Veteran British Mideast analyst Patrick Seale wrote on Saturday in Beirut's Daily Star that "President George W. Bush is coming under enormous pressure from Israel — and from Israel's neoconservative friends inside and outside the U.S. administration — to harden still further his stance toward Iran."[1]  --  Seale reported that "hard-liners" want Bush "to commit himself to bombing Iran if it does not give up its program of uranium enrichment — and to issue a clear ultimatum to Tehran that he is prepared to do so."  --  Seale argued that Israeli domestic politics, the international diplomatic climate, and recent challenges to Israel's half-century-old security doctrine of regional dominance are all combining to encourage Israel to consider a strike against Iran's nuclear program as imperative.  --  Analyzing the oft-heard but rarely analyzed claim that Iran's nuclear program poses an "existential threat" to Israel, Seale wrote:  "It is not clear whether [Israelis] really believe that Iran might attack them and risk national suicide — an Armageddon scenario — or simply that they cannot contemplate a Middle East in which they would no longer be overwhelmingly strong, and in which their freedom to attack their neighbors and crush the Palestinians might be circumscribed."  --  On Thursday, longtime UPI analyst Martin Walker wrote that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is opposing the bombing Iran, in what is "the first important policy breech [sic] between the triumvirate of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Rumsfeld, sometimes known in Washington as 'the iron triangle,' in almost six years of the Bush administration."[2]  --  According to Walker, Cheney is the leading advocate of a strike, countering the many reasons not to bomb Iran (see UFPPC's May 2006 statement, "Bombing Iran Would Not Only Be Wrong, It Would Be Foolish") by arguing that "Iran is expected to deploy a new Russian-built anti-aircraft and anti-missile system next year." ...

1.

Commentary

PRESSURES MOUNT ON BUSH TO BOMB IRAN
By Patrick Sale

Daily Star (Lebanon)
September 16, 2006

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=5&article_id=75489

President George W. Bush is coming under enormous pressure from Israel -- and from Israel's neoconservative friends inside and outside the U.S. administration -- to harden still further his stance toward Iran. They want the American president to commit himself to bombing Iran if it does not give up its program of uranium enrichment -- and to issue a clear ultimatum to Tehran that he is prepared to do so. They argue that mere rhetoric -- such as Bush's recent diatribe, in which he compared Iran to al-Qaeda -- is not enough, and might even be counter-productive, as it might encourage the Iranians to think that America's bark is worse than its bite.

Hard-liners in Israel and the United States believe that only military action, or the credible threat of it, will now prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with all that this would mean in terms of Israel's security and the balance of power in the strategically vital Middle East.

Fears that Bush might succumb to this Israeli and neoconservative pressure is beginning to cause serious alarm in Moscow, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and other world capitals where, as if to urge caution on Washington, political leaders are increasingly speaking out in favor of dialogue with Tehran and against the use of military force.

The quickening international debate over Iran's nuclear activities comes at a difficult time for Israel, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is fighting for his political life and for that of his ruling Kadima-Labor coalition.

The Iran problem is causing particular concern because it raises fundamental questions about the continued validity of the security doctrine Israel has forged over the past half century. A central plank of this doctrine is that, to be safe, Israel must dominate the region militarily and be stronger than any possible Arab or Muslim coalition.

The doctrine received a severe knock from Israel's inconclusive war in Lebanon, which demonstrated the country's vulnerability to Hezbollah's missiles and to the challenge of "asymmetric" guerrilla warfare. Israelis -- especially those living in the more exposed north of the country where up to a million people took refuge in shelters -- were shocked to discover that the war was being waged on Israel's home territory. All previous wars had been waged on Arab territory alone, and this had become something of an axiom for the Israeli military.

Another cause of anxiety for Israel's right wing -- the settler movement, the nationalist-religious parties, the Likud, and the right-dominated Kadima -- is that Israel is coming under increasing international pressure to negotiate with the Palestinians, with a view to the creation of a Palestinian state. Influential voices are calling for an international conference -- a sort of Madrid II -- to re-launch the peace process.

Overcoming the crippling conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinians themselves are forming a national unity government, which will make it more difficult for Israel to claim that it has "no partner" with whom to negotiate.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom the Israelis believed had been firmly co-opted into the U.S.-Israeli camp, has recently called for the economic boycott of the Palestinians to be lifted once the unity government is in place.

