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Empire
Transcript: Targeting Iran
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Last Modified: 13 Dec 2011 13:37

This is the transcript for the Empire episode Targeting Iran (Thursday, December 1, 2011)

Marwan Bishara

Hello and welcome to Empire. I am Marwan Bishara. As Washington decreases its military presence in Iraq and Iran increases its political influence in Baghdad, American strategists are warning against a massive shift in the balance of power in the region in favour of Tehran, which continues to develop and expand its nuclear project despite Western condemnations and sanctions. Meanwhile, Israeli warnings of a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, if diplomatic means fail, threaten to turn a dangerous stalemate into a regional war as the precarious situations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain spiral out of control. Has Iran reached a new threshold in its nuclear development? Is that what’s worrying Western powers? Or is it Tehran's increasing regional influence? I'll discuss these issues and more with my guests: Professor Arshin Moghaddam at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and the author of Iran in World Politics; Yossi Mekelberg, director of International Relation programme at Webster's University's Regents College and associate fellow at Chatham House; Doctor Rouzbeh Parsi is a research fellow at the EU's Institute of Security Studies; and last but by no means least, Dilip Hiro, author of 33 books including Iran's Today and After Empire.

Marwan Bishara

But first, a quick recap of US policy towards Iran and Iraq and vice versa since the Islamic revolution.

Narrator

Is this the smoking gun? 

Yukiya Amano (director general, IAEA)

Iran has a case to answer.

Narrator

A report come out. The evidence appears solid, but not necessarily new. Within the confines of the IAEA, the west gets to justify tightening its grip. 

Glyn Davies (US ambassador, IAEA)

Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.

Narrator

Meanwhile Iran gets to look defiant. 

Ali Asghar Soltanieh (Iranian ambassador, IAEA)

These allegations are all fabricated in order to have a pretext of putting pressure on Iran.

Narrator

And so the pattern repeats itself once again. Israel, the United States and Iran all reciting from the same old script, but with a few new twists.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Israeli prime minister)

If Iran develops nuclear weapons, the Arab spring could well turn into an Iranian winter.

Hillary Clinton (US secretary of state)

If Iran’s intransigence continues, it will face increasing pressure and isolation.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iranian president)

History has shown Iran’s enemies have not tasted glory or victory.

Narrator

But how much of this brinkmanship is justified, given that Iran's leadership has always maintained its nuclear programme is not for military use?

Mohammad-Javad Larijani (Iran council on human rights)

Nuclear weapon does not add to our capability. It is more liability than asset.

Dana Allin (Co-author: The Sixth Crisis)

Iran has clearly been moving toward… a nuclear weapons capability, if not the actual decision to build an actual nuclear weapon. This seems likely to lead to a conflict, but we’ve been saying that for many years.

Narrator

The geo-politics of this particularly showdown date to the Iranian revolution. Decades of western inference in the region were laid bare in an instant and, once the repercussions began, Washington was forced to take sides.

In the 19802, the United States and, by extension, the west, chose to back Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war. It's well known during this time Saddam ordered chemical attacks against his own people. Less well known is that he also did so against several Iranian targets.

Yet this atrocity was conveniently overlooked by his friends in Washington. 

Meanwhile, the American administration was also doing secret illegal arms deals with Iran, and when they were caught, struggled to tell the truth.

Ronald Reagan's attempts to explain this bordered on the absurd. 

Ronald Reagan (former US president)

A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

Narrator

By the early 1990s, the Americans adopted a dual containment strategy with the goal of isolating both Iran and Iraq at once. but in reality it made no sense, as two countries which loathed eavh other now had a common cause and common enemy in Washington.

The invasion of Iraq changed the dynamic yet again, completely disrupting the balance of power and inadvertently setting the stage for this latest standoff by giving Iran a new incentive to defend itself ... and all the while, the fundamental Israeli philosophy has remained unchanged.

Binyamin Netanyahu

Israel is the first target, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Dana Allin

Now, we can argue about whether that position is justified, but I don’t think we can argue that this is pure propaganda. In other words, I think the Israelis actually genuinely believe it.

Narrator

Which brings us to today. From Washington's perspective, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have helped rid the world of terrorists and dictators, but Tehran sees another motive, as it finds itself increasingly surrounded by American might. So what's the solution?

Professor Paul Rogers (Global Security, Oxford Research Group)

One possibility is that the Iranians make it clear that they’re not going to go the whole way and, in a sense, give themselves a possibility to do it technically but not actually do it, and then invite the Atomic Energy Authority in to basically see clearly how far they’ve got. That would be quite a clever move.

Narrator

Within Iran, there is overwhelming support for a domestic nuclear industry, and it's not just pro-Ahmadinejad supporters who utterly reject the hypocrisy that allows Israel to have nuclear weapons, but not Iran.

Professor Paul Rogers

In a sense, the nuclear programme is part of an Iranian perception of modernity, that it is a 21st century with 3,000 years of history and must be taken seriously, but that does not mean that they’ve taken the decision themselves to develop nuclear weapons.

