Daily Archives: January 26, 2012


Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is standing firm on blocking any U.N. sanctions against Syria, its longtime ally and a significant arms customer, saying that any resolution by the world body must exclude the possibility of international military involvement such as in Libya.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that U.N. approval for sanctions against Syria mirroring those by other nations would be “unfair and counterproductive.”

The U.S., the European Union, the Arab League and Turkey all have introduced sanctions against Damascus in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s violent crackdown on opponents. The uprising has left more than 5,400 people dead, according to the U.N. estimates.

The U.N. Security Council has been unable to agree on a resolution since the violence began in March because of strong opposition from Russia and China.

Russia, resistant to what it believes to be Western hegemony, characteristically opposes interventionism and the imposition of sanctions. This week, it harshly criticized new European Union sanctions against Iran regarding its nuclear program.

Lavrov said Russia’s own draft of a U.N. resolution regarding Syria, which circulated earlier this month, remains on the table, and that Moscow is open for any “constructive proposals.” The draft calls on all parties to stop the violence, citing the “disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities” and urging the Syrian government “to put an end to suppression of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

But Western diplomats said the Russian proposal falls short of their demand for a strong condemnation of the Syrian regime’s crackdown.

Lavrov affirmed that any U.N. resolution must say clearly it “couldn’t be interpreted to justify any foreign military interference in the Syrian crisis.”

“We believe that our approach is fair and well-balanced, unlike the attempts to pass one-sided resolutions that would condemn only one party and, by doing so, encourage another one to build up confrontation and take an uncompromising stance,” Lavrov said after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “We have seen that in Libya, and we will not allow repetition of the Libyan scenario.”

Russia abstained in the U.N. vote authorizing military intervention in Libya, but harshly criticized NATO for what it saw as an excessive use of force and civilian casualties during the NATO bombing campaign against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

Rebels eventually overthrew Gadhafi with enormous military support from the Western alliance. NATO jets flew 26,000 sorties against Libya in 2011, destroying about 5,900 military targets.

Russian officials have strongly warned the West against emulating the Libyan strategy in Syria.

Lavrov called for a quick start of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, suggesting they could be hosted by Egypt, the Arab League, Turkey or Russia.

Asked about the Arab League’s call Sunday for a unity government in Syria in two months, Lavrov said Russia believes the talks between the Syrian government and the opposition should start without any preconditions.

“We proceed from the assumption that all participants in such dialogue would seek to reach accord and show responsibility for the fate of the country and its people,” he said.

Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia have pulled out of the Arab League’s observers mission in Syria, asking the U.N. Security Council to intervene. But such action is unlikely with Russia’s opposition to sanctions.

Russia hosted some Syrian opposition leaders last fall, but its efforts to encourage them to sit down for talks with the government have brought no results.

Russia has been a strong ally of Syria since Soviet times, when Syria was led by the president’s father, Hafez Assad. It has supplied Syria with aircraft, missiles, tanks and other heavy weapons. The 27-nation EU, in contrast, has imposed an arms embargo against Syria.

Earlier this month, a Russian ship allegedly carrying tons of munitions made a dash for Syria after telling officials in EU member Cyprus, where it had made an unexpected stop, that it was heading to Turkey. Turkish officials said the ship went instead to the Syrian port of Tartus.

Lavrov said last week that Moscow doesn’t consider it necessary to offer an explanation or excuses over the incident, saying that Russia was acting in full respect of international law and wouldn’t be guided by unilateral sanctions imposed by other nations.

On Monday, a top Russian business daily reported that Moscow had signed a $550 million contract to sell 36 Yak-130 combat jets to Syria. The Russian state arms-trading company declined comment.

Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, said the deal represented an eleventh-hour attempt by Moscow to take advantage of its role of Syria’s monopolist weapons supplier.

“Anticipating different possible scenarios, Russia is in a hurry to use the current status quo to pursue its commercial interests,” Lukyanov told the AP. “It would be a good contract if Assad stays on.”

He added that Russia realizes that its power is limited but has decided to back Assad, its last remaining ally in the region.

“An attempt to abruptly shift side and take a different stance in a hope to preserve some ground will be useless,” he said. “Even if Russia now backs the Syrian opposition, the new authorities wouldn’t need Russia anyway.”


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Iranian President says Islamic Republic will not suffer over West’s financial sanctions; adds Tehran willing to resume nuclear negotiations

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that the Islamic republic will not be hurt by newly imposed Western sanctions, Iran’s state television website reported.

