Tag Archive for Iran

Palestine is still occupied

Recent news coming out of the Middle East has dealt with the ongoing killings in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, and the upcoming election in Egypt. There is also lots of superficial coverage about the threat of an Israeli and/or U.S. military attack on Iran, allegedly over the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons sometime in the future. And then there is the continuing catastrophe in Afghanistan.

Partially as a result of all these crises, other uncomfortable situations such as the disasters in Libya and Iraq are on the media’s back burner. Results of our illegal attacks on these formerly prosperous nations include driving their people into poverty and ongoing violence and the destruction of these countries. Despite their war crimes, our leaders apparently feel no responsibility for their actions or for helping the people recover from these disasters. The U.S. corporate-dominated media downplays both these situations.

Another issue that has dropped from the media’s radar is Israel’s 45-year long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Note that one result of the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran is that Israel essentially now has a free hand in the West Bank. President Obama is no longer putting any pressure on Israel to reach a resolution with the Palestinians. Instead Obama is focused on the Israeli threat to attack Iran.

Israel can now forge ahead with the relentless expansion of its illegal settlements without any more impotent protests from Western nations. In addition, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes continues, the uprooting of olive trees goes on, and more Palestinian irrigation systems are destroyed. Israel’s military still invades Palestinian towns, terrorizing civilians and arresting peaceful protestors. Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks between Palestinian towns continue to hamper Palestinian commerce. Israel’s control of the aquifers means that Palestinians are deprived of adequate levels of water. Moreover, Israel still bombs and kills in Gaza with impunity.

Besides the Israeli military’s actions, Israeli settlers also attack Palestinians. For example, in November 2011, Israeli Brigadier General Nitzan Alon criticized “acts of terror” by Jewish extremists against Palestinians.

Clearly Israel is satisfied with the current situation. Therefore the U.S. must pressure Israel in order to reach a just resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. A just resolution of this issue would help to defuse the Iranian situation and also improve the U.S. credibility in dealing with these other crises.

You Will Comply or Else

First published Feb 18, 2012 at CounterCurrents.org republished by author.

18 February, 2012 Countercurrents.org

Wheels of war, once made, want to be turned.

Wheels of war, once made, want to be turned.

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, once asked General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Albright’s statement nicely captures the U.S. approach to dealing with troublesome leaders. By troublesome, I mean those who have the temerity to oppose U.S. positions and who, at the same time, are far too weak to pose a real military threat to the U.S. Examples of nations that had such troublesome leaders include Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The leaders of Syria and Iran are also currently in the crosshairs.

Note the contrast between Albright’s words and those of President Eisenhower in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953. Eisenhower addressed the idea of regime change when he said: “Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.” He added: “Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.” Unfortunately the U.S., even under Eisenhower, did not base its actions on these words.

A pattern also emerges from examining the above one-sided conflicts that led to regime changes. The U.S. clearly feels no need for real diplomacy in these cases. For example, the U.S. often even refuses to talk with the other side. Instead, what passes for U.S. negotiation is the making of demands that the other side cannot accept. When the other side fails to accept all the U.S. demands, it faces U.S. action.

In general, the actions begin with a campaign by a compliant media here to frighten the U.S. population into supporting steps against the crazy leader who is a threat to his own people or to the U.S., covert acts including assassinations, creating and/or building up opposition leaders, threats of an attack against the enemy, the use of economic sanctions, and a military attack if the other steps haven’t worked. Sometime the U.S. attacks without going through most of the other steps. In the case of Iraq, even acceptance of U.S. demands was not enough to prevent the illegal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack.

The U.S. sometimes seeks to enlist the UN to provide a legal cover for its actions. For example, the U.S. often seeks the UN’s support for the sanctions. However, if the UN doesn’t accept the U.S. position, the U.S. and/or some of its allies apply the sanctions anyway. The U.S. also often attempts to gain the UN Security Council’s support for a military attack. However, if the UN doesn’t go along with an attack, the U.S. then turns to NATO or forms an ad hoc coalition of nations willing to join in military action.