Dana Allin

The Iranian nuclear programme, although it’s been steady, it’s been directed, it’s been very serious, it’s never been what you would call a crash programme and it still doesn’t look like a crash programme. They’re moving methodically.

Narrator

Understanding the importance of this point reveals that just as the west has been playing this international game to gain advantage, so too has Iran; and so the diplomatic manoeuvring continues its twists and turns, much like Iran's nuclear programme.

Marwan Bishara

Gentlemen, let’s start with the timing. Do you think this has to do with new revelations by the IAEA or do you think this has to do more with American withdrawal from Iraq?

Professor Arshin Moghaddam (SOAS, University of London)

I think it has to do with the fact that the United States is opposed to Iran being a regional power, so the IAEA reports feed into the whole political context and the geo-political context that we’re facing in that region and the competition between the United States as a global superpower and Iran as a regional power, so the IAEA reports cannot be detached from the geo-political competition. The facts only work to the extent that they feed into that rivalry and they are interpreted within the context of that rivalry, so starting the discussion by actually, you know, looking at whether or not the IAEA actually deliver that smoking gun is, in my opinion, a fallacy because you have to look at the context in the first place.

Marwan Bishara

Yossi, you think the Atomic Agency’s being manipulated for geo-political reasons?

Dr Yossi Mekelberg (International Relations, Webster University)

It’s possible, but one question - whether the facts are true or not, and if they are correct and Iran developing nuclear capability of some sort, this is one thing, and what are the geo-political implication of it? Of course, there are different things, but the reality with nuclear weapons, unlike other type of weapons, there is a point that it’s irreversible or it’s much more dangerous and difficult to reverse and the international community, if they oppose and actually going to do something to stop it, then it’s what is the point of no return that we need to have, and whether international organisation are manipulated or not. It’s definitely a possibility.

Marwan Bishara

So Rouzbeh, tell us, what actually is in this report that is new that talks about a threshold or a point of no return?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi (Institute of Security Studies)

Well, I think a lot of us were a bit underwhelmed by the report, because it doesn’t really contain that much new. I mean, what it does is to incorporate things that most people have suspected or claimed to know for several years, and so what it shows is, or it claims to be able to prove that Iran had some kind of systematic weaponisation programme up until 2003, which in and of itself is not new, so everything that happens after that is much more hazy because there is much less to go on in terms of data to interpret.

Marwan Bishara

So you actually don’t think there’s anything in this very recent report that we didn’t know before and all what there is is being used for geo-political ...  

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

Well, basically what we’re dealing with is a political problem and we’re trying to grasp for the technical details, because we like to think that those are objective - they’re not part of geo-political gain - but that is, that’s not the case because when you’re dealing with nuclear stuff, it’s always within a geo-political context and in this one, what everyone who wants to squeeze Iran in a sense have decided is that it’s enough shocking and enough news to be able to use it to squeeze Iran.

Marwan Bishara

Is this a question of Iran actually developing the capacity to have a bomb, or is it not?

Dilip Hiro (author: Iran Today)

It is the change of person at the top. As long as Alberzai was in charge, and he said that he used to be very careful for the final draft, he said in one case he redrafted the whole thing three zero times, 30 times, because he did not want to give the Western powers any leeway to come around and say, “Let’s hit Iran”. Now we have a different Director General and he is therefore not as cautious and, in fact, Mr Berzai himself said that, you know, to get rid of Saddam Hussein, to kill one million people, that kind of a thing is not on. Before we go on, ask a simple question - why did Israel go on and develop nuclear bomb? Simple, from the mid-1950s, why? Because Israel felt that when push comes to shove, the Western powers will not be able to, or will not protect it. It’s the same attitude behind Iran and its rulers. They want to make sure that their realm remains secure and therefore whatever they are doing is defensive. It’s not something they want to use against Iran or against all Arabia etcetera, etcetera. That’s a driving point.

Marwan Bishara

But is it ambiguity, then, that they are pushing? Or is it actually acquiring the capacity but not developing the bomb?

Dilip Hiro

Yeah, absolutely. I think again we have to look at what happened in Iran/Iraq war, everything flowing from Iran/Iraq war in 1980 to ’88. In March 1985, Saddam Hussein launched what’s called war of the cities. It went on for one month. Before that, Ayatollah Khomeini, who was the founder of the Republic, he was against any nuclear thing because it was un Islamic, because nuclear bomb does not distinguish between fighters and civilians. Whatever Iran is doing, it’s doing defensively and, yes, they would want to have this bomb not to go against somebody, but to protect themselves.

Marwan Bishara

In fact, Yossi, one of the leading Israeli strategists suggested after the 2003 war that, if Iran did not develop the bomb before, it would be stupid not to develop it after that war, because now it’s surrounded by American forces in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

I would argue the opposite, because after Iraq, Iran is in the best position ever, probably, in the region because its major enemy has been weakened and, as a result of it, in the region, regardless if they have nuclear.

Marwan Bishara

But now you’re talking after 2005, when the American occupation started to fail ... 

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

Correct.

