Revolution #213, October 10, 2010

Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day

There has been in recent months a drumbeat for a military strike by Israel on Iran, supposedly to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. It is said that Iran is in a feverish race to obtain such weapons; that if they get these weapons it will threaten the very existence of Israel; and that if necessary a military attack must be launched to prevent this.

A fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions was passed in June to punish Iran for its failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to pressure it to negotiate over the future of its nuclear program. But many U.S. ruling class thinkers claim that their impact will be negligible. In their eyes, this increases the likelihood—and desirability—of a devastating strike, and possible war, against Iran.

An article by Jeffrey Goldberg in the September 2010 issue of The Atlantic magazine, titled "The Point of No Return," has become a central focus of the public debate. Goldberg frames the question this way: "who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how?" And he goes on to explain "how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold." This article has triggered an outpouring of very polarized responses for and against such an attack by Israel from a wide grouping of influential policy makers, analysts, and scholars. (Goldberg is also well known for an article he wrote for The New Yorker magazine in 2002 titled "The Great Terror," which many feel gave legitimacy to Bush's argument for attacking Iraq by using unreliable information in claiming to have found evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda.)


As pointed to in the main article in this special issue, the U.S. media projects the state of Israel as an outpost of democracy and tolerance in a sea of hostile, intolerant Islam bent on its destruction. President Obama has not hesitated to say that the U.S. and Israel not only have shared interests, but "shared values." There is no other country in that part of the world that is, or would be, described that way. Israel, in other words, truly "represents" the U.S. in the Middle East.

This sets the terms and framework for how most people in this country view the conflict between Israel and Iran. Now it is said that Israel is confronting a threat to its existence from a dangerous, Islamic, maverick government in Iran, which could be within close reach of acquiring a nuclear capability—perhaps as soon as one to three years—if it isn't stopped. Add to that the constant media hammering on open-ended statements coming from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should, and will, be wiped from the map, combined with his questioning of whether the mass extermination of Jewish people by Hitler's Nazi regime took place. In this way, support for an Israeli pre-emptive strike is portrayed as not only justified, but a matter of common sense.

In approaching this issue, we should be very, very careful in taking anything at face value from the U.S. government. This is the same government which at one point said that it was certain—in fact, that it was a "slam dunk"—that Iraq under the government of Saddam Hussein possessed "weapons of mass destruction." These claims turned out to be totally false, a bogus reason to hide the real interests driving the U.S. to make war on Iraq. Nonetheless, war was made on this basis—and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, with many more driven into exile, as a result.

By contrast, we will show here what the real interests on all sides are—and how the people of the world have no interest in any such war against Iran, and every interest in opposing it.

Which Middle Eastern Country Actually Has Nuclear Weapons?

Is there an "existential threat" to the state of Israel posed by Iran if it were to acquire nuclear weapons capability? And what is the nature of that threat? It is commonly assumed in the mass media—an assumption people have not been discouraged from making—that Iran's alleged desire for nuclear weapons is intended in some way for use against Israel. Yet in their private analyses, Israeli and U.S. analysts and policy makers all but rule out the actual likelihood of Iran firing a nuclear weapon at Tel Aviv.

Moreover, it is not at all clear that Iran is attempting to produce such weapons. In fact, Iran has developed the capacity to produce nuclear "medical grade" fuel—even as this marks an important capability, it is short of what would be needed to produce a weapon. And there is absolutely no reason why Iran should not have the right to develop nuclear energy.

At the same time, it is an "open secret" that Israel has been producing its own nuclear weapons for over 40 years, and now has well over a hundred! In 1986, a 31-year-old Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, publicly revealed this "secret" to the British press, along with photos, because of his opposition to weapons of mass destruction. He was kidnapped by Israel's intelligence agency and brought back to Israel to face a secret trial. Vanunu served 18 years behind bars, 11 in solitary confinement, and continues to be forbidden from speaking about his knowledge of Israel's nuclear weapons program. Today it is well understood that Israel possesses a huge nuclear arsenal with land, sea, and air delivery systems. As one Israeli defense official told Goldberg, Iran knows "that Israel has unlimited reprisal capability"—a veiled reference to its second-strike nuclear arsenal—and "we think they know that they are putting Persian civilization at risk." Still, public perception in the U.S. is that nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel are okay, but in the hands of Iran they're somehow potentially a tremendous danger.