Unsurprisingly, the compliant corporate-dominated U.S. media seldom, if ever, address the morality or legality of this approach that usually leads to a U.S. military attack on a far weaker nation. For example, the threat or use of force, except in self-defense against an armed attack or, unless taken by the UN Security Council, is prohibited under the UN Charter.

Sanctions have been in vogue for the last twenty years or so. However, more and more people today realize that harsh economic sanctions are, in effect, collective punishment of innocent populations. The devastation sanctions cause, particularly those wreaked on Haitians and Iraqis, has led to more frequent discussions about their appropriateness and legality. Some in-depth articles dealing with the legality of sanctions include:

The legality and morality of the U.S. approach should be discussed, especially given the U.S. campaigns regarding Syria and Iran. However, in the U.S. today, it seems to be outside the realm of polite discussion to point out that the threats to attack Iran by the U.S. and Israel are violations of the UN Charter. Few in the corporate-dominated U.S. media also challenge the idea of preemptive self-defense.

President Eisenhower also had some strong opinions on preventive war. He said: “I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing. …It seems to me that when, by definition, a term is just ridiculous in itself, there is no use in going any further.” Mary Ellen O’Connell’s article, The Myth of Preemptive Self-Defense, goes into much more detail about this issue.

When the US says that no options are off the table, it raises the awful possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state that has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty clearly is an extreme violation of the UN Charter.

Instead of the U.S. approach that relies heavily on the threat of the use of its military, real negotiations without preconditions are the key to resolving conflicts, including those with Syria and Iran.

Ron Forthofer Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado rforthofer@comcast.net

Israel vs. Iran: Deciphering the codes

The following article by Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at Colorado University-Boulder appeared in Huffington Post and Common Dreams. We are honored to have his work appear on Free Range Longmont.

Just days after the New York Times Magazine’s lurid cover story, “Israel vs. Iran,” the Washington Post struck back with a two-fisted effort to win the “most dire prediction” contest. The Post’s foreign policy pundit David Ignatius wrote a widely-circulated column claiming inside information: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June.” The next day the Post’s front page headline warned ominously, “Israel: Iran Must Be Stopped Soon.”

Both stories reported that the Obama administration opposes any Israeli action, just like the Bush administration before it. The risks to U.S. interests are incalculable, as the Pentagon and State Department have been telling us for years.

Yet both stories added a new note: Israel might strike without U.S. support or permission. “The administration appears to favor staying out of the conflict unless Iran hits U.S. assets,” Ignatius wrote.

Of course the U.S. is already in the conflict, as the Iranians know perfectly well. Israel’s ability to strike depends largely on its high-tech weaponry, paid for by the $3 billion a year coming from Washington. With that kind of money flowing — plus U.S. diplomatic support, which many in Israel see as their last barrier against international isolation — the Obama administration has powerful leverage to stop any Israeli action that threatens U.S. interests.

When the administration tells the Washington Post that the U.S. is unhappy but helpless, it’s obviously looking for deniability if the attack occurs. But it’s also a clear signal to the Israelis: Though we could stop you, so far we have not decided that we will. This is a major shift in the message coming from Washington.

Why now? Ignatius put it delicately: “Complicating matters is the 2012 presidential campaign, which has Republicans candidates clamoring for stronger U.S. support of Israel.” Obama, the Republicans, and the mass media all assume that a red light from the White House to the Israelis would hurt the president on Election Day.

Why should the voters punish a president for insisting that U.S. interests must come first and for preventing an attack that would probably cause a spike in gas prices?

The two WaPo articles offered an important clue. One mentioned Israeli warnings about “an existential threat to Israel.” The other called this “a time when their security is undermined by the Arab Spring.”

