In the January 16 New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the Pentagon has begun updating its plans for an invasion of Iran. Hersh reported that, â€œStrategists at the headquarters of the US Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to revise the military’s war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran.â€
From the time of his exposure of the May Lai massacre during the Vietnam War to his exposure last year of the systematic torture by US soldiers of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison, Hersh has been a reliable source of inside information from dissident US military and intelligence officials.
In his New Yorker article, which mainly detailed the Bush administration’s decision to transfer control of â€œcovert operationsâ€ from the CIA to the Pentagon, Hersh reported: â€œUpdating the [Iran invasion] plan makes sense, whether or not the administration intends to act, because the geopolitics of the region have changed dramatically in the last three years. Previously, an American invasion force would have had to enter Iran by sea, by way of the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman; now troops could move in on the ground, from Afghanistan or Iraq. Commando units and other assets could be introduced through new bases in the Central Asian republics.â€
Hersh added that in interviews with past and present US intelligence and military officials, â€œI was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iranâ€. This was indirectly confirmed four days after Hersh’s article, when US Vice-President Dick Cheney declared in a radio interview: â€œYou look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the listâ€, to which he added: â€œThey have a fairly robust new nuclear programâ€ and â€œIran is a noted sponsor of terrorâ€.
Since January 2002, when George Bush declared that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an â€œaxis of evilâ€, Washington has claimed that the Shiite regime in Iran, like Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, has a secret nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, US officials have repeatedly implied that once Tehran has such weapons of mass destruction it would hand them over to terrorists to use against Israel and/or the US.
While top Bush administration officials will not yet make such a claim in public, their media supporters have. The February 11 Toronto Star, for example carried an article by Richard Gwyn in which he asserted that the â€œpotential nuclear threat that Iran poses is real and it is exceedingly frightening. The true source of the threat isn’t Iran itself, though. It’s Al Qaeda-type terrorists. Once Tehran has acquired the bomb, the Iran government would be tempted to pass it to terrorists.â€
In his February 2 State of the Union speech, Bush accused Iran of being a â€œthe primary state sponsor of terror in the worldâ€.
However, as with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Bush administration has been unable to provide any credible evidence to back up such claims.
Demonising Iran Washington’s allegation that Iran is a sponsor of â€œterrorist organisationsâ€ rests upon Tehran’s public support for the Hezbollah (Party of God) movement in Lebanon. But Hezbollah is a legal political party that now has representation in the Lebanese parliament, and has for the last decade has restricted its attacks to Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon and disputed border regions of Syria.
Washington’s claim that Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power reactors are a cover for a secret nuclear weapons program has been refuted by extensive inspections carried out by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last October, the IAEA’s director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, told the Egyptian daily Asharq al Awsat that â€œIran has no nuclear weapons programâ€.
The existence of the reactors does mean that Iran has a greater capacity to produce nuclear weapons than Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime did in Iraq, but everything IAEA has found suggests that Iranâ€™s nuclear program is restricted to nuclear energy, which might be environmentally threatening, but is perfectly legal under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Following his presentation to the November 16 meeting of the IAEA board of governors of a 32-page report to this effect, Washington began a behind-the-scenes campaign to oust ElBaradei.
The January 8 Seattle Post-Intelligencer speculated that Washington’s goal was to replace ElBaradei with someone â€œmore to the Bush administration’s liking â€” one harder on Iranâ€. According to the February 12 London Sunday Telegraph, Washington is seeking to gain support for a no-confidence motion in ElBaradei, possibly at the next IAEA board of governors’ meeting, scheduled for February 28. â€œIt cannot be good for an organisation when the biggest contributor and its director-general are at odds with each otherâ€, the paper was told by an anonymous â€œsenior Bush administration officialâ€.
Air strikes? Some commentators in the corporate press have raised the possibility of a US military strike against Iran’s nuclear power facilities. In the December 4 Financial Times, columnist Philip Coggan argued that a US military attack on Iran â€œdoes not mean an invasion. The US could mount air strikes to try to eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities or it could encourage Israel to do so. Twenty years ago, Israel attacked a nuclear power plant in Iraq.â€
However, any such isolated military attacks would only make it more difficult for Washington to achieve its strategic political goal of getting UN Security Council cover for the restoration of a pro-US regime in oil-rich Iran through an Iraq-style invasion and occupation. As earlier with Iraq, a key step on this road is getting the UN Security Council to condemn Tehran for alleged violations of its â€œinternational obligationsâ€ and to impose crippling international economic sanctions.
While Washington’s WMD lie campaign against Iran â€” uncritically parroted by the US corporate media â€” has convinced a significant minority of US voters to support a US invasion of Iran, without Security Council demonisation of Iran, it is unlikely Washington will succeed in convincing a majority of US voters to support an invasion.
According to a December survey conducted by the Washington-based Opinion Research Corporation, 42% of US residents would support the US invading Iran to stop its nuclear program, while 47% are opposed and 11% are undecided. However, 80% believed the US needs â€œthe rest of the worldâ€ on its side before undertaking such action.
So far, Washingtonâ€™s three European Union allies â€” Britain, France and Germany â€” are not playing ball. On the eve of last November’s IAEA meeting, Tehran agreed to temporarily suspend its uranium enrichment activities and to engage in negotiations with the EU Three on its nuclear power program on the promise by the latter not to back Washington’s moves to refer Iran’s case to the UN Security Council.
In its February 12 report of US moves to oust ElBaradei, the London Sunday Telegraph reported that US officials were bitterly annoyed by this move. It quoted the anonymous â€œsenior Bush administration officialâ€ who spoke to the paper complaining: â€œWe get all this criticism for being unilateralist American cowboys, but it is the US that wants to take this to the Security Council. Who’s been opposing that? Britain, France and Germany â€” two permanent members of the Security Council and one that wants to be. So who’s in favour of using the UN system and who’s against it?â€
Iran is undoubtedly Washington’s next strategic target for Iraq-style â€œregime changeâ€ and, as Hersh reported, the Pentagon is planning to invade Iran. But Washington still has a considerable way to go before it has created sufficient political momentum for such an invasion.
Furthermore, conquering Iran â€” a country with almost four times the territorial area and three times the population size of Iraq â€” would require a much larger occupation force than the US has been able to deploy in Iraq. And with the US military strained to breaking point waging a counterinsurgency war in Iraq, Washington at present simply does not have the available ground troops for an invasion of Iran.
Thus when US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told reporters in London on February 4 that a US military attack on Iran was â€œsimply not on the agenda at this pointâ€, it was a rare expression of truth. It’s not politically or militarily feasible â€œat this pointâ€.