Iran and al Qaeda have traditionally had little use for each other, but their loathing of the U.S. could bring them together.
Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu is pressing for military action against Iran’s nuclear sites. But the mullahs in Tehran may see an Israeli strike as a solution to their internal political problems.
Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington today, is laying more political groundwork for a possible preemptive Israeli airstrike against Iran’s nuclear sites.
But as Netanyahu rallies his American supporters and discourages diplomatic engagement with Tehran, some intelligence officials and Iran experts tell The Daily Beast that an Israeli attack may be exactly what Tehran’s most hard-line leaders have been trying to provoke.
Marty Martin, a former senior officer in the CIA, ran the unit that hunted Al Qaeda terrorists from 2002 to 2004. Iran’s most militant leaders “are goading the Israelis,” he tells The Daily Beast, “because a bombing will help them put their internal problems aside.”
Martin, who spent most of his 25-year career at the CIA in the Middle East, argues that some clerics and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, confronted with a discontented and restless population, are looking for ways to solidify public support. “The way they see it, if Israel bombs them it relieves the internal pressure,” says Martin. “Amid this turmoil, its always good to have an outside enemy.”
Obama is decrying premature ‘loose talk’ of war with Iran over nukes, while Israel’s prime minister thinks the time to attack is now. Whose trigger is the right one will be a critical issue in the two leaders’ summit today.
When President Obama meets with Benjamin Netanyahu today, one of his goals will be to assure the Israeli prime minister that the United States will use force to delay Iran’s nuclear program if the current round of sanctions doesn’t work. All the while, Netanyahu’s objective will be to avoid having to make a direct commitment to the president not to order his jets to bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Three months ago, speaking at the memorial to Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech many Israeli observers considered a window into his own thinking on Iran. In it he described how the vote of Ben-Gurion’s cabinet to declare statehood was very close, with only six in favor and four voting against. Netanyahu asked his audience to imagine if one of the yes votes went the other way.
“He understood full well the decision carried a heavy price, but he believed not making that decision had a heavier price,” Netanyahu said of Israel’s founding father. “We are all here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right moment.”
AIPAC endorses the Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state, but its support for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and refusal to publicly back dismantling illegal settlements raise questions.
It was a big weekend for Israel conferences. In Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy conference. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a 27-year-old student from the Gaza Strip named Ahmed Moor organized a conference on the “one-state solution”: the idea that the Jewish state of Israel should be replaced with one ostensibly secular, binational state encompassing Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
Barack Obama attended the AIPAC conference, along with dozens if not hundreds of members of Congress. Moor’s conference, by contrast, was a political leper. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown urged Harvard to cancel it. Prominent Harvard donors reportedly threatened to cancel gifts. Harvard’s president expressed her “deep concern” about the event; the Kennedy School’s dean declared himself “deeply disappointed.”
What makes the AIPAC conference so laudable and its Kennedy School cousin so revolting? On the surface, the answer is obvious: AIPAC believes in two states, while Moor’s allies believe in one. Sounds like a reasonable distinction, especially if you—like me—believe in a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. And indeed, on its homepage, AIPAC endorses something similar: “a negotiated two-state solution—a Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state.”
But the closer you look, the blurrier the distinction between the two conferences becomes. According to David Ellwood, the Kennedy School’s dean, not all the speakers at Moor’s conference actually support one state. And a peek at the AIPAC roster suggests that not all its speakers support two states. On Tuesday morning, for instance, AIPAC will hear from Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who declared last November, “All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.” Certainly sounds like a one-state perspective to me.
There’s little evidence that Iran has a nuclear-weapons program, but if it did develop the bomb, that would not have to mean regional nuclear proliferation or Iran using nukes or giving them to terrorists.
