Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker, Iran and the Bomb, is stirring up great interest, because he argues that the latest National Intelligence Estimate, released last February, says that essentially nothing has changed since the last (2007) NIE. In other words, just as the earlier report said it appeared Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (after Iran’s arch-enemy Saddam Hussein was overthrown), the new version could find no definitive evidence showing that Iran had resumed its effort.
Now, this is an incredibly controversial claim just as the 2003 report was. Then, Bush and Cheney railed against the notion that everything they’d been saying about demon Iran was wrong. Now, the 2010 NIE contradicts almost every basis of current U.S. policy toward Iran. That’s why Obama’s staff have anonymously (no courage among this lot) smeared Hersh’s work in Politico as little better than a school “book report.”
Hersh reveals that U.S. intelligence analysts believe that when Iran was developing its nuclear weapons program, the purpose was not to deter an attack from Israel or the U.S. as Bibi Netanyahu claims, but against Iraq, which the Iranians believed was developing a bomb (just as Bush believed, remember WMD?). This accords with a number of analyses I’ve read, which say that Iran historically is most threatened by its regional neighbors. It fought a costly eight-year, war-to-the-death against Iraq and logically, the primary reason for building a bomb would be to protect itself from attack from that quarter, and not from Israel.
Meir Dagan, Israel’s recently departed Mossad chief, doesn’t quite agree with Hersh. Lately, he’s been saying that Iran is trying to develop a bomb and that it will do so. But perhaps most radical of all (compared to Hersh at least) is Dagan’s contention that Iran will get the bomb, but that this will not mean the end of the world; or as Terry Southern put it, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” For Dagan, the key is negotiating a modus vivendi with Iran so that each country can live in peace despite the fact that they may have enough firepower to obliterate the other. This is quite a radical thought inside Israel for many reasons, but perhaps most critically it means that Israel’s former top spy believes that Iran, even the brutal regime currently in power, is composed of rational leaders with whom an understanding may be negotiated.
No, Dagan hasn’t said this explicitly, perhaps because it would further isolate him among the intelligence community he once headed, but it flows logically from all his other statements on the subject. In fact, Bibi’s minions have begun doing just that, actually accusing Dagan of being “insane” (Hebrew) for single-handedly (supposedly) destroying Israel’s military option with his statements.
The New Yorker writer quotes a former British foreign service officer almost precisely echoing Dagan:
One of [his] worries is that Netanyahu “might take a pot shot” at Iran, as the former adviser put it. “Everything in London is now about containment and the notion that if the Iranians get a bomb we’ll have to live with it. I believe that the Iranians do understand the logic of nuclear deterrence, but the Israelis do not. London believes we cannot allow containment to be seen as a policy of failure”—in terms of a fallback policy for dealing with Iran. “And so we’re trying to shift the public perception of deterrence so it is seen as a good. The Brits are really concerned about the Israelis, and what they might do unilaterally.”
One of Hersh’s most incisive criticisms of current U.S. policy is that we are exploiting the supposed Iranian nuclear weapons program in order to advance our own political goals of bringing Iran to heel:
Donilon said that Iran’s nuclear program “is part of a larger pattern of destabilizing activities throughout the region. . . . We have no illusions about the Iranian regime’sregional ambitions. We know that they will try to exploit this period of tumult and will remain vigilant. . . . The door to diplomacy remains open to Iran. But that diplomacy must be meaningful and not a tactical attempt to ward off sanctions.”
America’s sanctions policy thus is increasingly aimed, as Donilon indicated, at changing Iran’s political behavior, and the spectre of nuclear-weapons development has become a tool for accomplishing that goal.
The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist draws an apt historical analogy to prove the likely failure of the U.S. led international sanctions regime against Iran. He points to fifty years of American sanctions imposed on Castro after he took power in 1959. Just as these policies led to no significant change in the Communist regimes policies and certainly did not topple it; so we can assume the punitive sanctions on Iran will have similarly minimal effect. All sanctions do is allow Obama to save face by claiming he’s doing something about the supposed problem. This covers his right flank from attack by pro-Israel and Republican forces looking to shrey, as conservatives did in 1949 (“who lost China”), when Iran gets a bomb: “who lost [a WMD-less] Iran?”
From the New Yorker essay emerges a prominent Iranian fear that deters a pragmatic future policy–that is, that Israel and the U.S. are intent not just on forcing Iran to end its nuclear program but on regime change. There is a realist caucus consisting of former State Department official Tom Pickering and others who’ve undertaken Track II talks with Iran and this is one of the most glaring concerns raised by the other side. Thankfully, Pickering, who has unfortunately not been able to get Obama’s ear for his efforts, would tell the president if he could meet him, both to end any U.S. efforts in this direction and discourage Israeli efforts as well.
Hersh does acknowledge a camp that believes that while Iran may be pursuing nuclear research and development, it is not doing so with the intent of weaponizing, but rather of going right up the edge and stopping. So that it would have the capacity to make a bomb if it felt it needed to do so, but it would not actually have a bomb. At a conference I organized on Iran-Israel relations, one of the speakers noted that Japan is a nation that has followed this policy. Curious how you never hear anyone complaining that Japan poses a nuclear threat to China and its region. Yes, Japan’s leaders are perceived as more rational than Iran’s. But to believe Iran’s leaders are prepared to incinerate their cities in order to achieve the goal of ridding the world of Israel, carries such pathology to ridiculous extremes. Bibi may convince himself that this is true, but there’s no law saying we have to jump off the bridge with him when he takes the plummet into such murky waters.