Friday, September 03, 2004

Neocons itching for Iran

PV Vivekanand

THE so-called neoconservatives in Washington have emerged again, although not necessarily on their own but dragged out by revelations of Israeli spying at the Pentagon and, more importantly, of their behind-the-scene moves, away from the eyes of the Bush administration, to prepare the ground for regime change in Iran. It is possible that Israel, backed by the neocons, might be tempted to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities before the US presidential elections in November and thus herald unpredictable consequences not only for the American military presence in the Middle East but also for the region itself.
A REPEAT of the Iran-contra scandal of the Reagan administration years seems to be in the offing in the wake of revelations that top-level Pentagon officials were involved in back-channel contacts with Iranian dissidents to advance Washington's quest for "regime change" in Tehran.
The revelations came following a report that Lawrence A. Franklin, a veteran Defence Intelligence Agency analyst, had passed on to Israel a White House draft directive on Iran through the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the strongest Washington lobbying group which could "swing anything in the US if it puts its mind to it," as some analysts observe.
Franklin worked under Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's number three official and an avowed non-conservative who has made little secret of his commitment to serving Israel and who played a major role in creating the false intelligence that was cited by the Bush administration to justify the war against Iraq.
Two aspects to the spying affair are of immediate relevance to the Middle East. The first is the reality that Israel has always kept itself abreast of administration thinking in Washington with a view to exploiting it to its best advantage, including influencing policy decisions and strategies. This has always worked against Arab interests since no Arab country has such intelligence access to Washington's secrets.
The New York Times has said: "American counterintelligence officials say that Israeli espionage cases are difficult to investigate, because they involve an important ally that enjoys broad political influence in Washington. Several officials said that a number of espionage investigations involving Israel had been dropped or suppressed in the past in the face of political pressure.”
The second is the existence of a parallel group in the corridors of power in Washington engaged in a relentless drive to implement an Israeli agenda using American resources —  political, military, human, financial, technical and whatever else — to serve the interests of Israel.
Many believed that this group —  the so-called neoconservatives — had lost its clout in Washington in the wake of the debacle that the Bush administration finds itself in since the neoconservatives had fabricated the ground for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in the name of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. More importantly, they convinced Bush it would be a cakewalk to take over Iraq.
(Alexander Cockburn, editor of Counterpunch, writes: "The neo-cons told Bush that eviction of Saddam would rearrange the chairs in the Middle East, to America's advantage. Wrong. They told him it would unlock the door to a peaceful settlement in Israel.Wrong. They told him that there was irrefutable proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq. Wrong. They told him the prime Iraqi exile group, headed by Ahmad Chalabi, had street cred in Iraq. Wrong. They told him it would be easy to install a US regime in Baghdad and make the place hum quietly along, like Lebanon in the 1950s. Wrong).
Franklin's boss Douglas Feith oversaw the work of the Office of Special Plans and the Counter-terrorism Evaluation Group, two bodies established by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in order to have the Pentagon's own intelligence analysis on the Saddam Hussein regime's alleged weapons of mass destruction programs and links to Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda group.
The two offices worked independent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and all other similar arms of the American intelligence network. More importantly, they co-ordinated closely with a special intelligence unit set by Sharon — meaning that the Israelis played a key role in providing the false intelligence that set the ground for the war against Iraq.
The analyses supplied by the Office of Special Plans and the Counter-terrorism Evaluation Group and endorsed by Feith disregarded CIA findings and formed the basis for the Bush administration's publicly presented arguments for the war against Iraq.
The analyses were found to be based on false intelligence findings since no weapon of mass destruction or Saddam's connection with Al Qaeda was found in post-war Iraq.

