A Deal for A Deal

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Robert Fox 

We should all be wondering what President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert have been saying behind the scenes on Iran. Both men are obsessed with the subject, and have made some pretty apocalyptic utterances about the use of force, sooner rather than later, to stop Tehran going nuclear.

So far, on the visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, we have had George W Bush the peacemaker - some seven years after he trashed Bill Clinton's last-ditch effort to get a negotiated deal on a Palestinian state. President Bush has indicated that there should be no more Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He has also said he expects a signed agreement on a future Palestine.

So what's the quid pro quo? Only last year, we had Israel warning that Iran would have to be dealt with militarily, and Israel would be prepared to go it alone. America, in the words of one Washington insider, "bought Israel off" by offering $3bn extra aid, knowing pretty well it would go on military materiel.

Last September, the Israeli air force bombed a site within Syria, which it was hinted contained either an actual or potential "nuclear facility". The Syrians did not complain over much, and chosen Israeli commentators stated that this showed that something really was there in Syria, and that the Russian designed air defence systems could not stop the Israeli planes getting through. Since Iran uses Russian missile defences of a similar design, it all proved that a strike on Busheir, Natanz, Isfahan and wherever was "doable".

Then, at the end of last year, we had the announcement of the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had terminated a crucial programme on nuclear payloads for their missile systems in 2003. This assessment by key US intelligence agencies had been known about for some months, but the announcement in the NIE smelt of high politics.

It appeared to be a warning to the White House of Bush, and above all Cheney, from the key agencies and the military command not to think about hitting Iran - at least not for now, and that means for the duration of the remaining days to their regime. It is known that many in the military command, including some on the Committee of the Joint Chiefs of the services, have doubts about the wisdom and effectiveness of a strike on Iran, particularly given the heavy engagement of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the cheerleaders of the think-tanks of the political right in the US, in the UK it must be said, are not to be put off. One group wrote in the International Herald Tribune that the NIE revelations strengthened rather than weakened the case for getting tough with Tehran. They argued that the cutting of the programme in 2003 proved that they had dissembled to that point, and were probably still deceiving and lying, and so had to be pulled up in short order.

Likewise, a group of academics in the UK, at a meeting sponsored by the usual assortment of interested emigres from the Gulf region, sat down to discuss what might be the outcome of a premeditated or provoked strike against Iran by the US and/or Israel? The meeting, I understand, chose to ignore the political or strategic implications of the NIE report - and, with scant expertise in the matter, discussed the utility of force in this matter.

Bush and Cheney still hanker after regime change in Tehran. The old mantra that "Iran won't be allowed to go nuclear on our watch" still holds true. Now we have the peculiar business of the Revolutionary Guard fast boats buzzing a string of US warships in the Gulf. According to the Pentagon video, the swarm boats are asked to identify themselves. Apparently, they are reluctant to do so. The Pentagon narrative has hinted that the Iranians let believe that they had boats packed with explosive.

Now the Iranians have issued their video, in which they show it was they who asked the US navy convoy to identify itself first. This backs their claim that the challenge was a routine and frequent occurrence.

So what is going on? The US military continues to be reluctant to use force against Iran. The Israelis only have some 18 strike planes, and they want have to fly some 2,000km to get to their target and back. A combined strike with US planes would require heavy support from the US Air Force KC-135 in flight tanker fleet, many of which seem about to drop out of the sky.

The nasty conspiracy theory says that Bush and Cheney will wait until just after the presidential election in November to make their move. Then they wouldn't be bothered by the War Powers Act, which gives them 40 days to do their darnedest before Congress has its say.

Ugly rumours ... but the US's friends and partners, and the rest of the world, should wake up to the distinct possibility.


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