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Uncertainty and War: Iran Edition

[ 55 ] February 22, 2012 |

This week’s WPR column considers the rhetoric of war against Iran:

The case for attacking Iran relies overwhelmingly on the concept of uncertainty. We don’t know if the Iranians want to build a bomb, or whether they can build a bomb, or when they might be able to build a bomb. Even if they build one, the consequences will remain unpredictable, because we don’t know what they would do with a bomb, or how their neighbors would react to an Iranian bomb. The deterrent effect of an Iranian nuclear weapon might prevent us from seeking regime change or some other aggressive military option, thus creating even more uncertainty. Containment might be possible, but the costs could be high and much would remain out of U.S. control.

It’s understandable how so much uncertainty can trigger anxiety. What is less clear is how we arrived at the notion that airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear program can eliminate this uncertainty. Prospects for success of an Israeli strike remain iffy, and U.S. estimates suggest that an attack would only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed, it’s difficult to say what precisely would count as “success” or how the Israelis would measure the effectiveness of their attack. Tehran would certainly declare victory as soon as the last Israeli aircraft left its airspace, and the Iranians would control public assessment of the damage to their nuclear facilities. Moreover, an Israeli strike on Iran, or a joint U.S.-Israeli strike, would hardly disarm the Islamic Republic. And once started, the war would end according to Tehran’s timetable, as Israel lacks the capability, and the United States the will or interest, to conquer Iran and replace the current regime. It is not certain that the regime of economic sanctions targeting Iran would break in case of an attack, but it’s certainly possible. Similarly, it’s not certain that Russia and China would become more forthcoming with military assistance to Tehran, but that, too, is certainly possible.

Spencer has an interesting post comparing the 2002-3 Iraq debate to the current Iran debate:

The war fever of 2002-3 was stoked by a government that had made up its mind. Whatever war fever exists in 2012 exists in spite of the current government’s national security apparatus. I work out of the Pentagon these days. People here do not want war with Iran.

You can even try to caveat that case to be fair to Shane’s thesis, but it still doesn’t hold up. For instance: there’s an argument that the Clinton administration didn’t want war with Iraq, but because of its reluctance to accept that the United Nations weapons inspectors actually disarmed Iraq, it seeded the bed for the Bush administration to co-opt its warnings about Saddam to portray the invasion as bipartisan, consensus wisdom. Could President Santorum do the same thing with Obama?

Not really. The Clinton administration did not argue, as Gen. Dempsey did, that a war would be destabilizing. It enforced a no-fly zone and administered a four-day bombing campaign called Desert Fox. That, obviously, wasn’t an invasion, but it provided a rhetorical opening that the Obama team hasn’t provided. The most you can say is that Obama has repeatedly argued that a nuclear Iran is a destabilizing force that can’t be allowed; but that’s baseline political discourse.

There’s an interesting counter-factual comparison to be made between the Obama administration and a notional first term Gore administration. I think there’s sufficient evidence to conclude that Al Gore was not personally interested in war with Iraq (just ask him!), but it is often argued (by Naderites and neocons, among others) that he would have been unable to resist the pressure for war that would have mounted from hawkish elements in the liberal internationalist fold and on the neocon right. We’re seeing an imperfect test of that proposition now; the cases are substantially different (Iraq, notably, lacked an “Iraq” as counter-argument), but nevertheless suggestive of how Iraq might have played out with an unenthusiastic administration.

Comments (55)

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  1. Bush came into office spoiling for a war with Iraq. The Bush Administration ginned up intelligence to justify it, and bullied Congress, the UN, the New York Times and the rest of the media to go along with it. That’s the first thing– although there are certainly people who would be pleased to go to war with Iran, it would take more doing than even a nuclear test right now. I’m not even so sure that a Persian nuke would be all that destabilizing. Isn’t the idea that nuclear powers balance each other? Even the notion that a nuclear Iran would present an existential threat to Israel seems suspect to me: bombing Israel means bombing Palestine, and that would unleash the whole Arab world, wouldn’t it? A nuclear Iran seems like a bad idea to me, but it mostly seems like a bad idea for Iran.