Marwan Bishara

…and civil war started to take place, but in 2003 America was pretty much mission accomplished.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

Right now, in many ways Iran is such in a strong position because the rest of the West and Israel missed the rest of the region, so they have more access to Lebanon, they have more access to the Hamas, which is Suni based, more access to Iraq in a way they didn’t have before 2003. Developing nuclear weapon mean joining an exclusive club and when you’re join an exclusive club, you need to behave in a certain way. It also means that the minute that there is a confirmation of their military capability, the rest of the world will look at it, including Israel, and will target Iran in a way that it wouldn't do today. A lot with nuclear weapon is about the intention, about the perception, the kind of language, for instance, that come from Ahmadinejad, for whatever reason, domestically, regionally, will be treated very differently with being backed by nuclear weapons. I think the current position is actually Iran’s best position.

Marwan Bishara

In fact, the question of ambiguity, Arshin, the question of ambiguity is quite important here, because it seems that, whether it is a question of what’s so called “Takia” meaning they actually don’t wanna say what their real intentions are until they reach their goal, so whether they are developing nuclear weapons or not, it remains their strategy to conceal it; or second, that for the time being it’s helpful for them to develop that and to keep saying that they’re not, simply to avoid more international pressure or, perhaps, an international strike against them.

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

One could say they were following the Israel model in that regard, but the sense of ... 

Marwan Bishara

Don’t tell them that, though.

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

No, no, I wouldn't, but the sense of insecurity is really what is important here. It’s not a sense of insecurity that is in any way irrational or that has nothing to do with the realities of modern Iranian history. Iranian history is littered with impingement on Iranian politics, with the coup d’état in 1953, with what happened during the Iran/Iraq war, with, you know, the build up of the WMD infrastructure of Saddam Hussein during that war, and after that the ongoing talk of military confrontation, sanctions, confrontations in Iraq, in Afghanistan and so on and so forth, so it is the sense of insecurity that feeds into the security doctrine of the Islamic republic, so one way of dealing with that sense of insecurity and of actually warding off the development of a nuclear weapon would actually to have a grand bargain to emphasise diplomacy and to address that sense of insecurity, in order to have that nuclear weapon as a taboo topic within Iraq.

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

I think there are two added elements here that differs Iran from Israel, for instance, but also makes a difference between the international setting and the regional setting and that is the fact that Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, so that ambiguity is necessary, just to be able to kind of lawyer up and withstand the scrutiny to some degree, but the other aspect of it is that if you are going to actually weaponise and assemble a nuclear bomb and tell everyone, while it would ward off the Americans on the international scene, it would actually lose in a regional setting because once you have the bomb and you’re starting to show it off, you’re gonna get the Egyptians and everyone else thinking about it and once everyone has one, then your strategic advantage of being a regional power is somewhat lost. If Bahrain can afford one, then they’ll power with you, which in every other aspect they’re not.

Marwan Bishara

I sense there’s a discrepancy here, so tell us – is Iran then developing nuclear weapons in an ambiguous fashion or… is the IAEA report not accurate and it’s just basically an instrument of Western powers?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

If I were an Iranian decision maker, I would aim for the ambiguity of having breakout capacity. Considering the history of the region and where things are going, that would be a very rational decision to make.

If they had been steadily doing it and that was the end goal they were aiming for, after all these years they would have managed one, so obviously the intention and the political calculus is what really counts and that’s what we don’t know.

Dilip Hiro

See the whole thing, IAEA, they’re going on, look at India and Pakistan. Pakistan went in to acquire a nuclear bomb, because they knew that in conventional war, they will never be able to beat India; and the moment they acquired atom bomb, it was an act of support for China. In fact, their atom bomb assembled was tested in China, in February 1984. See, so that is the whole point, because Pakistan always afraid. India so big and if any conventional war, we would be finished off and, very importantly, when there was a very tense situation between the two countries, Pakistan refused to say that we will not have the first strike of a nuclear power, because they are keeping this, you know, as their important card.

Marwan Bishara

And you see here the parallel between them and Iran and Israel and Iran and the United States?

Dilip Hiro

Absolutely.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

Israel in the ‘50s is really different, for instance, from Iran now. Israel, even Pakistan, because there is a conventional military asymmetry in the ‘50s or even Pakistan or India. Iran actually is in a quite strong position, but at the same time, I completely agree with you, there is always a sense of insecurity, as most revolution …

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

No it isn’t actually …

…it isn’t actually in a strong position. I mean, when you compare the conventional military capability of Israel and Iran, I mean, there is no comparison, of course. Iran does not have the military capabilities today to launch any kind of invasion of any of its neighbours and the security doctrine is not geared to any kind of invasion. It’s to secure the borders continuously. This has been historically the primary objective of Iranian states and it is until today.

Dilip Hiro

Yeah, I always find this, Iran isolated, Iran isolated, from what? Iran is in bed with China. Iran is in bed with Russia. Where’s Russia? Russia is next to the Caspian Sea. You know what I mean? They are neighbours. To say Iran is, you know … isolated, it’s all brain washing.

