In recent weeks, Iran has been accused of belligerence, assassination and the pursuit of nuclear weapons. From the perspective of an objective observer, however, the situation must seem inverted: it is we who appear to be guilty of these three accusations. And when the three coalesce into a pattern, the pattern seems to be of war. And so the question arises, amongst all the words of war with Iran, have we missed the possibility that we are at war already? There are many kinds of wars, and, by definition, we don’t usually notice that we’re in the midst of the covert ones until quite a lot later.
Both the U.S. and Britain have expressed concern over a newly belligerent Iranian posture. In my own country of Canada, a major right wing paper referred to “a more aggressive and dangerous Iran”. Israel’s foreign minister just called Iran “the most dangerous threat to world order”. But who is acting belligerent, aggressive and dangerous? Who is acting war like?
On December 4, Iran announced that she had shot down an unmanned U.S. reconnaissance drone in eastern Iran. The U.S. admitted she had lost a drone, but said that it had been lost, not in Iran, but while flying a mission in western Afghanistan. And while it is in doubt whether the Iranians really shot it down or whether it went down on its own due to malfunction, it is no longer in doubt that the U.S. drone was deep inside Iranian airspace, 140 miles from the Afghan border. The Wall Street Journal has reported on three heroic American plans to either recover or destroy the drone. However, fearing that the action would be seen as an overt act of war, and hoping initially that the drone wouldn’t be discovered by the Iranians since it had crashed in such a remote region, the Americans abandoned the plan.
Not only was the U.S. drone caught violating Iranian airspace, but, on December 7, an Associated Press article said that U.S. officials said that “the drone had spied on Iran for years from a U.S. air base in Afghanistan”. How’s that for belligerence? Imagine if Iran had been caught flying spy planes over the U.S. or Israel?
But not only Iranian airspace has been violated. Seymour Hersh reported as far back as 2006 that American “clandestine activities” were taking place inside Iran. Hersh said that “teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups”. So American soldiers inside Iran have also violated her land borders. Imagine Iranian combat troops being found inside the U.S. or Israel.
And not only has America violated Iran’s borders and airspace, there is the strong possibility that she has committed sabotage in Iran’s cyberspace. Last year the Stuxnet computer virus infected Iran’s centrifuges and sent them spinning wildly out of control. It then played back preciously recorded tapes of normal operations which plant operators watched unsuspectingly while the centrifuges literally tore themselves apart. The New York Times reported in January of this year that a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials believe that the Stuxnet virus is a joint U.S./Israel project. The Times says that, according to intelligence and military experts, the Dimona nuclear complex in Israel was the testing ground for the virus. There are nuclear centrifuges in Dimona that are virtually identical to Iran’s, making it a perfect model to test the effectiveness of the virus. Stuxnet seems to have wiped out about 20% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, and The Times says clues suggest that the virus was designed as an American/Israeli sabotage program. Imagine an Iranian cyber attack crippling American or Israeli nuclear facilities. Would we consider that an act of war?
Land, air and cyberspace. And how about water? Though barely discussed in the media, Israel has a submarine permanently deployed in the Persian Gulf that is equipped with nuclear cruise missiles capable of reaching any target in Iran. Imagine that off the coast of U.S.
And Western belligerence continues. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have been soliciting support for military action on Iran while, according to Haaretz, leading ministers publically hint that Israel could attack Iran. At the same time, the Israeli military test fired a long range ballistic missile for the first time in three years. The test was overseen by Barak himself. The Israeli air force has been conducting comprehensive drills on long range attacks that, according to Haaretz, include most of the aviation components that are likely to take part in future long-range attacking missions.
And stepping up into her usual supporting role, Britain took advantage of this time to announce that she was stepping up preparations for a military strike on Iran. According to the British paper The Guardian, the U.K. is preparing to deploy ships and submarines with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The British Minister of Defense says that the U.S. may “fast forward” plans for targeted missile strikes on Iranian facilities and that Britain is preparing to help. Suggesting a need for speed, the British are concerned that Iran is moving equipment into fortified bunkers that are well protected beneath the mountains.
