Close: The Building War on Iran
Ray Close, a retired CIA analyst of Arab affairs, writes:
‘ Despite vehement official assertions to the contrary, indications are increasing every day that the Bush Administration has already decided that conventional diplomacy will fail as a way to manage its confrontation with Iran, and that military action against the Teheran regime has therefore already reached the point of final countdown. This message is not an attempt to analyze all aspects of that highly complex and controversial question, all the pros and all the cons, which are numerous on both sides, but merely to toss a few small but perhaps significant considerations into the balance. Make your own judgments.
1. First, some military realities that have not yet been fully appreciated by the American public:
A. The Lebanon conflict substantiates pre-crisis intelligence that Iran has apparently provided sophisticated “strategic” rockets to Hizballah, such as the Fajr-5 (range: 75 km) and probably also the Zelzal (range: 150 km).
Possession of the Zelzal (or even the Fajr-5) would effectively negate much of the strategic value of attempting to protect Israel’s northern regions from attack simply by making the area south of the Litani River into a buffer zone without fully disarming Hizballah and ensuring that it cannot be resupplied — a goal almost certainly beyond the capabilities of forces presently available. Because the competence of the Lebanese Army is greatly in doubt, and the military and political mandate of a U.N. peacekeeping force is likely to be both tenuous and impermanent, the long-term value of the recent Israeli action against Hizballah is very much in question.
(COMMENT: The tactical and strategic threat to Israel’s security demonstrated by Hizballah’s use of Iranian-supplied missiles is being underrated. The fact that after a full month of furious Israeli bombardment and infantry assault Hizballah was capable of launching 250 rockets into northern Israel in the last hours before the ceasefire proves that defense of Israel based on narrow buffer zones, multi-national peacekeepers and separation walls is an illiusion. We must remember that it was only the absence of a reliable guidance system that prevented massive killing of Israeli civilians by thousands of Katyusha rockets — a technological gap that can and will be filled in a very short time, no doubt. This frightening reality, when it sinks in, will redouble the already heavy public pressure on the Bush Administration, strongly supported and encouraged by Israel and the pro-Israel lobby, to “do something decisive about Iran”. )
The only real defense against this new kind of threat available to Israel today is the total cessation of Iran’s support for organizations like Hizballah and Hamas, and the denial to them of operational bases in Palestine, Lebanon or Syria. Only the long reach of American military power has any chance of achieving that objective on Israel’s behalf. Undertaking that effort would be a strategic commitment that went very far beyond traditional American policy of sympathy and support. We are talking here about an historic new departure in American foreign and defense policy, the costs and risks of which the American people have not yet even begun to understand, much less aceept.
B. Hizballah’s successful use of the C-802/SACCADE anti-ship cruise missile against an Israeli corvette caught both the U.S. and Israel by surprise. The general consensus among defense intelligence analysts is that Iran’s small cadre of IRGC operatives attached to Hizballah (estimated to be about 100 men) helped arm this weapon and guide it to its target. Hizballah’s successful use of the C-802 also raises questions about the safety of U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf in the event of Iran’s closure of the Strait of Hormuz in reaction to U.S. military action against the Teheran regime. Iran reportedly has “hundreds” of these missiles (C-802s) lining its shore of the Strait.
(COMMENT: Contrary to some press reports, the C-802 is not an adaptation of the Chinese Silkworm, but rather a Chinese improvement on the [originally French] Exocet that was used effectively by the Argentine navy in the Falklands war in 1982, and by Iraq against a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf in 1987. This might be viewed as a deterrent to U.S. military action against Iran; on the contrary, however, it has become an added incentive to take urgent action to eliminate Iran’s capacity to interfere with the free movement of oil supplies in the Gulf — a factor that the Bush Administration regards as a potential blackmail threat and an unacceptable limitation on its own capacity to control the actions of a regime that supports terrorism.)