Marwan Bishara

Is Iran isolated, Rouzbeh?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

No, I don’t think Iran is isolated, at least not to the level that most Western countries would like to believe or would like to aim for. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Iran is just enjoying international life and managing its economy splendidly etcetera, etcetera.

Marwan Bishara

It is difficult for the Iranians to withstand American forces surrounding it from all sides and asking for regime change in Tehran.

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

And at the same time, you know, all the other countries in the region have highly developed military, conventional military capabilities.

Marwan Bishara

So you don’t think Obama’s assurances to the Iranians have helped, that they will deal with you on mutual respect and mutual, on the basis of mutual respect?

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

Well, it was rhetoric, I mean ...

Discourse is important. I’m not saying that when Obama came in and he opened up the door, I’m not saying that this was merely rhetoric and it didn’t have an impact.

Marwan Bishara

Was too late?

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

It was, no, it was … a new movement towards a new discourse, a new rhetoric, but it was not backed up by actual action.

Marwan Bishara

And now they are in a situation of comfort with advantage in Iraq. Maybe, and that’s the thing, go back to my first question - what is worrying Washington and other capitals in Europe?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

Well obviously, I mean, but that’s inevitable. I think, I mean, one of the things that strikes me as somewhat strange is that, when you look at how the Western powers have tried to deal with an understand what’s going on in the Middle East, they seem to forget one of the basic laws, if you will, that most people in the region understand - there is a difference between a permanent neighbour and a guest and the Americans are guests. They’re never gonna stay that long, so you can never trust or count on them to the same degree as when you know that you have a neighbour who’s gonna stick around.

Marwan Bishara

Well, we’re gonna talk about neighbour that some think they’re a guest and some other people think they are fixtures in the region. We’ll do that after we come back from a news break, but before we do here’s the latest tale of assassinations and dirty tricks by the intelligence agencies.

Narrator

On the surface, it is pure farce. 

Broadcaster

Agents of Iran conspire to set off bombs in Washington DC and assassinate a young ambassador.

Interviewee

This is a very radical group of people.

Interviewee 

They have contempt for the United States.

Interviewee 

It seems to me they have gotten away with a lot.

Interviewee 

This certainly sets the stage for what could be Saudi retaliation, Israeli retaliation.

Narrator

The plot involves secret payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars; a cousin who was a big general in the Iranian Army; and members of the Mexican drug cartels ... but the more details that emerged about the so-called mastermind behind the operation - Manssor Arbabsiar - the less likely it seemed.

Robert Mueller (director, FBI)

It reads like the pages of a Hollywood script.

Eric Holder (US attorney general)

Conspiracy to murder a foreign official …

Conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction …

Conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism …

…was conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran.

Narrator 

The Americans started rattling sabres. 

Preet Bharara (US attorney, New York)

We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground.

Hillary Clinton (US secretary of state)

Iran must be held accountable for its actions.

Narrator

The Iranian response to these accusations was to be expected. 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iranian president)

Why should the Iranian people go inside the US and kill the ambassador of a friendly country?

Ramin Mehmanparast (Iranian foreign ministry spokesman)

Such scenarios prove the political fluster and desperation of the United States.

Narrator

But such far-fetched schemes are straight out of the CIA and Mossad's playbook, and something's definitely going on.

Three Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in the past two years and there was an attempt to kill another nuclear physicist by sticking a bomb to the side of his car as he drove through Tehran traffic.

A mysterious cyber virus called stuxnet set back Iran's nuclear programme by years ...

… and recently, there was an accidental explosion at the Al-Ghadir missile base that killed the architect of the country's nuclear missile programme.

So what next? 

Leon Panetta (US secretary of defense)

The toughest sanctions - economic, diplomatic pressures on Iran - to change their behaviour.

Narrator

And perhaps more. Much more.

Barack Obama (US president)

We’re not taking any options off the table.

PART II

Marwan Bishara

Welcome back. Although war has hardly ever resolved any problem or dispute in the Middle East, the region - which makes up six per cent of the world population - accounts for 20 per cent of its conflicts and this is about to increase by more than a notch if Israel and its friends have it their way. They continue to incite against Iran and threaten a pre-emptive attack against its nuclear capabilities. If this scenario materialises, it could develop into a fully fledged war that could burn the whole region. If this is hard to imagine, a preview of this dramatic war scenario is perhaps in order.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Israeli prime minister)

The greatest danger facing Israel and the world is the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran.

Narrator

And Israel is prepared to do something about it. The plan - plan A - would see Israel launching a limited, surgical, pre-emptive strike; attacking with long range aircraft and armed drones; firing cruise missiles from its submarines in the Arabian Sea or launching its latest Jericho III missiles. But the Iranians have learnt from history. They have spread and concealed their nuclear installations across the country, so in this scenario, instead of hitting a single target like in Iraq or Syria; Israel would have to target all seven Iranian nuclear reactors.

Professor Dan Plesch (director, Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy)

In this sort of surgery, many people die. The Israelis would attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but they wouldn't be able to inflict long term permanent damage.

