There are a lot of bad things that one might say
about Iran. The rule of the mullahs would be an unpleasant experience for most
people, so much so that few outside of Hezbollah apparently want to emulate
it. Opinion polls that attempt to assess favorable versus unfavorable impressions
among the world's nations invariably place Iran at the bottom of the rankings,
along with the United States and Israel, its most bitter enemies.
There are many reasons for the negative assessment, including a stagnant economy
that results in lack of opportunity, widespread corruption, a general grimness
resulting from rule by religious fundamentalists, and a perception that Iran
is intent on exporting its revolution. More recently, Iran's Supreme Religious
Council has even declared change itself to be undesirable, removing many reformers
from the ballot to guarantee a conservative majority in elections.
No, Iran is not a pleasant place, and the recent evidence from the International
Atomic Energy Agency, though possibly overstated under pressure from the U.S.,
suggests that those who are fearful of Tehran's possible nuclear ambitions have
legitimate grounds for concern.
There is also Hezbollah, which modeled itself on the Iranian theocracy and
seeks to introduce a fundamentalist regime in Lebanon. The majority of Lebanese,
who do not share the Hezbollah agenda, have a perfect right to be fearful of
what might be coming. So do the Israelis. Their security concerns vis-à-vis
Iran and Hezbollah are genuine. Nevertheless, it is possible to oppose what
Iran and Hezbollah represent without having to resort to lies or misrepresentations
to make a case against them, particularly as that is the path that the United
States went down in 2002-2003 when it fraudulently contrived an argument for
war with Iraq, a war that has left Iraq in ruins, generated a foreign policy
disaster for the American people, and devastated the U.S. economy. What is particularly
disturbing about the current debates on Iran and Hezbollah is the weakness of
the case being made by the U.S. and Israeli governments. Make no mistake: both
Tel Aviv and Washington want war, and war is a serious business, certainly a
matter that is much too important to be left to politicians and politicized
generals who appear to be making up the evidence as they go along.
The United States has not even managed to be consistent in its critique of
Iran. It started by stressing the nuclear issue but then shifted focus after
the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran came out in December 2007 declaring
that Tehran had abandoned its weapons program in 2003 and had not restarted
it. The focus is now on "advanced weapons" Iran supposedly provides
to Iraqi insurgents. There is considerable evidence that both the British and
U.S. governments believed that the so-called explosively formed projectiles
(EFPs) used against coalition troops starting in 2004 were produced locally
from the armaments left over from Saddam Hussein's regime. But then, as the
desire grew to implicate Iran in the problems inside Iraq, the weapons were
increasingly described as sophisticated and of Iranian origin. In reality, experts
on munitions believe that the EFPs can be made in any reasonably competent machine
shop. Now Gen. David Petraeus would have the U.S. public believe that Iran is
going far beyond even that role by training, funding, and equipping both the
Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq. Dick Cheney and other Bush administration
officials have also asserted that Iran is engaged in "secret negotiations"
The charges against Iran are ominously similar to those that were made against
Iraq in 2002 – weapons of mass destruction, destabilizing the region, and supporting
terrorism. It is completely credible that Iran, confronted by 160,000 U.S. troops
in neighboring Iraq, a flotilla in the Persian Gulf, and threatening language
from the media and politicians in the U.S., would try to keep U.S. forces off
balance and disrupt any intended attack. That interference may be a reality,
and many observers believe Tehran's influence is strong in Iraq, but the specific
charges that are being made are curiously lacking in any supporting evidence.
This is particularly surprising as Iranian-supplied weapons are allegedly a
major element in the insurgency, meaning that many of them should have been
captured if Tehran were truly a major player in the Iraqi security problem.
If so, where are they? The United States has, in fact, produced some weapons
alleged to come from Iran, at a press conference in Baghdad in February 2007.
The display was unconvincing, however, with some weapons experts noting that
the few pieces on display were from Iranian export stocks that could have come
from anywhere. Since then there have been more claims of captured weapons with
Iranian markings. Most recently, in early May, the U.S. command announced that
it would display Iranian weapons captured in Basra and Karbala. The dog-and-pony
show was abandoned when it was determined that the weapons in question were
not, in fact, traceable to Iran. That the United States appears desperate to
prove Iranian interference in Iraq yet cannot produce unambiguous evidence supporting
that claim should set many alarm bells ringing.
Israel is now playing the same game in an attempt to implicate Iran. An odd
series of "leaks" to the media last week by Israeli security sources
reporting anonymously seeks to demonstrate that Iran is supplying sophisticated
weapons to both Hamas and Hezbollah and playing a major role with a number of
militant groups. It is certainly plausible given the hostility between the Islamic
Republic and the Jewish state, but is it true? Israel claims that rockets fired
from Gaza have markings, paint, and serial numbers that clearly indicate an
Iranian provenance, though it did not provide any additional evidence to support
the claim. According to the Israeli sources, the markings are in Latin script,
which means that even if the rocket is Iranian, which is by no means certain
and is only based on Israeli statements, it was produced for the international
arms market and might have come from anywhere. Iranian rockets made for the
Iranian military are marked in Farsi script.
There is another sure sign that what the Israelis are putting out is disinformation.
The Israel National News Service reported the same story and attributed it as
"according to the Associate Press." In fact, the source is the Israeli
government itself – the Associated Press was only reporting the story. Using
a planted bit of information to confirm the same information that has been planted
elsewhere is a classic intelligence service technique.
Is Iran as much of a threat as the Bush administration and the Israelis would
like us to believe? Possibly, but until better evidence is provided, the American
public should remain skeptical. If there is one lesson that has come out of
the Iraq experience, it is that the White House is not to be trusted when it
comes to the issue of war and peace.