24 December, 2007

Nuclear War this summer?

John Berlin: Why the Bush Turnaround on Iran ?

2007-12-22 | So now the US. official point of view is that Iran has not been striving for a nuclear arsenal over the past four years. That.s quite a break from the Administration.s established creed. After a long time of heated rhetoric from Mr Bush, even making intimations of war over the past months, suddenly the official position is that the possible nuclear threat from Iran is far, far less than expected. Has the US intelligence community, in its most recent National Intelligence Estimate , suddenly regained some of its objectivity? Or is the Bush Administration suddenly striving for better relations with Iran?

Not very likely. The US intelligence community for years has doggedly followed its master.s voice, from manufacturing .evidence. against Iraq to .rendition. (i.e. kidnapping people and stealthily incarcerating them in secret prisons - without due process) to .enhanced interrogation. (i.e. torturing people), and from supplying .evidence. in secret tribunals to wiretapping without a warrant. These practices have not changed; so why should we believe that US intel suddenly is not following White House directions regarding Iran? Objectivity is not the first notion that comes to mind when looking at the NIE. So whatever the NIE says, it.ll be what the White House wanted it to say. Why would Mr Bush now officially want Iran to be far less dangerous?

Are they still at it?
First things first. Can Iran really be expected to actively try to get a nuke arsenal? Very strictly speaking, we cannot be one hundred percent certain. Over the years, Iran has not been very forthcoming in providing information to the IAEA, and in recent months - when pressure on Iran was mounting - President Ahmadinejad has been threatening domestic critics with treason charges. But when we take even a brief look at Iran.s track record, we get a telling impression.

Look at just a few examples. Iran neither reported to the IAEA the purchase of 1,800 kilograms of natural uranium (1,000 kg of UF6, 400 kg of UF4, and 400 kg of UO2) from China in 1991, nor the uranium.s subsequent transfer for further processing . And .Iran failed to report that it had used 1.9 kg of the imported UF6 to test P-1 centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company centrifuge workshop in 1999 and 2002. In its October 2003 declaration to the IAEA, Iran first admitted to introducing UF6 into a centrifuge in 1999, and into as many as 19 centrifuges in 2002. Iran also failed to declare the associated production of enriched and depleted uranium. . A few months ago it was estimated that Iran already had a minimum of 3,000 operational centrifuges.

Furthermore it hid the existence of laser enrichment plants at the Tehran Nuclear Research centre, as well as at Lashkar Ab.ad. Actually, the Iranian authorities did their best to hide the existence of (or, if that proved impossible, the actual proceedings of what went on in) most of the country.s eighteen nuclear facilities for many years - and still the IAEA does not have really unlimited access to Iran.s nuclear facilities - to use an understatement. Not long ago, IAEA inspectors admitted that they had never been granted access to the underground facility at Natanz; hence they had been unable to establish at all how many centrifuges were installed there, and when.

And only recently traces of uranium were found at a university in Tehran, and again Iran is not helping in producing clarity.

A simple question: why (try to) hide it, if it.s all so peaceful? Is there not a very worrisome pattern of behaviour here? And if it.s all so peaceful, why then is it that, according to reliable sources, Iran.s foreign intelligence service was eyeing the lightly guarded Serbian nuclear facility at Vinca (where, sources say, 40 kilograms of enriched uranium were stored) in 2007? Credible sources indicate that Iran only months ago wanted to get its hands on fissile material.

Moreover, the IAEA assessed that at Iran.s Isfahan facility (operational since February of 2006), for example, 37 tons of .yellowcake. (i.e. almost completely raw uranium) was to be processed into uranium hexafluoride - sufficient, according to experts, for the production of five nuclear weapons.
Nukes? Why not still assume they have some peaceful application for the stuff they.ve been keeping from the IAEA and which they.ve trying to hide? Well, for example there are significant indications of problems that Iran has in developing and/or modifying its missiles, which problems (according to experts) can only really plausibly be explained as experimental difficulties in fitting nuclear-type warheads on their conventional missiles.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The above examples are only a slice of a multitude of similar examples. One can always try to explain away the most plausible, but in fairness: Iran still really appears to be going for the nuke arsenal. And besides: Iran.s uranium and plutonium programs as such, even without the weaponization aspects, are still operational and thus in violation of binding UN Security Council Resolutions .