Narrator

And Iran would have to retaliate.

Patrick Henningsen (managing editor, 21st Century Wire)

If Iran retaliates, every US ally in the region or Israel ally in the region is a potential target.

Narrator

Iran's ally, Syria, could also join in, plus Iran's proxy forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon, would fire rockets into Israel; and there's the possibility of unconventional attacks on Israeli interests across the world.

Professor Dan Plesch

An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would likely only accelerate the Iranian desire to obtain nuclear weapons, so this idea that you would attack certain facilities in Iran and leave Iranian retaliatory capabilities intact breaks every rule in the military and political playbook.

Narrator

So, what's plan B?

Barack Obama (US president)

The United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Professor Dan Plesch

The US military, however, had plans really since the fall of the Shar for military action.

Patrick Henningsen

Cyber warfare is stage one; stage two in the military sense would be massing of ordinance, air blast bombs or the MOB - mother of all bombs. This is the most powerful traditional military non-nuclear bomb that the US has in their arsenal. There are also a new generation of bunker busters.

Narrator

An American strike would be neither limited nor surgical. 

Professor Dan Plesch

A massive American attack on Iran would be able to attack some 10,000 different aim points more or less overnight.

Narrator

Their plans would destroy all Iranian air and sea bases ...

…and hit all known nuclear facilities. Iran would be left in flames.

Professor Dan Plesch

The Americans would claim that these were surgical strikes, although I’m sure there would be very, very considerable casualties, of course, but mostly off camera.

Patrick Henningsen

If the US or Israel hit a nuclear reactor that is going at full steam, you have the potential of a giant dirty bomb and then the civilian deaths could be in the hundreds of thousands.

Narrator

This conflict, with estimates of between one and two million Iranian civilians dead, could get out of hand.

Leon Panetta (US secretary of defense)

You gotta be careful of unintended consequences here.

Patrick Henningsen

The best laid plans of mice and men don’t always come to fruition. Chaos theory can come into play. This is uncharted territory for both America and Israel.

Narrator

After such a massive offensive, Iran would fire everything it had left towards Israel. It would launch wave after wave of attacks against western targets in Iraq and Afghanistan and damge ports and oil refineries in the Gulf. The US would ask its NATO allies for support, dragging Turkey and the two nuclear poweres, Russia and China, reluctantly into the conflagration.

Patrick Henningsen

After the first stage of an attack on Iran, this could …balkanise the global geo-political scene into a new Cold War scenario.

Professor Dan Plesch

The consequences for the world as a whole are a terrible return to 19th century power politics, which of course produced the First World War.

Narrator

The result could be apocalyptic.

A new wave of global violence could follow and soaring oil prices would be the final blow to a global economy.

Are such doomsday scenarios bluff? Psychological warfare? Or is the world really prepared to go this far?

Marwan Bishara

You know, it’s disturbing, just watching this.

Discussion participant

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Marwan Bishara

Yossi, what do you think? Is the war scenario realistic for you?

Dr Yossi Mekelberg (associate fellow, Chatham House)

I think, you know, famous words to say low likelihood, but it’s a possibility and I think countries sometimes can talk themself into war, moving from war of words to actually war itself and I think you sense this in Israel, even, you know, the the former Mossad said  “No, this is crazy”. The consequences we just saw in the clip can be, I don't know if it’s a third World War or not, but, you know, the targets, they’re into retaliation 'cause they need to contemplate, even if it’s successful, what will be the retaliation? What happen if it fails? Then there are complications and implications to Israel’s deterrents in the region, so I think any …

Marwan Bishara

So that will push Iran to certainly then develop nuclear weapons?

Discussion participant

Yeah.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

Yeah, of course. It also depends, you know, what kind of operation it is against Iran. Is it solely Israelis? Israel and the United States? Will they manage to dismantle in this case? How much of these early air force will be lost? Some talk about 25 per cent of the force lost in Israel, so any Israeli Prime Minister, when the Chief of Staff would come and say, “Here is the scenario” and what you probably will think more than twice before sanction. Had it not this been the case, probably would have been an operation long time ago.

Marwan Bishara

But Rouzbeh, it seems to me that when Israelis attacked in the past, they didn’t say so much about it, they didn’t prepare the whole world before they attacked Syria, they attacked Iraq. They hardly said anything.

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

No, that’s the difference. I mean, usually when Israel wants to do something, they do it in the quiet – they don’t go around having press releases about it all the time, so in that sense you can say that the war of words that we’re having now would be an indication that there is no plan at the moment to actually conduct an attack and I think …

Marwan Bishara

You think the war of words is exactly that, the war of words?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

Well, to some degree, but at the same time we also have to remember that the problem with the script, where all they’re playing their parts, is that they’ve gotten used to these parts and they’re good at them. I mean, BB Netanyahu has been talking about Iran for more than a decade now and he always compares it to Hitler Germany, and Ahmadinejad on his side, of course, has his own way of describing the region and being very anti-Israeli in rhetoric, so in that sense I think there is, we shouldn't take it for granted it is just words. I mean, we should be careful about the fact that they can end up having a war, not because they want one necessarily but because they talk themselves into it.

