The Push for War on Iran
by Gareth Porter
Dale Sprusansky: Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist and historian. He specializes in U.S. foreign and military policy. He is the author of five books, the most recent being Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He will be signing that book after this panel, if you want to stick around for that. In 2012, he won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Investigative Journalism by the U.K.-based Gellhorn Trust. He will discuss the push for war on Iran.
Gareth Porter: Thanks very much to the organizers of this event. This is the second such event that I’ve participated in. I’m really happy to see the great audience for the event and wish the organizers all the best in continuing this tradition, as other speakers have suggested.
Now I know that Reza Marashi is going to be focusing more laser-like on the recent accord and what he expects to happen in the near future on this. But I do feel that I need to introduce what I have to say about the push for war in Iran with a few remarks at least about the recent developments regarding the negotiations in Lausanne, because it does directly link to a key part of what I have to talk about, which is the role that Israel has played in the threat of war between the United States and Iran.
The recent understanding, interim tentative agreement reached in Lausanne, as I think all of you know by now, has suddenly been shown to be vulnerable to differences that were picked apart, if you will, as a result of things that happened immediately after the initial agreement. That is to say, initially after the joint statement by the P5+1 represented by Ms. Mogherini of the EU on one side and Foreign Minister Zarif on the Iranian side.
Almost immediately, it became clear that there were some other voices that were not prepared to simply allow that joint statement to stand, including specifically the U.S. State Department, which issued its own text interpreting the tentative agreement, which departed specifically from the agreed joint statement with regard to the question of lifting sanctions.
And that issue of lifting sanctions, I don’t want to go into the details about this. It will be up to Reza to the extent that he is going to dissect that problem. But specifically, the question of lifting sanctions is linked to the role of Israel through specifically the problem of “possible military dimensions.” I put that in quotation marks, the famous PMD issue, which was one of the issues that Iran pledged within this tentative agreement to implement in terms of carrying out the totality of the agreement.
The Iranians agreed to implement a series of steps. One of which—all the other steps had to do with either the transparency of their nuclear program towards specific steps to constrain their nuclear program. But there’s one issue which departed from that set, and that was the possible military dimensions of the Iranian program.
PMD—possible military dimensions—refers to allegations that have been made over the years by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as Western governments, that Iran, in fact, did carry out nuclear weapons work, particularly between 2001 and 2003, but there are other allegations that extend at least potentially beyond 2003.
Now the linkage here with the possible military dimensions is that the Iranians agreed, supposedly under this framework, to explain or to give adequate access to the IAEA, that the IAEA needs to be able to understand the issues that have to do with the allegations that have to do with the supposed Iranian nuclear weapons activities. And what I need to do at this point is to explain how this issue of possible military dimensions is in fact not a genuine issue, but an issue that was created—or, as I put it in the title of my book, manufactured—part of a manufactured crisis that has been with us now for a decade or a little bit more than a decade, which revolves around the notion that Iran has been deceiving the rest of the world for many years, that it’s had covertly a nuclear weapons program, that it has always coveted nuclear weapons.
My book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, lays out the real history of this issue of the Iran nuclear program, and shows that there has been essentially a false narrative created, layer upon layer over the years, that goes back to the Clinton administration, certainly. And then it was developed, obviously much more effectively, much more in a far-reaching way, by the Bush administration, handed over to the Obama administration, which has continued to take the position that that, in fact, represents the true history of the Iran nuclear issue. I don’t have the time to go over that history, except in so far as it relates to the specific problem of the role that Israel played in creating that manufactured crisis.
To try to summarize this in just a couple of minutes, what actually happened here was that in 2001, when the George W. Bush administration came into office, it had in its National Security team a group of neoconservatives who were quite determined to carry out a strategy in the Middle East that involved regime change, a very far-reaching strategy of regime change which essentially would remove all the regimes in the Middle East who were not client states of the United States and Israel, or on the same side as the United States and Israel.
Of course, we all know what the consequences of that strategy were with regard to Iraq. The neoconservatives working with the full cooperation and support of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office put together what amounted to a false intelligence dossier that did show supposedly that Iraq had programs of weapons of mass destruction. That was the political lever that was used to push this country into a mood to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Now, the same individuals in the Bush administration were planning to do the same thing with regard to Iran. Iran was on the list of five regimes which were supposed to be changed through the use of military force, if necessary. And they did believe, according to Hillary Mann Leverett, who was on the National Security Council staff in 2001 and 2002 and talked to some of the people who were part of this neoconservative coterie, they in fact expected that the United States would have to use force in Iran.