  2. Halloween Jack says:

    Would it even be possible for the US to go to war in another country right now, in terms of putting boots on the ground? We went into Iraq not only with an invented casus belli but also with 9/11 in very recent memory, and with a volunteer army that had not yet been heavily depleted by two wars. Would satiating the Iran hawks and pro-Israel groups really outweigh the backlash from a country that has been dealing with the realities of war for over a decade now (and will be dealing with the aftereffects for much, much longer) and is pretty fucking sick of it already?

    • Murc says:

      It probably isn’t possible for us to effectively OCCUPY another country with the army we have right this second. It is 100% possible for us to grab a country by the throat and go all Michael Ledeen on it, destroying its armed forces utterly and ravaging its infrastructure. We could do that no sweat.

      Second of all, and this is what’s truly frightening… if you check the polling, its something like 45% of the country is in favor of military action against Iran, and that’s WITHOUT a big hawky push to gin up war fever in favor of it. We are not, as a country or a people, fucking sick of it already. Not at all.

      • ajay says:

        It probably isn’t possible for us to effectively OCCUPY another country with the army we have right this second

        Turns out this was also true in 2003, by the way.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        Second of all, and this is what’s truly frightening… if you check the polling, its something like 45% of the country is in favor of military action against Iran, and that’s WITHOUT a big hawky push to gin up war fever in favor of it. We are not, as a country or a people, fucking sick of it already. Not at all.

        I hope that, once you subtract the crazification factor, the remaining 18% or so are interpreting “military action” as “drones, or something.” (And the fact that that’s the hopeful position gives you an idea of how low my expectations for mah fellow Murricans has sunk.)

  3. rea says:

    Note tht the hawk position is not for war with Iran, but for airstrikes against Iran. The assumption is that we can strike Iran at will and are immune to retaliation, so no war will result. That, of course, is why the hawks have no sensible plan for fighting and winning a war with Iran–they can’t conceive of the need for such a plan.

    And if this sound just like how we got into such a mess in Iraq, well, no shit.

  4. cheap wino says:

    . . . but it is often argued (by Naderites and neocons, among others) that he would have been unable to resist the pressure for war that would have mounted from hawkish elements in the liberal internationalist fold and on the neocon right.

    It is often argued but without any credibility whatsoever.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Yeah, ’cause the Administration in which he was number-two guy was so very opposed to the use of military force. Just ask Madeleine Albright.

    • Reilly says:

      It is often argued but without any credibility whatsoever.

      What’s the baseline of credibility for counterfactuals? It’s more or less intuitive and dependent on where one limits the speculative analysis. For instance Robert’s statement, “I think there’s sufficient evidence to conclude that Al Gore was not personally interested in war with Iraq (just ask him!)…” isn’t dispositive of Gore not going to war with Iraq, and I don’t think Robert intended it as such. In fact in the last graf of his WPR piece Robert states:

      As a political strategy, this may be viable. It runs the risk, however, of creating a rhetorical trap for the Obama administration. At some point, it may be hard for Obama to step down from the idea that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable and worth a war to prevent. In that case, saying no may become too politically difficult for the president. The task for hawks, whether in the United States or Israel, will be to draw this box as tightly and narrowly as possible.

      Then are different ways to set the table for war. I can easily think of any number of scenarios in which it would have become “too politically difficult” for Gore not to go to war, and perhaps not too reluctantly. After all he was a different person back then (just ask him!)

  5. Spud says:

    Am I the only one who thinks Iran is bluffing?

    I can’t name one nation which pursued nuclear weapons in earnest that was so open and obvious to the world in their efforts. Every country which has successfully created nuclear weapons did so in utmost secrecy. Not even hinting at a civilian nuclear effort.