With all the clamor to sanction and attack Iran, there's a minor issue most journalists are ignoring: the actual existence of a nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the global organization responsible for securing nuclear materials around the world and making sure they are not spread or weaponized, has rigorous monitoring activities at Iran’s nuclear sites. It makes, as former U.S. National Security Council staffer Gary Sick writes, “frequent surprise visits, keep[ing] cameras in place to watch every move, and carefully measuring Iran’s input of feed stock to the centrifuges and the output of low enriched uranium, which is then placed under seal.”
For years, not one of the inspectors has been kicked out of Iran, a move that would signify that Tehran is about to up the ante on its nuclear material and turn it into a weapon. And U.S. intelligence has asserted that Iran’s supreme leader has not yet given the order to build a nuclear weapon, even though most experts (including the IAEA) suspect that Iran has some sort of weapons program underway. But most important, given the agency’s access, the inspectors have declared that there is currently no nuclear-weapons program to speak of in Iran. Of course, the IAEA has taken issue with restrictions on its access to Iranian facilities, but even America’s intelligence agencies, Israel’s Mossad, and countless others have come to the same conclusion themselves. These speculations about Iran’s hypothetical transgressions have at their source American uncertainty about Iran’s intentions, not certainty about Iran’s abilities.
An Iranian technician walks through a uranium-conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan in 2007 (Vahid Salemi / AP Photo)
After U.N. visit fell flat.
So much for an easy resolution. After U.N. Officials declared their Iran mission a failure after leaving the country Russia warned Israel and the West against launching airstrikes on Iran. The Russians said attacks would be “catastrophic” and that Israel should “consider the consequences” before launching a military effort. The inspection team was blocked from visiting key sites and prevented from speaking with Iranian nuclear scientists during their visit. "We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached," said IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who called the visit “disappointing.” Further ratcheting up tensions, hours before the inspection team left, Iranian Gen. Mohammed Hejaziwarned said that Iran will "not wait for enemies to take action against us."
IAEA inspectors abandoned their mission to see if Iran is building nuclear weapons after Tehran denied them access to the Parchin military test site, which some suspect may be used for developing nukes.
In a crucial mission at a time of escalating tension over Iran, United Nations nuclear inspectors failed to make progress on finding out whether the Islamic republic seeks the bomb, and the International Atomic Energy Agency wasted no time in announcing this. A terse statement issued just as the IAEA inspectors’ plane was taking off from Iran reported that the mission was a bust. The team had been denied permission to see the suspect Parchin military testing site, despite “intensive efforts” to make it happen during the visit Monday and Tuesday. Iran and the IAEA also failed “to reach agreement on a document … (to resolve issues) in connection with Iran’s nuclear program, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions.”
Iranian technicians look at an inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facilities, Aug. 8, 2005 (Behrouz Mehri / Getty Images)
The lack of results of the latest effort mirrored those of an earlier visit by IAEA inspectors a few weeks ago.
Iran had offered the two rounds of visits in an attempt to defuse increasing international tension over its nuclear ambitions. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in the statement: “We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached.” No further talks were planned, the IAEA said.
From the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the head of Mossad, the experts are speaking out against attacking Iran over its nuclear program, but hawks like the GOP presidential candidates are drowning out the warnings.
The debate over whether Israel should attack Iran rests on three basic questions. First, if Iran’s leaders got the bomb, would they use it or give it to people who might? Second, would a strike substantially retard Iran’s nuclear program? Third, if Israel attacks, what will Iran do in response?
The vast majority of people opining on these questions—myself very much included—lack the expertise to answer. We’ve never directed a bombing campaign; we have no secret sources in Tehran; we don’t spend our days studying the Iranian regime. So essentially, we decide which experts to trust.
As it happens, both the American and Israeli governments boast military and intelligence agencies charged with answering exactly these sorts of questions. And with striking consistency, the people who run, or ran, those agencies are warning—loudly—against an attack.
Sends message the U.S. should not arm rebels.