For decades, American voters have been inundated with news stories reporting supposed threats to Israel’s security as if they were objective fact. Rarely do our mass media allow any questions about, much less objections to, the myth of Israel’s insecurity. At least two questions are urgent now:

Even if the Iranians did manage to make a handful of nuclear weapons, why should we believe they would ever use them against Israel? They know that Israel already has 100 to 200 nukes of its own, enough to destroy every major city in Iran, and is perfectly prepared to use them. Iranian leaders have not given any evidence that they’re interested in committing national suicide.

And why should we believe Israel was better off before the Arab Spring, when its neighbors were all dictatorships, breeding grounds for popular anger that could easily turn (or be manipulated) against outside enemies? Governments that better reflect public sentiment are more stable and reliable for their neighbors to deal with. In fact, the Arab Spring movement is having a moderating effect on Islamist politics, as both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are now demonstrating.

Read the references to Israel’s insecurity in the two WaPo articles more closely, and a third question arises: Do Israelis leaders seriously believe that their national existence is threatened?

The front-pager says:

Israeli officials warn that beyond posing an existential threat to Israel, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon could trigger a regional nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East and alter Israel’s strategic position in the region.

Since Israel brought nukes into the Middle East decades ago, its concern about a “regional nuclear arms race” is code for other Mideast nations getting nuclear capability. “Strategic position” is code for Israel’s current absolute military domination of the greater Middle East, symbolized by its sole possession of nukes. It’s that symbolic as well as very real domination, not its national existence, that Israel is at risk of losing.

“Symbolic” is the right word when it comes to nuclear weapons because Israel’s nukes don’t have any practical value. Israel doesn’t need to use its nukes; it has shown itself more than capable of winning any conventional war against its neighbors. And the U.S. has guaranteed that Israel will stay far ahead in the high-tech conventional arms race.

If Israel did use even one nuke against a conventional attack it would probably lose the last shred of its dwindling support around the world, including most of its support in the U.S., and end up isolated, a pariah in the international community. That’s the greatest nightmare for most Israelis.

The Israelis are considering an attack on Iran, fraught with immense dangers, so the Jewish state can keep its symbolic status as the region’s only superpower.

David Ignatius confirms this view in his reference to Israel’s supposed insecurity: “Israeli leaders are said to accept, and even welcome, the prospect of going it alone and demonstrating their resolve at a time when their security is undermined by the Arab Spring.”

Resolve to do what? To do whatever it takes to maintain military superiority. But superiority is useful only if it’s publicly demonstrated from time to time. Symbolism is the key to a sense of national power.

If these WaPo journalists are right — and my forty years of studying the issue tells me they are — what really makes Israeli leaders feel insecure is their fear of not having their power respected. To gain that respect, they’ll talk endlessly about their planning to attack Iran. Perhaps one day they’ll do it, as long as Obama doesn’t raise the red light.

The main thing holding him back is election-year anxiety of his own, fueled by the millions of voters who honestly believe that Israel’s existence is constantly in peril. Why shouldn’t they believe it, when the journalists they depend on for their information repeat that myth endlessly, while they hint at the full truth only in rare sentences that get lost amid the flood of words that evoke fear.

But how tragic that a president has to worry about voters punishing him if he puts U.S. interests above Israel’s desire to symbolize its military strength and resolve.

Read more of Ira Chernus’ writing on Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. on his blog.

New York Times Hypes Israeli Attack on Iran

The following article by Professor Chernus has been published on Huffington Post and on CommonDreams.com.

It’s an impressive piece of art: the cover of this week’s New York Times Magazine. “ISRAEL VS. IRAN,” spelled out in charred black lettering, with flame and smoke still rising from “IRAN,” as if the great war were already over. Below those large lurid letters is the little subtitle: “When Will It Erupt?” — not “if,” but “when,” as if it were inevitable. Though the article itself is titled “Will Israel Attack Iran?”, author Ronen Bergman, military analyst for Israel’s largest newspaper, leaves no doubt of his answer: “Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”

Bergman does cite some compelling arguments against an Israeli strike from former heads of Mossad (Israel’s CIA). And he makes it clear that no attack can prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons if it wants them. Everyone agrees on that. The argument is only about whether an attack would delay the Iranian program by a few years or just a few months.

