The Manufacturing of Crisis
How and by whom the official Iran narrative was constructed and the dangerous implications of pursuing this narrative to its ultimate and inevitable conclusion
London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 28 Oct 2017 - Ghassan Matar
In all the discussion of Iran’s nuclear program, the consequent international economic blockade directed by the United States, the ongoing negotiations to resolve the issue, and Trump’s decertification of the JCPOA, Washington’s official history of the program has rarely been challenged or changed for the better.
In this editorial, we trace the true history of the program, as well as how and by whom the official narrative was constructed and the dangerous implications of pursuing this narrative to its ultimate and inevitable conclusion.
Although the Iraqi nuclear “threat” was discredited as an utter fraud years ago resulting in over a million-unnecessary death, the idea that across the border Iran has sought, at least in the past, to build a nuclear weapon has long been widely accepted in political and media circles. Yet the claim of secret work on nuclear weapons is equally fraudulent, and the Iranians have never had a nuclear-weapons program.
The Iranian nuclear-weapons program has been based on false history and falsified records. The description of the Iranian nuclear program presented in official documents, in commentaries by think-tank “experts,” and in the media, bears no resemblance to the essential historical facts.
One would never know from the narrative available to the public over the years that Iran had been prepared in the early 1980s to rely entirely on a French-based company for enriched uranium fuel for its Bushehr reactor, rather than on enriching uranium itself. Nor would one learn that the Reagan Administration sought to strangle Iran’s nuclear program, which was admitted to have presented no proliferation threat, in its cradle by pressuring Germany and France to refuse to cooperate in any way.
The significance of that missing piece of history is that Iran was confronted with a choice of submitting to the U.S. effort to deprive Iran of its right to a peaceful nuclear program under the Non-Proliferation Treaty or else acquiring its own enrichment capability.
Not surprisingly, the Iranians chose the latter course, and went to the black market in defiance of what was by that point a unilateral U.S. policy. Their decision is now described in the popular narrative as evidence that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons early on.
The other relevant historical reality that has been systematically excised from the story of the Iranian nuclear program is what happened in regard to chemical weapons during the Iran–Iraq war. Contrary to disinformation issued by the U.S. Defence and State departments, which suggested that both sides had used chemical weapons in the Iraqi city of Halabja in 1988, the evidence is very clear that Iran never used chemical weapons during the war.
The only explanation consistent with the historical record is that Ayatollah Khomeini forbade the use of such weapons, on the ground that both the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction are illicit under Islamic jurisprudence.
This was not the case for Iraq who used poison gas against the Kurds in 1988. To be fair and historically accurate as well as consistent with the facts, the only country to ever use Nuclear weapons against another country is the very same country preaching to others.
Furthermore, the United Kingdom used chemical weapons againsts Gaza in 1917 and when the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq in the1920s – under the leadership of Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji --
Churchill was quoted as saying: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilized tribes… it would spread a lively terror.”
This policy, maintained despite the terrible losses Iran was suffering from Iraqi chemical attacks, represents powerful evidence that Shia jurisprudence is a fundamental constraint on Iranian policy toward weapons of mass destruction. It also makes credible the claim that Iran is forbidden by a fatwa from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from possessing nuclear weapons.
But senior Iranian officials, including a former president of Iran, Hashami Rafsanjani, had been making cogent arguments against nuclear weapons based on strategic grounds since the early 1990s.
The U.S. produced various items of evidence over the years to demonstrate the felonious intent of the Iranian program. The evidence adduced to prove that Iran secretly worked on nuclear weapons represents an even more serious falsification of intelligence than we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
The bulk of this large collection of intelligence documents appeared mysteriously in 2004 and have been crucial to the Iran nuclear narrative. They supposedly came from the purloined laptop of an Iranian participant in a nuclear-weapons research project, but a former senior official with the German foreign office revealed the real story: the documents were provided to Germany’s intelligence service by an occasional source who was part of the Iranian-exile terrorist organization Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).
The obviously self-interested MEK member was thus the Iranian equivalent of the now-discredited Iraqi source known as “Curveball,” whose tales of mobile bioweapons labs in Saddam’s Iraq became the centrepiece of the Bush case for invading Iraq. It is well documented, however, that the Israeli Mossad was using the MEK to launder intelligence it didn’t want attributed to Israel, with the aim of influencing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and foreign governments. Further pointing to the Israeli origins of the documents is the fact that Israel was the only country in the world known to have a special office responsible for influencing news coverage of Iran’s nuclear program.
Some key points in the documents give away the fact that they were falsified. The most important example is a set of studies, supposedly done in 2002 and 2003 on the Shahab-3 missile’s re-entry vehicle, with the purported aim of allowing the missile to accommodate a nuclear weapon. Evidence from the U.S. intelligence community and authoritative independent sources shows that the Iranians had already abandoned the Shahab-3 by then, and were far along in developing an improved missile with a re-entry vehicle that bore no resemblance to the one depicted in the studies. And we now know from Mohamed El-Baradei’s 2011 memoirs that in 2009 Israel provided a new series of intelligence reports and documents to the IAEA that offered further claims of Iranian work on nuclear weapons both before and after 2003.
