U.S. Threats Against Iran and Syria

Close Encounters of an Imperial Kind

Revolutionary Worker #1269, February 27, 2005, posted at rwor.org

For many months, people across Iran have been reporting unidentified flying objects flashing over their heads. These mysterious UFO incidents have been most intense in the skies over Bushehr and Isfahan provinces and near the city of Natanz.

The Iranian government knew that these were U.S. drone aircraft penetrating their airspace--focusing on areas that have major Iranian military facilities. Fleets of these drones have been launched from U.S. airbases in occupied Iraq. Such aircraft can be used to spy on military operations, launch missiles and test air defenses (in preparation for future military strikes).

Finally, on February 16, the Iranian government went public, explaining that what the people were seeing was military provocations by the U.S.

Iranian Information Minister Ali Yunessi announced:

"Most of the shining objects that our people see in Iran's airspace are American spying equipment used to spy on Iran's nuclear and military facilities. If any of the bright objects come close, they will definitely meet our fire and will be shot down."

Yunesi added that the U.S. would not learn anything through these provocative flights: "Our nuclear activities are open and very transparent. Our military activities are all legal."

These incidents were just the start of escalating threats against Iran. The day after Iran exposed the U.S. drone invasions, Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom claimed that Iran was just six months from knowing enough to build a nuclear weapon.

In Washington, President Bush openly gave Israel a green light to attack Iran. Here is what he said: "If I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well.'' Then he ominously added, "We will support Israel if her security is threatened.''

This is a promise of support before-the-fact for an aggressive military strike on Iranian facilities -- in which the Israeli air force would be acting (once again) as forward agents doing those dirty deeds for U.S. imperialism which Bush would rather not do directly.

In previous statements, Condoleezza Rice openly said that Bush has "not taken the military option off the table" in regard to Iran. And also that a military strike against Iran was "not on the agenda at this point ."

The crudeness, recklessness and incredible arrogance of these U.S. threats is mind-boggling. It is now considered normal that a country like Iran should live under permanent military threat from the U.S. It is considered acceptable that U.S. allies attack countries without warning, and that the U.S. give them permission in public.

And just to be clear, let's review some basic facts.

Iran (which has an oppressive, backward government headed by religious fundamentalists) has not actually threatened or attacked any of its neighbors, and certainly cannot represent any military threat against the United States.

With now-familiar hysteria, the U.S. (which also, incidentally, has a very oppressive and backward government headed by religious fundamentalists!) accuses Iran of trying to develop "weapons of mass destruction" -- i.e. nuclear weapons. However it is rarely pointed out that both the U.S. and Israel actually already have nuclear weapons, and have repeatedly used them to threaten people of the Middle East, including Iran!

So neither the U.S. nor Israel have any right to speak on these matters--and certainly no right to launch unprovoked military attacks on Iran.

Jitters over Some Dam Construction

U.S. and Israeli threats have cranked up the tensions incredibly.

Consider this: Just a few hours after Shalom's remarks in London, construction workers in Iran's southern Bushehr province set off an explosion while building a dam.

This dam project was 100 miles away from Iran's only nuclear power plant, and so the Iranian authorities (who apparently live with the daily expectation of attack) assumed and reported that an enemy plane had launched a missile at their country.

Top Israeli military officials, President George Bush's spokesman, and the head of the CIA all rushed to publicly deny they had launched such an attack. The New York Stock Exchange took a major dip.

This is where events now stand--and there is every reason to expect that new aggressive moves will follow.

Turning on Syria

"We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure."

Senior State Department official New York Times , February 15

U.S. imperialism is so ambitious and arrogant that it now cannot resist threatening several countries at the same time.

Ever since the U.S. invaded Iraq, their war planners have announced that they may attack Syria next. Periodically, they have issued direct threats at Syria's Assad government. And now, these threats have taken a big leap.

On Monday, February 14, a bomb killed Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon. During the long bloody years of Lebanon's civil war in the 1970s and `80s, Syria's government and troops increasingly came to dominate the country. And over the last decade, Hariri, a billionaire developer with close ties to the Saudi monarchy, had been a political symbol of demands for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Various forces in Lebanon accused Syria of organizing Hariri's assassination.

The Bush White House used this moment to make major new demands and threats on Syria.

The day after the explosion, Bush withdrew his ambassador from Syria for "urgent consultations." In international relations, withdrawing ambassadors is considered a hostile step toward breaking relations. Bush's Secretary of State Rice made it clear that Syria should consider all this a direct threat. "We will have to see how seriously the Syrians take this signal," she said.

U.S. government officials have described "three baskets of measures" they are considering for Syria.

The first is under the "Patriot Act," which gives the U.S. government the power to cut Syria off from financial transactions that involve U.S. banks. This Act was supposedly designed as a response to 9/11 -- but now it is considered "a tool" to use against any country that the U.S. wants to pressure and intimidate.

