End The US-Israeli
Undeclared War On Iran

Terrell E. Arnold

Unless some higher wit injects sanity into the White House and Tel Aviv, the US and Israel appear about to carry out the most widely advertised and least called for surprise attack in history. For months the drumbeat has risen. According to US neo-con advocates in the Bush administration, echoed by the President himself in his State of the Union address, Iran represents a grave danger to the Middle East and the West. As reported by Pat Buchanan (see Hysteria at Herzliya at, the annual Herzliya Conference on Israeli National Security in January 2007 descended into a hysterical verbal contest among attendees as to who could state the most extreme version of the so-called Iran threat.
But perhaps the worst Herzliya charge was made by would-be presidential candidate Newt Gingrich who asserted, "Three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust..." That was supposed to imply, as all participants seem to have agreed, that if Iran had three weapons it would use them on Israel or the United States.
That is a formula spun entirely out of whole cloth. First, there is no evidence that Iran has even one weapon, let alone three. Second, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has constantly reported that Iran is not even close to mastering the fuel cycle, much less to building a weapon. Third, even IAEA recognition that Iran has not told them everything does not lead those experts to change their basic assessment. Fourth, US and other experts, who assess the available facts rather than speculative threats, have concluded that Iran, if it chose to go there, could be a decade or more from the capability to build a weapon. Fifth, even senior former Israeli officials have expressed the fairly widely held view (expressed recently by France's President Jacques Chirac-although, under Zionist political pressure, he almost immediately recanted) that a few such weapons in Iranian hands would not be a problem.
In the strict idiom of war and peace, at this moment a state of war exists. The US is poised in the Persian Gulf or is bringing to the Gulf enough naval firepower to start the war. As some have suggested, this fleet is the material for a repeat of the fake Gulf of Tonkin incident that led us into Vietnam. But for months the neo-cons or close in supporters have talked about a US attack or, instead of US forces, the Israelis would launch the attack. In recent weeks, US forces have raided an Iranian post, a consular or diplomatic one by Iraqi government account that had been in northern Iraq for years. Recently, by Presidential directive, orders have been given to kill Iranian personnel in Iraq, apparently regardless of the legal or diplomatic standing of those people or their acceptability to Iraqi officials.
If another government carried out any or all of those acts against US facilities, personnel or officials in any country, the US would consider them acts of war, and it probably would strike. The whole concept of preemptive action in the War on Terrorism is premised on just such a dangerous and provocative interpretation of events.
It follows with ideologically iron efficiency that if Iran does or is accused of doing anything to US forces, civil personnel or facilities, those responses, however self-defensive, will be considered acts of war. They will be used to justify the long pending assault on Iran. And the United States, or Israel, if attacked in any way will claim to be the injured party and will retaliate. This is an adolescent "don't cross my line" strategy from which escalation to all out war could easily follow.
This situation is just another illustration of how warped the US position in the Middle East has become. Saddam Hussein never once threatened the United States. However, the Bush administration talked itself and alarmed the American people into thinking he, meaning Iraq, was a threat. Ignoring the facts as presented particularly by UN nuclear experts, as well as by our own intelligence and diplomatic officials, Bush launched war on Iraq to destroy its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, then did a mad scramble to find a rationale for the invasion when no weapons materialized. That scramble still lingers as Bush and his key supporters struggle to define "success" in Iraq in some fashion that may be deliverable before the whole house of cards collapses.
How big a potential challenge to American power could Iran represent? Look at the facts. (1) Iran is a country of 71+ million people, largely Shiites, who enjoy a per capita income of less than $9,000 a year equivalent. We consider that just slightly above the poverty line for individuals in the United States. (2) Iran's national income is based principally on two sectors, agriculture (the largest) and energy (about a third of the total). (3) That means Iran has a third world economy with at best a limited capacity to arm itself against wealthy enemies such as the United States and Israel. (4) With energy resources the major single source of foreign exchange income, and with those resources beginning to decline, Iran has foreseeable need for alternative energy sources, initially to take domestic pressure off of its principal foreign exchange earner. (5) In its own long-term economic interests, and consistent with a global need to reduce manmade contributions to global warming, Iran should be working toward nuclear and other alternative power. (6) Reasonable assessments are that Iran is in the early stages of successful uranium refining to power production purity. Most expert opinion is that Iran, therefore, is years from having a nuclear weapon, quite aside from the fact that it routinely denies any such objective. (7) Iran has no delivery system capable of reaching the United States.
Realistically Iran does not appear to be a military threat to anyone unless attacked. Iran's threat, if in any sense real, lies in its habit of supporting Shiite communities in surrounding countries, and specifically with its practice of supporting insurgent groups, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. The principal problem here is that Iranian support for these groups interferes with Israel's plans for eventual takeover of all of Palestine, including southern Lebanon, where most of Hizbollah is located. The Israeli hope, probably vain, is that if Iran can be threatened or otherwise induced to cut of aid to these groups they will be unable to resist Israeli plans. However the demise of these groups might come about, Israelis in general would welcome the end of the periodic rocket attacks along Israel's frontiers with Lebanon and the West Bank or Gaza.
The double standard both the US and Israel are attempting to enforce is practically and morally unsustainable. As the standard is designed, Israel is free to receive the most modern American weapons which, under loose rules of "self-defense" it then is free to use to occupy all Palestinian territory, herd the people into open prison camps, and take the rest of Palestine away from them. Israel can bomb and strafe Palestinian towns and villages without restraint, assassinate people it believes might be militants capable of fighting back, and imprison without trial any Palestinians it wouldn't like on the street.
US/Israeli rules are that the Palestinians are not supposed to have weapons, and no government, Middle Eastern or otherwise, is supposed to supply them with weapons. Governments that do are roundly criticized. The same rules apply to Hizbollah in southern Lebanon. Israel is free to attack Hizbollah by invading Lebanon and receiving immediate re-supply of weapons by the US during the battle, but anyone who supplies Hizbollah is, again, roundly criticized and labeled a pariah. Because many Arabs and others disagree with the standard, it has proven unenforceable. Iran and Syria are recipients of the criticism in both cases. Covertly other Arab and sympathetic countries already provide money-- that can be turned into weapons- and are likely to continue doing so if Iran were to stop.
The third, imaginative but illusory, threat from Iran is alleged to be its intent to dominate the Middle East. The notion of Islamo-Fascism-as invented by Israeli and neo-con propagandists--implies that Shiite extremists have in mind the demise of the west and domination of countries of the Middle East region if not of the Islamic world entire. Even if all of Shi'a Islam were of such a mind, which is patently not the case, the numbers realistically do not support it. Shi'a Muslims worldwide comprise less than ten percent of the followers of Islam, a global number amounting to less than half the US population. Iran contains the largest number of the world's Shi'a Muslims. More that two thirds of all Shi'a live in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and India. The largest Muslim country of all, Indonesia, has only 100,000 or so.
Iran is closely allied with Iraqi Shi'a for historic religious reasons. The Iran/Iraq border was drawn without reference to this fact. Both Iraqi and Iranian Shi'a, and Shi'a in general, revere the holy sites in Iraq. Iran maintains ties through the Mullahs with Shi'a communities in Lebanon, Pakistan, Canada, the US and elsewhere. But it should be said here that in most countries, the Shi'a are minorities who are often poor and discriminated against. Among Muslims they are doctrinally all over the map, about as diverse in their beliefs as Baptists in the US. Thus, the idea of a Shi'a takeover of the Middle East, militarily, economically, or religiously, is pretty far out. But it makes scare mongering reading in biased pro-Israeli claims touted by US media.
The sum of those characteristics is that the alleged Iranian threat against the United States or Israel is concocted. The prospect is perfectly real that Iran will take steps to pursue its interests and to support peoples it favors in nearby countries. The US usually does that by alleged right, but it opposes the efforts of others to do so. In reality, however, the only threat on this landscape is that Iran will do whatever it believes is necessary to be prepared to defend its own interests and to support Shi'a elsewhere against attacks or injustice. It is noteworthy that the newly published National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq reportedly makes only glancing references to any Iranian role in the current chaos. But if the US and Israel keep up the pressure, that inevitably will bend Iran toward greater efforts to defend itself, including pursuit of nuclear weapons. In the present US/Israeli threat environment, Iran is being pushed that way by default.
In effect the US/Israeli approach to Iran is a nuclear proliferation and war provocation strategy. Every new threat utterance of the US or Israeli officials, every new castigation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad- mostly by misquoting him, every act of aggression against Iranian officials or facilities runs the Iranian defensive compulsion a notch higher. Recent purchases of defensive missiles from Russia are only symptomatic. Other purchases are likely to be stimulated by the Bush State of the Union reference to sending a second carrier group into the region.
Some Iranian involvement with the Shi'a minorities in many countries is customary and likely to continue. As the leading Shi'a state worldwide, Iran is a center of Shi'a religious philosophy. It has long standing close relations with Iraqi Shi'a, who comprise 60% of Iraq's population. Maintaining those ties and helping Iraqi Shi'a is therefore quite natural. In fact, the Iraqi Shi'a would never understand a failure of Iran to support them. Recent Afghan border region attacks by Pakistani Sunnis (the majority population) against Shi'a (20% of the Pakistanis) may also be some concern to Iran. It may be looked to for help by the Shi'a minority.
In a number of places, such as the emirates, the Shi'a are minorities who are discriminated against. Autocratic governments in Sunni majority states, meaning most of the region, may therefore have some cause to expect at least religious and family traffic between their minorities and Iranian Shi'a. The suggestion that such relationships would lead to Shiite control of those states is mere rumor-mongering. To the extent they could be a dissident element, better local treatment of Shi'a minorities would alleviate much of the problem. However, the larger problems for the autocratic Sunni states are their own dissident Sunni, mostly young people and professionals who seek a more open, participatory, and secular style of governance than either the autocrats or the mullahs would enjoy.
As Iranian leadership would see this situation, their country is under attack by the US and Israel. The leading question is: How can Iran arm and comport itself to limit the scope and consequences of that attack on the Iranian people? And an important corollary question is: How can Iran do that without giving away important national capabilities such as the uranium fuel cycle only to get no enduring peace or international standing in return? A treaty issue is: How can Iran politically continue its membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if the West and Israel persist in denying it access to the fuel cycle that is provided by the treaty?
If, in this realistic threat environment, the US or Israel attacks Iran, it will be a catastrophe for the Middle East, for the United States, and in the long run for Israel. The Iraq Study Group made the correct recommendation that both Iran and Syria be brought into the process of taming Iraq. Both have long-standing and legitimate interests in Iraq. Iran has deep and potentially helpful links to Iraq's majority Shi'a population. On the other hand, if the US or Israel attack Iran, the whole of Shi'a Islam, including the Iraqis, will be up in arms. The US will have neither enough troops of its own nor enough allies to contain the resulting chaos. It is simply time to approach Iran, as well as Syria, diplomatically. It is well past time to take the threat of war off the table.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Department Office of Counter Terrorism. He will welcome comment at



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