Deceptive games

The crisis that hit the US in the face in Iraq — both in terms of credibility at home and on the international scene as well as American casualties in what is proving to be a no-win situation — has done little to weaken the neoconservatives, who are continuing their wheeling and dealing in Washington to advance their agenda of removing all potential threats to Israel, including Iran, Syria and groups like Hizbollah and others.
More importantly, the neocons, many of whom occupy key executive positions in the administration, are willing to circumvent the executive authority as represented by the White House in their determined campaign. Their clout is not scaled down by changes in the White House since their influence is bipartisan. That partly explains why American administration are often found to be flouting the very founding principles of the United States regardless of who occupies the White House.
According to James Bamford, author of the recent book Pretext for War, "The neoconservatives surround themselves with people who are fanatically pro-Israel, and maybe they were too over confident, or felt that no one would notice or no one would care, or that they were running things so it wouldn't matter, but luckily the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) is independent of the Pentagon."
Under the effective guidelines supported by law, any US government official seeking the co-operation of foreign nationals to take secret action against other countries need a so-called presidential finding to engage in such activity. There is no indication yet that this was the case with the neocons' involvement with Iranian dissidents in planning regime change in Iran at the behest of Israel.

The Franklin affair

It is not the first time American officials have been found passing on American secrets to Israel or violating American laws and guidelines behind the back of the administration to serve Israeli interests.
The AIPAC officials involved in the Franklin affair have been identified as Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman.
Rosen is AIPAC’s director of research and said to the most influential people in group. . He has been with AIPAC since 1982, and "mentored both Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s current executive director, and Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel," says the Jerusalem Post.
Weissman is deputy director of foreign policy issues and specialises in relations with Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Franklin is also said to have had several meetings with Naor Gilon, described as the political officer at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
Founded in the early 50s, AIPAC claims it has 65,000 members spread out through the US and says its central mission is to support US interests in the Middle East and to strengthen the US-Israeli relationship.
The group's self-professed agenda includes "Stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
Predictably, the Israeli government and AIPAC have refuted the spying allegation.
Israeli officials say the government had forsworn against spying in the US after Jonathan Pollard, a naval analyst, was found to have given Israel top-secret information relevant to the Soviet Union as well as details of American weapons and military equipment sold to Arab countries in 1985. Israel in turn traded the information with the Soviet Union in return for Moscow increasing the number of Russian Jews allowed to migrate to Israel.
According to John Davitt, former chief of the Justice Department's internal security section, "when the Pollard case broke, the general media and public perception was that this was the first time this had ever happen.
"No, that's not true at all. The Israeli intelligence service, when I was in the Justice Department, [1950-1980] was the second most active in the United States, to the Soviets."
Jewish American leaders have voiced concern that the new scandal could have on the reputation of AIPAC and Israel, but, in all probability, the issue would be played down and buried soon, say some analysts.
"I would describe the reaction to this scandal in the intelligence community as one of anger and of contempt, but not of surprise," said Jason West, who has written extensively on US military and intelligence issues. "No one believes, at all, that Israel does not spy on the United States, and no has believed that since Pollard. ... Of course," he said in comments carried by Lebanon's Daily Star.
The neocon camp in Washington include many influential officials in the Bush administration; and they are interlinked.
Feith's office has close ties  with Vice-President Dick Cheney's office. Feith is known to be a diehard supporter of Israel. His former law partner Marc Zell has migrated to Israel and has served as a spokesman the Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank.
Feith, who served the Reagan administration its initial two years, was removed from the job in 1982 after coming under investigation for providing classified information to Israel. He was, however, brought back into active service by Richard Perle, another known neocon who the served as assistant secretary of defence for international security policy (ISP)
According to Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, the close collaboration between the neoconservatives and Israel date back some 30 years and some of the neocons have come under investigation in the past. They include Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz as well as Feith and Perle, who resigned as Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman last year. Another noted neocon is William Luti, a retired vavy officer who was Franklin's immediate supervisor.
Wolfowitz came under investigation for promoting Israel's export of advanced air-to-air missiles to Beijing in violation of a written agreement with the US on arms re-sales. But that is only a scratch on the surface of Wolfowitz's involvement with Israel.
Feith and Perle were the main authors of a 1996 policy recommendation document presented to the then Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting that Israel's domination of the region depended on removing Saddam from power and installing a US-friendly regime in Baghdad.
Also under FBI investigation is the links between Franklin and disgraced Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a favourite of the neocons. Apart from providing false information on Iraq's weapons programmes and nudging the US into launching war against that country, Chalabi has also been accused of providing classified information to Iran.

