September 24, 2007

Geopolitical Diary: Iran Fright Month

Soure: Stratfor
Stratfor's Free Intelligence Reports
September 24, 2007 02 10 GMT

Newsweek reports in this week's edition that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney recently was considering asking Israel to launch a missile strike against the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. Its purpose would be to provoke an Iranian counter-strike against Israel, which would give the United States an excuse to launch its own airstrikes against Iran. Newsweek cited two unidentified sources as saying that Cheney's former Middle East adviser, David Wurmser, had told this to others a few months ago. Wurmser's wife denied the story.

So we have two unidentified (of course) sources, citing a conversation months ago between an aide and an unnamed group of people, claiming that Cheney was considering asking the Israelis to attack Natanz. Cheney is nothing if not Machiavellian. Still, there are a few unanswered questions in this story. For example, why it would be easier for the United States to attack Iran after it retaliated against a pre-emptive attack from Israel? A lot of people would say that Israel got what it deserved for attacking Iran. Or, if the United States wanted to attack Iran, why not just attack it? In fact, the whole story is wacky, since the last thing that Washington wants to appear to be doing is attacking Iran on behalf of Israel. If the United States is going to attack Iran, it will sit much better with the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians if the attack is not done to avenge Israel.

Of course, the point of the story might be that Cheney came up with the idea so that the Israelis would start the war, creating an upswell of pro-Israeli feeling in the United States and forcing President George W. Bush into attacking Iran against his will. Or perhaps Bush and Cheney thought of this together as a way to force the Democrats to demand an attack on Iran, since Bush would never do something Congress disapproved of.

It's quite a story. The mere fact that it doesn't make a lot of sense should not detract from is elegance. Newsweek can't be wrong, because the story doesn't say that Cheney asked the Israelis to attack, only that he was thinking about it. It comes down to what "thinking" about something means. We're sure that Cheney has a lot of strange thoughts. But then so do we -- we just try not to tell them to people since they might tell their friends. Perhaps Cheney just isn't secretive enough.

Our constant amazement at the media aside -- we're much too small to be one of the media -- this piece might be part of Iran Fright Month. The Bush administration has tried very hard to convince Tehran that an air attack against Iran is a very real possibility. The administration has leaked a wide range of stories about a range of options against Iran. The goal of threatening Iran (as opposed to simply attacking Iran) is political -- to get Iran to shift its policies in Iraq. We've heard some indication of senior Iranian officials expressing concern that an attack could come, so it might be having an impact. But thus far, there is no sign of a shift in the Iranian position.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, said in an interview with CBS, "It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing." He also reiterated that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon, pointing out, "If it was useful, it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful, it would have resolved the problem the Americans have in Iraq."

There is actually a kind of logic to that -- but then Iranian presidents visiting New York always appear controlled, reasonable and pleasant. We have consistently taken the view that the Iranians are using the threat of nuclear weapons as a bargaining tool rather than expecting to complete a device, so we tend to believe him. His problem is that we may be the only ones who do. The Bush administration is going out of its way to intimidate Iran, and the United States is not a trivial force. We doubt that this signals a shift in Iran's policy, but at least Ahmadinejad's response makes more sense than Newsweek's story.

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