Marwan Bishara

Do you think there is a scenario of a psychological warfare being waged by Israel and the United States in order to coerce Iran into becoming more transparent?

Dilip Hiro (author: Iran Under the Ayatollahs)

Any difference from what Israel did in… Iraq in 1981 and Syria 2007 doesn’t apply. They were only one off, ok? In this case, the programme of Iran programme is scattered all over the place, so that’s one. Secondly, I remember a piece done by David Sanger in New York Times, he talked to an expert, he said it will require more than 1,000 strikes to do a proper job and it can’t be done one way. You have the first, you know, bombings and then after ten days you can go again and those 10 days what’ll happen? The whole Middle East and the Arab world, the Muslim world, will rise up, you know? So it’s not so simple that oh, you go in and bomb and it’s …

Marwan Bishara

So do you think we are still in the logic of psychological warfare or not, Dilip?

Dilip Hiro

Yeah, of course it is psychological. You know, they are trying to scare the Muallah’s but I have to say the Mullah’s are not easily scared. They have been living with this since 1979. They can’t do so many things, you know …

Marwan Bishara

But Dilip, if they’re not scared, then why do they keep repeating something that’s not working?

Dilip Hiro

No, yeah, I think …

Marwan Bishara

It’s usually as a sign of craziness.

Dilip Hiro

Yes, yes, yeah. Of course, they do … ultimately simple question - are they allowed to refine uranium or not? If they can refine up to 3.5 per cent, 20 per cent, why not to 85, 90 per cent? That particular right they will never give up. That’s a key point, because if they give up that right, that means they are saying “We will not protect our Islamic republic”. That will never happen under any circumstances, that’s one. Secondly, you know, their, shall I say, strategic relationships are developing very strongly with China …

Marwan Bishara

And so they don’t care about … an Israeli threat …

Dilip Hiro

No, I …

Marwan Bishara

… because they feel protected globally?

Dilip Hiro

Yes, yes, of course.

Marwan Bishara

Is there an American/Israeli complicity here or is there an American/Israeli disagreement? Because if America is on board, I don’t think the problem of a thousand or two thousand attacks is going to make any difference.

Dilip Hiro

Yeah.

Professor Arshin Moghaddam (author: Iran in World Politcs)

No, there is, I think, disagreement to a certain degree on the issue of war, so the Americans have repeatedly signalled to the Israelis that if they would even contemplate going ahead with even surgical strikes, they wouldn't get any backing from the United States. There is method in the madness, so to say, so there are a couple of sane people around who have tried to get the war issue off the table. At the same time, I agree that, you know, one could be a hostage of fortune, a self-fulfilling prophecy, when we continue to re-emphasise that war is the last option and we continue to say, “Well, you know, if they don’t react then we need to go to war”, then we know what must happen. I agree with the gloomy outlook of the report. It would be Armageddon, it would be disastrous, it would probably a war on the global scale because this is what happen when you pit a regional powerhouse with a global superpower, and Iran’s, by the way, talking about the issue of isolation, Iran’s strategic alliances are not confined to the region. They have strategic alliances in Latin America as well.

Marwan Bishara

But, you see, the problem with all of that is those who argue for a strike, they argue from a very simple perspective, agree with it or not. They seek to say, “Look, it’s easier to fight Iran today than to fight a nuclear Iran tomorrow” …

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

Mmm.

Marwan Bishara

… so maybe the cost will be huge, but we’re gonna do it anyway, first. Second, that if Israel does end up doing it, it will eventually drag the United States along anyway.

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

This is the analysis that should be on top of everything. There is no military solution to the nuclear issue in Iran, so no military strike can actually stop the nuclear programme. If they would want to go for a nuclear weapon, a strike would facilitate a move towards [INAUDIBLE].

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

I think I both agree and disagree because, I mean, in one sense I think it’s, when you look at Iran and disbursement of these facilities etcetera, it’s gonna be more than a surgical strike to do anything, even to delay it for a year or two; but I think the domestic politics of the United States is such that if Israel were to decide to go on its own, they know more or less, surely, that any American President would be pressured by Congress, by Senate, by public opinion to join in and if …

… if the Americans come in, they’re basically going to industrially degrade Iran 20, 30 years. They’re not gonna…

Marwan Bishara

Like they did to Iraq.

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

Why is that so unrealistic?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

I don’t think, that’s not …

Marwan Bishara

It’s been done before.

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

I don’t think’s unrealistic in the sense that it’s not doable. Whether it will buy you more than ten, 15 years is a different question and the question that one wants to ask, in a sense, is will the region look worse after that or better? And I think we would all agree, probably, that it’s going to look much worse, but if you’re so cyclopic vision is they shouldn't have nuclear weapons or anything near it, then of course everything but that looks better.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

What happens when Iran has nuclear weapons? We sort of talk to ourself that Iran will never have nuclear weapons, we won’t allow it, instead of actually thinking “What happens the day after they have nuclear weapons and what kind of Middle East is going to develop?” and how this can actually be deterred.

