Revolution #238, July 3, 2011

From a Reader:

New Iran Revelations... and the Specter of War

We received the following correspondence:

A recent statement by Meir Dagan, a former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, and a new article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh highlight the ongoing—possibly growing—danger of a military attack on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel.

In a speech at Tel Aviv University, Dagan warned that current Israeli policies of the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran and the Palestinians could backfire and lead to a "regional war." Dagan then said, referring to Iran, "I recommend that the Prime Minister decide not to attack." ("Ex-Mossad chief warns against attacking Iran," The Independent, UK, June 4, 2011)

In "Iran and the Bomb: How real is the nuclear threat?" published in the June 6, 2011, issue of The New Yorker, Hersh warns that the U.S. could again be heading into a war based on "faulty" intelligence—this time with Iran:

"...the United States could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein's Iraq eight years ago—allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimations of the state's military capacities and intentions. The two most recent National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress, representing the best judgment of the senior officers from all the major American intelligence agencies, have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003."

These warnings come after a decade or more of growing tensions, and the looming possibility of war, between the U.S. and its allies and the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Since the early 2000s, the U.S., Israel, and other world powers have charged that Iran has been secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, most likely for use against Israel, and that any and all means must be used to prevent this potential new "holocaust." This storyline has been repeatedly and continuously hammered at by government officials and the media.

This rhetoric has been matched by a "full-court press" of sanctions and diplomatic and financial pressures mounted against Iran, designed to weaken if not overthrow the Islamic Republic. In previous articles, Hersh has exposed some of the extensive covert U.S. operations against Iran. And secret diplomatic cables published over the past year by WikiLeaks revealed numerous calls, by various countries, for war against Iran, and Israeli preparations in 2009 for a regional war, including against Iran, across the Middle East. ("Around the World, Distress Over Iran," New York Times, November 29, 2011; "Israel Preparing for 'Large Scale War': Cable," Agence France-Presse [AFP], January 2, 2011)

On May 22, 2011, speaking to AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Council), President Obama stated, "So let me be absolutely clear—we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."  (

No "irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran"

Iran is actively working to build up a nuclear industry to generate power. As Hersh notes, "Iran is heavily invested in nuclear technology, and has a power plant ready to go on line in the port city of Bushehr, with a second in the planning stage. In the past four years, it has tripled the number of centrifuges in operation at its main enrichment facility at Natanz, which is buried deep underground."

Enriching uranium is needed both to generate nuclear power and to build nuclear weapons. But there's a major technological leap between enriching uranium to the 3-4 percent levels needed for generating nuclear energy and the 90-plus percent level needed for weapons. And there are other technological hurdles to actually building nuclear weapons and delivery systems.  

Hersh reports that there's no proof that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program:

"Despite years of covert operations inside Iran, extensive satellite imagery, and the recruitment of many Iranian intelligence assets, the United States and its allies, including Israel, have been unable to find irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran, according to intelligence and diplomatic officials here and abroad."

(Those covert operations have included U.S. Special Forces entering Iran and secretly replacing street signs in urban areas with "similar-looking signs implanted with radiation sensors," and removing "bricks from a building or two in central Tehran that they thought housed nuclear enrichment activities and replac[ing] them with bricks embedded with radiation monitoring devices." According to Hersh, "High-powered sensors disguised as stones were spread randomly along roadways in a mountainous area where a suspected underground weapon site was under construction" in order to track the movement of materials. "There is also constant satellite coverage of major suspect areas in Iran," he writes.)

"The Iranian enrichment program is being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency," Hersh reports, "and Natanz and all Iran's major declared nuclear installations are under extensive video surveillance. I.A.E.A. inspectors have expressed frustration with Iran's level of cooperation and cited an increase in production of uranium, but they have been unable to find any evidence that enriched uranium has been diverted to an illicit weapons program."

This is also the gist of the U.S.'s own top-secret intelligence estimates: the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran concluded "with high confidence" that Iran had halted a nascent nuclear-weapons program in 2003. This assessment was reaffirmed, according to Hersh, by a new, secret NIE in 2011.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the IAEA, an inspection organization run by the UN and the world's big powers, told Hersh, "During my time at the agency, we haven't seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials… All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran."

Iran: "a foremost national-security priority of the United States"

Hersh's reporting has been both dismissed and attacked by the Obama administration. The question—which Hersh does not answer—is why. Why do the U.S., Israel, and other world powers insist that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, even in the face of contrary evidence? And more specifically, why do U.S. officials insist their demand that Iran halt its enrichment program is non-negotiable? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran, "You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control"—even though under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran does have the right to a non-military nuclear enrichment program.

The reason is that whether or not Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons—and Hersh's report does not conclusively prove that Iran does not have or intend to have a weapons program—it does pose a profound challenge to the U.S. and Israel. This isn't because Iran is planning a strike on Tel Aviv or a direct military challenge to (or terrorists attacks on) the U.S., as U.S. strategists privately acknowledge. 

Iran is "a foremost national-security priority of the United States," as Dennis Ross, one of Obama's top Middle East advisers put it (as quoted by Hersh), because of its size, geographic location, vast oil and gas reserves, and because of the nature and agenda of the Islamic Republic impede and challenge U.S. and Israeli needs and objectives across the region and beyond. All this threatens to erode U.S. imperialist domination of the Middle East, which for over six decades has been a key pillar of U.S. global power and the functioning of U.S. capitalism-imperialism. And Iran with nuclear weapons—or even the potential to develop nuclear weapons—would both exacerbate that contradiction and seriously challenge unchecked U.S.-Israeli military supremacy.