On Tuesday, the European Union adopted an oil embargo on Iran, while the US blacklisted Tehran’s third-largest bank.

“Once our trade with the Europe was around 90% but now it has reached to 10%… Experience has shown that Iranian nation will not be hurt,” Ahmadinejad said.

“For the past 30 years the Americans have not been buying oil from us. Our central bank has no relations with the US,” he added.

The Iranian president further added that Tehran was ready for talks with western powers over its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad also agreed to increase interest rates to 21%, reversing his opposition to the move economists said was crucial to supporting the Iranian currency.

The move came as the rial, under pressure after new sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank, shed about 50% of its value relative to the dollar in the span of a month.

The depreciation built on already mounting worries over the country’s growing international isolation over its controversial nuclear program. The European Union earlier this week approved an oil embargo on Iranian crude.

“The president has fully approved” the increase in bank interest rates, Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini said.

Also on Thursday, China criticized the EU’s sanctions on Iran, saying the measures were “not constructive.”

“To blindly pressure and impose sanctions on Iran are not constructive approaches,” China’s Foreign Ministry said.

Beijing’s economic ties with Tehran have expanded in recent years, partly thanks to the withdrawal of Western companies in line with sanctions against the Islamic republic over its nuclear drive.   The Asian powerhouse also depends a lot on Iranian oil, and has strengthened its presence in the country’s oil and gas sector by signing a series of contracts worth up to $40 billion in the past few years.

Iranian officials downplayed that the latest sanctions were affecting the currency or the economy. In an indication of the growing rift in Tehran, however, Bahmani acknowledged with rare candor earlier this month that the “psychological effects” of sanctions are partly behind the pressure on the currency.


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Gabi Ashkenazi says Israel needs to do all it can to operate under the radar against Tehran, but stresses that military option must be on the table.


Former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi said Thursday that Israel must operate under the radar against Iran, but it should also prepare for a possible strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities.

During a lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies, Ashkenazi stressed that Israel’s strategy on Iran must be a combination of several approaches.

“Israel must do all it can under the radar and combine that with paralyzing sanctions, but at the same time keep a reliable military option on the table with the willingness to use it if necessary,” Ashkenazi said.

“When the moment comes I don’t know if we won’t be alone, and for this reason Israel must also rely on itself,” he said.

During his term as IDF chief, Ashkenazi was considered a supporter of a more moderate approach on Iran, in which all diplomatic options must be exhausted before any attack is launched.

Earlier Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the new round of economic sanctions by the European Union will be “futile,” and added that his country was ready to resume nuclear talks with the six world powers – the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

Ahmadinejad appeared to downplay the impact of a new round of EU sanctions on Iran, including a ban on oil imports, saying that trade with EU states made up only $23 billion of Iran’s $200 billion annual trade volume.

“Aren’t you ashamed to get together and make such statements. Where do you think you can get with these steps?” Ahmadinejad said.

“They are saying they (EU) do not want to harm the Iranian people, but the steps they take and the language they use are all against the people,” he added.

The EU sanctions, as well as similar measures taken by the United States to force Iran to curb its nuclear activities, are believed to have already had an impact on the Iranian economy, with the national currency, the rial, falling drastically in recent days.


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by Ray McGovern

Has Iran decided to build a nuclear bomb? That would seem to be the central question in the current bellicose debate over whether the world should simply cripple Iran’s economy and inflict severe pain on its civilian population or launch a preemptive war to destroy its nuclear capability while possibly achieving “regime change.”

And if you’ve been reading The New York Times or following the rest of the Fawning Corporate Media, you’d likely assume that everyone who matters agrees that the answer to the question is yes, although the FCM adds the caveat that Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. The line is included with an almost perceptible wink and an “oh, yeah.”

However, a consensus seems to be emerging among the intelligence and military agencies of the United States — and Israel — that Iran has NOT made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. In recent days, that judgment has been expressed by high-profile figures in the defense establishments of the two countries — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

You might think that you would have heard more about that, wouldn’t you? The United States and Israel agree that Iran is NOT building a nuclear bomb. However, this joint assessment that Iran has NOT decided to build a nuclear bomb apparently represented too big a change in the accepted narrative for the Times and the rest of the FCM to process.

Yet, on Jan. 18, the day before U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived for talks in Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Barak gave an interview to Israeli army radio in which he addressed with striking candor how he assesses Iran’s nuclear program. It was not the normal pabulum.