Core issue — Iran

The Franklin back-channel meetings involving Iranian dissidents began in late 2001, more than 16 months before the war against Iraq was launched and have continued since then.
Given that the Bush White House might not have been privy to details of the back-channel, which was operated out of Feith's office, it is also clear that the neoconservatives are pursuing their agenda with or without the administration; or using the administration's powers whenever they need it but otherwise ignoring the chief executive of the US.
In this case, they definitely have an added spur from Israel, which is itching to "take out" Iran's nuclear facilities. Not that Iran really poses a nuclear yet to Israel, but the Israelis cannot stand the thought of anyone developing or even thinking of developing nuclear weapons in the Middle Eastern neighbourhood.
In early 2004, Stephen Green, a freelance journalist with proven credibility and objectivity and who has been following Israeli spying in the US for many years, raised a very pertinent question in an article titled "Serving Two Flags: Neocons, Israel and the Bush Administration":
"Have the neoconservatives — many of whom are senior officials in the Department of Defence (DoD), National Security Council (NSC) and Office of the Vice President — had dual agendas, while professing to work for the internal security of the United States against its terrorist enemies?"
He also suggested that the "underlying agenda (of the neoconservatives) is the alignment of US foreign and security policies with those of (Israeli Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon and the Israeli right wing. The administration’s new hard line on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict certainly suggests that, as perhaps does the destruction, with US soldiers and funds, of the military capacity of Iraq, and the current belligerent neocon campaign against the other two countries which constitute a remaining counter-force to Israeli military hegemony in the region —Iran and Syria."
Green's question, which represented the thoughts and analyses of many other American commentators, seems to have been answered resoundingly and his observations confirmed by the latest "Israeli-mole-in-the-Pentagon" revelation that also exposed the extent of the effort for regime change in Iran.
According to the Washington Monthly, an investigative magazine, the FBI came upon the findings of a back-channel on Iran when it investigated Franklin, who is now working in the office of Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's number three civilian official.
"In particular, the FBI is looking with renewed interest at an unauthorised back-channel between Iranian dissidents and advisers in Feith's office, which more-senior administration officials first tried in vain to shut down and then later attempted to cover up," said the Washington Monthly.
The back-channel, according to the report, was created as a result of a power struggle pitting hawks in the Defence Department who want an aggressive bid for "regime change" in Iran and moderates in the State Department and the CIA who advocate a more cautious approach.
Franklin — who, by the way, is not a Jew but has worked in Israel —  and another expert on the Middle East, Harold Rhode, were involved in meetings and contacts with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and other Iranian exiles, dissidents and government officials, said the report.
Other officials involved in the first meeting in Rome in December 2001 included another American, the neoconservative writer and operative Michael Ledeen, who was then working for Feith as a consultant, and a former senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who claimed to have information about dissident ranks within the Iranian security services as well as Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, and Italian Minister of Defence Antonio Martino.
According to the Washington Monthly, the CIA and the US embassy in Rome were not told of the meeting (it says the US ambassador, who had just taken charge, heard about the meeting during a dinner with Martino, who apparently assumed that the diplomat had known about the meeting).
(Ghorbanifar was once classified as a non-desirable by the CIA since he played a key role in embroiling the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra affair which involved two secret US government operations to provide assistance to the military activities of the Nicaraguan contra rebels despite an official ban from October 1984 to October 1986, and the sale of US arms to Iran in contravention of stated US policy and in possible violation of arms-export controls).
(In late November 1986, Reagan Administration officials admitted that some of the proceeds from the sale of US arms to Iran had been diverted to the Contra rebels. Investigations found that high-ranking administration officials violated laws and executive to the contra rebels. Several were prosecuted and some were pardoned by Reagan, who pleaded memory lapses as his defence).
The meetings involving the "undesirable" Ghorbanifar — in breach of standing administration guidelines — continued despite warnings issued by senior State Department officials alerted by Ambassador Sembler. Particularly involved in the meetings was Ledeen, who was working for Feith at that time. Ledeen, who is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, ignored repeated cautions to stay away from Ghorbanifar and pursued contacts — the extent of which are as yet unknown — aimed at preparing the ground for regime change in Iran.
According to some reports, the meetings with Ghorbanifar was aimed at sabotaging an agreement between the US administration and Iran to exchange Iranian dissidents captured by the US in Iraq for Al Qaeda suspects in Iranian custody. Today, the Iranian dissidents are given "special status" and American "protection" in Iraq, with a pledge that they would not be turned over to the Iranian government.
The Bush administration has not disclosed the details of the back-channel on Iran, but, as some analysts believe, it might not have known the details either.
The Washington Monthly suggests: "The administration's reluctance to disclose these details seems clear: the DoD-Ghorbanifar meetings suggest the possibility that a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a 'regime change' agenda not approved by the president's foreign policy principals or even the president himself.
In terms of determination, the scenario is not much different from that was played out ahead of the invasion and occupation of Iraq last year, with the only exception that overthrowing Saddam Hussein became one of the policy objectives of George Bush in days after he assumed office in 2000. Since then, however, Bush went on to include Iran in his list of targets for regime change and has promised that the goal would be realised if he is re-elected for a new term in November.