Message taken. Iran warned the United States by docking two warships in a Syrian port, while saying that the U.S. should not arm the opposition to Assad. Meanwhile, Syrian troops fired on protesters in Damascus late Monday night, wounding at least four people, activists told Reuters early on Tuesday. Violence has gotten increasingly worse in the capital in the last week, undermining President Bashar al-Assad’s insistence that the 11-month uprising has been backed by “foreign terrorists” and limited mainly to the country’s provinces. Russia, China, and Iran have backed Assad’s reform plans, while the rest of the world powers are working to pressure him to step down. The Red Cross was trying to negotiate a temporary ceasefire on Monday so that it can get medical care and supplies to Syrians, particularly in the beleaguered city of Homs.
As oil exports to U.K., France halted.
The team of United Nations nuclear inspectors is back in Iran for another round of talks, but it’s unlikely to result in a major breakthrough. The visit coincides with increased tensions between Iran and the West, with Iran yesterday cutting off oil exports to Britain and France in retaliation for tightening sanctions. There’s continuing talk about the possibility of Israel striking Iran in an attempt to delay its nuclear program, but yesterday Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that that would be a bad idea. A strike, according to experts, would require a massive effort from Israel’s Air Force.
In the West’s high-stakes nuclear game with Tehran, Ahmadinejad may hold the stronger hand.
The signs of economic recovery in the United States grow more numerous—and with them rises the probability of President Obama’s reelection. But two crises abroad threaten to rain on the American parade: the European sovereign-debt debacle and the phony war over Iran’s nuclear program. Most commentators treat these two crises as unrelated. But they are in reality two sides of the same crisis. Call it the Euranian crisis.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP-Getty Images)
The connection surfaced on Feb. 15 when Iran’s Oil Ministry threatened to cut off exports to six European countries in a bid to preempt the EU embargo on oil imports from Iran, which goes into effect on July 1. At first sight, this was just a new version of an old ruse: if someone threatens you with sanctions, try to get your retaliation in first. In typical fashion, it coincided with television coverage of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad personally inserting the first Iranian-made nuclear fuel rods into a reactor in Tehran (while chanting verses from the Quran)—as well as the arrest of three Iranians suspected of plotting attacks on Israeli diplomats in Bangkok.
It’s all rather reminiscent of that gangster character Jimmy Cagney used to play: the little guy who tries to intimidate bigger opponents by acting like a psychopath. But there’s even more method to Iran’s seeming madness.
And France, in response to sanctions.
Now they’ve done it. Iran halted shipments of oil to Britain and France on Sunday in retaliation against European Union sanctions, as the battle over Tehran’s nuclear efforts escalates. The export cut was announced by the Oil Ministry in a statement on its website. The EU, which accounts for about 18 percent of Iran’s oil exports, will begin a boycott of Iranian crude in July if the nation does not halt its nuclear ambitions, and Sunday’s action is seen as an angry preemptive strike against the bloc.
Spy chief visits D.C. to discuss possible strike.
Obama’s Iran diplomacy is getting even trickier. This week’s Newsweek reports exclusively that at the beginning of his presidency, Obama approved U.S.-Israel joint covert operations aimed at disrupting the Iranian nuclear program. The cooperation, however, was limited to nonlethal activities, and U.S. military and intelligence officers took pains not to share with Israel any information that could be used for activities like assassinating nuclear scientists. Newsweek has found, though, that Israel has stopped sharing some key planning information on Iran, and that Israel’s spy chief was in Washington last month to learn what the consequences would be for the U.S.-Israel relationship if Israel attacks Iran over the objections of President Obama.
Iran is believed to be funding a defense academy in Bolivia, and that's just one way Tehran is deepening ties with its new Latin ally. Ilan Berman on the budding relationship.
In the West’s high-stakes nuclear game with Tehran, Ahmadinejad may hold the stronger hand.
Ex-Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who is nipping at the heels of Mitt Romney, said in January that he'd bomb Iran's nuclear facilities if the regime didn't bow to his demands.