Surprising? No. Israeli and other intelligence services estimated in mid-2005 that Iran would reach the theoretical point of no return by mid-2006 at the latest, i.e. Iran would by then have acquired sufficient expertise to know what was needed to produce nuclear weapons, even if it didn.t have the hardware then to complete the process. When Iran crosses the technological threshold, i.e. when they get the hardware in order, they will have a nuclear weapon. Credible sources who must remain anonymous, say that Israeli and other intelligence services estimate that Iran may have its first nuclear weapon sometime between the summer of 2008 and the summer of 2009.

Yet the US. National Intelligence Estimate says otherwise, suddenly contradicting what used to be standing US policy. At the same time, the Paris-based .National Council of Resistance of Iran. (NCRI) claims Iran did not stop it.s weapons-related nuclear activities. The NCRI is an exiled Iranian opposition group which is certainly not politically friendly to the West (the NCRI is often described as the political wing of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran). In 2003 they provided the first public information about Iranian nuclear weaponization-related programs at Bushehr and Natanz, which proved accurate and which led to further uncovering of Iranian nuclear activities.

The NCRI also claims that in 2003 under international pressure Iran closed down its Tehran-based Lavizan-Shian weapons centre, only to spread its nuclear weaponization activities across the country, which then resumed in 2004. Sources close to Mossad agree with this claim, and Israeli military intelligence chief Major-General Amos Yadlin even says openly that the Americans have successfully been railroaded.

The NIE has also provoked strong criticism from MI6 which, in recent days, leaked to the press that it, too, thinks the Americans have successfully been fed Iranian disinformation for years. French and German foreign intelligence say the information on Iran.s program is at least .troubling.. And there.s the very authoritative .Cordesman Report., written by one of the world.s foremost independent experts on Iran.s nuclear program. Not to mention a number of other credible sources who must remain anonymous.

Only Moscow has stated as its opinion that evidence against Iran is .inconclusive.. But then again, Russia has been assisting Iran in its allegedly peaceful program. Russia announced it will proceed to assist Iran in completing Iran.s Bushehr nuclear plant, and has even started delivering nuclear fuel to Bushehr during the last weekend. The construction and the fuel delivery had been delayed on account of Iran being .behind with payments., although Iran suspects Moscow waited for political reasons.

Back into first gear
Why does the US government, now, amidst a wealth of serious indications that Iran wants nukes and is actively working towards that goal, appear to be shifting back into first gear? Recently Seymour Hersh contended that the White House, for at least a year, has known that Iran no longer wants nukes.

This provides us with a small handful of main possibilities: intelligence services and other experts from across the globe are all wrong; Iran has no nuclear weapons program and Mr Bush has known this for at least a year but kept up the war rhetoric - or everyone else is right; Tehran wants nukes, and the Bush government was railroaded but kept up the war rhetoric; or perhaps Tehran wants nukes and everyone - including the US government - knows this but the Americans have a good reason for doctoring the NIE into a different direction, so as to allow Mr Bush to quit the war rhetoric. (The latter implies that Hersh. disclosure was incomplete, but that can happen even to such an excellent journalist.)

In the last couple of days, information has leaked out that Ali Reza Asgari, who was Iran.s deputy minister of Defence during the Khatami regime (1997-2005), is supposed to have provided the CIA with information, over several years, on the .peaceful. intentions of Iran.s program. Asgari defected in February 2007 while on a visit to Turkey, allegedly because he suspected Iranian intelligence was on to him. US authorities would very much like the world to believe, now that the NIE has been drawing considerable criticism, that the information which Asgari provided, was crucial in revising the American position on Iran.s program.

But that doesn.t add up; for years now, the White House has kept up its accusations against Iran - why would they do that, if they already knew, for such a long time, how .peaceful. Iran.s program was? Moreover, knowledgeable sources say it is widely believed in Western intelligence circles that Asgari.s actions had been part of a very successful and sophisticated Iranian intelligence operation to feed the US disinformation.

Duane Clarridge, a former chief of the West European division in the CIA.s Directorate of Operations, offered tough criticism of the NIE on Alternet: .(...) with the intelligence community's abominable analytical track record over the last fifteen years and the well known lack of reliable human and signal sources available to them. (no reasonable person) "would accept their assurances, particularly when you look at the political partisan and under-educated group that makes up the NIE staff." -But that works in the opposite way as well: if analytical quality is so bad, then it.s even easier than expected to have the NIE doctored any which way the White House wants.