Marwan Bishara

What sort of Middle East?

Dilip Hiro

Yeah.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

I think it’s a Middle East tha t…

Marwan Bishara

The two states threatening each other, maybe nothing will happen, like India/Pakistan …

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

So …

Discussion participant

Yeah.

Marwan Bishara

… or Moscow/Washington or …

Discussion participant

Yeah.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

And exactly, it’s probably too left to move to something along the Cold War details. We setting exactly the prices. What happen? Unless you believe that Iranians are completely irrational people just because…

Marwan Bishara

But if anything, they have proved to be quite rational the last…

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

For the sake of it, yeah.

Marwan Bishara

… 30 years.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

So they were, exactly.

Marwan Bishara

They pass it towards Iraq, they pass it towards Israel. In general, they prove to be quite pragmatic actually.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

Exactly, and because they proved to be rational, probably they develop certain levels of, high level of details that might even serve as a stabiliser in the Middle East instead of the opposite. The potential, if I just finish this …

… is the proliferation …

Dilip Hiro

Yeah, yeah.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

… and what happens also if the leak of knowledge and technology and material into non-state and this need to be addressed as well.

Dilip Hiro

Let’s say Iran has nuclear weapons. They also have a delivery and let’s say that they have actually fired off one or two or three against Israel. What happens? As we know, Israel has submarine and they’re equip with their nuclear bombs and they are constantly in the Persian Gulf area, so then it is not a question that, you know, they will have to wait, “Oh my God, we’re totally destroyed, nobody can…” There will be a reprisal and can you imagine how many targets there are in Iran? Hundreds of targets, so Iran would be wiped out. I mean …

Marwan Bishara

Already  actually …

Dilip Hiro

Which Mullah would go for doing what I describe - actually hit Israel with a nuclear weapon? No.

Marwan Bishara

Let’s stay with the present scenario. If Iran is attacked today …

Dilip Hiro

Mmm.

Marwan Bishara

… what capacity does it have to expand the landscape of war against Israel, the United States and others in the region?

Dilip Hiro

No, of course what’ll happen, there will be a reaction because, as we speak, Iran’s intelligence agencies have their agents etcetera, etcetera all over into the Gulf region. They have their agents etcetera, etcetera in Lebanon and, of course, Hamas and so and so forth. They will make life very difficult for Israel and, of course, in terms of America, America still has troops in Iraq. Israel is they will make nuclear they will go into overdrive, ok? And of course, they are in Afghanistan, Americans, and they’ll make life difficult, miserable for them, so this will be the reaction at the ground level. I mean …

Marwan Bishara

So you agree, then, that a strike will trigger a major, perhaps regional, war?

Dilip Hiro

I wish I could be the only person to say this. You know who has said this before me? Robert Gates. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary of USA has said this - this war will have unintended consequences, one; and secondly, the …

Marwan Bishara

And Mr Panetta, the current Defence Minister.

Dilip Hiro

No, but he also said we don’t wanna start another war because we know what happened Afghanistan, we don’t want Iraq so I think there are sensible people. They were afraid of Saddam Hussein, rulers, because they were involved too long, but I don’t think they’re really afraid of Israel.

Marwan Bishara

Well, so … sanctions don’t seem to be working, as Iran is not exactly isolates; a strike or strikes, an attack also, might lead to regional war, hence that doesn’t sound very realistic or rational for people to carry; what is, then, the third option? Can we be witnessing now the development of … proxy wars in the Middle East? That Iran, the United States and Israel will start running wars in various countries, whether it’s in Iraq, Bahrain, Syria certainly is going on, Lebanon?

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

Well, I mean, I can tell you what I would want to happen, that is a security architecture that actually works, a security architecture that stops being exclusive, that includes Iran as a regional power. If we realise and if we accept, which is the reality, that Iran has access to all these spaces, that it is a regional power, it seems to be entirely irrational that we spend all our intellectual forces to think about war and … you know, sanctions and confrontation. Why don’t we start thinking about an inclusive security architecture for the region that …

Marwan Bishara

Arshin, it sounds …

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

It sounds like an utopia.

Marwan Bishara

… it sounds wonderful, but let’s look at the realities in the Middle East. We have arming of the Syrian opposition because everyone understands that the Syrian regime is allied with Iran…

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

Mmm.

Marwan Bishara

… there are Gulf leaders who are calling to cut the snake’s head, as it were, and they are hoping for some sort of a containment, if you want. There are Israeli threats and warnings. There is a huge American armada in the region and any accident can take place any day and could lead to an escalation of war, so is this the thing that we’re witnessing today - a third option that’s just gonna be long and difficult and involve a lot of people in some kind of intensive war?

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

No, I think there is actually interest in the United States to get some kind of accommodation with Iran and I believe it’s the same in Iran as well, and there have been low level diplomatic contacts and I think it could be a beginning towards a new chapter between the countries. If the presidency, let’s put it that way, if the presidencies of Obama and Khatami,  would have coincided, then we would be at a very different place as we are today.