    It is not difficult to hide such efforts from public view. There is certainly no need to keep entrichment efforts in such an open and obvious fashion. Every nation except Israel which has made nuclear weapons surprised the world after the fact with their big test.

    Usually by the time there is a nuclear test, the situation is far beyond anyone’s attempt to stop it. Even Israel didn’t reveal it had them until years after a war where their survival was at stake. Nobody had an inkling Kaddafy was developing nukes until HE voluntarily dismantled his program. If Libya can do it under the noses of the world, why couldn’t Iran?

    Iran is doing everything to advertise its efforts to the world. Nobody does this when they want nuclear weapons. Its far too counterproductive But a controversy is cheaper to manufacture than nukes. It needs an outside conflict right now. The regime is slowly being demographically consigned to irrelevance. The majority of the population was born after the Islamic revolution and doesn’t have much zeal for it.

    North Korea comes close to the same situation but in the end, it wasn’t more than an elaborate extortion scheme. Their bluff was called when their big test was all but a fizzle (radiation from it was never even independently confimed)

    Given the open nature of the discussion concerning war with Iran, even down to predicting when Israel will strike them, I begin to have grave doubts that any of this is a distinct likelihood.

    Wouldn’t a decisive strike all but depend on utmost secrecy? Even the logistics of such an attack are all but prohibitive. Iran is not like Iraq or Syria, there is a lot more hostile airspace to cover, the facilities are more widely dispersed, and Iran would be expecting it by now. SAMs are cheap, they become even more effective when a nation is already on alert.

    • ajay says:

      I can’t name one nation which pursued nuclear weapons in earnest that was so open and obvious to the world in their efforts. Every country which has successfully created nuclear weapons did so in utmost secrecy. Not even hinting at a civilian nuclear effort.

      This isn’t true at all. Israel was one of the first nations to sign up for Atoms for Peace in 1955 and used its overt civilian nuclear effort to camouflage its covert weapons programme. India started its nuclear energy programme in 1948 and subsequently began a weapons programme. South Africa had an admitted enrichment and reactor programme from the 1970s, but also a covert weapons programme.

      And so on. It would be closer to the truth to say that almost every nation that has constructed nuclear weapons has done so under cover of an admitted civil nuclear programme. (Exceptions, I suppose, include the Manhattan Project.)

      • mark f says:

        Also, didn’t Iran deny having any nuclear program until they were discovered to have one hidden under a mountain? Wasn’t it only then that Iran admitted to having a program, but for peaceful purposes, and anyway they were totally going to everyone later?

      • Spud says:

        Much of those civilian nuclear programs were subject to a great deal of foreign involvement and cooperation. Most of those nations didn’t develop actual weapons until decades after such civilian efforts.

        Israel had to smuggle a good deal of its processed uranium in the late 60′s. (See Operation Plumbat).

        None of them were so obvious about advertising their efforts in building nuclear weapons as Iran (or for that matter Iraq and North Korea). We know more about Iran’s enrichment development than we have for any nuclear power were at the same stage.

        Iran is literally announcing to the world of its increasing levels of uranium enrichment. This is a level of indiscretion that has never been seen by countries who developed nuclear weapons. They are all but goading the world into a conflict over this.

        (Exceptions, I suppose, include the Manhattan Project.)

        Also China, the USSR, and Libya.

        • ajay says:

          Much of those civilian nuclear programs were subject to a great deal of foreign involvement and cooperation.

          Just like Iran’s.

          Most of those nations didn’t develop actual weapons until decades after such civilian efforts.

          Iran’s had a civilian effort for half a century now.

          None of them were so obvious about advertising their efforts in building nuclear weapons as Iran (or for that matter Iraq and North Korea).

          I am not sure what you are trying to prove here. Iraq wasn’t obvious about its nuclear weapons programme – no one in the West knew about it until the accidental bombing of the calutron facility during Desert Storm. North Korea hasn’t exactly been open about its bomb programme either (though its civilian programme was admitted for some time before its first test). And, of course, both Iraq and North Korea were actually trying to build bombs. They weren’t bluffing.