Nevertheless, his article stacks the deck in favor of supposedly persuasive reasons for Israel to act. It’s almost a hymn of praise to what one Jewish Israeli scholar has called Iranophobia, an irrational fear promoted by the Jewish state because “Israel needs an existential threat.” Why? To sustain the myth that shapes its national identity: the myth of Israel’s insecurity.

That myth comes out clearly in Bergman’s conclusion: Israel will attack Iran because of a “peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”

Fear of what? Defend against whom? It doesn’t really matter. Israeli political life has always been built on the premise that Israel’s very existence is threatened by some new Hitler bent on destroying the Jewish people. How can Israel prove that Jews can defend themselves if there’s no anti-semitic “evildoer” to fight against?

So here is Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, talking to Bergman about Iran’s “desire to destroy Israel.” Proof? Who needs it? It’s taken for granted.

In fact, in accurate translations of anti-Israel diatribes from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there’s no mention of destroying or even harming Jews, nor any threat of war. There’s only a clear call for a one-state solution: replacing a distinctly Jewish state, which privileges its Jewish citizens and imposes military occupation on Palestinians, with a single political entity from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Guess who else called for exactly the same resolution to the conflict: the most renowned Jewish thinker of the 20th century, Martin Buber. Plenty of Israeli Jews keep Buber’s vision alive today, offering cogent (though debatable) arguments that a one-state solution would be in the best interests of Jews as well as Palestinians.

Yet Ronen Bergman and the editors of the New York Times Magazine see no need for their readers to encounter these facts.

Nor do they see any need to mention the most important fact of all, the one most flagrantly missing from Bergman’s long article: No matter what Iran’s leaders might desire, it’s beyond belief that they would ever launch a single nuke against Israel. They know full well that it would be national suicide. Israel has at least 100 nukes, and 200 or more by many estimates, all ready to be used in a counterattack.

Which makes it hard not to laugh when Bergman reports Ehud Barak’s other arguments for attacking Iran. Even if Iran doesn’t intend to kill all the Jews, “the moment Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the region will feel compelled to do the same.” That’s the foolish “stop a Middle East nuclear arms race” argument we hear so often coming out of Washington, too — as if Israel had not already started the Middle East nuclear arms race decades ago.

And how can a supposedly serious journalist like Bergman solemnly repeat the latest popular argument of the Iranophobes: A nuclear-armed Iran (in Barak’s words) “offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies,” Hezbollah and Hamas. That “would definitely restrict our range of operations” in any war against those so-called “proxies.”

As if Iran would even consider committing national suicide to serve the interests of any Lebanese or Palestinian factions.

Yet the myth of “poor little Israel, surrounded by fanatic enemies bent on destroying it” is so pervasive here in the U.S., most readers might easily take this Iranophobic article at face value, forgetting the absurd premises underlying all arguments that Israel “must” attack Iran.

What American readers think is key here. Most Israelis do believe that (as Bergman puts it) Israel needs “the support of other nations to survive.” It’s a crucial piece of their myth of insecurity. And the only nation that really supports them any more is the U.S. So Israel won’t attack Iran without a green light from Washington.

Bergman glibly asserts that there’s some “unspoken understanding that America should agree, at least tacitly, to Israeli military actions.” For years, though, a torrent of reports from Washington have all agreed that both the White House and the Pentagon, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, would refuse to support an Israeli attack on Iran. The consequences for the U.S. are too drastic to even consider it. Why should that change now?