This is all very bad news for right-wingers in Israel and their American supporters. They had hoped that the "land-for-peace" formula of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 had been finally buried. They want to break the Palestinian national movement -- hence Olmert's unremitting assault on Gaza and the West Bank -- rather than negotiate a political compromise with it. They want to seize more Palestinian land, not to withdraw to anything like the 1967 borders.

Such is the background to the outcry over Iran's nuclear activities. An Iranian bomb would end Israel's regional monopoly of nuclear weapons. It would force Israel to accept something like a balance of power, or at least a balance of deterrence.

Israelis claim vociferously that an Iranian bomb would pose an "existential threat" to their state. It is not clear whether they really believe that Iran might attack them and risk national suicide -- an Armageddon scenario -- or simply that they cannot contemplate a Middle East in which they would no longer be overwhelmingly strong, and in which their freedom to attack their neighbors and crush the Palestinians might be circumscribed.

When it destroyed Iraq's French-built nuclear reactor in 1981, Israel made clear that it would strike pre-emptively against the nuclear program of any hostile state in the region. The message which it and its friends are now addressing to President Bush is that if the U.S. does not bomb Iran, Israel will have to do so.

This was put unambiguously in an article last week by Efraim Inbar, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and a well-known right-wing Israeli analyst. "Israel," he wrote, "can undertake a limited pre-emptive strike. Israel certainly commands the weaponry, the manpower, and the guts to effectively take out key Iranian nuclear facilities . . . While less suited to do the job than the United States, the Israeli military is capable of reaching the appropriate targets in Iran. With more to lose than the U.S. if Iran becomes nuclear, Israel has more incentive to strike."

These views are echoed by pro-Israeli writers in the United States, such as Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. "Offers of dialogue with Iran are a waste of time," she wrote. "Iran has pursued ruthless oppression at home, terrorism abroad, and weapons proliferation, largely with impunity . . . We have talked about talking for long enough, there must be other options." Ominously she warned Iran: "It is not wise to force American[s] into a choice between doing nothing and doing everything. But it may come to that."

Commentators like Inbar and Pletka, and many others in America and Israel who share their hard-line views, are deeply suspicious of what they see as Iran's duplicity, which they fear has seduced the Europeans. They are outraged by the negotiations which Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, is pursuing with Ali Larijani, Iran's principal nuclear negotiator.

The reported suggestion that Iran might suspend uranium enrichment for a month or two is seen as a trick to divide the Security Council and remove the threat of sanctions. They suspect that the international community is edging toward a position of allowing Iran to produce nuclear fuel under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. For the hard-liners, this would be one step away from tolerating an Iranian bomb in the not too distant future.

The real fear of the hard-liners is that the United States might agree to direct talks with Iran which would legitimize the theocratic regime, vastly increase Iran's stature as the dominant power in the Gulf, and eventually downgrade Israel as America's exclusive regional ally.

For Washington's neoconservatives, the battle to shape U.S. policy toward Iran is a crucial test of their dwindling influence. They played a decisive role in persuading the U.S. to make war on Iraq. They clamored for the destruction of the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories. They gave fervent support to Israel's war on Hezbollah, relentlessly portrayed as a "terrorist movement" and as the armed outpost of Iran.

But the neoconservatives have lost ground in Washington. The war in Iraq has turned into a strategic catastrophe, with another disaster looming in Afghanistan. Anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim worlds is at record levels. Leading neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Lewis Libby have left the administration. For the remaining neoconservatives -- and their standard-bearer, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, losing the argument over Iran could be a terminal blow.

Their ultimate nightmare is that the United States may have to come to rely on Iran to help stabilize the dangerously chaotic situation in both Afghanistan and Iran. The visit to Tehran this week of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is, from their point of view, a ghastly pointer in that direction.

--Patrick Seale, a veteran Middle East correspondent, wrote this commentary for the Daily Star.

2.

Walker's World

NO IRAN STRIKE — RUMSFELD
By Martin Walker

UPI
September 14, 2006

http://www.upi.com/InternationalIntelligence/view.php?StoryID=20060914-084551-1264r

WASHINGTON -- The iron triangle may be bending. According to military and former high-level administration sources, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is raising serious objections to what President George W. Bush calls "the military option" that could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

This heralds the first important policy breech [sic] between the triumvirate of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, sometimes known in Washington as "the iron triangle," in almost six years of the Bush administration.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington shorthand for Rumsfeld and his immediate staff, is not so much saying 'No' directly, the sources told United Press International, as listing a series of important objections to the military option.

By contrast, added the sources who asked to remain anonymous, Cheney has stepped up his advocacy of the military option by saying that the recent hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon have made it more feasible, by weakening the prospect that Iran could retaliate by pressing Hezbollah to unleash a wave of rocket attacks against Israel.