Question: Is it Israel’s judgment that Iran has not yet decided to turn its nuclear potential into weapons of mass destruction?

Barak: … [C]onfusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break out from the control [inspection] regime right now … in an attempt to obtain nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible. Apparently that is not the case.…

Question: How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?

Barak: I don’t know; one has to estimate.… Some say a year, others say 18 months. It doesn’t really matter. To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the [UN International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection regime and stop responding to IAEA’s criticism, etc.

Why haven’t they [the Iranians] done that? Because they realize that …when it became clear to everyone that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this would constitute definite proof that time is actually running out. This could generate either harsher sanctions or other action against them. They do not want that.

Question: Has the United States asked or demanded that the government inform the Americans in advance, should it decide on military action?

Barak: I don’t want to get into that. We have not made a decision to opt for that, we have not decided on a decision-making date. The whole thing is very far off.…

Question: You said the whole thing is “very far off.” Do you mean weeks, months, years?

Barak: I wouldn’t want to provide any estimates. It’s certainly not urgent. I don’t want to relate to it as though tomorrow it will happen.

As noted in my Jan. 19 article, “Israel Tamps Down Iran War Threats,”which was based mostly on reports from the Israeli press before I had access to the complete transcript of the interview, I noted that Barak appeared to be identifying himself with the consistent assessment of U.S. intelligence community since late 2007 that Iran has not made a decision to go forward with a nuclear bomb.

A Momentous NIE

A formal National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 — a consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies — contradicted the encrusted conventional wisdom that “of course” Iran’s nuclear development program must be aimed at producing nuclear weapons. The NIE stated: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; … Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.”

The Key Judgments of that Estimate elicited a vituperative reaction from some Israeli officials and in neoconservative circles in the United States. It also angered then-President George W. Bush, who joined the Israelis in expressing disagreement with the judgments. In January 2008, Bush flew to Israel to commiserate with Israeli officials who he said should have been “furious with the United States over the NIE.”

While Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, is replete with bizarre candor, nothing beats his admission that “the NIE tied my hands on the military side,” preventing him from ordering a preemptive war against Iran, an action favored by hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney.

For me personally it was heartening to discover that my former colleagues in the CIA’s analytical division had restored the old ethos of telling difficult truths to power, after the disgraceful years under CIA leaders like George Tenet and John McLaughlin when the CIA followed the politically safer route of telling the powerful what they wanted to hear.

It had been three decades since I chaired a couple of National Intelligence Estimates, but fate never gave me the chance to manage one that played such a key role in preventing an unnecessary and disastrous war as the November 2007 NIE did.

In such pressure-cooker situations, the Estimates job is not for the malleable or the fainthearted. The ethos was to speak with courage, and without fear or favor, but that is often easier said than done. In my days, however, we analysts enjoyed career protection for telling it like we saw it. It was an incredible boost to morale to see that happening again in 2007.

Ever since the NIE was published, however, powerful politicians and media pundits have sought to chip away at its conclusions, suggesting that the analysts were hopelessly naive or politically motivated or vengeful, out to punish Bush and Cheney for the heavy-handed tactics used to push false and dubious claims about Iraq’s WMDs in 2002 and 2003.

A New Conventional Wisdom

There emerged in official Washington a new conventional wisdom that the NIE was erroneous and wasn’t worth mentioning anymore. Though the Obama administration has stood by it, The New York Times and other FCM outlets routinely would state that the United States and Israel agreed that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb and then add the wink-wink denial by Iran.

However, on Jan. 8, Defense Secretary Panetta toldBob Schieffer on Face the Nation that “the responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them [the Iranians] … and to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.”

Panetta was making the implicit point that the Iranians had not made that decision, but just in case someone might miss his meaning, Panetta posed the direct question to himself: “Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.”

Barak’s Jan. 18 statement to Israeli army radio indicated that his views dovetail with those of Panetta — and their comments apparently are backed up by the assessments of each nation’s intelligence analysts. In its report on Defense Minister Barak’s remarks, the Israeli newspaperHaaretz on Jan. 19 summed up the change in the position of Israeli leaders as follows: “The intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present … to Dempsey indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb. The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon — or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.”

At The New York Times, the initial coverage of Barak’s interview focused on another element. An article by Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone appeared on Jan. 19 on page A5 under the headline “Decision on Whether to Attack Iran is ‘Far Off,’ Israeli Defense Minister Says.”