Israel itching to go

Pat Buchanan, a former presidential candidate, writes that Sharon, the Israeli premier, is rumoured to have told the White House that if the US does not "effect the nuclear castration of Iran, Israel will do the surgery herself...."
The neoconservative agenda, says Buchanan, is "to have America widen her wars with Afghanistan and Iraq with a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities."
"For the neoconservatives, Iraq was simply Phase II of 'World War IV' for imperial domination of the Middle East and serial destruction of the regimes in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as of Hizbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority."
"The neocons have not abandoned this imperial project. Nor has Bush removed a single one from power, though they may yet cost him his presidency. And the neoconservative commentariat is again beating the drums for war -- this time on Iran."
Israeli commentator Martin Van-Creveld has suggested that Sharon might very well order an attack on Iranian nuclear plants before the November presidential elections in November.
Israel is said to have already conducted "trial runs" for attacks against Iran's nuclear facilities using Turkish airspace.
However, most analysts question the reports and doubt whether the Islamist-led government would allow Israel to use its airspace to launch attacks on Iran, particularly that which Ankara has been seeking to improve relations with Iran.
Israel cites the Islamist nature of the Iranian regime, Tehran's refusal to recognise Israel and its alleged support of Palestinian resistance groups fighting Israeli occupation as the reason for its "fears" that the alleged Iranian nuclear programme is Israel-specific.
However, this argument is countered by Tehran's affirmation that it would accept any solution to the Palestinian problem as long as it is acceptable to the Palestinians themselves.
It is open to debate but subject to the thinking of Sharon and his hawkish camp to pick the time for an Israeli strike against Iran on whatever pretext.
However, what has emerged from the latest revelations from Washington is that the neoconservatives are preparing the ground and action against Iran could come when Israel thinks the time is right, notwithstanding the numerous considerations linked to logistics and what many see as the impossibility of completely wiping out Iran's nuclear capabilities at whatever level they are.
Any Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could be not only be disastrous to American efforts to pacify the Iraqis, particularly the Shiites in the south, but also would also herald until dangers to its soldiers present in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.
Iran has already warned of "pre-emptive" strikes against American soldiers in the region and owed to hit back at Israel if the Jewish state attacked Iranian nuclear installations. 
Tehran asserts that neither Israel nor the US would launch any attack on its nuclear facilities because it has the ability to hit back at anywhere in Israel with its Shihab-3 long-range missiles. Iran needs only medium-range missiles to target American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Interestingly, the Israeli expert opinion that the Arrow-2 missile system — said to the most effective missile defence network — needs more work to be effective against Iran's Shihab-3 missiles is seen by many as a ploy to drag Iran into a long-range missile war where Israel would feel free to use its own long-range missiles as well as fighter bombers against Iran.
One thing is clear: Any Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would not be as easy as the 1981 Israeli bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, and Iranian retaliation for any such Israeli action would be far more damaging to the US than anyone else. But then, is that a serious source of concern for the pro-Israeli neocons?