NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: June 30

Threats are not the way for the US to persuade Iran to change tack

The oxymoron in a Jerusalem Post headline last week summed up the efforts of some in Israel and the United States to create the impression that military confrontation with Iran is imminent. The paper proclaimed – four days in advance – that the US military chief of staff would make a “surprise” visit, suggesting this was further evidence that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is planned before president George W Bush leaves office.

This was conjecture, of course, but we are plainly in the season for it: the Post’s report followed the New York Times claiming that Israel had flown some 100 aircraft 900 miles across the Mediterranean as a “dry run” for a strike on Iran.

As any gangster will tell you, don’t worry when your enemies are telling the world that they’re coming to kill you; the real peril comes in stealth and silence. When Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, there was no advance warning. As most sober Israeli and American commentators concluded, the Times story had been leaked to raise pressure on Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment.

How likely is a scenario in which the US or Israel strikes Iran before Bush leaves office? (Or is the Left falling for the hawks’ propaganda?)

Trita Parsi: The recent war rhetoric coming out of Israel seems more geared towards ensuring that America keeps its military option on the table, than towards signalling that Israel itself is prepared to take military action. Even if Israel does have the capability to strike Iran—which is debatable—Israel certainly does not have the capability to successfully eliminate all Iranian nuclear facilities. Would Israel initiate an attack—knowing it would fail—only to force the US to step in and utilize its military option? Possibly, but it would come at a great expense to Israel: the Jewish state’s deterrence is to a large extent based on the outside world not knowing what Israel can and cannot do. By attacking Iran and failing to destroy the Iranian facilities, Israel would reveal the limitations of its capabilities and strike a major blow against its own deterrence.

Editor’s Comment — In spite of it’s go-it-alone image, Israel is not going to act without consulting Washington. And if push came to shove, the easiest way of figuring out what Washington’s position would be is to ask: How will the American electorate react when gasoline goes from $4 to $6 or $8 a gallon? How many Americans care that much about whether Iran acquires nuclear weapons?

McCain likes to use the line, “There’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option; that is a nuclear-armed Iran,” and he’s also said, “If the price of oil has to go up, then that’s a consequence we would have to suffer.”

That’s easy to say, but as is already evident, pain-at-the-pump holds the attention of most Americans much more than dire national security warnings.

Preparing the battlefield

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Editor’s Comment — Time’s running out fast for Hersh to be vindicated on his perennial war-with-Iran warnings. In this case, I’d want to know what his sources meant when they used the word “conducting” — as in Special Ops forces have been conducting cross-border operations. At face value, that sounds like American troops sneaking into Iran. What it could mean is members of the MEK being given directives by Americans. The political risks involved in Iranians being caught by Iranians, is clearly much less than that of having US troops put on trial in Tehran.

In courts, Afghanistan air base may become next Guantanamo

Jawed Ahmad, a driver and assistant for reporters of a Canadian television network in Afghanistan, knew the roads to avoid, how to get interviews and which stories to pitch. Reporters trusted him, his bosses say.

Then, one day about seven months ago, the 22-year-old CTV News contractor vanished. Weeks later, reporters would learn from Ahmad’s family that he had been arrested by U.S. troops, locked up in the U.S. military prison at Bagram air base and accused of being an enemy combatant.

Lawyers representing Ahmad filed a federal lawsuit early this month challenging his detention on grounds similar to those cited in successful lawsuits on behalf of captives at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The lawyers are hoping to turn Ahmad’s case and a handful of others into the next legal battleground over the rights of terrorism suspects apprehended on foreign soil. More lawsuits are expected on behalf of Bagram detainees in coming months, the lawyers said.

The rise and fall of a Sons of Iraq warrior

A year ago, Sunni Arab fighter Abu Abed led an improbable revolt against Al Qaeda in Iraq. As he killed its leaders and burned down hide-outs, he became a symbol of a new group called the Sons of Iraq — the man who dared to stand up to the extremists in Baghdad when it still ranked as a suicidal act.

Today, Abu Abed is chain-smoking cigarettes in Amman, betrayed by his best friend, on the run from a murder investigation in his homeland. He once walked the streets of Baghdad wearing wraparound sunglasses and surrounded by a posse of men in matching fatigues like something out of “Reservoir Dogs,” but now he shouts futilely for speeding taxis to halt, a slight figure in jeans and a button-down short-sleeve shirt.

Abu Abed’s rise and fall encapsulates the complexities of the U.S.-funded Sons of Iraq program. Although the Shiite-led Iraqi government has regarded the Sons of Iraq as little more than a front for insurgent groups, the Sunni fighters’ war helped end the cycle of car bombings and reprisal killings by Shiite militias that had sent Baghdad headlong into civil war. America’s new friends also helped bring down the death rate of U.S. forces in Iraq.

The urge to surge

On March 19, 2003, as his shock-and-awe campaign against Iraq was being launched, George W. Bush addressed the nation. “My fellow citizens,” he began, “at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” We were entering Iraq, he insisted, “with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.”

Within weeks, of course, that “great civilization” was being looted, pillaged, and shipped abroad. Saddam Hussein’s Baathist dictatorship was no more and, soon enough, the Iraqi Army of 400,000 had been officially disbanded by L. Paul Bremer, the head of the occupying Coalition Provisional Authority and the President’s viceroy in Baghdad. By then, ministry buildings — except for the oil and interior ministries — were just looted shells. Schools, hospitals, museums, libraries, just about everything that was national or meaningful, had been stripped bare. Meanwhile, in their new offices in Saddam’s former palaces, America’s neoconservative occupiers were already bringing in the administration’s crony corporations — Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR, Bechtel, and others — to finish off the job of looting the country under the rubric of “reconstruction.” Somehow, these “administrators” managed to “spend” $20 billion of Iraq’s oil money, already in the “Development Fund for Iraq,” even before the first year of occupation was over — and to no effect whatsoever. They also managed to create what Ed Harriman in the London Review of Books labeled “the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East.” (No small trick given the competition.)

U.S. advised Iraqi ministry on oil deals

A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say.

The disclosure, coming on the eve of the contracts’ announcement, is the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq’s oil to commercial development and is likely to stoke criticism.

In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.

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