Operational problems
The essential thing is that the war rhetoric was kept up until very recently. Let us not be guiled into believing that suddenly the US government decided to deviate from its ground plan which they.ve been carrying out since Mr Bush became President. They announced beforehand that they were going to .deal. with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and North-Korea . And if we take it as given that the White House must have had a good reason to have the NIE suddenly doctored into a different direction, then what is suddenly stopping them from moving further up the war-path? If there is an established Iranian pattern of misbehaviour, playing into the hand of the war-mongering US government, why suddenly announce that there appears to be no Iranian pattern of misbehaviour anymore?

We don.t need to look for some big strategic or tactical reason: the crucial .stopper. is of an utterly practical, operational nature. While the US government was raising the political temperature, it was simultaneously putting military planning and preparations into gear. But not fast enough, and only to discover that the destruction of Iran.s nuclear program would either require an operation of such a magnitude that it would have necessitated accepting a large number of American casualties, or an operation predominantly consisting of the deployment of a large number of cruise missiles and - more importantly- the stealth bomber fleet. The first option would be unacceptable to the American public, especially when taking into account the number of US casualties already caused by the war in Iraq, so the latter option would have to do it.

There have been various signs of upscaling operational preparedness in view of that latter option. For example, the Pentagon has tendered four tankers for the purpose of shipping one million tons of fuel to its base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. And only weeks ago, the US was upgrading B1 and B2 stealth bomber hangars on Diego Garcia. Credible sources refer to an .operational need. to fit new racks to the B1 Spirit. With these special racks the stealth planes would be able to carry Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bombs of 30,000 pounds - one MOP per bomber. Such bombs are meant to destroy underground bunkers at a depth of 200 feet.

But two obstacles got in the way: the rate of development and production of MOPs, and Iran.s modernization of its air defences. Presently, the MOP concept is in its late experimental phase. One MOP bomb has already successfully been tested at White Sands, Nevada. It is estimated that within nine months - at the very earliest- a sufficient number of MOPs will have been produced for a sufficiently destructive strike against Iran.s deeply-underground nuclear facilities. But a strike in late 2008 might well be too late. In addition, Iran in recent months has acquired large-scale Russian state-of-the-art air defence systems which would significantly lessen the degree of success of a strike.

And you cannot keep up the already hot-tempered political spin for at least three-quarters of a year longer without losing even significantly more credibility - and maybe still be too late.

A third option is now on the table: why not provoke an Iranian attack against US forces in the region, so as to legitimize some large-scale counterattack? But how? You cannot take a considerable number of US land forces in Iraq away from present deployment in order to form a threat to Iran, without further weakening positions against Iraqi .insurgents.. Sources say the notion of creating a naval threat was then floated, only to be abandoned after stormy conflicts between the White House and Central Command (Centcom).

It wouldn.t be difficult to have the Fifth Fleet, stationed at Bahrain (only 150 miles away from the Iranian coast) take up overtly threatening positions, but then a successful provocation would decimate the Fifth Fleet. Iran has an arsenal of SS-N-22 (.Sunburn.) and SSN-X-26 (.Yakhonts.) cruise missiles, to which the Fifth Fleet has no effective defence if these weapons are massively deployed. For example, both types of cruise missiles use stealth technology, the .Sunburn. moves at 1,500 miles an hour, and the .Yakhonts. (specially developed for use against carrier groups) is considered to be so extremely dangerous that the Pentagon.s weapons testing office earlier this year strove to halt production on further aircraft carriers until an effective defence against the .Yakhonts. was found.

There are reports that the White House suggested the Fifth Fleet produce a provocation anyway and then be decimated or destroyed so as to .legitimize. a nuclear counterstrike - since conventional action would cost too much . It is said that this is why the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly advised against such action, and why Admiral William Fallon, head of Centcom, threatened to resign a month ago.

The next step
However, the Bush Administration can still be expected to want to take out Iran.s nuclear program. If public relations hindrances prevent massive troop deployment, if operational hindrances prevent cruise missile and stealth bomber deployment, if your military refuses to sacrifice the Fifth Fleet -which options remain?