To their credit, the Times’ Kershner and Gladstone did not shrink from offering an accurate translation of what Barak said on the key point of IAEA inspections: “The Iranians have not ended the oversight exercised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.… They have not done that because they know that that would constitute proof of the military nature of their nuclear program and that would provoke stronger international sanctions or other types of action against their country.”

But missing from the Times article was Barak’s more direct assessment that Iran apparently had not made a decision to press ahead toward construction of a nuclear bomb. That would have undercut the boilerplate in almost every Times story saying that U.S. and Israeli officials believe Iran is working on a nuclear bomb.

But That’s Not the Right Line!

So, what to do? Not surprisingly, the next day (Jan. 20), the Timesran an article by its Middle East bureau chief Ethan Bronner in which he stated categorically: “Israel and the United States both say that Iran is pursuing the building of nuclear weapons — an assertion denied by Iran — ….”

By Jan. 21, the Times had time to prepare an entire page (A8) of articles setting the record “straight,” so to speak, on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions: Here are the most telling excerpts, by article (emphasis mine):

1. “European Union Moves Closer to Imposing Tough Sanctions on Iran,” by Steven Erlanger, Paris:

“Senior French officials are concerned that these measures [sanctions] … will not be strong enough to push the Iranian government into serious, substantive negotiations on its nuclear program which the West says is aimed at producing weapons.”

“In his annual speech on French diplomacy on Friday, President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Iran of lying, and he denounced what he called its ‘senseless race for a nuclear bomb.’”

“Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful uses and denies a military intent. But few in the West believe Tehran, which has not cooperated fully with inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and has been pursuing some technologies that have only a military use.”

(Pardon me, please. I’m having a bad flashback. Anyone remember theTimes’ peerless reporting on those infamous “aluminum tubes” that supposedly were destined for nuclear centrifuges — until some folks did a Google search and found they were for the artillery then used by Iraq?)

2. “China Leader Warns Iran Not to Make Nuclear Arms,” by Michael Wines, Beijing:

“Prime Minister Wen Jiabao wrapped up a six-day Middle East tour this week with stronger-than-usual criticism of Iran’s defiance on its nuclear program….”

“Mr. Wen’s comments on Iran were unusually pointed for Chinese diplomacy. In Doha, Qatar’s capital, he said China ‘adamantly opposes Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons.’”

“Western nations suspect that Iran is working toward building a nuclear weapon, while Iran insists its program is peaceful.”

3. “U.S. General Urges Closer Ties With Israel,” by Isabel Kershner, Jerusalem:

“Though Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes, Israel, the United Stated, and much of the West are convinced that Iran is working to develop a weapons program.…”

Never (Let Up) on Sunday

Next it was time for the Times to trot out David Sanger from the Washington bullpen. Many will remember him as one of the Times’stenographers/cheerleaders for the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq in March 2003. An effusive hawk also on Iran, Sanger was promoted to a position as chief Washington correspondent, apparently for services rendered.

In his Jan. 22 article, “Confronting Iran in a Year of Elections,”Sanger pulls out all the stops, even resurrecting Condoleezza Rice’s“mushroom cloud” to scare all of us — and, not least, the Iranians:

“From the perception of the Iranians, life may look better on the other side of the mushroom cloud,”said Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He may be right: while the Obama administration has vowed that it will never tolerate Iran as a nuclear weapons state, a few officials admit that they may have to settle for a “nuclear capable’” Iran that has the technology, the nuclear fuel and the expertise to become a nuclear power in a matter of weeks or months.

Were that not enough, enter the national champion of the Timescheerleading squad that prepared the American people in 2002 and early 2003 for the attack on Iraq, former executive editor Bill Keller. He graced us the next day (Jan. 23) with an op-ed entitled “Bomb-Bomb-Bomb, Bomb-Bomb-Iran?” — though he wasn’t favoring a military strike, at least not right now. Here’s Keller:

The actual state of the [nuclear] program is not entirely clear, but the best open-source estimates are that if Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered full-speed-ahead — which there is no sign he has done — they could have an actual weapon in a year or so.… In practice, Obama’s policy promises to be tougher than Bush’s. Because Obama started out with an offer of direct talks — which the Iranians foolishly spurned —world opinion has shifted in our direction.

Wow. With Iraqi egg still all over his face, the disgraced Keller gets to “spurn” history itself — to rewrite the facts. Sorry, Bill, it was not Iran, but rather Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other neocons in the U.S. Department of State and White House (with you and neocon allies in the press cheering them on), who “foolishly spurned” an offer by Iran in 2010 to trade about half its low-enriched uranium for medical isotopes. It was a deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil, but it was viewed by the neocons as an obstacle to ratcheting up the sanctions.