          Iran, meanwhile, has not been open about its efforts – if any – to build a nuclear weapon. It keeps saying “we’re not building a nuclear weapon”, for one thing. The openness about the civil side is enforced by IAEA, as it is on other member states.

          Are you sure you know what you are talking about here?

          • Spud says:

            Just like Iran’s.

            Which is why Iran have been soooo cooperative in assuaging fears that they are developing nuclear weapons. They are doing everything possible to make their civilian efforts as incredulous as they can.

            Iraq was playing games with UN officials for a while. Saddam was playing this up for world media for years. It turned out Iraq’s efforts were largely a failure (possibly even faked to a large extent).

            North Korea was all but shoving its nuclear efforts both civilian and military in their neighbors faces. This was done for the express purposes of nuclear blackmail. North Korea’s actual test was a grand failure.

            Whatever Iraq and North Korea were doing in all of that time, they had little to show for it from a weapons production angle. However, the political benefits to their leaders were substantial. [Albeit, Saddam overplayed his hand and probably did not believe the US would actually invade]

            The level of secrecy their programs had was something of a half-measure. Almost guaranteed to create more tensions.

            Compare this to how India, Pakistan, Israel, or China developed their weapons programs. Its not even close to similar to how Iran is acting.

            I am not sure what you are trying to prove here

            That I think Iran’s efforts are more show than substance. They are intentionally trying to create a conflict.

            They know the US has neither the means nor the will to do much which will endanger the survival of the regime. We don’t have the sufficient forces to put many “boots on the ground” and airstrikes won’t destroy the base of the Mullah’s power.

            They hope to benefit from a short conflict domestically. It would create a “rally around the flag” effect.

            • John F says:

              North Korea was all but shoving its nuclear efforts both civilian and military in their neighbors faces. This was done for the express purposes of nuclear blackmail. North Korea’s actual test was a grand failure.

              The first test in 2006 may have been a fizzle, the second in 2009 was not.

              • Spud says:

                It was not an unqualified success either.

                “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asserted that the blast was more powerful than the 2006 test, but put the yield between 2 to 6 kilotons, far short of a Hiroshima-type device. The group concluded that the bomb failed to detonate correctly, but that still in that case the potential of this weapon should not be dismissed”

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_North_Korean_nuclear_test

                Frankly I think a North Korean Chernobyl seems more likely than further development of their nuclear weapons. The Yongbyun power plant is pretty badly maintained. It could easily accidentally spew radiation over South Korea, Manchuria and Western Japan.

                • ajay says:

                  Frankly I think a North Korean Chernobyl seems more likely than further development of their nuclear weapons. The Yongbyun power plant is pretty badly maintained. It could easily accidentally spew radiation over South Korea, Manchuria and Western Japan.

                  God help us. The Yongbyon reactor hasn’t been operating for the last five years, you pillock. They blew up the cooling tower in 2008! It was on the news!

            • joe from Lowell says:

              They hope to benefit from a short conflict domestically.

              Maybe, but nuclear brinksmanship seems an awfully dangerous, long way around for such an easily-achievable end as “provoke a short conflict with the West.”

    • Murc says:

      I can’t name one nation which pursued nuclear weapons in earnest that was so open and obvious to the world in their efforts. Every country which has successfully created nuclear weapons did so in utmost secrecy. Not even hinting at a civilian nuclear effort.

      I hate to sound snarky, but… so what?

      Countries take action of this sort due to their domestic political situations coupled with their position internationally. Iran’s domestic political situation and its position internationally is a hell of a lot different than the other superpowers or second-tier powers who decided they wanted to join the club. Therefore they act in a different manner.

      Remember; when it comes to foreign policy, domestic politics holds the whip hand. I always think of “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” In terms of an intelligent foreign policy, this is batshit insane. In terms of domestic political considerations, its a big winner.