Those claims were ultimately published in an IAEA dossier of intelligence reports in November 2011. The most sensational assertion made there was that Iran had constructed a large metal cylinder for testing nuclear-weapons designs at its military-research base at Parchin in 2000. This led officials from the IAEA and some of its member states, including the United States, to charge that Iran was altering the site to eliminate evidence. But as has been demonstrated, Iran had in-fact allowed the IAEA to carry out inspections at ten sites of the agency’s choosing on two different occasions in 2005. Furthermore, the IAEA obtained satellite images of the site covering February 2005 to February 2012, and found no indication that Iran had been concerned about hiding anything.
Finally, a former chief IAEA inspector in Iraq, Robert Kelley, has said that the agency’s description of the alleged cylinder made no technical sense.
So how did the IAEA end up endorsing the notion that the Iranians have had a covert bomb program in the past and may still have one today?
The IAEA was crucial in legitimizing claims of a covert Iranian nuclear-weapons program, because it was seen as a neutral actor. That image was largely the result of the independence of its former director general, Mohamed El-Baradei, from the Bush Administration. In 2005, when the IAEA received the documents that had come in through Germany’s intelligence service, ElBaradei was deeply sceptical of their authenticity and warned publicly against using them as evidence in a case against Iran.
But his control over the Iran issue was eroded starting in 2008, when the head of the IAEA’s Department of Safeguards, Olli Heinonen, began collaborating with U.S. officials on how to treat the documents. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, when read against the background of 2008 IAEA reports, show that Heinonen and his Western allies came up with a strategy to falsely portray Iran as having conceded the authenticity of some of the documentation. Their aim was to justify IAEA demands for highly classified information on Iran’s missile and conventional-weapons programs. When Iran predictably refused, the IAEA and a U.S.-led coalition cited this as evidence of a cover-up.
The IAEA came to play an even more partisan role after Yukia Amano of Japan replaced El-Baradei in November 2009. A WikiLeaks cable from July 2009 reveals that Amano promised U.S. officials he would be firmly in their camp on Iran in return for American support of his election as director general.
“In their camp” could only have meant that he would support the publication of the intelligence dossier — based entirely on intelligence reports and documents from Israel — that El-Baradei had refused to authorize. The dossier’s November 2011 publication date was timed to provide a political boost to the U.S.-led campaign for crippling international sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. and British intelligence community became a global laughingstock when its assessments of Iraqi WMDs were revealed as entirely bogus. Yet its pronouncements about the Iranian nuclear program are treated with deferential respect.
The same political and institutional dynamics drove both failures. The March 2005 Robb–Silberman Commission Report cited analysts who worked on the Iraq WMD file as admitting freely that they had effectively reversed the burden of proof, refusing to believe that Iraq didn’t have WMD unless a highly credible human source said otherwise.
The same thing happened on Iran. It began in 1991, when then CIA director Robert Gates singled out Iran as the premier assessment target for the agency’s new centre for proliferation issues.
Not surprisingly, analysts immediately began interpreting even the most ambiguous evidence as indicating Iran’s intention to develop nuclear weapons. This predisposition just happened to be in line with American policy of forbidding its allies from providing nuclear technology to Iran. In other words, the intelligence followed the policy, not the other way around.
CIA brass apparently went so far as to suppress WMD intelligence obtained by one of its best covert agents in the Middle East because it didn’t fit the conclusion they knew George W. Bush’s administration wanted. I reveal for the first time in the book that a former undercover operative who brought a lawsuit against CIA leadership in 2004 claimed that a highly respected source in Iran had told him in 2001 that Iran had no intention of “weaponizing” its nuclear program. The CIA apparently never informed the White House of that information, and refused to circulate it within the intelligence community.
National Intelligence Estimates in 2001 and 2005, and a draft estimate in mid-2007, all concluded that Iran had a nuclear-weapons program. Paul Pillar, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East who participated in the 2001 and 2005 exercises, has recalled that no hard evidence of weaponization informed either estimate, and that their conclusion was based on inference.
In the 2005 estimate and the 2007 draft estimate, the conclusion was influenced by the intelligence documents that had come from Israel by way of the MEK. The failure of the CIA’s well-staffed weapons-proliferation centre to detect the fraud paralleled its failure to notice the obvious signs that the “Nigergate” document offered as evidence of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger was a rather amateurish fabrication.
The final 2007 NIE, which was issued in November, asserted that the 2005 NIE and the mid-2007 draft had both been dead wrong in their assertions that Iranian still had a nuclear-weapons program at the time of their writing.
