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Hersh: “The Administration’s Plan for Iran”

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Seymour Hersh’s new article in the New Yorker examines the speculation over the Bush administration’s plans for Iran.

This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq.

Hersh outlines three reasons for the change in strategy from a broad bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear energy facilities to the “surgical” strikes on the Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities—followed by “short, sharp incursions” into Iran—involving: The lack of public support; intelligence estimates that Iran is still five years away from the potential to build a nuclear weapon; and a growing recognition that Iran is emerging as a regional power.

As mentioned by Marjorie Cohn, the administrations has plans to justify the strikes as an act of self-defense.

At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.”

…[Zbigniew] Brzezinski said. “This time, unlike the attack in Iraq, we’re going to play the victim. The name of our game seems to be to get the Iranians to overplay their hand.

Clarifying some of the US charges of Iranian made weapons in Iraq, Hersh speaks with Iran expert, Dr. Vali Nasr.

“Between 2003 and 2006, the Iranians thought they were closest to the United States on the issue of Iraq.” The Iraqi Shia religious leadership encouraged Shiites to avoid confrontation with American soldiers and to participate in elections—believing that a one-man, one-vote election process could only result in a Shia-dominated government. Initially, the insurgency was mainly Sunni, especially Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Nasr told me that Iran’s policy since 2003 has been to provide funding, arms, and aid to several Shiite factions—including some in Maliki’s coalition. The problem, Nasr said, is that “once you put the arms on the ground you cannot control how they’re used later.”

…“Last year, over one million Iranians travelled to Iraq on pilgrimages, and there is more than a billion dollars a year in trading between the two countries. But the Americans act as if every Iranian inside Iraq were there to import weapons.”

Former CIA adviser and UN weapons inspector, David Kay casts doubts on the administration’s charges, arguing that in a war zone like Iraq, there is a large black market for weapons from various sources.

[Kay’s] inspection team was astonished, in the aftermath of both Iraq wars, by “the huge amounts of arms” it found circulating among civilians and military personnel throughout the country. He recalled seeing stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators, as well as charges that had been recovered from unexploded American cluster bombs.

…“When the White House started its anti-Iran campaign, six months ago, I thought it was all craziness. Now it does look like there is some selective smuggling by Iran, but much of it has been in response to American pressure and American threats—more a ‘shot across the bow’ sort of thing, to let Washington know that it was not going to get away with its threats so freely. Iran is not giving the Iraqis the good stuff—the anti-aircraft missiles that can shoot down American planes and its advanced anti-tank weapons.”

According to a “Senior European diplomat,” the Iranians plan to retaliate asymmetrically by launching a bombing campaign in Europe and Latin America and employing the aid of Hezbollah. However, Hersh points to the lack of solid intelligence gathered about Iran.

A former high-level C.I.A. official said that the intelligence about who is doing what inside Iran “is so thin that nobody even wants his name on it. This is the problem.”

According to Hersh, the proposition of a strike on Iran has been getting support from some in Europe, including the newly elected office of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Hersh cites “shame over the failure of the Royal Navy to protect the sailors and Royal Marines who were seized by Iran,” as a potential motivation for the British.

However, “reasonable people” in the UK are asking for more impetus.

“The British may want to do it to get even, but the more reasonable people are saying, ‘Let’s do it if the Iranians stage a cross-border attack inside Iraq.’ It’s got to be ten dead American soldiers and four burned trucks.”

The article also outlines major differences between the IAEA and Washington, citing ElBaradei’s frustration in dealing with the Bush administration.

“The Iranians are years away from making a bomb, as ElBaradei has said all along. Running three thousand centrifuges does not make a bomb.” The diplomat added, referring to hawks in the Bush Administration, “They don’t like ElBaradei, because they are in a state of denial. And now their negotiating policy has failed, and Iran is still enriching uranium and still making progress.”

…“The White House’s claims were all a pack of lies, and Mohamed is dismissive of those lies,” the diplomat said.

Hans Blix, a former head of the I.A.E.A., questioned the Bush Administration’s commitment to diplomacy. “There are important cards that Washington could play; instead, they have three aircraft carriers sitting in the Persian Gulf,” he said. Speaking of Iran’s role in Iraq, Blix added, “My impression is that the United States has been trying to push up the accusations against Iran as a basis for a possible attack—as an excuse for jumping on them.”

Irancove @ September 30, 2007

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