It is said that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, or achieves "break-out" capability (the ability to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon), it could be destabilizing to the current power relations throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond. It would further signal that the existence of Israel as the dominant country in the region, representing U.S. interests even as it pursues what it sees as its own, was now facing a coherent challenge from within the region. The shifts and fallout from such a challenge to Israeli and U.S. regional domination, and how that might further develop, could at some point call into question Israel's future as an untouchable U.S. outpost, and threaten its own stability.

There is some truth to this. But it serves to hide a larger truth: that such shifts are already going on and that, nukes or no, the U.S. and Israel aim to stop this trend. The recent clamor over the Goldberg article, as well as other similar and related developments, signals that they are more urgently threatening the Iranian regime and making serious preparations for military aggression to do this.

Why the U.S. and/or Israel May Attack Iran

The U.S. invasion and occupation, first of Afghanistan and then Iraq, have brought tremendous suffering to the people of those countries, while radically upending the previously existing balance of power in the Middle East and Central Asia. But the U.S. saw all this as the necessary risk required to bring about the transformation of this region to one strategically more favorable to U.S. imperialist interests. These interests, we should understand, are all about dominating this region as an important source of oil and a geostrategic crossroads. And the pursuit of these interests requires, and has required, sentencing the hundreds of millions of people in this region to untold privation, suffering, humiliation, repression, exile and massacre. The so-called war on terror launched by Bush set the U.S. on a trajectory that Obama is now aggressively pursuing.

The Iranian regime, at the geopolitical center of many key world contradictions, has its own ambitions in the region. It is interacting and building ties with other, emerging rival power centers in the world, including with Russia and China. For instance, China currently is a major importer of Iranian oil and gas, and sells Iran 30% of its refined oil products. Russia had been providing Iran with defensive weapon systems until the recent UN sanctions brought that to a stop. This is giving Iran more maneuvering room to stand up to the U.S. As a relatively coherent reactionary, fundamentalist Islamic state, it also poses an alternative political and ideological model away from the direction that U.S. imperialism wants to take things in the Middle East and globally.

Iran is NOT challenging the system of imperialism, with its division of the world into oppressor and oppressed nations. But it IS playing a role opposed to the U.S. desire to maintain overwhelming dominance in the region. We noted above Iran's growing ties with China, and Russia. But there are other forces, and developments, as well. Turkey, for instance, has tightened ties with Iran. Together with Brazil, the Turkish government recently attempted to pose an alternate diplomatic initiative around Iran's nuclear program—to the great displeasure of the U.S. The point is that while the U.S. and Israel do intend to stop Iran from attempts to increase its nuclear capacity, this is not the driving reason behind what is happening.

Iran has, for a whole period of time, been gaining influence as well as indirectly clashing militarily with U.S. and Israeli interests: in Iraq through its extensive ties in the current government as well as influence among the Shi'a opposition to the U.S. occupation; in Lebanon and Palestine through its support for Hezbollah and Hamas; and extensive ties and influence among some ruling strata in Afghanistan and to some extent Pakistan, which it also borders. The Bush regime's "surge" in Iraq in 2007 represented a shift in strategy and political objectives that aimed to make peace with sections of the Sunnis and isolate and defeat al Qaeda and the anti-U.S. Shi'a forces, in order to forge a government not dominated by Iran. But the current inability of the U.S. to form a government to its liking in Iraq in part reflects that the U.S.-Iran contention there remains unresolved and could easily become acute.

Israel for its part has repeatedly shown its willingness to use overwhelming force and violence again and again to punish Iran's allies on its borders. Israel invaded and bombed Lebanon, wreaking terrible devastation and murdering over 1,000 people, to strike at Hezbollah in 2006. It bombed Syria in 2007—allegedly to take out a nuclear facility, but with evidence that it was a "dry run" for an attack on Iran. It invaded Gaza in December 2008, wantonly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure as part of going after Iran's ally Hamas. And it waged the recent bloody assault in international waters of the unarmed flotilla bringing aid from Turkey to the Palestinians in Gaza.