Any sane Administration would resort to real diplomacy. After all, threatening a country with extinction and at the same time demanding its disarmament is no real diplomacy. Real diplomacy is trying to understand the opponent.s position and try to negotiate. In this case that would mean: trying to understand what it.s like to have hostile forces in a country in disarray at your borders, what it.s like to want to be a major player in your region, etc. A positive outcome of real diplomacy may not be guaranteed, but it would almost certainly help move things into a better direction. The US and the international community must first try to find a balance between incentives and disincentives towards Iran, to get Tehran to comply fully with International Law - if there still is time.

Real diplomacy not being a real option in the eyes of the US Administration, and pre-emptive US military action being either impossible or not guaranteeing the required minimum of success, which options remain?

Only one, if standing US government cynicism remains unchanged. Their third option, comprising of provoking Iran into an attack, .legitimizing. a counterstrike, and possibly using nuclear weapons, can also be applied to America.s ally in the Middle East: Israel, which already feels very threatened by Iran.s plans. In Israel, in particular, Iranian President Ahmadinejad.s words that .Israel must be wiped off the face of the planet. sound even more ominous when thinking of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Pre-emptive nuclear strike?
So: have the NIE say there.s no actual threat, cut the heated political spin, stop losing more credibility, save troops and assets from deployment that may be too late anyway, and watch Israel feel compelled to do the job. If they do the job through aerial bombardments, they.ll only partially succeed, given the scale, locations and defences of Iran.s program. And most probably there will be counterstrikes. In the American scenario, counterstrikes at Israel will be the point at which the US. option of provocation is effectuated and a massive blow against Iran is legitimized, possibly with nuclear weapons.

Will Israel feel compelled to do it, if they feel sufficiently threatened? Well, they.ve done it before. In 1981, suspecting Iraq was striving for a nuclear weapon, they bombed Iraq.s nuclear plant at Osirak. Israel sees any nukes Iran may produce as a truly existential threat. Hence, over the past few years Israel has repeatedly announced that it reserves the right to take any steps it deems necessary against Iran.s nuclear program. And the recent US about-face has contributed considerably to this position. For example, only a few days ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Gaby Ashkenazi, commenting on the NIE, said that if the international community does not succeed in stopping the nuclearization of Iran, the Israel Defence Forces must be prepared .for any scenario..

Taking into account that American conventional military options are limited, one can be sure that Israeli conventional military options are even more limited. So .any scenario. may well mean any scenario. Although Israel has never commented on it, it is accepted knowledge that the country possesses 200-400 nuclear weapons, including thermonuclear and perhaps neutron weapons. For delivering them, Israel has aircraft bombs, Jericho II missiles (similar to the US Pershing, range 1200km), and possibly an ICBM version of the Shavit space launch vehicle, with a possible range of 7,000 km and with a 300kg nuclear warhead.

Although this nuclear deterrent probably has contributed significantly to the country.s safety, Israel.s nuclear arsenal has nevertheless been in blatant violation of international treaties. As all these land-based systems may be vulnerable to attack, Israel over the last decade has been striving for a submarine-based extension of its nuclear deterrent. According to analysts, since 2000 the Israeli navy operates at least three and possibly five submarines that can launch nuclear-capable missiles. Reportedly, at least once, has an Israeli submarine successfully tested a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a 1,500km range in the Indian Ocean.

There is presently no meaningful way of estimating whether, in the .provocation.-scenario, Israel will carry out a .token. attack with conventional weapons, resulting in counterstrikes that will bring about American nuclear retaliation, or that it will directly use tactical nuclear weapons - in order to limit its own losses - that will lead to American nuclear retaliation.

Unless the Tehran regime comes to its senses and really starts to comply with International Law, and unless the US government comes to its senses and starts some real diplomacy, the world may, sometime between now and the summer of 2009, witness death and destruction in the Middle East on an unprecedented scale.

And all of that just because of the Kissingeresque cynicism of a group of White House hawks who think that their Realpolitik - the hard version- works in spreading their Neoliberal Capitalism, disguised as Democracy, to the world.s oil reserves.


1. National Intelligence Estimate


2. Cordesman Report Nov. 27, 2007: http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/071127_iraniaea.pdf

3. Idem

4. IAEA, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolution 1737 (2006) in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/nuke/iaea0207.pdf

5. The Project for a New American Century http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

John Berlin
U.N. OBSERVER & International Report

Ed. Note. Should here be a nuclear war in the Middle East, EVERY nation in the area will be radiated . and the radiation will also affect the entire planet. Insanity prevails.



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posted by u2r2h at Monday, December 24, 2007


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