Dilip Hiro

Let’s see, let us look at economics. Supposing all this that we’re talking about, you know, a strike Iran etc, happens, what happens to the oil place? It go up. Secondly, US and the European Union is in deep crisis economically. All of that will escalate so …

Marwan Bishara

World recession.

Dilip Hiro

… you know, so I mean, so what’s the point of, you know, hitting Iran etcetera, etcetera and creating more tension? Already Iraq is… not fully done, Afghanistan is running sore, US and Pakistan are quarrelling with each other and all that will start another, you know, hot war. It’s going to be destructive economically.

Marwan Bishara

Everyone included.

Dilip Hiro

Economic systems …

Marwan Bishara

Tell me something, Rouzbeh …

Dilip Hiro

Economic systems …

Marwan Bishara

… you work in a European institute, we haven’t discussed Europe yet, but we know Russia and China are not exactly encouraged by the new pressures on Iran, they’re not taking the UN seriously. Europe - is it playing a bridge here, a bridging …game of sorts? Or is it just being, you know, a follower of US policies in the region?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

I think you can say that both the United States and the European Union are deeply inflicted by something we could call policy inertia, that is that we can come up with all kind of rational reasons why they should change their policy, but the point is that they’ve been doing for so long that the sanctions drive, the notion of pressure working etcetera, none of these have really that much of an empirical basis, but they do it because it’s the default position, so …

Marwan Bishara

No, but can you state more clearly, it has failed.

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

Well …

Marwan Bishara

Hasn’t it?

Dr Rouzbeh Parsi

… they don’t think of it in terms of failure. They think of it of something that we know how to do and hence we will do it again and again, because no-one wants to pay the political price to come up, stick out their neck, come up with different political alternative.

Marwan Bishara

Let’s talk about the alternative. So what’s wrong, Yossi, with a nuclear free Middle East, then?

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

First of all, nothing wrong with a bit of utopia because it can be made into reality, 'cause I think there is a need for new - what do you call it? - security architecture in the sense that what Obama actually came in, it was mentioned earlier, “Let’s engage with Iran”, 'cause in any good diplomacy you need the sticks and the carrots, what you get if you change your policy, and when Obama came, they hold the carrots there; then when he became the President, we all moved again to the same old sticks.

Marwan Bishara

The former head of the Atomic Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said, “Iran is no donkey. It’s a regional power. It shouldn't be treated not with sticks and not with carrots”.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

But you need to have good diplomacy so did the Iranians what they get out of changing that. One of the problems also that comes from Iran and especially from Ahmadinejad …

Discussion participant

Mmm, mmm.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

… because it always, you know, Ahmadinejad is always the one man causes bailey and every time that he opens his mouth …

Marwan Bishara

But is that defensiveness …

Or out of offensiveness?

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

It’s a bit of incompetency, to be honest. I mean, there is no doubt about that.

I mean, it’s … absolutely right.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

It covers for domestic incompetence …

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

Yes, yes.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

… so what you do? You export your domestic issues into external issues. From Israel point of view, I think they get it completely wrong. Iran is not their main problem. Resolving the issue of the Palestinians should be top, top, top of their priorities. What happens in the Arab Spring immediately, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon? Those are big issue.

Marwan Bishara

So there is the same degree of populism in Israel by the Netanyahu government, I guess.

Dr Yossi Mekelberg

If you are Netanyahu, there’s nothing new that is a populist and so …

Professor Arshin Moghaddam

Right wing politics is always dependent on the enemy image. It doesn’t matter whether it is here, in the United States, in Iran or Israel. There needs to be an enemy to be combated for, and it’s always also for domestic reasons and for domestic politics and it goes for Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu, the George W Bush administration, and I’m very worried about what’s coming out of the, you know, Presidential candidates from the Republican side. They seem to outdo each other when it comes to Iran and, you know, everyone wants to be the big macho on that topic, and it’s quite worrying, what they are talking about, I have to say, so …

Marwan Bishara

Gentlemen, we will have to call it a day. Thank you for joining Empire and I will be back with the final thoughts.

Since the 1980s, the US, Israel and their allies have been warning about Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb, and since they repeat themselves tirelessly, I thought I might do the same. Here is what I said two years ago.

In 1981, Washington estimated with a high degree of certainty that Iran could have nuclear weapons in two to three years. The following year, a Congressional report predicted Iranian nukes within months; and in 1995, US Defence Secretary William Perry claimed that Iran may be less than five years from building the bomb. In 1998, US General Anthony Zinni said Iran could have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons within five years; and in 2000, the CIA couldn't rule out Iranian possession of nuclear weapons; and in 2006, the US military was reportedly operating under the assumption that Iran is five years away; while in 2009, German intelligence sources warned of Iran as a nuclear power in six months; and this year, US and Israeli officials predicted Iranian warheads by 2014 and prototype may only be months away. Look always crying wolf …

…must remember, when the truth finally catches up with them, it might be too late to do anything about it … and that’s the way it goes.

Write to me at empire@aljazeera.net. Until next time.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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