April 21st, 2009

Chris Keeley

Likelihood and consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran

William Polk

April 19, 2009

Dear Friends, 

       A year ago, when terribly worried about the possibility of an attack on Iran, with disastrous consequences for Iran, of course,[1] but also for nearly all the rest of the world[2] and certainly including America, I was bombarding you and others with analyses and warnings.  

For a while, it appeared that I was like the little boy who cried wolf.  As in the story, the “wolf” – the prospect of war -- was actually there: about half of the American navy was positioned along Iran’s frontier; hundreds of cruise missiles were aimed at its nuclear sites, factories, military camps and cities; hundreds of aircraft were on alert at bases surrounding Iran in Qatar, Iraq, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean; other USAF were primed to deliver bombs directly from  the continental United States;[3]  amphibious assault ships, equipped with helicopters and fast hovercraft, sent to the Gulf in 2007 to be ready to “insert” troops within hours of a decision to attack; covert agents and special forces were meanwhile deployed in Iran;[4]  drone aircraft, gathering intelligence and “also employed as a tool for intimidation” had been overflying Iran since 2004;[5] and the Bush administration was issuing a stream of warnings that “all options were on the table.”[6]


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Chris Keeley

2 - Likelihood and consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran

William Polk 2

We did not then know how very close we had come to total world annihilation in the real-life Cuban Missile Crisis and how much had depended on sheer luck[33] -- and on the bravery or foolhardiness of Nikita Khrushchev.[34]

 To supplement or correct the war-game, America has evolved a second means of evaluating the present and predicting the future.  This is the “National Intelligence Estimate” (NIE) like the one on Iranian nuclear capacities and intent of November 2008.  An NIE represents the considered opinion of the most knowledgeable (or at least best informed) senior officials of the US government who are presumed to speak without fear or favor.  I have myself requested several NIEs and have allowed to sit through the preparation of a number of others.  NIEs are the common way that major problems are examined and predictions are made on how they will evolve.

 The flaw in the NIE is perhaps lesser than that in the war-game, but it is nonetheless serious.  It depends upon assembling “facts.”  That is, the staff that prepares the draft takes the vast input of statements, acts and capabilities of the adversary and from them makes an “appreciation” describing what the adversary is doing and drawing from it the inference of what he is likely to do.    What is often deficient in this approach is that no assemblage of facts can ever be complete.  Even more  important is that it cannot account for all the “non-facts,” the emotions, religious beliefs, fears, memories and even ignorance of the opponent.   

The draft thus prepared is then put before a designated group of senior officials, drawn from all over the Executive Branch, to be discussed and brought to a consensus. The consensus may or may not be right: what seemed to the National Intelligence Council in 2005 was the opposite of what seemed right in 2008. 

 So let me suggest an alternative.  It relies in part on what the war-game and the NIE require, as much information as can be assembled, but it then goes in a slightly different direction:  it involves putting oneself on “the other side of the table.”  That is, it requires that one try to look at the issues the way the opponent does.  Let me take the issue before us and pretend to play the role in the Iranian government that I actually performed in the Kennedy administration.   As an Iranian policy planner, how would “I” see events and trends and what would I advise?

  I am here attempting to accomplish two purposes:  first, in my diplomatic and business experience, I have found that it is always enlightening to put oneself “on the other side of the table,” to try to understand what the other person sees, what he is thinking and what he wants.  Then, second, with as much of a sense of how the other person one sees the issue, one can evaluate whether or not there is a basis for a “deal” and if so what it costs, how likely it is to be successful and what the alternatives are.

I begin with what my hypothetical Iranian policy planner – “I” -- thinks America (under the Bush administration) has been aiming to do:

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2.                  The second step is to help to organize and become a signatory to an internationally guaranteed statement recognizing Iran’s sovereign independence and certifying that no other state will attack it. As even senior American generals and other officials have pointed out, “Iran cannot accept long term restraints on its fuel-cycle activity as part of a settlement without a security guarantee.”[61]  
3.                  Such guarantees have often been made among states, but in and of themselves they have rarely prevented war.  So the third step would be to create a nuclear-free Middle East. This and other steps could be taken in a phased manner.  It could begin with a decision by the US to stand down its own enormous naval and air forces on Iran’s frontier.
4.                  More complex, of course, is what to do about the neighboring already nuclear-armed states.   The means to accomplish this part of the objective will require international negotiation of a high order.  But the essential element is clear:  “imbalance” is what has successively motivated other  powers to acquire nuclear weapons.  Russia had to have the bomb because America had it; China, because of Russia, India and Pakistan,  because of one another.  So Iran will not definitively give up its ambition unless other states do too. We must recognize that this is virtually a universal truth: it was clearly stated by the then head of the Indian nuclear program to justify his nation’s acquisition of the bomb.  He said, essentially, that there can’t be one standard for the Europeans who were the original members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and another for the Asians who were late comers.  But cutting back and then abolishing nuclear weapons inventories is in everyone’s interest.   This now appears to be the policy of the Obama administration.  It is the correct policy since nuclear weapons anywhere are a danger to people everywhere. 
5.                  Would Israel join in such an effort?   Now, it will certainly say “no,” but Israel has logical reasons to reconsider this decision because soon, whether or not Iran decides to get a nuclear weapon, other countries in the area eventually – and probably soon -- will.  So while, arguably, nuclear weapons were a source of security for Israel in the past  its nuclear arsenal is now becoming a source of insecurity. It will be extremely difficult to convince Israel of this point, but the logic will become clearer as time passes, and there are incentives that can be offered to encourge this move.
Chris Keeley

Harman Won’t Deny Speaking to Alleged Israeli Agent

Harman Won’t Deny Speaking to Alleged Israeli Agent

Back in the United States, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California is coming under growing scrutiny over allegations she discussed trading political favors with an Israeli agent in 2005. CQ Magazine reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 congressional elections. On Monday, Harman issued a statement denying lobbying the Justice Department about the two AIPAC officials, but she did not deny the allegations of her discussion with the suspected Israeli agent, nor did she address whether she tried to lobby the White House.