This Iranian part of the plan was not to be carried out immediately. They had to consolidate control over Iraq militarily and then they could move on, using the military facilities that they would control in Iraq to put pressure on, to intimidate and, if necessary, to actually project military force into the rest of the region, including specifically Iran.
As we all know, that didn’t happen, to a great extent because the resistance to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was far stronger than the neoconservatives ever dreamed. As a result of that, they did not have the opportunity really to push on to Iran. There was an effort made in 2007 by the vice president’s office, by Cheney himself, to propose a bombing of targets in Iran, in case they could find an excuse in Iraq. But the Pentagon squashed that very quickly, routed it easily, according to what I understand, what I read and what I’m told. So that was really the end of that threat, at least at that period of the history of this issue.
And the role that Israel played in this plan that the neoconservatives had was to come up with the intelligence evidence that would be used against Iran. This happened in 2004, when a set of documents mysteriously materialized and found its way into the hands of Western intelligence. We now know that it was the German intelligence agency which obtained the documents from, at that time, an unknown source, and then turned them over to the CIA, which then, ultimately, through the Bush administration, these were turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency and became the centerpiece of the political campaign—an extremely successful political campaign that has been waged ever since 2008 up to the present time, to convince the entire world that, in fact, that Iran stood accused with credible evidence of having had a secret nuclear weapons program. Therefore, it cannot be trusted and must be subjected to an extraordinary set of arrangements which would go 15 to 20 years with a set of constraints, which no other state has ever been asked to accept.
So, just a few words, then, about these documents, because this is absolutely crucial to understanding this whole issue of possible military dimensions and therefore, to understanding, I would argue, the fate of this accord which was reached in Lausanne. Because it is indeed the possible military dimensions issue which constitutes the biggest threat to reaching an accord. This is the part of the agreement that clearly would take the longest number of years, the longest period of time, and which Iran clearly is afraid would be used by the United States and its Western allies to actually prevent Iran from being able to have the relief from the sanctions that are the primary interest that they have in these negotiations. So that’s why this is so important.
Now, what role did the Israelis play? In my book, I make the case that these documents were fabricated by the Mossad, the international intelligence service of Israel, and that the documents were then passed on to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq [MEK], the exiled Iranian terrorist organization. It’s now gotten off the [U.S. terrorist organizations] list. It’s been given a pass, a get out of jail free card, by the State Department under the Obama administration. But at that time, it was understood to be a terrorist organization, both in the United States and in European countries. And, more importantly, it was known and is well documented to have been a client organization of Israel’s Mossad, having served the purpose of laundering alleged intelligence, purported intelligence, that Israelis did not want to have attributed to the Israeli government, to Mossad.
There are more than one examples of this that are now well documented, and even documented in a popular book published in Israel, in Hebrew, by a strong supporter of Mossad. It’s a popular history of Mossad’s biggest successful covert operations—one of which, he asserts, and says he has the evidence to support it, was these documents, which were passed on to the IAEA ultimately, through this chain, but which he says the Mujahedin-e-Khalq got from Mossad. He doesn’t claim that all the documents came from Mossad, but he does claim that some of those documents definitely came from Mossad.
So that is the sort of the chain of custody that I reconstruct in my book. The evidence that the documents came from Israel—there’s no smoking gun in the person of a former Mossad whistleblower that I can point to, but I can point to, and I do quote, a former German foreign office official, a senior foreign office official, who gave me an interview on the record saying that he knew for a fact, because he was told by senior officials of the German intelligence service, that those documents did come from Mujahedin-e-Khalq. They did not come from some former Iranian engineer or scientist who was part of this supposed Iranian covert nuclear weapons program. That was the story that had been passed on to the news media, as well as to the IAEA, by Bush administration officials. So that’s the first piece of evidence.
The second piece of evidence is that these documents were just part of a series of handovers of documents by the Israelis to the IAEA. There was a second series of documents that were given by the Israelis to the IAEA beginning in 2008 and continuing through 2009. We know this because former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei specifically states this in his book, based on his own knowledge of what was going on when he was there in 2008 and 2009, before he retired from the agency. The very interesting fact is despite Mohamed ElBaradei’s telling all of these through his memoirs, no mainstream news source has ever reported that any of these documents, which were later featured by the IAEA in a report in November 2011, came from Israel. This fact has always been covered up by the news media.
