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[infowar.de] AT 27.01.06: Covert ops and disinformation aimed at Iran
Jan 27, 2006
Covert ops and disinformation aimed at Iran
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - Recent reports in the Turkish and German media of the US
asking the Turkish government to support a possible attack on Iran and
alerting allied countries of preparations for such an attack appear to be
part of a strategy to pressure the Iranian regime rather than the result of
a new policy to strike the country.
The stories appeared in Turkish and German newspapers after a December 12
meeting between US Central Intelligence Agency director Porter Goss and his
Turkish counterpart. The Turkish center-left newspaper Cumhuryet reported
that Goss had warned the Turkish government to be ready for possible US use
of air power against both Iran and Syria. On December 23, the German news
agency DDP quoted "Western security sources" as saying that Goss had asked
the Turkish prime minister to support a possible strike against Iranian
nuclear and military facilities. And the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegal
cited North Atlantic Treaty Organization intelligence sources as saying the
US had informed NATO allies that it was studying the military option
The reports, which have not been widely picked up by US news media, seemed
to suggest that the administration of President George W Bush was now
closer to war against Iran. But the circumstantial evidence points to
strategic disinformation planted by the administration - perhaps with help
from friendly officials in NATO - to ratchet up the pressure on Iran over
its position on nuclear-fuel enrichment.
The reports are unlikely to be effective in getting Iran to be more
forthcoming, however. None of the stories suggested that the military
option was anything more than a possibility. That would not represent
anything new, because the administration's public posture since August had
been that the "military option" was on the table.
The media reports do refer to possible air attacks on Iran, but since
autumn 2004, Bush administration planning for possible military action
against Iranian nuclear facilities appears to have focused on commando
operations to sabotage them rather than on air attacks.
Jushua Kurlantzick of The New Republic wrote in Gentleman's Quarterly in
May that top officials had adopted a new strategy of "deterrence and
disruption" toward Iran in the autumn of 2004 that was aimed ultimately at
covert operations by special forces to damage nuclear sites, according to a
Kurlantzick's source confirmed, in effect, an earlier report by Seymour
Hersh in The New Yorker that the administration had approved conducting
covert probes by reconnaissance missions in Iran to identify potential
nuclear sites as targets for later military strikes. But it suggested any
such strikes would be by commando teams rather than from the air.
"You'll start seeing reports of an 'accidental gas leak' at Natanz," an
Iranian nuclear facility, the official was quoted as saying.
The choice of covert operations instead of air strikes in administration
planning reflected the serious downside associated with an overt attack on
Iran. Administration policymakers were concerned about the likelihood of
Iranian retaliation - in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Middle East
- for an open military air attack against Iranian targets.
Nor did they regard Israeli air strikes as any more likely to avoid Iranian
retaliation against the US, since they would require US support. In a book
recently published by the National Defense University's Institute of
Strategic Studies, Thomas Donnelly, a stalwart defender of administration
policy at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that if Israeli planes
stuck Iranian nuclear targets, "The Iranians would surely hold us
responsible and target US interests in retaliation."
Administration policymakers apparently hoped that the US and Israel could
deny responsibility for a covert operation, thus reducing the likelihood or
intensity of Iranian responses to the strikes, as well as opposition from
allies around the world.
Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, which is close to both Bush administration and Israeli
policymakers, suggested in an interview with Hersh in late 2004 that if
military action was to be carried out against Iran, it would be "much more
in Israel's interest - and Washington's - to take covert action".
The US military option remained in the background as the second Bush
administration began a year ago. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a
London news conference in early February that an attack on Iran over its
nuclear program was "not on the agenda at this point".
But after Iran indicated its intention to go ahead with uranium enrichment
in August, the administration reversed that declaratory policy. On August
11, Bush declared in a news conference that "all options are on the table".
From then the "military option" was an integral part of the US strategy of
diplomatic pressure on Iran. But that policy decision sharpened a conflict
between the Bush administration and its European allies - especially the
British, French and Germans - over the issue of the use of military force
It took German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder only a few hours to respond to
Bush's move to put the military option ostentatiously on the table by
declaring that the alliance should "take the military option off the table".
In September, however, Schroeder's Social Democrats were defeated by the
opposition Christian Democrats, as the administration had hoped, and by
early October, Angela Merkel was on her way to forming a new government.
Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns was then dispatched to meet with
representatives of Britain, France and Germany to "begin discussing ways to
ratchet up the pressure on Tehran", according to a report by the Wall
Street Journal's Carla Anne Robbins on October 6.
Burns' top priority was certainly to get the European allies to integrate
the idea that the military option is "on the table" into its negotiating
stance on Iran's nuclear policy. Subsequently, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair began to echo Bush's position on the military option, presumably at
US insistence, but Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac avoided any
endorsement of that posture.
Having failed to get agreement by the EU-3 to exploit the military option
in the diplomatic maneuvering with Iran, the Bush administration apparently
felt that it needed to take other steps to increase the pressure on Tehran,
including arranging for sensational newspaper articles to appear in the
Turkish and German press.
It would not have been the first time a US administration had used such
leaks about a possible military action as part of a campaign to put
pressure on foes to make diplomatic concessions.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles
feinted toward a military intervention in Indochina at the time of the 1954
Dienbienphu crisis and the start of the Geneva Conference on a settlement
of the war.
Privately, however, both men opposed US intervention in Indochina and
hinted that the suggestions of intervention were a bluff to influence
Soviet and Chinese diplomacy at Geneva.
The ruse worked in 1954, inducing the Soviets and Chinese to put pressure
on their Vietnamese allies to make far-reaching concessions in negotiating
the Geneva accords. It is far less likely that such tactics will succeed
with Iran, which is being asked to sacrifice its own central security
interests rather than those of an ally.
Gareth Porter is a historian and national-security policy analyst. His
latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in
Vietnam, was published in June 2005.
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