The second involves the Syrian Accountability Act, passed in 2003 with Democratic Party support (including Senator Barbara Boxer, who co-sponsored it). This Act gives the White House a free hand to punish Syria diplomatically and economically. In May 2004, Bush implemented some of the sanctions allowed by this law-- cutting off trade with Syria (except for medicine and food). Now there is talk that a new round of sanctions may be imposed-- like forbidding U.S. corporations from doing business with Syria, or forbidding Syrian diplomats from traveling outside Washington, D.C.

A reasonable question on the Syrian Accountability Act: Who exactly is Syria's government supposed to be "accountable" to? Clearly it is to the U.S.--which now openly and shamelessly acts as if it is the acknowledged ruler over everyone in the world!

And finally, the White House is also considering an executive order which would "freeze Syrian assets" in the United States--which amounts to massive theft, the kind that would usually be considered an act of international aggression.

And all that could be just the start: One prominent Christian-Fascist news site, the World Tribune, reported in January that the Pentagon has been urging Bush to approve "limited military strikes on Syria" but said that, so far, the White House has only authorized "an effort to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad."

Ripe for the Plucking?

"Western diplomats have sometimes suggested that Syria is `low-hanging fruit' in the campaign against terrorists: a nation that could be punished by further isolation and sanctions because its economy is in poor shape."

New York Times , February 17, 2005

What has Syria done to deserve these threats? Nothing, really--except that it is considered poor and vulnerable, and in an important strategic location.

Syria is a small country, with 18 million people. It borders Iraq on the east and Israel to the south. Both of those neighbors are highly important for U.S. schemes to totally dominate the region. And the U.S. is demanding that Syria fully participate in U.S. schemes to secure Israel and conquer Iraq.

Clearly, the empire-builders in Washington think they have an opening now to batter Syria into place. A senior administration official has told the Washington Post that Syria was "climbing up the agenda" of George W. Bush's coming trip to Europe.

In today's world, "climbing the agenda" is obviously a very dangerous place to be!

No Facts, Just Phony Excuses

"We've recalled our ambassador, which indicates that the relationship is not moving forward, that Syria is out of step with the progress being made in the greater Middle East, that democracy is on the move, and this is a country that isn't moving with the democratic movement. "

George W. Bush Press conference, February 17

Bush used the assassination of Hariri as an excuse to threaten Syria, so it was natural for reporters to ask him if he had any evidence Syria was involved.

After avoiding the question, Bush finally answered (Feb. 17): ``I can't tell you yet. I don't know that. I'm going to withhold judgment until we know what the facts are.''

There are two things stand out about this answer.

First, Bush has actually acknowledged (this time, at least in words) that there are such things as "facts." This is remarkable since he often says things like "God told me" which reflect his "faith-based" approach to the universe.

Second, it also stands out that Bush still does not intend to allow the absence of facts to prevent him from using this killing as an excuse to threaten Syria.

In other words, his argument this time is: We don't have any facts, but we don't need them.

He intends to threaten Syria anyway.

How does he justify this? Syria is "out of step," he says. With who?!

Obviously with the master plans of the U.S.--to "remake" the whole oil-rich Middle East under their domination.

Bush's foreign minister, Condoleezza Rice, was also asked if it wasn't unusual to threaten a country before you had evidence to back up your charges.

Like Bush, she sidestepped the question. Syrian troops in Lebanon are a "destabilizing" factor for the whole region, she finally said.

It is true that Syria occupies much of the territory of its western neighbor Lebanon. Lebanon disintegrated during the 1970s and '80s because of a disastrous civil war and Israeli invasion. And Syria's government increasingly sent its troops into that "power vacuum" until it now essentially dominates Lebanon. But regardless of what anyone thinks of that occupation, it does not justify the U.S. or Israel threatening and economically crippling Syria.

After all, Israel has forcefully occupied Syria's Golan Heights for almost forty years . Syria has tried (in vain) to negotiate Israeli withdrawal from its soil. The U.S. has supported Israel's occupation, and provided Israel with the military means to stay in the Golan Heights.

And further, the U.S. has invaded Lebanon twice--in 1958 under Eisenhower and then in 1982 under Reagan. And the U.S. supported the brutal Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s--under the then-general Arial Sharon-- during which the infamous massacres of Palestinians took place in Sabra and Shatila on the outskirts of Beirut.

So looking at all this, the U.S. has no right to right to speak about anyone's unjust occupation--especially while it has its troops planted on Iraqi soil!

The whole idea of George Bush and Condoleezza Rice condemning Syria's occupation of Lebanon is hypocritical--and just a cover for the real U.S. motives there!