In addition to acting through the Israelis, the U.S. has its own blood-soaked history in the region, and is currently waging war or committing military aggression against or in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan. But this history significantly includes history of aggression against Iran itself. The U.S. engineered a military coup against Iran's elected, secular-nationalist Mossadegh government in 1953. The CIA worked to overthrow Mossadegh and then installed the extremely repressive regime of the Shah (ruler), Reza Pahlavi. When the masses rose up to overthrow the Shah in 1977-78, the U.S. allowed the Islamic fundamentalists, headed by Ayatollah Khomeini, to take the reins of power, in preference to seeing a real revolution develop there. At the same time, the Americans worked both to weaken and control this regime in many different ways, including through encouraging Iraq and Saddam Hussein in a bloody invasion of Iran that set off a terrible, eight-year war in which the U.S. alternately backed both sides. Any war against Iran would be—and would be widely and more or less correctly perceived elsewhere in the world as—a continuation of this history of aggression and oppression.

There is a certain sick irony in all this. In the 1980s, the U.S. was battling the Soviet Union (which was then an imperialist power) for world domination. As part of that, the U.S. found it useful to bring forward and support, with a great deal of money as well as sophisticated weapons, the Islamic fundamentalist forces opposed to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At the same time, Israel did something similar in its battle against the resistance movement in Palestine—which was largely a secular nationalist movement. During the '80s, the Israelis also backed Islamic fundamentalist forces within Palestine. These forces were then—and are today—extremely reactionary, representing and fighting for extremely backward and traditional relations. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, they began to coalesce into a global force that increasingly came into conflict with ever more flagrant and unchallenged U.S. domination.

The Nuclear Calculus

If the Islamic Republic of Iran were able to acquire nuclear capability—and, again, it is far from proven that they are moving to do so—it would challenge Israel's unrivaled military superiority in this region of the world. Some believe it would provide Iran with a "nuclear umbrella" for further strikes against Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah, because Israel would not be able to threaten Iran in the same way it does now. On the other hand, Israel has not been able to force the Palestinians to accept the kinds of agreements the U.S. has been attempting to impose on them, in large part because of Iran's support for Hamas.

Iran with a nuclear capability could also alter the political calculus in the region significantly. It would put pressure on the pro-U.S. Persian Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and the sultanate of Oman), which have been a counterbalance to opposition to U.S. and Israeli domination, to shift their alliances toward the new regional power, Iran. It would also put considerable pressure on them to acquire nuclear capability of their own.

The reality is the world is becoming much more dangerous, including with the spread of nuclear technology and weaponry. But in fact, the world already IS very dangerous, and it is mainly and overwhelming the actions of the U.S.—which has far and away the most nuclear weapons in the world and is the ONLY power which has ever used them—which has made it that way, and is making it more so. More than anything this points to the urgency of breaking out of this very negative and dangerous dynamic. And this means breaking out of shortsightedly thinking that striking Iran will make matters better, rather than worse. Such a strike—which itself might very well involve nuclear weapons—would be nothing but a case of big-time gangsters cracking down on up-and-coming gangsters. Again, it must be emphasized: the vast majority of the people of the world have no interest in siding with one gangster against another.

How Iran Might Respond to Military Attack by Israel

There are a number of ways that the military attack against Iran now so loudly being promoted could play out. But the scenarios considered most likely involve Iran retaliating directly or indirectly against both Israeli and U.S. targets, with unpredictable, highly destabilizing consequences that could be difficult to contain.

In a September 1 New York Times OpEd piece by Reza Aslan and Bernard Avishai directly responding to Goldberg's article, titled "Stop the War Talk," the authors discuss a likely Iranian response, which they believe "would almost certainly precipitate a devastating regional war with unforeseeable global consequences." They make the point that "Iran is not Syria," which lacked the capacity to respond to Israel's attack on its nuclear sites. Iran fought a brutal eight-year war with Iraq, and could engage in a protracted war against Israeli and American interests. Iran "maintains a large military equipped with Russian-made weapons systems, surface-to-surface missiles, combat aircraft, unmanned drones and high-speed torpedo boats capable of destroying large warships." They say further that Israel would be compelled to move into Lebanon, which they believe would "plunge the entire region into war,…and place enormous pressure on leaders in Cairo [Egypt] and Amman [Jordan] to renounce their peace treaties with Israel." And Iran has said they will attack Saudi Arabia too if it allows Israeli planes to use Saudi airspace.

In fact, the New York Times reported on September 17, 2010, that Obama will seek approval for a huge arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which according to administration and Pentagon officials would be chiefly a building block for Middle East regional defenses to box in Iran. This apparently includes scores of new F-15 combat aircraft, 175 attack and troop-transport helicopters, and possibly ships and antimissile defenses in the future.