The OSD objections to a military strike against Iran's nuclear sites are not new, and have been cited by other critics in the past, but the fact that they are being taken seriously by the Pentagon adds a new complication to the Bush administration's decision-making at the highest levels.

The first objection is that the OSD is not convinced that U.S. and friendly intelligence have yet assembled a complete target list of Iran's clandestine and underground nuclear research and development facilities. A series of air and cruise missile strikes against known sites would amount to an act of war, a very high-risk undertaking if Iran retains undamaged sites that can maintain a basic nuclear credibility.

The second objection is that Iranian retaliation against the 130,000 U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq, and other U.S. bases in Central Asia and the Middle East, could both complicate military operations and the political stabilization program in Iraq, and inflict serious casualties on U.S. personnel. There are some different perspectives on the military option among the different services. A military strike would be largely in the hands of the Air Force and of the U.S. Navy, who deploy the warplanes and cruise missiles that give the military options its credibility. But the Army, with its troops on the ground, would likely suffer the bulk of any retaliation.

The third objection being cited by the OSD is a somber warning from the State Department that a military strike before all diplomatic options have been explored would have serious political consequences among the NATO and other U.S. allies. The likelihood of civilian casualties in a U.S. air strike, when so many of Iran's underground facilities are dangerously close to schools, hospitals and other civilian centers, would intensify the likelihood of international condemnation of a military strike.

The fourth objection is that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is not imminent. The OSD reports that most U.S. and friendly intelligence assessments suggest that Iran is three to five years away from being able to produce a workable nuclear device. And by that time, the Bush administration would be out of office and the decision left to a new president.

The fifth objection is that the very prospect of the military option is itself a powerful diplomatic tool, a constant threat as the diplomacy proceeds without any immediate need to use it. The diplomacy, however, appears to be moving at a snail's pace, with Iran invoking yet another delay in the latest round of discussions with the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana, a former secretary-general of NATO.

But Cheney's office, along with supporters of the military option outside the administration, claim that there is strong time pressure for a firm decision to be taken, since Iran is expected to deploy a new Russian-built anti-aircraft and anti-missile system next year.

"We've signed a contract for supplying (Iran) with air-defense missile systems for defense purposes," Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of Russia's Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, announced in February this year.

The deal, worth a total of $700 million, provides Tehran with 29 Tor-M1 and two smaller Pechora-2A systems. The Tor-M1 is a mobile ground-to-air missile system designed to shoot down targets at medium, low, and very low altitudes and can engage two targets simultaneously at a maximum range of seven miles.

Israeli intelligence sources have claimed that this deal is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the Tor-M1 systems are designed to protect the still-secret stage of the contract that would provide Iran with Russia's state-of-the-art S300 defense system, widely claimed to be superior to the U.S.-built Patriot anti-missile system. The Russian business daily Kommersant, however, has reported that the talks on the sale of the S300 system have been suspended.

The use of the military option against Iran's nuclear sites is also under consideration in Israel. Last year, in an interview with MSNBC, Cheney said: "If, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability -- given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel -- the Israelis might well decide to act first."

Efraim Inbar, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and a respected Israeli analyst, argued last week that "while less suited to do the job than the United States, the Israeli military is capable of reaching the appropriate targets in Iran. With more to lose than the United States if Iran becomes nuclear, Israel has more incentive to strike."

Even the new Tor-M1 anti-aircraft defenses, which are expected to be deployed and operational next year, would hugely complicate any prospective Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites. It would require two strike missions rather than just a single wave, the first to suppress the anti-aircraft defenses and the second to attack the missile sites. With the width of Jordan and Iraq separating Israel's air bases from Iran, even a single strike mission would be complex and difficult procedure, requiring in-flight refueling and making recovery of any downed pilots a remote prospect.

The U.S. military capability is far greater than that of Israel, and its bases in the Gulf and at sea and its "stealth" strike aircraft make the U.S. military option far more credible. But the objections being listed by Rumsfeld from the Pentagon are powerful, even as influential voices outside the administration and in the conservative media press the case for action.

"Iran has pursued ruthless oppression at home, terrorism abroad and weapons proliferation, largely with impunity. Offers of dialogue are a waste of time," argues Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, who was last year being widely touted for a senior Middle East policy-making post in the Bush administration. "We have talked about talking for long enough, there must be other options."

"It is not wise to force America into a choice between doing nothing and doing everything.  But it may come to that," Pletka concluded.