On Iran, It's "Bad Cop, Bad Cop"

Yesterday, Paul Sheehan of the conservative Sydney Morning Herald had a piece focussing onIsraeli hardliners in perpetual launch mode - Last week I m

Yesterday, Paul Sheehan of the conservative Sydney Morning Herald had a piece focussing onIsraeli hardliners in perpetual launch mode -

Last week I met the Boogie Man, the former head of the Israeli Defence Forces, General Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, who is preparing the political groundwork for a military attack on Iran's key nuclear facilities. "We have to confront the Iranian revolution immediately," he told me. "There is no way to stabilise the Middle East today without defeating the Iranian regime. The Iranian nuclear program must be stopped."

Defeating the theocratic regime in Tehran could be economic or political or, as a last resort, military, he said. "All tools, all options, should be considered." He was speaking in the tranquility of the Shalem Centre in Jerusalem, where he was, until last Thursday, one of Israel's plethora of warrior-scholars, though more influential than most.

Could "all options" include decapitating the Iranian leadership by military strikes, including on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel's destruction? "We have to consider killing him," Ya'alon replied. "All options must be considered."

Ya'alon is currently running as a Likud MP. Sheehan also spoke to other like-minded Israeli rightwingers, all ready to say that Israel must attack Iran and was preparing to do so.

But then again, yesterday TIME magazine's Tim McGurk wrote that an attack isn't on the cards .

U.S. officials have asked Israel to refrain from launching any major military action in the region during the waning days of the Bush presidency, Israeli sources have told TIME. Previously, some Israeli military officials had hinted to the media that if Israel were to carry out its threats to strike at Iranian nuclear installations , it might do so before Barack Obama enters the White House in January. But now a Defense Ministry official says, "We have been warned off."

The call for restraint was relayed to Israeli officials by senior U.S. counterparts, TIME's sources say, and it is likely to be reinforced during Monday's valedictory meeting in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George W. Bush.

That same story was told to Reuters back in October too, by another of the endless succession of unofficial officials with which the Bush administration massages the media. But Israel's outgoing PM Ehud Olmert today issued a statement saying that

"I can't recall that anyone in the (U.S.) administration, including in the last couple of days, advised me or any of my official representatives not to take any action that we will deem necessary for the fundamental security of the state of Israel, and that includes Iran."

The phrase that applies here is "strategic ambiguity " - deliberately muddying the waters of Israeli and American intentions to pressure Iran in its negotiations with the West by ensuring it fears an attack if it doesn't play ball. Yet there are no indications that strategic ambiguity as a policy is working. Many Iranian reformers complain that the Bush administration's hard line these past eight years has actually entrenched the current Iranian regime, which has used fear of an Israeli or American attack to stifle dissent and appeal to patriotism in exactly the way that the Bush administration used fear of a terror attack.

The current policy of strategic ambiguity is also built upon sand - there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon program to be afraid of or to attack, both the IAEA and the US intelligence community have said so. If the Israelis have substantial evidence to the contrary rather than just institutional pananoia then they haven't revealed it to the international community or public scrutiny. The current policy is simply a sop offered by conservative "realists" to the demands of powerful extreme rightwingers, Likudnicks and neocons who would sooner bomb Iran than not, in the face of that lack of evidence that there's anything worth bombing for. And so it has the potential, not to deliver Iranian concessions but rather to blow up in the faces of those who are trying to negotiate for what the extremists pretend to demand but which is ultimately unattainable. The most likely end result is an eventual attack for no good reason which will deliver no good outcome.

On December 12th 2000, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Richard Roth, told a symposium at the Council on Foreign Relations that he was heartened by changes towards a more moderate Iran and explorations of matters of common interest between Iran and America, then added that:

we have sought unambiguously a direct government-to-government dialogue with Iran, without preconditions, to explore how our two countries can push this further.

He urged the incoming Bush administration to continue that dialogue. The neocon-led Bush White House did the exact opposite, even when offered a Grand Bargain by Iran post-9/11. Which is why Obama's promise to negotiate with Iran without preconditions is so important, for only by so doing can the US, Iran and other interested parties wipe the slate clean of the hardliner-sponsored innuendo which has poisoned relations and any prospect of progress these last eight years.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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