In his Jan. 23 column, with more sophomoric glibness, Keller wrote this:

We may now have sufficient global support to enact the one measure that would be genuinely crippling — a boycott of Iranian oil. The Iranians take this threat to their economic livelihood seriously enough that people who follow the subject no longer minimize the chance of a naval confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz. It’s not impossible that we will get war with Iran even without bombing its nuclear facilities.

How neat! War without even trying!

The Paper of (Checkered) Record

Guidance to all NYT hands: Are you getting the picture? After all, what does Defense Minister Barak know? Or Defense Secretary Panetta? Or the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community? Or apparently even Israeli intelligence?

The marching orders from the Times’ management appear to be that you should pay no heed to those sources of information. Just repeat the mantra: Everyone knows Iran is hard at work on the Bomb.

As is well-known, other newspapers and media outlets take their cue from the Times. Small wonder, then, that USA Today seemed to be following the same guidance on Jan. 23, as can be seen in its major editorial on military action against Iran:

The U.S. and Iran will keep steaming toward confrontation, Iran intent on acquiring the bomb to establish itself as a regional power, and the U.S. intent on preventing it to protect allies and avoid a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

One day, the U.S. is likely to face a wrenching choice: bomb Iran, with the nation fully united and prepared for the consequences, or let Iran have the weapons, along with a Cold War-like doctrine ensuring Iran’s nuclear annihilation if it ever uses them. In that context, sanctions remain the last best hope for a satisfactory solution.

And, of course, the U.S. press corps almost never adds the context that Israel already possesses an undeclared arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, or that Iran is essentially surrounded by nuclear weapons states, including India, Pakistan, Russia, China, and — at sea —the United States.

PBS Equally Guilty

PBS’s behavior adhered to its customary don’t-offend-the-politicians-who-might-otherwise-cut-our-budget attitude on the Jan. 18 NewsHour — about 12 hours after Ehud Barak’s interview started making the rounds. Host Margaret Warner set the stage for an interview with neocon Dennis Ross and Vali Nasr (a professor at Tufts) by using a thoroughly misleading clip from former Sen. Rick Santorum’s Jan. 1 appearance on Meet the Press.

Warner started by saying: “Back in the U.S. many Republican presidential candidates have been vowing they’d be even tougher with Tehran. Former Senator Rick Santorum spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press: ‘I would be saying to the Iranians, you open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes and make it very public that we are doing so.’”

Santorum seemed totally unaware that there are U.N. inspectors in Iran, and host David Gregory did nothing to correct him, leaving Santorum’s remark unchallenged. The blogosphere immediately lit up with requests for NBC to tell their viewers that there are already U.N. inspectors in Iran, which unlike Israel is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and allows IAEA inspections.

During the Warner interview, Dennis Ross performed true to form, projecting supreme confidence that he knows more about Iran’s nuclear program than the Israeli Defense Minister and the U.S. intelligence community combined:

Margaret Warner: If you hamstring their [Iran’s] Central Bank, and the U.S. persuades all these other big customers not to buy Iranian oil, that could be thought of as an act of war on the part of the Iranians. Is that a danger?

Ross: I think there’s a context here. The context is that the Iranians continue to pursue a nuclear program. And unmistakably to many, that is a nuclear program whose purpose is to achieve nuclear weapons. That has a very high danger, a very high consequence. So the idea that they could continue with that and not realize that at some point they have to make a choice, and if they don’t make the choice, the price they’re going to pay is a very high one, that’s the logic of increasing the pressure.

Never mind that the Israeli defense minister had told the press something quite different some 12 hours before.

Still, it is interesting that Barak’s comments on how Israeli intelligence views Iran’s nuclear program now mesh so closely with the NIE in 2007. This is the new and significant story here, as I believe any objective journalist would agree.

However, the FCM — led by The New York Times — cannot countenance admitting that they have been hyping the threat from Iran as they did with Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs just nine years ago. So they keep repeating the line that Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.

In this up-is-down world, America’s newspaper of record won’t even report accurately what Israel (or the CIA) thinks on this important issue, if that goes against the alarmist conventional wisdom that the neocons favor. Thus, we have this divergence between what the U.S. media is reporting as flat fact — i.e., that Israel and the United States believe Iran is building a bomb (though Iran denies it) — and the statements from senior Israeli and U.S. officials that Iran has NOT decided to build a bomb.