2. Then there is what I must admit is basically an intuitive indicator of Bush Administration intentions to take aggressive action against Iran:
A. It is now indisputably true that during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration aggressively searched for, and then selectively highlighted, any intelligence that they believed would support and justify their already-firm determination to destroy the Saddam Hussein regime by military force. An important part of the rationale for attacking Iraq was to demonstrate, as an object lesson for the whole world to note, that America will “maintain the offensive against terrorism”, and will attack and destroy all who support or encourage terrorism anywhere in the world. President Bush deeply believes what he has said publicly on this subject, and nothing he has said or done recently has portrayed the slightest uncertainty on his part about the correctness of the underlying national strategy that made the invasion of Iraq such an urgent necessity in 2003.
B. If the Bush Administration has carefully weighed the risks and costs of launching a military attack against Iran, and decided (after three-plus years of absorbing the hard lessons of Iraq) that making war on seventy million angry Persians is not a sensible thing to do at this moment in history, (as most military experts would argue), then prudence and common sense would dictate that it serves no useful purpose for President Bush and his representatives to emphasize continually and bombastically, at every opportunity, that Iran (and to a lesser extent Syria) are guilty of acting in flagrant violation of the “red lines” clearly defined in U.S. national strategy. As we have repeatedly reminded ourselves, the first rule of diplomacy or war is never to declare objectives that one does not have the means or the will to achieve, and never issue threats that one has no intention of enforcing. At the moment, we seem to be doing both these things at the same time.
Today, the Washington Post reports:
As a U.N.-imposed truce seemed to be holding yesterday, Bush made clear that he blames Hizballah and its patrons, Iran and Syria, for igniting the conflict. “We recognize that the responsibility for this lies with Hizballah,” Bush said. “Responsibility lies also with Hizbollah’s state sponsors, Iran and Syria.” Bush warned Tehran to stop backing militias in Lebanon and in Iraq, where U.S. officials have long accused Iran of feeding the sectarian violence that is threatening to erupt into a full-scale civil war. “In both these countries, Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold,” Bush said. “The message of this administration is clear. America will stay on the offensive against al-Qaeda. Iran must stop its support for terror, and the leaders of these armed groups must make a choice. If they want to participate in the political life of their countries, they must disarm.”
(Note President Bush’s familiar technique of implying a direct operational relationship between Iran and Hizballah, on the one hand, and Osama bin Ladin’s al-Qaeda organization on the other — a deliberate distortion of fact similar to the canards associating Saddam Hussein directly with al-Qaeda and hence with the 9-11 events. These subtle but very significant deceptions fly right over the heads of the vast majority of Americans, but they undermine the credibility of our president and hence our confidence in his decisions about matters like war and peace.)
And in today’s New York Times we read a dispatch from Baghdad::
“The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that Iran had been encouraging Shiite militias to attack American-led forces (in Iraq) in retaliation for American backing of Israel’s military campaign against Hizballah in Lebanon”
This gratuitous remark makes sense only if one is seeking some sort of legal license from the international community to take unilateral punitive action against Iran. However, at a time when the popularity of Hizballah, and corresponding hatred of Israel, are both at their zenith among the populations of Iraq and the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds, it is nothing short of foolhardy and irresponsible for the American ambassador in Baghdad to be advertising Iran’s contribution to what that critically important constituency regards (correctly or not) as a humiliating failure of mighty Israel and its superpower ally America to defeat and disarm the valiant little “Party of God” in Lebanon.
Unless, of course, Bush and his advisers seriously expect that Iran will be intimidated into reversing its own policies. (Not bloody likely.)
Otherwise, Khalilzad is merely feeding the fears of Iraq’s majority Shi’a population that the United States, probably in coordination with Israel, is moving purposefully toward war with Iran, and needs only to pump up its legal justification for taking that action. Not a good way to win the confidence and cooperation of the parties upon whom the success of our enterprise in Iraq critically depends.
This bombastic and posturing style of “diplomacy” is going to lead inescapably to one or the other of the following results:
1. War with Iran (with negative consequences beyond anyone’s ability to imagine); or 2. Another humiliating demonstration of impotence. ‘