Chris Nelson, publisher of the “Nelson Report”
As I stated on Christopher Lydon’s NPR show, Radio Open Source, tonight — one of the take-aways from my recent Israel trip is that Israeli national security bureaucrats — diplomats and generals — have far greater confidence that there are numerous potential solutions to the growing Iran crisis short of bombing them in an invasive, hot attack.
One of the issues that came up in many of the national security related discussions I had was that Israel has maintained and cultivated a very strong human intelligence network inside Iran. The two nations were close strategic allies 25 years ago — and continue, in many behind-the-scenes ways, to communicate and possibly even to coordinate certain actions. It doesn’t mean that Israel is ready to appease Iran’s regional ambitions, but it does mean that I have witnessed far more worries about Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s anti-Holocaust and anti-Israel rhetoric in the U.S. than I did in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
Many serious Iran watchers in Israel think that chances are relatively high that “internal developments” will emerge in Iran to constrain Ahmadinejad’s “political options and political life.”
Chris Nelson, who writes the must-read Nelson Report echoed somewhat this Israel diffidence about U.S. stridency towards Iran in a fascinating excerpt of today’s report:
IRAN FLEXING. . .recall the 1980 Tanker Wars
SUMMARY: former UN arms controller Hans Blix is trying to infuse some adult supervision into the increasingly hot US-Iran nuclear standoff, with word that even if Iran proceeds along current lines, a workable nuclear weapon is 3 to 5 years away. . .assuming the US does not use military means to stop the program short of the risk of a successful bomb.
Keep Blix’s assessment in mind, when trying to assess the current, mutual threat phase, as each side jockeys for leverage.
The Brits, for example, seem to be warning that they think President Bush IS prepared to attack Iran unilaterally, if he can’t get the UN to go along. . .thus opening up so many risk scenarios it isn’t clear where to begin. (More on this, below)
In the past few days, Teheran has bragged about a 220 mph torpedo, a missile that apparently Superman couldn’t track, a flying-boat invisible to all but God, and no doubt other super-weapons ready and waiting to hit Gulf Oil shipping, US troops and bases, and Israel. . .not to mention Turkey, Jordan, and anyone else deemed helpful to the US in any way. (In other words, the 1980’s “Tanker Wars” on steroids…back to this in a moment.)
Surely not by coincidence, the London Sunday Telegraph had a huge “leak” of a secret briefing scheduled for yesterday on what the Bush Administration is planning in the way of military action IF diplomacy fails (text presented in full, below…it is a chilling survey of the situation and perceived alternatives…).
All this comes in the context of the UN Security Council giving Iran until the end of this month to come into compliance with the IAEA. If Iran compromises, then the current crisis dies down, you should pardon the expression, until the next time. If Iran continues on its present path. . .which many analysts now predict, given the policy of China and Russia to oppose a UN sanctions regime. . .then look to May for the start of a summer of rising tensions.
If Iran won’t back down, the US can be expected to seek a “coalition of the willing” to try sanctions, and appears willing to let this process play itself out over the early to mid summer, stage by stage. So what Moscow and Beijing have to decide is whether they, by blocking sanctions, inadvertently reduce US and European choices to surrender, or war.
It may be that Russia and China cannot bring themselves to believe that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, having so grossly miscalculated once, on Iraq, would do it again, on Iran. . .and so that in reality, Russia and China have the leverage of logic on their side.
The thrust of the Telegraph article is that the Brits think President Bush operates on an entirely different logic set, and that Bush is, indeed, prepared to use military means against Iran….but presumably not until bombs and missiles are the last stop before a fully realized Iranian nuclear weapon.
A hint of the sort of emotionalism the President is subject to may be seen in a full page ad in the N.Y. Times this morning (prominently paid for by The American Jewish Committee, oblivious to how it reinforces various heinous conspiracy theories) with an overlay map implying that future Iranian nuclear missiles would be able to strike deep into China, not just anywhere in Europe and the Middle East. . .and so, presumably, “proving” that an Iranian nuclear program must be stopped at all costs.
But if Blix is right about Iran. . .as he was for the past decade on Iraq. . .then the international community actually has more time to work on the Iranian crisis than much of today’s rhetoric and scare stories would indicate. Unless. . .
Unless Bush decides that it’s better to strike Iranian assets sooner, rather then letting Teheran build up its capacity to wreak conventional havoc across the Middle East. . .or nuclear havoc, as per the ad in todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Times.
If one has a limited imagination, there IS a rational case for striking sooner, rather than risk being “too late”, and some of our sources are willing to speculate that President Bush has been told (or WILL be told) that the US can easily sink the Iranian navy in a day or two, and also effectively counter Iranian anti-ship missiles aimed at oil tankers in the Gulf, as in the ’80’s.