While this might strike some as splitting hairs — since peaceful nuclear expertise can have potential military use — this hair is a very important one. If Iran is not working on building a nuclear bomb, then the threats of preemptive war are not only unjustified, they could be exactly the motivation for Iran to decide that it does need a nuclear bomb to protect itself and its people.


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by Philip Giraldi

The media and the punditry have been deliberately misrepresenting facts to persuade the people of the United States to start another war, not unlike in the lead-up to the Iraq fiasco. Since 9/11, hard-liners in the United States have depicted one Muslim country after another as major threats to U.S. security. They have justified attacks on Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, and Afghanistan, and they have endorsed Israel’s military actions against Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon — 10 Muslim countries.

This time around, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and New Gingrich are all promising to disarm Iran by force. Romney has a neocon-heavy foreign policy team, while Gingrich’s campaign received at least $5 million in financialsupport from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a passionate supporter of Israel. Meanwhile, the White House continues to dither by drawing “red lines” that appear to be more debating points meant to appease the Israelis than substantive policies.

Those arguing for war in Congress, think tanks, and the media have been exploiting a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report issued in November 2011, which they interpret to mean that Iran is building a nuclear weapon that poses a major threat to the United States. But the truth is that the IAEA document is essentially political, not factual. It is based on old intelligence assessments made mostly by the United States and Israel using sometimes fabricated information in an attempt to discredit Iran. In reality, the IAEA makes regular inspection visits to Iran’s nuclear facilities and has TV cameras monitoring its sites. While there is legitimate reason to challenge some of Iran’s actions, the nuclear program is not as threatening as many maintain.

Even those who are arguing against the rush to war frequently have succumbed to the propaganda. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, in apiece titled “Think Before Acting on Iran,” states that “Iran’s leaders are bad guys capable of doing dangerous things” and then goes on to describe “its relentless moves toward acquiring nuclear weapons.”Well, Gelb should be well-informed enough to know that Iran’s leadership is both cautious and pragmatic because it is primarily interested in regime preservation, not in exporting the revolution or converting the world to Shi’ism. He should also be aware that there is no evidence whatsoever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Gelb’s lack of connection with objective reality is reflected in his recommendation to openly debate the wisdom of going to war with Iran in a suitable forum like the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A genuine nuclear expert, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former IAEA director-general, said recently, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” And he is not alone in that judgment: All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded“with high confidence” in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program as of 2003. They reviewed the evidence again in 2009-10 and concluded that there was still no solid evidence that the program had been in any way revived.

It is astonishing that the American people are again being gulled by a replay of the “Iraq WMD threat,” which used false information and sustained innuendo to lead the United States into a war that did not need to be fought. As Philip Zelikow, executive secretary of the 9/11 Commission, said, “The ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.” It is not unreasonable to argue that today the formula and rationalization are the same with the Persian threat, if there is one, making it a matter of concern mostly for Israel. And Israel is far from defenseless, with an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons of its own mounted on ballistic missiles and also on cruise missiles that can be fired from submarines.

But many knowledgeable Israelis actually argue that there is no threat from Iran, even as the politicians in Tel Aviv argue insistently that military action must be taken. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan commented that an air force strike against Iran’s nuclear installations would be “stupid,” a view also endorsed by two other ex-Mossad chiefs, Danny Yatom and Ephraim Halevy. Dagan added his opinion that “any strike against [the civilian program] is an illegal act according to international law.” More recently, the Israeli intelligence community has prepared its own report, similar to the U.S. NIE, which concludes that Iran has not decided to construct a nuclear weapon, leading the country’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, to conclude that the possibility of a war“is very far off.”

Dagan also pointed out another reality that has not escaped some policymakers in Washington and Tel Aviv: bombing Iran would guarantee that the Iranians would decide to go nuclear for self-defense and would certainly lead them to retaliate against Israel through their principal surrogate Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which is reported to have tens of thousands of rockets and even Scud-type longer-range missiles. If American politicians and Israel’s own political leadership were really concerned about the well-being of Israel, they would be doing everything in their power to stop a new war rather than start one.

And then there is the question of what a sustained bombing campaign by the United States would actually accomplish. Since 2005, the U.S. military and intelligence communities have engaged in a major covert operation to identify and derail Iran’s nuclear program. The Pentagon has studied the Iranian nuclear target and has concluded that it would be futile to attempt to eliminate that program — which is dispersed throughout the country and frequently located underground — through aerial bombing. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other experts have stated that even a prolonged air attack would only delay any weapons program for a year or two at most. This is identical to the view of leading Israelis.

