Sunday, November 19, 2006


Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?

The New Yorker
Posted 2006-11-20

Here is a summary:

"If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.The White House’s concern was not that the Democrats would cut off funds for the war in Iraq but that future legislation would prohibit it from financing operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government, to keep it from getting the bomb. “They’re afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, à la Nicaragua in the Contra war,” a former senior intelligence official told me.

Critical decisions will be made in the next few months, the former C.I.A. official said. “Bush has followed Cheney’s advice for six years, and the story line will be: ‘Will he continue to choose Cheney over his father?’ We’ll know soon.

The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice”—the Secretary of State—“a chance to perform.” The combination of Scowcroft, Baker, and the senior Bush working together is, the general added, “tough enough to take on Cheney. One guy can’t do it.”

Bombing Iran and expecting the Iranian public “to rise up” and overthrow the government, as some in the White House believe, Armitage added, “is a fool’s errand.”

“Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there”—in the White House—“and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell.

But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran’s weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. However, on the question of whether Gates would actively stand up to Cheney, the former official said, after a pause, “I don’t know.”

In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as “part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran. ”The government consultant said that Israel is giving the Kurdish group “equipment and training.” The group has also been given “a list of targets inside Iran of interest to the U.S.”

But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. “It’s a classic case of ‘failure forward,’” a Pentagon consultant said. “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.” The government consultant told me, “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.”

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative, argued that the Administration had little choice. “Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” he wrote.

But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”

Additional data have been gathered, intelligence sources told me, by high-tech (and highly classified) radioactivity-detection devices that clandestine American and Israeli agents placed near suspected nuclear-weapons facilities inside Iran in the past year or so. No significant amounts of radioactivity were found. But some in the White House, including in Cheney’s office, had made just such an assumption—that “the lack of evidence means they must have it,” the former official said.

As the C.I.A.’s assessment was making its way through the government, late this summer, current and former military officers and consultants told me, a new element suddenly emerged: intelligence from Israeli spies operating inside Iran claimed that Iran has developed and tested a trigger device for a nuclear bomb. And yet, he said, the report was being used by White House hawks within the Administration to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” But the Pentagon consultant insisted that, in this case, “the Israeli intelligence is apparently very strong.”

Earlier this month, the allegations about Parchin reëmerged when Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest newspaper, reported that recent satellite imagery showed new “massive construction” at Parchin, suggesting an expansion of underground tunnels and chambers. The newspaper sharply criticized the I.A.E.A.’s inspection process and its director, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, for his insistence on “using very neutral wording for his findings and his conclusions.”

In late October, Olmert appointed Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of the Knesset, to serve as Deputy Defense Minister. Sneh, who served previously in that position under Ehud Barak, has for years insisted that action be taken to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. In an interview this month with the Jerusalem Post, Sneh expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of diplomacy or international sanctions in curbing Iran: The danger isn’t as much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction.

The Pentagon consultant told me that, while there may be pressure from the Israelis, “they won’t do anything on their own without our green light.” That assurance, he said, “comes from the Cheney shop. It’s Cheney himself who is saying, ‘We’re not going to leave you high and dry, but don’t go without us.’ ” A senior European diplomat agreed: “For Israel, it is a question of life or death. The United States does not want to go into Iran, but, if Israel feels more and more cornered, there may be no other choice.”

Last May, Olmert was given a rousing reception when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, “A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die—the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail.”

One problem with the proposal that the Administration enlist Iran in reaching a settlement of the conflict in Iraq is that it’s not clear that Iran would be interested, especially if the goal is to help the Bush Administration extricate itself from a bad situation. "

No comments: