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Tomgram: Bob Dreyfuss, Could Covert War With Iran Become Overt Before November 3rd?

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History's a joke, right? We know that from our president who creates laughable moments of history daily -- as when, reading from a script recently, he pronounced America's famed Yosemite National Park "Yo-Semite." In that context, let me bring up one of his favorite countries: I-Run. Its modern history, if anybody remembered anymore, would leave us all chuckling grimly. If you're thinking about alternate futures (and you happened to remember the past), you might wonder what that country would have been like if, in 1953, the CIA and British intelligence hadn't overthrown an elected secular democratic government there led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh at the very moment when he wanted to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as BP). They then reinstalled the autocratic young Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in power along with his terrible secret police, the Savak.

What, you might wonder, would that nation have been like had it remained a secular democracy, had there been no need for masses of Iranians in revolt more than a quarter of a century later to pave the way for an exiled fundamentalist ayatollah named Khomeini to take power from the shah and turn Iran into an Islamic fundamentalist country? I mean, honestly, a democratic, secular Iran probably wouldn't have been the country served up on a platter to Donald Trump as he came into office spouting anti-Islamic trash. And whatever it might have become, it probably wouldn't have been the possible target for an "October surprise" either -- as TomDispatch regular Bob Dreyfuss points out today -- back in October 1980 or, potentially, in October 2020.

All these years since September 11, 2001, administrations in Washington have run a war on terror in response to the destruction created by 19 al-Qaeda hijackers, but we Americans so easily forget the terror we've visited on others in our years as a great imperial power. Think about that today, as you consider the possibility that the Iran that is, not the one that might have been, could become the target before November 3rd of far worse than the drone assassination of one of its leaders. Tom

October Surprise
Will War with Iran Be Trump's Election Eve Shocker?
By Bob Dreyfuss

Was Donald Trump's January 3rd drone assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani the first step in turning the simmering Cold War between the United States and Iran into a hot war in the weeks before an American presidential election? Of course, there's no way to know, but behind by double digits in most national polls and flanked by ultra-hawkish Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump is a notoriously impetuous and erratic figure. In recent weeks, for instance, he didn't hesitate to dispatch federal paramilitary forces to American cities run by Democratic mayors and his administration also seems to have launched a series of covert actions against Tehran that look increasingly overt and have Iran watchers concerned about whether an October surprise could be in the cards.

Much of that concern arises from the fact that, across Iran, things have been blowing up or catching fire in ways that have seemed both mysterious and threatening. Early last month, for instance, a suspicious explosion at an Iranian nuclear research facility at Natanz, which is also the site of its centrifuge production, briefly grabbed the headlines. Whether the site was severely damaged by a bomb smuggled into the building or some kind of airstrike remains unknown. "A Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel planted a bomb in a building where advanced centrifuges were being developed," reported the New York Times. Similar fiery events have been plaguing the country for weeks. On June 26th, for instance, there was "a huge explosion in the area of a major Iranian military and weapons development base east of Tehran." On July 15th, seven ships caught fire at an Iranian shipyard. Other mysterious fires and explosions have hit industrial facilities, a power plant, a missile production factory, a medical complex, a petrochemical plant, and other sites as well.

"Some officials say that a joint American-Israeli strategy is evolving -- some might argue regressing -- to a series of short-of-war clandestine strikes," concluded another report in the Times.

Some of this sabotage has been conducted against the backdrop of a two-year-old "very aggressive" CIA action plan to engage in offensive cyber attacks against that country. As a Yahoo! News investigative report put it: "The Central Intelligence Agency has conducted a series of covert cyber operations against Iran and other targets since winning a secret victory in 2018 when President Trump signed what amounts to a sweeping authorization for such activities, according to former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter... The finding has made it easier for the CIA to damage adversaries' critical infrastructure, such as petrochemical plants."

Meanwhile, on July 23rd, two U.S. fighter jets buzzed an Iranian civilian airliner in Syrian airspace, causing its pilot to swerve and drop altitude suddenly, injuring a number of the plane's passengers.

For many in Iran, the drone assassination of Soleimani -- and the campaign of sabotage that followed -- has amounted to a virtual declaration of war. The equivalent to the Iranian major general's presidentially ordered murder, according to some analysts, would have been Iran assassinating Secretary of State Pompeo or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, although such analogies actually understate Soleimani's stature in the Iranian firmament.

In its aftermath, Iran largely held its fire, its only response being a limited, telegraphed strike at a pair of American military bases in Iraq. If Soleimani's murder was intended to draw Iran into a tit-for-tat military escalation in an election year, it failed. So perhaps the U.S. and Israel designed the drumbeat of attacks against critical Iranian targets this summer as escalating provocations meant to goad Iran into retaliating in ways that might provide an excuse for a far larger U.S. response.

Such a conflict-to-come would be unlikely to involve U.S. ground forces against a nation several times larger and more powerful than Iraq. Instead, it would perhaps involve a sustained campaign of airstrikes against dozens of Iranian air defense installations and other military targets, along with the widespread network of facilities that the United States has identified as being part of that country's nuclear research program.

The "Art" of the Deal in 2020

In addition to military pressure and fierce sanctions against the Iranian economy, Washington has been cynically trying to take advantage of the fact that Iran, already in a weakened state, has been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Those American sanctions have, for instance, made it far harder for that country to get the economic support and medical and humanitarian supplies it so desperately needs, given its soaring death count.

According to a report by the European Leadership Network,

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("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 (more...)

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