Washington is already spending as much as the rest of the world combined on national defense and $100 billion per year on Afghanistan alone, which is looking increasingly forlorn. The anti-Iran lobby has been beating the drums for an attack for years, but another Asian war on top of Afghanistan is not in America’s or Israel’s interests, whatever some of Israel’s apologists might claim. The “experts” who claim that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he would “wipe Israel off the map”have got it wrong. Genuine language specialists have pointed out that the original statement in Farsi actually said that Israel would someday collapse: “The imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” is the accurate rendition. The imam being referred to is the late Ayatollah Khomeini, making the statement a quote within a quote. It’s wishful thinking perhaps, but far from a threat. The fact is that Iran has not attacked any of its neighbors since the 17th century, when it went to war with the Ottoman Turks, and has never threatened to attack Israel. Nor does Iran threaten the United States in any way.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to open a dialogue to resolve problems with the Iranians, but that pledge has been an empty one. In reality, the United States has spoken to Iranian government officials only once in the past three years, and that encounter lasted less than 45 minutes. Since that time, offers to resolve differences through diplomacy have come several times from the Iranians and have been ignored by both official Washington and the mainstream media. Not talking means that war is the only way to obtain a resolution, which would be a very bad outcome for both sides. Washington still has time to make direct diplomacy work in an attempt to convince all parties to back down from the developing crisis, but serious intent and good-faith negotiations are necessary.

The American military has recently concluded what President Obama once labeled a “dumb war” in Iraq, so it behooves us not to undertake another dumb war against a country that is much larger, better prepared, and three times more populous. Such a conflict would not be containable and would set off a major regional war. Such a war, contrary to what some argue, would not be good for the United States, Iran, or even Israel, and it would make no one safer.


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by Keith Johnson 


The New Year kicked off with the highest January gas prices in history, due in large part to the tensions between the U.S. and Iran. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the United States is roughly $3.38, nearly 30 cents higher than a year ago. It’s bound to get worse. Yesterday,Bloomberg reported that oil was trading “near $100 in New York on concerns that Iran may respond to a European embargo on its crude exports by following through on threats to disrupt Persian Gulf shipping.”    

The oil market is largely driven by headlines, and soars every time the West shakes their fist at one of Israel’s enemies. That not only drives up the price you pay at the pump for a gallon of gasoline, but also affects the cost of every product and service that travels by way of land, air or sea.    

Sure, there are other factors that play into the price of oil—demand, speculation, taxes, environmental regulations, refinery capabilities, etc., etc. But for at least the last twenty years, war (and rumors of war) have been the major driving force.    

On February 19, 2008, former (and I might add deceased) Representative John Murtha (D-PA) stated, “Oil was $27 per barrel before the war in Iraq started. Today it’s $86 a barrel. Gas at the pump was $1.76 per gallon before the war in Iraq. Today it’s $3.02.”    

Of course the Iraq war—just like the one we’re now strating with Iran—would not have been waged had it not been for Israel, who’s had their crosshairs trained on both Muslim nations for many years. In 1996, Israeli dual citizens Douglas Feith and Richard Perle were both advisors to Israel’s Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. During that time, the duo co-authored a policy paper, entitled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. In it, they said that Saddam would have to be destroyed, and that Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran would all have to be overthrown or destabilized in order for Israel to be truly safe. Feith would later become the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense of Policy for the Bush administration. It was through Feith’s Office of Special Plans (OSP) that the Israelis channelled faulty intelligence about Saddam’s so-called “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” These lies led the U.S. Congress to enact the Iraq War Resolution of 2002, which gave George W. Bush carte blanche to wage a bloody conflict that has since claimed the lives of over one million Iraqis and nearly 5,000 American troops.    

Now, new lies about Iran’s so-called “nuclear weapons program” are fueling that war, and Syria is also under attack based on lies that Assad is killing his own people. As for Lebanon and Saudi Arabia? It’s only a matter of time, baby!    

For decades, Israel has largely been responsible for the rise in petroleum prices. Writing for The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in 2003, Dr. Thomas R. Stauffer concludedthat conflicts in the Middle East have cost the American taxpayer approximately $3 trillion. According to Stauffer, “The largest single element in the costs has been the series of six oil-supply crises since the end of World War II.”    