I’m the only journalist who has ever reported—every time I write about these documents, I always point out the evidence that they came from Israel, including ElBaradei’s own experience in his memoirs. But the IAEA itself has never acknowledged that the documents came from Israelis in its reports. This has never been mentioned. It’s never been mentioned in the news media. The argument has always been that the source of the documents had to be kept secret because it would reveal sources and methods. This is the usual intelligence speak for not providing any information about where the source originated, what the original source was.
But of course this doesn’t apply at the national level. This is an entirely different level. The rule obviously should be different, because the world’s public has a right to know in making their own judgment about the credibility of these documents—where they originated, what was the source. If they came from Israel, as ElBaradei said they were, then clearly these documents reflect the national interest of the Israelis. They should be scrutinized with extraordinary care, rather than being assumed to be authentic. So that’s the second one.
The other point that I want to make about authenticity is that the IAEA during the ElBaradei regime, when he was director general, did not believe that those documents were authentic. They believed that they were fabricated. I know that for a fact from a former senior IAEA official who, off the record, was not willing to be quoted, told me that they understood that these documents not only have not been authenticated, but they were probably not authentic for a variety of reasons. Clearly, he distrusted those documents, and he acknowledged ElBaradei felt the same way.
There’s a final point that I want to make. And that is that, for all kinds of reasons, it’s clear that the second series of documents—there are linkages between what is claimed in these documents and information that we can definitely attribute to the Israeli government. For one thing, the Israeli government leaked to Israeli journalists in 2011 that they in fact had provided most of the important documents that the IAEA was using to indict Iran.
The final thing, the point I want to make, is that if you go back to 2003 to 2004, there is a very important set of trips that John Bolton, who was the Bush administration’s point man both on weapons of mass destruction as well as on Iran and on Israel. He made a series of trips to Israel, at least some of which were not authorized. I believe none of them were authorized by the regional bureau of the State Department, which is absolutely firm practice, a rule of the State Department, that a senior official wanting to visit a country must get the approval of the regional bureau to visit that country. That approval was never given by the bureau on the Middle East and South Asia in the State Department.
And during some of those visits, we know from testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Bolton was being nominated to be the ambassador to the United Nations, that he met secretly with the head of Mossad. Now, one of those trips was in June of 2003. A few weeks later, within a matter of weeks, we know from a journalist who had no axe to grind on this—and they’re certainly not anti-Israeli, they are far more supportive of Israel than the usual journalist—we know that Mossad set up a new office that summer of 2003, the explicit purpose of which was to influence the opinions of the world’s press and governments about the Iranian nuclear program. And it was during the period from the summer of 2003 to mid-2004 when these documents were clearly being fabricated.
Now, I’m running out of time, but I just want to add that I also in my book have an analysis showing how these documents could not possibly be authentic, because key points in the documents, particularly the drawings of the Shahab-3 Iranian missile, which is supposedly shown as efforts to integrate a nuclear weapon into the nosecone of the missile—the drawings showed the wrong missile. It shows the earlier version of that missile, which the Iranians had already abandoned in the year 2000, and had begun to redesign it, which was known. It was known that the Iranians were redesigning the missile.
What was not known was that the nosecone of that missile—the re-entry vehicle—would look completely different. It was only in July-August 2004 that foreign intelligence agencies for the first time knew that the nosecone did not resemble the original one. So these documents were fabricated by someone who was not in the Iranian government, who was not aware of what their plan was for their development of that missile, redesigning the missile. It was fabricated by a foreign entity that did not know what was going on until it was too late, until these documents were on their way to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and thus, through this chain, to the IAEA.
So, just in conclusion, what I want to impress upon you is the importance of these fabricated documents and the role of Israel in the current problem of negotiating with the Iranians—a deal that will halt because of these documents that constitute the most difficult part of that deal, a part that the Obama administration continues to say they’re going to insist that the Iranians must explain, must give an account of these documents that is acceptable to the IAEA.
The Iranians obviously have been arguing from the beginning, well, these are fabricated documents. What do you expect us to say? What do you expect us to do? But they’re going to give us access. I’ve been told by an Iranian source that they will give the access that the IAEA asked for, but that they’re not going to be held accountable for explaining these in a way that corresponds to the position of the Western governments or to the position that the IAEA has taken in the past.
And that is a potential crisis within the negotiations which we still don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out. And I hope that it will, in fact, be resolved. But I think that it is the most dangerous part of the situation at this point.
Thank you very much.