      • Spud says:

        I think Iran is ultimately playing a bluff.

        I think the US and Israel probably know this and nobody wants to reveal their hand.

        I doubt this will be resolved by any means besides a deal behind closed doors and probably a payoff to Iran.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Am I the only one who thinks Iran is bluffing?

      I don’t think bluffing the right word. More like strengthening their hand for negotiations.

      Maybe.

  6. david mizner says:

    As you say later–

    it may be hard for Obama to step down from the idea that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable

    No U.S pol dares to say that an Iranian nuke is acceptable. If Iran wanted to go to war, it already has ample reason to: the US-Israel not-so-covert war on Iran. The truth is, Iran has shown enormous restraint in response to U.S. sabotage and Israeli terrorism — acts of war, that is.
    I fear an Israeli attack on Iran a lot more than I fear an Iranian nuke, and so should we all.

    • Spud says:

      “The truth is, Iran has shown enormous restraint in response to U.S. sabotage and Israeli terrorism — acts of war, that is.”

      Not really, the murder of the nuclear scientists hasn’t been linked to Israel outside of guessing on the West and Iranian state media accounts. In many ways this plays to the idea that Iran is trying to manufacture a conflict.

      The idea that Israeli hit team(s) could operate with impugnity for several years in a country with a vast invasive security apparatus doesn’t appear all that credible when viewed objectively.

      I doubt an Israeli attack as much as I do an Iranian nuke. Both seem to have a higher amount of public posturing than practicality suggests.

      I think the US and Israel know there is a bluff but it would not go over well politically to act like nothing is going on.

      Again, I know I am taking the least popular view of events here. But in some ways it seems to make more sense to me than how the media and politicians are portraying things.

      • mark f says:

        Larison, at least, seems pretty sure that the MEK carried out those hits.

      • david mizner says:

        Wrong. There are reports, including this one by NBC, that MEK and Israel worked together to take out the scientists.

        http://rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/08/10354553-israel-teams-with-terror-group-to-kill-irans-nuclear-scientists-us-officials-tell-nbc-news

        What’s more, Israel’s terrorism is only one part of the war against Iran, which no less an pro-Israel pundit than Jeffrey Goldberg discusses here.

        …it’s not unreasonable to group these recent explosions with the Stuxnet virus of last summer that haywired an uranium enrichment facility in Natanz; last October’s explosion at a Shahab missile factory; the killing of three Iranian nuclear scientists in the past two years, last November’s attempted assassination of Fereydoun Abbasi-Davan–a senior official in the nuclear program — and rumblings of a second supervirus deployed this month as proof that the West’s war on Iran’s nuclear program is getting less covert by the minute.

        http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/12/is-iran-already-under-attack/249284/

        Not to mention the fact that the U.S. has most of the last decade occupying countries on either side of Iran.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Israel’s terrorism

          While I agree with everything you’re saying here, david, it really depresses me to see people on the left taking up the Bushies’ tactic of inflating the definition of “terrorism” for emotional effect.

          • david mizner says:

            Well, that’s why I’m doing it, mostly. It’s fun!

            But even though the word has been used and abused to the point of meaninglessness, if it still has a meaning at all, then it probably applies to teaming up with a recognized terrorist outfits to knock off scientists.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              I meant, the emotional effect that using the term has on others.

              if it still has a meaning at all, then it probably applies to teaming up with a recognized terrorist outfits to knock off scientists.

              No, it continues to mean what it has always meant – using force in an effort to intimidate a civilian population.

              Targeting specific individuals to deny their abilities and expertise to a rival is not terrorism. The scientists aren’t being killed to send a message, but to prevent the Iranians from having access to their talents and knowledge.

      • John F says:

        The idea that Israeli hit team(s) could operate with impugnity for several years in a country with a vast invasive security apparatus doesn’t appear all that credible when viewed objectively.

        A country with the impenetrable security apparatus that you envision (North Korea today, the USSR for most of the cold war), would never have had the mass protests that erupted there two years ago.