Perhaps this concern explains another largely ignored story. On September 23, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration had quietly supplied Israel with bunker-busting bombs capable of destroying buried targets. Once upon a time, the U.S. had refused to deliver such bombs to Israel because, amongst other reasons, doing so could “be viewed as having tacitly endorsed an attack on Iran”.
And not to be outdone by Israeli and British threats, on October 29, Obama announced that following the reduction in troops in Iraq, the States would bolster its presence in the region with an eye on the threat of a—here it is again–belligerent Iran. That build up will include a ground combat presence in Kuwait as well as sending more naval ships to the region and expanding military ties with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, The United Arab Emirate and Oman.
Spying missions violating Iranian airspace, sabotage attacks on Iranian cyberspace, combat troops on Iranian soil, nuclear armed submarines off Iran’s shores, and threats of attack. The obvious conclusion? Iran is belligerent, aggressive, dangerous and war like. Or, perhaps, is it possible that we are, covertly, at war with Iran?
Iran’s newly belligerent posture is best demonstrated, western governments say, by Iran’s recent assassination attempt on U.S. soil of the Saudi ambassador to America. The only problem, according to the consensus of experts, is that Iran didn’t do it.
It is very hard to see what Iran would have to gain by assassinating the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil other than American strikes, as in past cases of countries who plotted against U.S. targets. As an Iran analyst with the Rand Corporation has said, the plot “doesn’t seem to serve Iran’s interests in any conceivable way . . . [but] would put all of Iran’s objectives and strategies at risk”. Several experts on the Iranian Quds forces that have been accused of the assassination attempt have pointed out that it is unlikely and uncharacteristic of them to rely on an untrained and untested used cars salesman and a non-Islamic criminal drug gang to carry out such a sensitive operation. Former CIA Middle East officer Robert Baer says the plot does not “measure up to Iran’s unsurpassed skill in conducting assassinations”. Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar agrees that this plot is inconsistent with Iran’s “caution and careful calculation”. Iranian specialist Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service says “nothing about this adds up” and that the plot coming from high levels of the Iran leadership “defies credulity”. Gary Sick, an Iranian expert at Columbia University, says the plot “departs from all known Iranian policies and procedures”. Colonel Lang, a former top Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency called the claim that Iran was responsible “trash”.
But the most decisive criticism of the accusation against Iran’s belligerent attempted assassination on American soil comes from Gareth Porter. The U.S. claims that the hard evidence of Iranian guilt comes from a twenty-one page FBI deposition. But Porter has shown that a close reading of the deposition reveals a total lack of independent evidence that Manssor Arbabsiar was sent by the Quds force to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. He says that “The most suspicious aspect of the administration’s case, in fact, is the complete absence of any direct quote from Arbabsiar suggesting interest in, much less advocacy of, assassinating the Saudi ambassador or carrying out other attacks in a series of meetings with the DEA informant between June 23 and July 14”.
But, once again, to an objective observer, the accusation may seem inverted. Though it is highly unlikely that Iran attempted an assassination on U.S. soil, there is the possibility that we have been engaged in assassinations on Iranian soil. In 2008, Seymour Hersh reported that “United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of ‘high-value targets’ in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed”.
More recently, in the past year there have been at least three assassinations and one attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. In January 2010, Massoud Ali-Mohammadi was killed when a remote control bomb planted on a motorcycle detonated next to his car. According to Haaretz, Iran’s foreign minister says the evidence points to American and Israeli agents. He claims that “In initial investigations, there are some indications” pointing to Israel, U.S. “and their mercenaries in Iran”.
