the mullahs in Tehran to pursue their reckless and violent regional policies--and its presence there must be ended." ("Iran's Achilles' Heel," February 7, 2012)
British author and journalist Patrick Seale called the battle over Syria "a struggle between the United States, on the one hand, and its allies, and its opponents like Russia and China ... for regional dominance, who is to be top dog.... [T]his as a concerted attack, assault, on not only Syria, but Iran, as well. You see, Iran, Syria and their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, that trio, a sort of Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis, has in recent years been the main obstacle to American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. And the attempt now is to bring that axis down.... Now, [U.S.] ally, Israel, has also suffered recently, in recent years. It tried to crush Hezbollah in 2006, when it went into Lebanon. It tried to crush Hamas in Gaza when it invaded Gaza in 2008, '09. It feels that the combination of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has made a dent in its military supremacy in the region. It's seeking to restore its overall dominance. Now, both these powers, United States and Israel, its ally, believe, I think, that overthrowing the regimes in Tehran and Damascus will allow them to restore their supremacy and come back on top. So that's what we're witnessing. It's a struggle for regional supremacy, regional dominance...." ("A Struggle for Regional Supremacy: Syria Conflict Escalates as World Powers Debate Assad's Future," Democracy Now!, February 7, 2012)
Rising Tensions and a Dangerous Trajectory
War is not a foregone conclusion, and there are indications that the Obama administration is resisting Israel's demand for an immediate ultimatum to Iran. (See "Is Israel Driving the Threat of War?"). Nor is the point that any of the parties simply want war. But the current moves by the U.S. and Israel are ominously similar to the moves by the U.S. leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear enrichment impacts and intensifies U.S.-Israeli concerns about its regional influence (including because of the possibility that Iran's nuclear facilities could become more difficult to destroy). For Iran, the threats against it, as well as the dangers the regional upheaval pose for it, increases its perceived need not to back down on the nuclear issue.
So tensions are rising, and the U.S., Israel, and Iran remain on a collision course, which is very difficult for any to back away from. And there are powerful forces within the ruling class demanding the U.S. not back away. Last week, 12 senators warned Obama in a letter not to engage in negotiations with Tehran unless and until it halted its enrichment program first, and a recent resolution submitted in the Senate demanded the U.S. not accept any policy of "containing" a nuclear Iran, or even allow it to enrich uranium on its own soil. It was in effect, a road map for war. One of its sponsors, Senator Joe Lieberman, stated it was intended "to say clearly and resolutely to Iran: You have only two choices--peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear program or expect a military strike to end that program."
Martin Indyk, hardline imperialist strategist and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, writes that events are "spinning out of control." "As the Obama administration ramps up the sanctions pressure on Iran to accept meaningful curbs on its nuclear program, it is following a strategy of coercive diplomacy that has a fundamental design flaw. Consequently, President Obama is in danger of achieving the opposite of his intention: Iran may well decide that rather than negotiate a compromise, its best choice is actually to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, with fateful consequences for all." Indyk concludes, "Sadly, the dynamics of the current situation appear to make conflict inevitable. We are now engaged in a three-way game of chicken in which for Khamenei, Netanyahu and even Obama, physical or political survival makes blinking more dangerous than confrontation...." ("Iran Spinning Out of Control," New York Times, February 29, 2012)
Nothing Good Can Come from U.S. or Israeli Aggression Against Iran--No War! No Sanctions! No Assassinations! No Intervention!
Iran is capable of exporting terror and it is not impossible that it is pursuing nukes. But there is no evidence of either. And whether or not Iran is working to develop the ability to make a nuclear weapon, this does not justify any U.S. or Israeli military action, which would be a towering crime as well as an illegal and illegitimate war of aggression--a war crime--under the Nuremberg Principles of 1950.
It bears repeating and emphasis: The U.S. and Israel aren't attacking Iran's nuclear program to end nuclear weapons; they're doing it to preserve their regional monopoly on the freedom to threaten the people with these weapons of mass destruction (and whenever U.S. rulers say that "all options are on the table," that's exactly what they're doing). It's the U.S. and Israel--not Iran--who are the main sources of violence in the Middle East.
The U.S. condemns Iran for being a repressive theocracy. It is a repressive theocracy, but the U.S. isn't assaulting Iran to liberate Iranians. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. All had repressive regimes. Then the U.S. invaded--and made things WORSE by causing enormous death and destruction, imposing new forms of oppression, and fueling religious fundamentalism!
Just what is it the U.S. and Israel are really defending and seeking to preserve? They're working to preserve U.S. domination over this whole region in service of a global empire of exploitation imposed and maintained by massive violence. And if there's a debate among them, it's over how to best pursue that reactionary and criminal aim.
The rulers of the U.S. and Israel realize any attack on Iran could have unpredictable consequences. But they are committed, as they repeatedly state, to keep "all options on the table" when it comes to preserving their global dominance.