        The regime there likely wishes it had such a security apparatus.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      No U.S pol dares to say that an Iranian nuke is acceptable.

      Clearly not. You won’t even Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders making such a statement explicitly. That message is conveyed only in a dog-that-didn’t-bark manner.

      I fear an Israeli attack on Iran a lot more than I fear an Iranian nuke, and so should we all.

      It’s tough not to conclude that the mullah-ocracy has been a much more rational actor over the past decade than has Israel. Just look at the Lebanon War. That was not the behavior of a rational actor.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        You won’t even Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders making such a statement explicitly. That message is conveyed only in a dog-that-didn’t-bark manner.

        Who is conveying that message, joe, and how are they doing it? As far as political figures go, all I’m hearing is sabre-rattling on one side and silence on the other.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          That message is conveyed only in a dog-that-didn’t-bark manner.

          all I’m hearing is sabre-rattling on one side and silence on the other

          Are you not familiar with the Sherlock Holmes story involving a dog that didn’t bark?

          Let me ask you: what sound does a dog that doesn’t bark make?

          • Uncle Kvetch says:

            Yes, and your reference to the non-barking dog sailed right past me. So fair enough.

            But silence can be mistaken for acquiescence. Or for simply hunkering down and hoping the whole issue will just go away. Your reading seems plausible, but there are other possible interpretations of the silence.

  7. Bruce Baugh says:

    I used to think a lot about questions like this in terms of “What precedent, for good or bad, is this setting? What will the Republican machine do with this to point at?” I realized, though, that it doesn’t matter. Since they don’t grant basic legitimacy to any Democratic rule, they’ll do whatever they please regardless. They may point at a precedent if it’s handy, but truth is no obstacle either – they’re entirely comfortable making up and spreading whatever lie seems like a good idea.

    So we should go ahead and talk about what we’d like the people who might conceivably listen to us, without any fear or any hope that it will matter one scrap to any Republicans with decision-making power.

  8. Spud says:

    Wrong. There are reports, including this one by NBC, that MEK and Israel worked together to take out the scientists.

    Actually the reports are far less than a smoking gun than you suggest. What we have is Iranian officials giving a statement and US officials neither categorically confirming nor denying it.

    Based on geographic expediency, US involvement is far more plausible for the reasons you mentioned.

    Plus blaming Israel benefits parties on all sides of this:
    1. It makes Israel look super-competent in such matters
    2. It allows the US to have plausible deniability
    3. It allows for covert Arab support. The Arabs have a major vested interest in avoiding a nuclear Iran
    4. Even the Iranians benefit because they get to blame an outside enemy for all of this.

    • david mizner says:

      You mean US officials didn’t confirm it on the record? Shocking.

    • ajay says:

      You said:

      The idea that Israeli hit team(s) could operate with impugnity for several years in a country with a vast invasive security apparatus doesn’t appear all that credible when viewed objectively.

      But yet you think it’s entirely plausible that the US is doing exactly that? Spud, you’re not making any sense. Based on your comments so far, you believe that:

      Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme, but is pretending that it does by saying it doesn’t

      The US knows that Iran is bluffing but is saying nothing about it

      The US is, for some reason, murdering Iranian scientists whom it knows have nothing to do with nuclear weapon development

      Israel is entirely uninvolved in all of this

      • Spud says:

        But yet you think it’s entirely plausible that the US is doing exactly that?

        They have far greater access to the surrounding regions, a far greater support network and a larger pool of people to work with.

        Plus they have the probably assistance of the Arab world as well. Something Israel would never have. I am making a lot of sense, you just seem to be hostile for its own sake.

        Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme, but is pretending that it does by saying it doesn’t

        Pretty much. Because Iran has been acting in such a way as to encourage skepticism of its claims.

        The US knows that Iran is bluffing but is saying nothing about it

        Because it would look like we are dithering on the subject or not taking it seriously. It would be political suicide to acknowledge it.