Iran is NOT challenging the system of imperialism, with its division of the world into oppressor and oppressed nations. But it IS playing a role opposed to the U.S. desire to maintain overwhelming dominance in the region. As a relatively coherent reactionary, fundamentalist Islamic state, it also poses an alternative political and ideological model away from the direction that U.S. imperialism wants to take things in the Middle East and globally, and helps fuel Islamist trends which pose a big problem for the U.S. Iran has its own agenda in the region, which clashes with the U.S. and Israeli goals in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and elsewhere. Iran is building ties with powers, like Russia and China, which are emerging as rivals to the U.S. In sum, Iran's actions may be tilting the regional political and strategic "playing field" in ways unfavorable to Israel and the U.S.

Thomas Donilon, Obama's National Security Adviser, calls Iran's nuclear program "part of a larger pattern of destabilizing activities throughout the region.... We have no illusions about the Iranian regime's regional ambitions." ("Iran and the Bomb: How real is the nuclear threat?”)

The U.S.-Israeli Nuclear Calculus

For the imperialists and Israel, the nuclear issue is part of this larger set of problems, and one which could greatly intensify the challenge Iran is posing to the current U.S.-dominated order. "Even if the intent is not to develop nuclear weapons," ElBaradei told Hersh, "the successful acquisition of the full nuclear-fuel cycle, including enrichment, sends a signal of power to Iran's neighbors and to the world, providing a sort of insurance against attack."

A key element of U.S. Middle East dominance has been its monopoly—together with Israel—on nuclear weapons in the region. As Revolution wrote last October:

"If the Islamic Republic of Iran were able to acquire nuclear capability—and, again, it is far from proven that they are moving to do so—it would challenge Israel's unrivaled military superiority in this region of the world. Some believe it would provide Iran with a 'nuclear umbrella' for further strikes against Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah, because Israel would not be able to threaten Iran in the same way it does now. On the other hand, Israel has not been able to force the Palestinians to accept the kinds of agreements the U.S. has been attempting to impose on them, in large part because of Iran's support for Hamas.

"Iran with a nuclear capability could also alter the political calculus in the region significantly. It would put pressure on the pro-U.S. Persian Gulf shift their alliances toward the new regional power, Iran. It would also put considerable pressure on them to acquire nuclear capability of their own." ("Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day," Revolution #213, October 10, 2010)

In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. would "face a different world in four to five years" if Iran developed a nuclear weapon. (“Fear of ‘different world’ if Iran gets nuclear weapons,”, November 28, 2010)

Today's upheaval across the Middle East has only intensified these concerns—and the potential for war. The New York Times reports that every calculation the Obama administration makes about the regional upheaval, including whether or not to attack Libya, was shaped by how it could help or hurt Iran. ("The Larger Game in the Middle East: Iran," New York Times, April 2, 2011) Israel's Dagan warns that "Israel's leaders might act recklessly if backed into a corner by Palestinian efforts to seek membership of the UN in September and isolate Israel diplomatically." And the Wall Street Journal reports "a dramatic spike in tensions between two geopolitical titans, Iran and Saudi Arabia...many worry that the toll could wind up much worse if tensions continue to ratchet upward. They see a heightened possibility of actual military conflict in the Gulf, where one-fifth of the world's oil supplies traverse the shipping lanes between Saudi Arabia and Iran." ("The New Cold War," Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2011)

In his February interview with Revolution on events in Egypt and the Middle East, Raymond Lotta spoke to exactly this possibility: "If regional developments tilt things towards Iran's regional advantage, whether or not Iran acts to press any such advantage directly...Israel might decide to assert its regional military dominance and launch a strike against Iran." ("Interview with Raymond Lotta About Events in Egypt – Geopolitics, Political Economy, and 'No Permanent Necessity,'" Revolution #224 online, February 11, 2011)

Hersh's sources were high-level military and intelligence officials in the U.S. and Europe. These tensions within the U.S. ruling class reflect divisions over how to deal with the challenge from Iran, and the pros and cons of waging war. Cables published by WikiLeaks illustrate how the U.S. and its reactionary allies in the region view their vexing choices on Iran: "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it," the King of Bahrain said. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia "repeatedly implored Washington to 'cut off the head of the snake' while there was still time." A military official in Oman is described as unable to decide which is worse: "a strike against Iran's nuclear capability and the resulting turmoil it would cause in the Gulf, or inaction and having to live with a nuclear-capable Iran." ("Around the World, Distress Over Iran," New York Times, November 29, 2011)

An Unjust Regional Order...Maintained by Weapons of Mass Destruction

The uprisings rippling across the Middle East—from Yemen and Egypt to Morocco and Libya and Palestine, Iraq, Turkey, Syria—show how horrible life has been under the "peace" and "stability" of U.S. domination. There's absolutely nothing just about attempting to strangle Iran or threatening war against it in order to maintain it. 

As Revolution wrote in the special issue on Israel last October:

"The reality is the world is becoming much more dangerous, including with the spread of nuclear technology and weaponry. But in fact, the world already IS very dangerous, and it is mainly and overwhelmingly the actions of the U.S.—which has far and away the most nuclear weapons in the world and is the ONLY power which has ever used them—which has made it that way, and is making it more so. More than anything this points to the urgency of breaking out of this very negative and dangerous dynamic. And this means breaking out of shortsightedly thinking that striking Iran will make matters better, rather than worse. Such a strike—which itself might very well involve nuclear weapons—would be nothing but a case of big-time gangsters cracking down on up-and-coming gangsters. Again, it must be emphasized: the vast majority of the people of the world have no interest in siding with one gangster against another." ("Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day," Revolution #213, October 10, 2010)


Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond