by MJ Rosenberg
Christmas did not arrive early for the "Bomb Iran" crowd.
Over the past several weeks, neoconservative hawks were gleefully predicting that the International Atomic Energy Agency's new report on Iran's nuclear program would provide the spark needed to ignite and justify a US or Israeli attack.
Sadly for them, the report did no such thing and the issue has been overshadowed by other stories. In fact, there was so little new in the IAEA report that Iran experts who had been scheduled to do media spots discussing the issue were told not to bother coming in. The Penn State cover-up, the Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal, and now the Rick Perry brain freeze would continue to dominate the news cycle.
This does not mean that the Iran nuclear threat has passed, only that the IAEA did not demonstrate that it has intensified. Yes, Iran is taking steps that indicate clear interest in developing nuclear weapons. But neither the IAEA nor anyone else knows if the Iranian regime intends to develop weapons, how long it will take to develop them or what its nuclear posture would be if it had the bomb. For 30 years, various experts have predicted that Iran would have nuclear weapons in a year, five years, or whenever - with the date always receding into the horizon.
The IAEA report doesn't offer much clarification. As a senior US government official said, in a conference call with reporters: "The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program nor does it have a program about how advanced the programs really are."
Of course, the usual suspects claim to know, just as they claimed to know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that would someday produce Condoleezza Rice's infamous "mushroom cloud" over Washington. And those same suspects agree about what needs to be done to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. As with Iraq, the answer is preventative war. Sooner rather than later.
It's a case of what Yogi Berra called "deja vu all over again".
It is amazing that the same gang of people that lied us into the disastrous war in Iraq (a war that has resulted in 4,471 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead) would have any credibility at all as they seek to get us involved in another Middle East war.
But apparently some people still take these warhawk neocons seriously.
After all, if it weren't for them, no one here would be contemplating a third war in the Middle East, one far more dangerous than the other two. In fact, it is impossible to find a single politician or journalist advocating war with Iran who is not a neocon or an AIPAC cutout (they're often both). And even when not specifically advocating war, they ratchet up the tension by predicting it, as if, by definition, an Iran with or on the verge of developing nuclear weapons means war. (This, obviously, has not been the case with the seven other nations that have gone nuclear since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.)
The leader of the Iran war claque is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, "has most heightened the sense of anxiety" with "a series of leaked reports" that Israel is "increasingly determined to launch a unilateral attack on Iranian nuclear facilities - with or without Obama's assent." Remnick writes:
The country's most influential columnist, Nahum Barnea, wrote a front-page commentary in Yediot Ahronoth recently called "Atomic Pressure", slamming Netanyahu and [defence minister Ehud] Barak for acting dangerously and without a thorough public discussion. Barnea, who is as connected a journalist as I have ever met, tried to describe Netanyahu's thinking: "Ahmadinejad is Hitler; if he isn't stopped in time, there will be another Holocaust." He continued, "There are those who describe Netanyahu's attitude on the matter as an obsession: All his life he dreamed of being Churchill; Iran gives him the opportunity."
Remnick, who knows Netanyahu, continues:
Barnea is right: Netanyahu is obsessed with the Second World War parallels, real or imagined, and even used them to justify his opposition to the peace process with the Palestinians in the nineties. Netanyahu is deeply influenced not only by his hundred-year-old father's right-wing Revisionist ideology, but also by a profound sense of himself as Israel's post-Holocaust protector. Heroic imagery, like the F15s flying over the rail tracks to Auschwitz, is no small part of what drives him. Five years ago, he said of the Iranian nuclear issue, "The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany."
Netanyahu's hysteria about Iran, and his repeated threats to attack its nuclear facilities, would - if the shoe was on the other foot - almost surely cause Israel to preemptively attack Iran. Obviously, the Iranians, whom the neocons invariably describe as "insane", know the difference between Bibi's bloviating and real threats. Nonetheless, repeatedly threatening Iran, as Netanyahu does, is dangerous business.
In any case, Netanyahu's acolytes here think in the same apocalyptic terms he does. Journalist Jeff Goldberg, one of the most outspoken advocates of invading Iraq in 2003, wrote this week about Iran:
The Israeli case for preemption is compelling, and has been for some time. The leaders of Iran are eliminationist anti-Semites; men who, for reasons of theology, view the state of the Jews as a "cancer". They have repeatedly called for Israel's destruction and worked to hasten that end, mainly by providing material support and training to two organisations, Hamas and Hezbollah, that specialise in the slaughter of innocent Jews. Iran's leaders are men who deny the Holocaust while promising another.
Pretty overheated stuff - "eliminationist anti-Semites" specialising in "the slaughter of innocent Jews". Goldberg could be Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah except that Nasrallah would be referring to Israelis as the eliminationists and Palestinians as the victims.
Obviously, this kind of language is designed to ensure that there is no dialogue, that, in fact, the enemy is Hitler. Always Hitler. And, in Netanyahu's case, it's always 1938.
But it's not 1938, Iran is not Nazi Germany, and Israel - with 200 air, land, and sea-based nuclear missiles - is nothing like the Jewish communities of Europe that, without weapons or allies, were annihilated by Nazi Germany. As former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy put it recently: "The State of Israel cannot be destroyed" by an Iranian attack, but an Israeli attack on Iran would produce turmoil "in the region for 100 years".
To put it simply, an attack on Iran by Israel or the United States would embroil the Middle East in war, threaten the world's oil supply and economy, likely unleash a massive missile attack by Hezbollah on Israel, jeopardise 100,000 US troops in the Middle East, solidify the Iranian regime's waning support among the population, and still only delay the Iranian nuclear program by a few years.
"The State of Israel cannot be destroyed" by an Iranian attack, but an Israeli attack on Iran would produce turmoil "in the region for 100 years."
- Ephraim Halevy, former Mossad chief
So what's to be done about Iran?
An attack will not deter whatever motivation Iranians may have for a nuclear bomb. In fact, an attack is one way to ensure that the Iranians do get a bomb (to protect themselves from future attacks). And further sanctions, which AIPAC has made a litmus test for campaign support, will only hurt ordinary Iranian citizens without affecting Iran's nuclear program.
There is only one way to deal with Iran and it is the one we have never tried: Unconditional, comprehensive negotiations.
No, not the kind of baby-step talks both sides occasionally propose, but real negotiations that put everything on the table: Iran's nuclear program, Israel's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran's threats against Israel and its unremitting hostility to it, Iranian support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, US attempts to overthrow the Iranian regime and our support for the assassination of its civilian scientists, and, finally, Iran's role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Only comprehensive negotiations will end the Iran crisis without plunging the region, and possibly the world, into war. Only successful comprehensive negotiations can provide both Israel and Iran with the confidence to get off a course that could lead to mutual destruction. Nothing else will work and everything else has been tried.
There is no alternative to diplomacy. Period.
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
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