        The US is, for some reason, murdering Iranian scientists whom it knows have nothing to do with nuclear weapon development

        The US has been bribing them away. Or at least it was the intention for some time.

        It could easily be Iran killing them off to send a message that they are not to even consider taking US offers. We are not talking about the most vital personnel being killed off here. [Like a Pharoh buring the architect of the tomb after completion] Plus claiming foreign terrorists are involved increases support for the regime.

        Israel is entirely uninvolved in all of this

        Plausible deniability works both ways. Iran can plausibly deny a nuclear weapons program due to lack of evidence of it. Israel can deny a hit team for the same reason.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Based on geographic expediency, US involvement is far more plausible for the reasons you mentioned.

      The Israelis have been carrying out similar hits on Palestinians for years, using both undercover Israelis and local proxies within Palestinian society.

      The Mossad is a hell of a lot more competent at this human-covert stuff than the post-Porter Goss, post-purge CIA.

      The targeting of al Qaeda terrorists and commanders by the CIA, which they’ve done quite a bit of in recent years, with quite a bit of success, hasn’t looked like this. It’s involved more military hardware and special ops teams.

      For these reasons, I think the hits on Iranian scientists look more like the Israelis.

      • Spud says:

        Operating in Palestinian territories, South America and Europe is far different than operating in a nation where any Israeli presence would be far more conspicuous.

        Palestinian territories have the luxury of an adjacent Israeli military presence, presence of Israeli civilians, an extremely short supply line, and probably decades of cultivated assets working for them.

        They are good, but mostly due to understanding the limitations of their own work. They have had only very limited short term success working within Arab nations and nothing previously of note in Iran.

        This would be an operation lasting years with no real support from home or even the possibility of local networks like in the West. It really looks like a stretch. Not that the Mossad would deny such activities because it makes for great PR.

        Plus unlike intelligence gathering they are acting in a way which attracts attention to their operations. It would jeopardize any pre-existing agents or operations in the country. [Which was the objection MI6 had to the Special Operations Executive during WWII]

      • HMS Glowworm did 9/11 says:

        It also looks Israeli in that its primary intention is to demonstrate willingness to escalate, in order to get the US to make the problem go away.

  9. joe from Lowell says:

    it is often argued (by Naderites and neocons, among others) that (Gore) would have been unable to resist the pressure for war that would have mounted from hawkish elements in the liberal internationalist fold and on the neocon right. We’re seeing an imperfect test of that proposition now

    I submit that we saw a similar imperfect test with Obama’s Iraq withdrawal. Once again, these same voices were assuring us that Obama would not be able to stand up to “the MIC” and other hawkish elements, who would never “allow” him to abandon those bases.

  10. cpinva says:

    odd, i don’t recall a “debate” in the run-up to invading iraq. the same “debate” i don’t recall, in the run-up to invading afghanistan. oh sure, there were a few stray items (the nyt’s editorial, which didn’t actually address the actual issue at hand, but did discuss yellow cake), but aside from those, the invasions of both countries were pretty much done deals, simply awaiting the blessings and (more importantly) the funding of congress.

    so when did this “debate” you refer to take place? who participated? were tickets available through ticketron?

    nope, no debates that i recall. what i do recall is this:

    1. sure, most of the 9/11 hijackers were saudis, but the taliban government in afghanistan leases mountain caves to osama bin laden. they won’t just go get him and turn him over to the US, because, well, because we said so. let’s invade!

    2. saddam is a really ugly guy, with a really ugly uniform! even though there’s no actual evidence he has an ongoing wmd program going, we’ve connected non-existent dots, tying him to 9/11 and wmd, that also don’t exist, except in cheney’s brain. let’s invade!

    yep, that was pretty much the whole set of debates. and now i see afghanistan/iraq redux, with iran. isn’t there a middle-eastern country we can convince (for a few cases of coke) to just surrender to us, without having to actually invade it?

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