So among the questions Bush might face, within his White House bubble, is whether the US could effectively contain Iranian missile and truck bombs against targets in Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Jordan. . .and truck and car bombs in Europe and the United States. So far, the suicide bomb has not been used here at home, in shopping centers, subway stations, sports stadiums, et al.
Is Bush capable of concluding that the US would escape such retribution in the event of any sort of attack on Iran? That’s the billion….no, trillion dollar question.
In the meantime, the Telegraph “leak” seems to think that US air strikes might be supplemented by the Israeli Air Force. Our sources have consistently maintained that Israel has repeatedly warned the US that it would NOT attack Iran, due to Israel’s vulnerability to missiles and terrorism. We reported at the time, two years ago, then-Prime Minister Sharon standing in the Oval Office to warn Bush precisely on this point.
One expert who watches the Israeli situation adds to the impediments, arguing that the Israeli Air Force actually lacks the “reach” due to re-fueling requirements for over-flying Iranian air space. . .presuming that the US would either tolerate a unilateral Israeli attack, or a cooperative attack, given the implications of Iranian counter-attacks within Iraq, if not elsewhere.
Concludes a friend who genuinely worries that Bush might well chose war, “I am pessimistic about our preparedness for the Iranian response and pattern of escalation that is liable to follow. The whole thing could spiral out of control very fast. It’s one thing to fight Saddam. It’s another thing to tangle with Iran in any kind of protracted way that is really threatening to their regime, but to suppose that our military bases, government buildings, transportation systems, churches and synagogues…et al…are immune from harm.”
Nelson’s stuff is sooo good and, in my view, punches all the right buttons.
Here is the link to the Sunday Telegraph story he mentions titled “Government in Secret Talks About Strike Against Iran.”
But just a friendly note to all of those out there planning some hostile action against Iran — either as a summer fiasco or just as a back-up plan — pleae read the Iran chapter in James Risen’s State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.
While Risen has been winning awards and accolades for breaking the story on warrantless wiretaps, his revealing two key CIA mistakes on Iran is also incredibly important.
Risen reports that America botched the leaking of true Russian designs for a nuclear warhead trigger device that had embedded in it some flaws which America hoped might lead Iran’s nuclear program down a frustrating and incorrect path. The Russian defector the U.S. used to transmit these plans to the Iranian delegation to the IAEA actually informed the Iranians that there were mistakes in the blueprints.
Secondly, in an episode that is hardly believable but still rings true, a CIA headquarters officer accidentally sent an electronic communication to ALL of our human assets in Iran, those working for the CIA and those collaborating, in a manner such that someone on the other end could discern who all the others in the network were.
Iran has subsequently “rolled up” our network and shut down America’s eyes and ears inside Iran.
Add to this the Valerie Plame affair — in which it has been reported that she too was working to gain intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. Of course, that operation has been spiked.
And does anyone remember that it was Ahmed Chalabi’s team who informed Iran that the U.S. had broken its codes. It was the Iraqi National Congress’s intel chief who turned out to be an Iranian spy. Chalabi’s operation worked out of Douglas Feith’s legal office before Feith moved into DoD. And Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress’s lawyer was former CIA Director R. James Woolsey.
Yes, those putting war plans together for Iran think carefully. We have botched so much already; don’t repeat errors.
And in this case, TALK TO THE ISRAELIS — the ones responsible for national security there. I found their sensibilities on Iran to be remarkably well informed, nuanced, confident, and sensible.
Nearly everyone I spoke to in Israel who ranged in political sympathies from the Likud right to Maretz left thought that the tone of the AIPAC conference had been too shrill and that Israel thought it wrong-headed and too impulsive to be engaged in saber-rattling with Iran at this stage.
In the past, I’ve been occasionally critical of Israeli influence over U.S. decisionmakers when I felt that American and Israeli national security interests were not as convergent in some respective case as some argued.
However, in this instance on Iran, Israel’s national security thinkers and diplomats are on the side of logic — and it is in American national interests to hear the Israeli position and consider the roots of their surprising position.
— Steve Clemons
Update: Two things. First, regarding the American Jewish Committee full-page ad yesterday in the New York Times advocating that the U.S. attack Iran. My point is that there is a serious gap — a major gap — between senior defense operatives, intellectuals and political personalities in Israel with the leading voices in the Jewish diaspora.
Secondly, I do not agree with Chris Nelson’s line that the reason for Israel’s reluctance to want to attack Iran has much to do with their geographic proximity to Iranian missiles. My point is that Israel has substantial intelligence resources inside Iran telling it that “there is time” to work on sensible solutions. They do not see Iran’s nuclear program as an imminent threat. They also believe that there are trends inside Iran that may “deal with” Ahmadenijad.
I think that Israel is making a lot of sense here — and if we are flying blind and they are not, we should learn from Israel what we can before we trip into a second major global catastrophe that may itself undermine what’s left of America’s position in the world.
— Steve Clemons