When a Little Collaboration Just Ain't Enough

In their public statements, both Bush and Condoleezza Rice had one more excuse for threatening Syria: They say that Assad's government was endangering the lives of U.S. troops in Iraq -- supposedly by allowing sanctuary for Iraqi Baathist forces, and allowing Islamist "foreign fighters," funds and arms to pass through Syria into the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. These charges are intended to inflame U.S. public opinion for whatever the U.S. government does next.

The problem with their charges is that they contradict what even Bush's own envoy to Syria recently said.

In early January the thuggish neo-con Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage returned from a mission to Damascus. At that time he said that Syria's government had "a new seriousness about controlling the border" with Iraq.

Armitage specifically said: "The Syrian authorities are stopping foreign fighters from going to Iraq. What we'd like to see is much more activity by the Syrian authority and special services."

We can't judge how closely Assad has been cooperating with the U.S. occupation of Iraq. There is considerable evidence that Syria's government has helped the CIA by carrying out torture and interrogation of U.S. captives. And, if Armitage is right, Syria has also tried to cut off the border to Iraq.

But the U.S. wanted more.

On January 13, a second U.S. envoy, Edward P. Djerejian, met Syrian President Bashar Assad to present new demands. Djerejian said Assad responded by describing in detail all the things he had been doing for the U.S. imperialists.

But now this list was not considered enough. Djerejian tightened the screws and threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with Syria. Meanwhile, at her confirmation hearings, Condoleezza Rice suddenly added Syria to the so-called ""outposts of tyranny"--the list of countries that the U.S. intended to threaten.

One reason Syria seems to be "rising up the agenda" is that the U.S. had new demands to make on the Assad government.

In particular, the U.S. and Israel are now launching a new attempt to force the Palestinian people to abandon their struggle for Palestine. A key component of this new "process" is a demand that everyone in the region participate in suppressing Palestinian groups that wage armed resistance against Israel. And as part of this larger scheme, the U.S. and Israel are making three important demands on Syria's Assad.

 Israel and the U.S. are demanding that Syria expel "terrorist headquarters" from Damascus (meaning that they should deny Palestinian nationalist organizations the right to operate on Syrian territory);

 They are demanding that Syria "allow the Lebanese Army to deploy its forces along the border with Israel" (meaning that Syria must allow Israel and allied Lebanese forces to wage an offensive against Hezbollah and other armed anti-Israeli forces in the Lebanon-Israeli border region)

 And they are demanding that Syria withdraw its own forces from Lebanon (meaning opening the way for Israel and the United States to even more directly dominate the whole of Lebanon).

These, presumably, are the demands Syria must now meet in order to be considered "in step with the progress being made." And so, to back those demands, the U.S. ambassador is withdrawn and there are threats of economic embargo and frozen bank assets.

The U.S. officials openly talk of isolating, undermining and even overthrowing the government of Syria.

It is now so common for the U.S. to make such threats against foreign governments that it is worth stepping back a second: The U.S. is doing things that used to be called "unprovoked aggression," especially considering that Syria has not (by any stretch of the most vivid imagination) threatened the U.S. in any way.

Quite simply, the U.S. now believes that it can bully and threaten anyone and get away with it.

While the whole world watched, the U.S. embargoed, isolated, starved, bombed, invaded, occupied and brutalized Iraq's people. And now, the logic of the faltering occupation and the larger logic of empire is drawing the U.S. into new attacks on Iraq's neighbors. And the Bush government fully believes that they can make all the countries of this region bend--one by one--by threatening them with the awful things they did to Iraq.

It is raw gangster logic. The godfather in Washington thinks he is making Syria and Iran "an offer you can't refuse."

Bloody Hypocrisy and Double-Speak

We have to comment on the gross hypocrisy of Bush criticizing Syria for "supporting terrorism" at a press conference called to announce his nomination of John Negroponte as the first director of national intelligence.

This man, John Negroponte, is being put forward for the post in charge of 15 U.S. intelligence and covert agencies, including the CIA.

Negroponte is one of the most sinister and blood-soaked U.S. operatives of his generation. He "made his bones" as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. In reality, the U.S. "ambassador" to Honduras is really a colonial governor controlling the country and giving orders to the supposedly "independent" government there. At that time, Negroponte was deeply involved in the creation of military death-squads in Honduras--who tortured and murdered opposition forces fleeing the U.S.-backed brutality in neighboring El Salvador and who provided backing for the CIA-trained contra bands who terrorized Nicaragua. During his stay there, over $70 million was poured into the Honduran military infrastructure--making it a base for U.S. counterinsurgency in the whole region. It was also the staging ground for the notorious flights that brought large quantities of cheap cocaine into the U.S., creating the "crack epidemic" and in exchange funding the covert U.S. operation based in Honduras.

Elevating this cold-blooded war criminal to new international power, while (at the same press conference!) accusing Syria of being "out of step" with U.S policies of progress and democracy, shows again how the White House masks raw and calculated imperialism with truly Orwellian double-speak--in their lingo brutal domination and military threat are called "democracy on the move."