He goes on to say that, “the several earlier Mideast oil crises, in 1956 and 1967, actually had relatively little effect on the United States,” and it wouldn’t be until the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 that things would start spiraling out of control. That’s when the U.S. forked out almost $1 trillion dollars to supply Israel with arms and provide subsidies to countries willing to sign peace treaties with them, such as Egypt and Jordan. Stauffer writes, “Washington’s intervention triggered the Arab oil embargo which cost the U.S. doubly: first, due to the oil shortfall, the US lost about $300 billion to $600 billion in GDP; and, second, the U.S. was saddled with another $450 billion in higher oil import costs.”    

A third factor added to the oil-related cost of the 1973 war was the U.S. created Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which was designed to insulate Israel and the U.S. against the wielding of a future Arab “oil weapon.” Stauffer writes, “It was destined to contain one billion barrels of oil, which could be released in the event of a supply crisis. To date the SPR, which still exists and is slowly being expanded, has cost $134 billion—since much of the oil was bought at high prices, and because the salvage value is relatively low. Thus, the 1973 oil crisis, all in all, cost the U.S. economy no less than $900 billion, and probably as much as $1,200 billion.”    

The next regional oil crisis was the Iranian revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war. “The joint effect of the two crises cost the U.S. consumer $335 billion in terms of higher prices for imported oil,” writes Stauffer. “It also caused a rise in prices of domestic energy—oil, gas, and coal. These “knock-on” effects are not included, however, so that the figure of $335 billion is indeed a lower bound for the actual costs of those two, back-to-back crises. The total consumer cost is likely to have been more than double that figure.”    

Stauffer concludes by referencing the 1990/91 Gulf war, which he said proved to be a bargain in comparison to other regional conflicts, costing “American consumers approximately $80 billion in higher oil prices, including both imported and domestic oil, again excluding the resulting “knock-on” effects.”    

I guess that brings us up to date. So what does the future have in store for oil prices in the event that the U.S. and Israel continue to push Iran to the brink to ruin? In November 2011, the Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO)—the world’s largest bond investor—released a report that offers four possible scenarios that might likely occur if Iran’s energy sector is compromised:

Scenario 1: Exports minimally affected. Concerns would drive initial price response. The International Energy Agency (IEA) would likely make statements about willingness to meet any shortfall in supplies. Oil could spike initially to $130 to $140 per barrel and then settle in a higher range, around $120 to $125, in relatively short order as a premium (mostly a risk premium) becomes embedding into the market, at least for a while. The timing of the spike would depend on how much the market is taken by surprise and whether or not the strike is priced in ahead of time. 

Scenario 2: Iranian exports cut off for one month. IEA would likely swing into action and Saudi Arabia could begin to offer more oil into market. In this case, we would expect prices could reach previous all-time highs of $145/bbl or even higher depending on issues with shipping. The IEA and Saudi Arabia can meet market needs, but the increase in uncertainty and the loss of spare capacity would affect pricing. In this case, after a few months, we would expect prices could fall back to $130 to $135/bbl range. 

Scenario 3: Iranian exports are lost for half a year. This is where the potential outcomes get quite dicey. We think oil prices could probably rally and average $150 for the six months, with notable spikes above that level. The IEA would likely release oil steadily, but consumption will need to take a hit from prices and slower economic activity. Once Iranian crude oil returns to the market and the environment stabilizes, oil would likely return to around $110/bbl or even lower depending on global strength at the time. 

Scenario 4: Greater loss of production from around the region, either through subsequent Iranian response or due to lack of ability to move oil through Straits of Hormuz. This is the Armageddon scenario in which oil prices could soar, significantly constraining global growth. Forecasting prices in the prior scenarios is dangerous enough. So, we won’t even begin to forecast a cap or target price in this final Doomsday scenario.

No matter how you look at it, the U.S. consumer is destined for hard times if this dangerous game is allowed to continue.    

As for Israel—they’ll do just fine no matter what. While Americans painfully adjust to price increases brought on by $5 to $10 per gallon gasoline, the Israelis will find a negligible increase in their standard of living. Thanks to a 1975 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),the United States government is obligated to satisfy all of Israel’s oil needs in the event of crisis, even if it causes domestic shortages to the American people. This little known legislation is renewed every five years, and commits $3 billion taxpayer dollars to maintain a strategic U.S. reserve for Israel. The U.S. government also guarantees delivery of oil in U.S. tankers if commercial shippers become unable or unwilling to carry oil from the USA to Israel.    

Yeah, I know…Doesn’t that just SUCK!!!!!


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