In November 2010, Majid Shahriyari, was killed when motorcycle riders attached a magnetized bomb to his car. On the same day, assassins tried to kill Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani in the same way, but failed when he noticed the suspicious motorcyclists and jumped out of his car. Also a scientist, Abbasi-Davani was named head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Association a few months later. He says that British spies shadowed him to gather information ahead of the failed assassination attempt.
Most recently, this July, the Iranian physicist and nuclear scientist Darioush Rezainejad was killed when two gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on him while he was entering his garage. His wife was also wounded. This was the fourth consecutive assassination or attempted assassination employing motorcyclists. Rezainejad worked for the defense department as well as having links to Iran’s nuclear program. According to the IAEA, he played a key role in Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has blamed the United States, Britain and Israel for his assassination. And “a source in Israel’s intelligence community” told Germany’s Der Spiegal that Mossad was behind the assassination of Rezainejad. However, when I asked Seymour Hersh if there was any evidence that the U.S., Britain or Israel was behind the assassinations, he told me that, despite the claims, many of which come from Israeli sources, there is no empirical evidence.
A fifth important player in the Iranian nuclear game was killed in November when a massive explosion at a military arms depot killed seventeen and wounded fifteen more. The arms depot turned out to be the missile base that houses Iran’s long range Shahab missiles. Included in the dead was Major General Hassan Moqqadam, a pioneer in Iranian missile development. An earlier explosion occurred at a Shahab missile base in October of 2010, following an earlier 2007 explosion of a missile base. Time Magazine revealed on November 13 that a western intelligence source says that Israel is behind the latest explosion. The source said that Mossad did it and that other sabotage is being planned and will be done.
So, Iranian nuclear scientists and a key player in Iran’s missile program have been assassinated. One survivor says British spies followed him gathering information ahead of the attempt in one case. The Iranian foreign minister claims initial investigation points to American and Israeli agents in a second case. In a third, a source in Israeli intelligence tells Der Spiegal that Mossad was behind the assassination. And in a fourth, a western intelligence source tells Time that Mossad was behind an explosive act of sabotage. There is not proof here, but a highly suggestive pattern.
Someone has to be doing it. And it is interesting that, with all these acts of sabotage and assassination going on inside Iran, Iran recently arrested twelve CIA spies who she says were targeting Iran’s nuclear program. Iran says that these spies were cooperating with Mossad. The announcement followed one by Lebanon days earlier that they, too, had captured a ring of CIA spies. Despite initial denials by the U.S., the arrests turn out to be true. The U.S. embassy in Beirut officially denied the report at first, but current and former officials have since confirmed the arrests.
The third accusation in the past few weeks is the reports of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) report of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Despite media presentations of the report as final confirmation of the worst fears of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the data in the report leads to much more modest conclusions.
Robert Kelley, a retired IAEA director, summed up what many experts have said when he complained that he could find very little new in the report. Ploughshares Fund president and member of Clinton’s International Security Advisory Board, Joseph Cirincione, echoed Kelley’s words and added that he was briefed on most of this material by the IAEA years ago. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also calls the information in the report “nothing new”. Seymour Hersh says that a senior IAEA official told him that he “was underwhelmed by the information”. And the Russians seem to agree. Russia’s foreign minister said, “According to our initial evaluations, there is no fundamentally new information in the report. . . . We are talking about a compilation of known facts, given a politicized tone”.
Robert Kelley says that hundreds of pages of information in the report come from a single source: a laptop computer that surfaced in 2007. Not only is this news not new, it is old news that was never substantiated. At the time of its discovery, it was largely dismissed by the IAEA as a likely forgery.
As for the specifics of the report, much of the excitement reported by the media came from proof that a Russian nuclear weapons scientist was working with the Iranians, work on a detonator, and computer modeling research. But Gareth Porter has shown that the scientist, Vyacheslav Danilenko, is not even a nuclear weapons scientist. He is an expert on the production of nanodiamonds by explosives: a field Iran has focused on. Danilenko was legitimately in Iran to help in the development of Iran’s nanodiamond industry. Porter says that the IAEA would have realized this fact if it had ever bothered to check the information provided by an unnamed member state.
As for the detonator, the IAEA admits that Iran informed it in 2008 that it had developed it for conventional military and civilian purposes. USC chemical engineering professor Muhammed Sahimi says that the IAEA report admits that there are conventional applications for the detonator.
Sahimi also says that the IAEA admits that the design and computer modeling research could be for conventional-warhead missiles.
Seymour Hersh also points out that the report admits that its on-site camera inspection process of Iran’s enrichment facilities “continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material”. This, Hersh says, means that all of Iran’s known enriched uranium is accounted for. None of it is being diverted to a secret bomb. Hersh adds that, of that know enriched uranium, most is enriched to a low 3.8%–an amount appropriate for energy—with a small amount being enriched to 20%–and amount appropriate for medical use. He says that the U.S. has incredible surveillance of everything in Iran but has found no evidence of a facility to build a bomb. It does not exist, Hersh says, calling this “simply a fact”.
And Iran is only enriching uranium to 20% because the U.S. has forced her to. Attempting to find legal ways to procure 20% enriched uranium for medical isotopes for imaging and treating cancer through the IAEA, Iran has twice agreed to send her 3.5% uranium out of the country to be enriched to 20% and sent back—once in negotiations with the States and once with Brazil and Turkey. Each time the U.S. has ignored the offer. Ahmadinejad recently reiterated the offer, telling the Washington Post that “We don’t want to produce uranium of 20 percent. Because they did not give us that uranium, we had to make our own investments. If they start to give us that uranium today, we will stop production”.
So if the information in the latest IAEA report is no different than the information in the previous ones, why the different conclusion? The answer may be that the difference is not in the data, but in the person analyzing it. Hence, Hersh calls the report a political document, not a scientific report. According to an article by V. Noah Gimbel in Foreign Policy in Focus, the U.S. won the support of the new IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano, in its campaign against Iran in exchange for supporting his candidacy. Hersh uses stronger words than “support”. He says the U.S. got him in, pushed him in. And they have the documentation to prove it. A U.S. embassy cable titled “Amono Ready for Prime Time” includes the damning lines: “Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77, which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program”.
So, if there is neither evidence that Iran is enriching uranium to the 90% needed for a bomb, nor evidence that Iran is building a bomb, why push her to enrich and claim she is determined to build one? One possibility is supplied by history. The most recent historical case is the false claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. But it is not the only one. America has falsified evidence and pushed her enemies towards weapons before in order to legitimize covert wars. CIA chief Allen Dulles once urged Britain not to provide arms for Cuba, admitting that his “main reason was that this might lead the Cubans to ask for Soviet . . . arms”. Noam Chomsky says that Dulles said that this “would have a tremendous effect,” allowing the U.S. to portray Cuba as a security threat.
But even this example was not the first. A decade earlier in Guatemala, setting up one of the first covert U.S. coups of a democratically elected president, the U.S. began supplying arms to President Arbenz’ opponents in exile, then stopped supplying Arbenz and pressured Denmark, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina and Switzerland to back out of arms deals with Guatemala. According to CIA expert John Prados the CIA then established a phony Soviet bloc arms shipment to Guatemala and convinced the world that Guatemala had received arms from a Soviet submarine. Guatemala then turned to Czechoslovakia for arms.
A similar push into the arms of the Soviets occurred in the Congo. All four of these cases ended in wars: the first overtly, the other three covertly.
None of this proves that we are already at war with Iran. But the pattern of spying missions violating Iranian airspace, sabotage attacks on Iranian cyberspace, combat troops on Iranian soil, nuclear armed submarines off Iran’s shores, threats of attack, exposed spy rings, assassinations of nuclear scientists, sabotage of missile bases, pressure to enrich uranium and exaggerated claims of the pursuit of nuclear weapons raise the possibility that, covertly, we are at war with Iran.