Bergman’s article ignores the obvious answer, the most crucial missing piece in his picture: Barack Obama wants to get re-elected nine months from now. Despite what the headlines tell us, he doesn’t really have to worry about pleasing hawkish Jewish opinion. Most American Jews want him to work harder for peaceful settlements in the Middle East.

What Obama does have to worry about is Republicans using words like these (which Bergman tucks into his article as if he were paid by the GOP): “The Obama administration has abandoned any aggressive strategy that would ensure the prevention of a nuclear Iran and is merely playing a game of words to appease them.” Only a dyed-in-the-wool Iranophobe would believe the charge that Obama is an “appeaser,” but we are already hearing it from his would-be opponents.

Obama also has to worry about fantasies like the one Bergman offers (apparently in all seriousness) of Iranian operatives smuggling nukes into Texas. Republicans will happily spread that story, too.

All of this could be laughed off as absurdity if the American conversation about Israel were based on reality. Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear power now and for the foreseeable future, is perfectly safe from Iranian attack. Indeed, Israel is safe from any attack, as the strength of its (largely U.S.-funded) military and the history of its war success proves.

But as long as the myth of Israel’s insecurity pervades American political life, an incumbent desperate to get re-elected just might feel forced to let the Israelis attack Iran. The only thing that would stand in the way is a better informed American electorate. Apparently that’s not what the New York Times Magazine sees as its mission.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Read more of his writing on his blog. Contact him at chernus@colorado.edu

Deja vu all over again

The above phrase from Yogi Berra, that great American sage, captures all too well the latest campaign against Iran. We are seeing a repeat of the ploy used against Iraq and its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Our leaders lied repeatedly and the subservient corporate media were complicit in building support for the U.S. attack on Iraq.

Aggressive wars are war crimes

Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, said: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The U.S. attack on Iraq, a war crime, eroded U.S. credibility and standing worldwide, and an attack on Iran would only worsen this situation.

Campaign against Iran

It is alarming that only Ron Paul, among all the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, has positions on Iran consistent with those of U.S. intelligence agencies and international law. Paul pointed out that Iran doesn’t threaten our national security and there is no proof that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. He also said that Western sanctions are “acts of war” that are likely to lead to an actual war. Paul added that if Iran did build a nuclear bomb, “What are the odds of them using it? Probably zero. They just are not going to commit suicide. The Israelis have 300 of them.”

Many supporters of an attack on Iran point to the recent International Atomic Energy Agency’s report as proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor started his Nov. 9 article with: “The latest United Nations report on Iran’s nuclear program may not be the “game changer” it was billed to be, as some nuclear experts raise doubts about the quality of evidence — and point to lack of proof of current nuclear weapons work.” Several informed critics of the report consider it as being more of a political document than a credible scientific analysis.

Seymour Hersch’s Nov. 18 New Yorker article also challenged mainstream reporting on the IAEA report, referring to, among other sources, an Arms Control Association’s assessment of the report. According to the ACA, the IAEA report suggested Iran “is working to shorten the timeframe to build the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.”

Hersch added that Greg Thielmann, a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst who was one of the authors of the ACA’s assessment, told him, “Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report.”

Intelligence estimate

The National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, a consensus estimate from the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, expressed a high level of confidence that Iran had stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The agencies also had a moderate level of confidence that the work remained frozen.

February 2011 testimony from James Clapper, director of the National Intelligence Agency, reiterated many of the key findings from the 2007 report. Clapper also said that the advancement of Iran’s nuclear capabilities strengthened the intelligence community’s assessment that Tehran has the capacity to produce nuclear weapons eventually, “making the central issue the political will to do so.”

Iran’s political will

In 2005 the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and reiterated this idea in 2009 saying: “We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons.”

Conclusion

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We cannot allow nor afford a much larger version of the unnecessary, illegal and costly Iraqi debacle that left a devastated and unstable Iraq.

Ron Forthofer, a retired professor of biostatistics, has lived in Longmont for 20 years. Mr. Forthofer’s article was also published in the Longmont Times-Call.