Iran could retaliate against U.S. forces in Iraq, where it is reported to have 30,000 operatives located. It could shut down the Strait of Hormuz, where 17 million barrels of oil pass through each day, driving oil prices up and devastating the U.S. financial recovery. And it could provoke an all-out response by Hezbollah from neighboring Lebanon. Israeli military officials have indicated they are making plans to prevent such a response; but it is reported that Hezbollah now has 45,000 rockets, three times the number they had before Israel's invasion and devastation of Lebanon in 2006.

Think for a minute about the levels of horror and suffering involved in those prospects. Think how "cleanly" "taking out Iraq" was presented to the American public… and think of what it has meant in terms of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, millions sent into exile, the lives that have been ruined if not ended… and the toll as well on the environment and the archaeological legacy of humanity. Now think again about what these imperialists are so calculatedly threatening and preparing for—and so insanely risking.

The fact that there is significant support in U.S. and Israeli centers of power for taking such a risk, and that it is being anticipated, prepared for, and justified at a time when the U.S. is confronting major difficulties in its occupations and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a powerful statement that the rise of the Iranian regime is considered such a major threat to the strategic interests of the U.S. and Israel in the region and beyond that, as risky as the potential consequences of another war targeting a Middle Eastern country may be, the alternative is considered worse.


Sitting in this imperialist country, we have a particular responsibility to oppose U.S. imperialism, our "own" ruling class, and what it is doing in the world. And that includes opposing what Israel, the U.S.'s enforcer in the region, is doing as well. The "existential threat" that Israel faces is a product of its role as U.S. outpost, carrying out U.S. interests, in the Middle East. The interests, objectives, and grand designs of the U.S. and Israel are not our interests—they are not the interests of the great majority of people in the U.S. nor of the overwhelming majority of people in the world as a whole. And the difficulties these powers have gotten themselves into in pursuit of these interests must be seen, and responded to, not from the point of view of the imperialists and their interests, but from the point of view of the great majority of humanity and the basic and urgent need of humanity for a different and better world, for another way.

That doesn't change the fact that the Islamic fundamentalist forces are also "historically outmoded" and reactionary. It doesn't change the reactionary character of their opposition to imperialism and what it leads to and the dynamic that it's part of, which is also not in the interests of the people of the world. It is very important to understand, and to struggle for others to understand, that if you end up supporting either one of these two "historically outmodeds," you contribute to strengthening both. It is crucial to break out of that.

In the excerpts from Bob Avakian's talk, Bringing Forward Another Way, that also appear in this issue of Revolution, he says that while there is some reality to the "war on terror," in essence it is aimed at turning people's sights away from "the profound inequalities and oppressive relations that exist within different societies but especially on a world scale," under the domination of U.S. imperialism in particular. He emphasizes the need to look more deeply at the more fundamental relations in the world, and the effects and consequences of that and the ways in which it is at the root of developments in the world now, including what the rulers of this country call their "war on terror."

Choosing between these two "out-modeds"—even on the basis of "but we have to be protected" from the dangers that this profoundly lopsided world has given birth to—leads to a very bad place. To get to a correct understanding of things, and to move toward the only possible resolution of all this that is in the interests of humanity, means coming to terms with the fact that in its essence this is not "a war on terror." As Bob Avakian says in Bringing Forward Another Way, "It is essentially a war for empire. And the confrontation with Islamic fundamentalist, and other, forces (even those which actually do employ tactics and methods which can legitimately be called 'terrorist') takes place within, and is essentially framed by, that context and that content of war for empire."


"The Point of No Return" by Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, September 2010

"An Assessment of the Momentum towards War Between the United States and Iran: Causes and Potential Ramifications," Preliminary Findings by a Working Group, June 2008,

"After the Crackdown" by Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker, August 16, 2010

"Stop the War Talk," Op-Ed by Reza Aslan and Bernard Avishai, New York Times, September 1, 2010

"China vs. the Western Campaign for Iran Sanctions" by Willem van Kemenade, The Washington Quarterly, July 2010

"U.N. Approves New Sanctions to Deter Iran" by Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, June 9, 2010

"Tea Party Caucus Endorses Israeli Attack on Iran" posted by steve m. on, July 27, 2010

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