It concluded, rather, that based on intercepted “snippets of conversation,” Iran had had a nuclear-weapons program as of 2003, then stopped it. This finding, which gave additional credibility to the official narrative of Iran’s nuclear intentions, is itself highly questionable. It is very likely that the 2007 NIE authors interpreted evidence of one or more individuals’ work as confirmation of the existence of a full-fledged program — a belief in which they had clearly acquired a strong vested interest.
The news media generally disgraced itself in its coverage of the Iraqi nuclear issue and is now repeating the same shameful coverage to aid the hawks sell yet another murderous campaign to the world.
With Iraq, there was at least dissent over issues like its alleged illegal importation of aluminium tubes, which reflected debates within the intelligence community. Coverage of Iran, on the other hand, has been virtually unanimous in reporting the official line without the slightest indication of curiosity about whether it might be false or misleading. The closest we got to investigative work in the commercial media were hints, buried inside longer stories in the Washington Post, of scepticism in the intelligence community about the 2004 laptop documents.
Some of the most egregious misinformation came in late 2007 and early 2008, in stories in the New York Times and Washington Post about two IAEA reports containing the final results of a major agency investigation.
Rather than reporting the fact that the agency had been unable to challenge any of Iran’s explanations of the six issues under investigation, the Times and Post stories simply quoted Bush Administration officials and an unnamed IAEA official as dismissing the Iranian responses.
When the media challenged the official line, it was only because that line wasn’t hawkish enough. David Sanger of the New York Times carried out a relentless campaign in innumerable articles after the 2007 NIE attacking its conclusion that Iran had ceased work on nuclear weapons in 2003.
Unfortunately, the essentially unquestioned acceptance of this fraudulent nuclear narrative is likely to create serious obstacles. For one, it makes the Trump Administration much more vulnerable to the arguments of Israel and its followers in Washington that Iran cannot be allowed to have any enrichment capacity.
However, the administration itself has absorbed the essential elements of the narrative into its own analysis, notably via the creation of the “breakout” concept. “Breakout” is defined as the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons-grade level to allow it to construct a single nuclear bomb. But it was a bogus idea from the beginning, because it assumed that Iran had the desire to rush-build a nuclear weapon.
Furthermore, it was based on highly unlikely worst-case scenarios for very rapid Iranian enrichment of uranium to a level sufficient for a bomb. According to the worst-case scenarios conjured up by conservative U.S. think tanks and others promoting the myth, Iran has had the same theoretical capacity for breakout — a month or two — since 2010.
But rather than racing for a bomb, it has instead converted much of the uranium it enriched to a concentration of 20 percent uranium-235 (the enrichment level that has most worried the United States) to an oxide form that makes it unavailable for enrichment to weapons-grade level.
Nevertheless, the Obama Administration and now the Trump administration has been so intimidated by the breakout drumbeat that it has now adopted a policy of limiting Iran’s breakout period to between six and twelve months.
That translates into a demand that Iran agree to be stripped of 80 percent of its centrifuges, which is all but certain to ensure the breakdown of the talks. Unless the administration changes its posture — which became less likely after Trump vilified Iran, denounced the JCPOA and publicly vowed during his election campaign to pull out of the deal, following through by decertifying it last week.
This new posturing and actions by Trump together with the endless drumbeat of war and fear-mongering of the propagandists may well succeed in pushing the United States into a situation of increased tension with Iran, including the possible mutual escalation of military threats. That, of course, would be the result that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought. The same strategy is being played out in Syria.
In 2013, following the Sarin attacks in Ghouta, Seymore Hersh used primarily anonymous sources, most prominently a “former senior US intelligence official, who had access to current intelligence.” The expose pointed to the possibility that the Turkish government had a hand in the attack — or maybe even directly orchestrated it by supplying al-Nusra Front rebels with sarin to frame the Assad regime as the culprit in order to push the United States into a war with Syria for crossing Obama’s “red line.”
In April 2017, Theodore A. Postol a Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an expert at chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction wrote an open letter to Trump stating:
"I have reviewed the document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017. "
"In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4. "
"I stand ready to provide the country with any analysis and help that is within my power to supply. What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security."
The problem at the top of the global non-proliferation agenda today, particularly as viewed by the Trump administration, is how to thwart the nuclear weapons ambitions of Iran and North Korea. However, to achieve this goal the administration needs to pay more attention to the three-de facto nuclear-weapon states that are outside the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT): Israel, India, and Pakistan, but in particular Israel, whose Nemesis Iran, is highly driven to became Nuclear capable simply because of Israel’s undeclared but tacit Nuclear Weapons stockpile.
Although the United States initially opposed Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, a secret understanding was reached in 1969 in which the United States agreed to accept the “nuclear facts on the ground” in Israel, while Israel pledged not to test or declare itself a nuclear-weapon state. This has created a double standard which weakens both Israel and the United States argument against Iran.
India on the other hand, acquired a nuclear-weapon capability under the cover of an ambitious nuclear power program that received considerable support from the major nuclear suppliers, particularly Canada and the United States, until India detonated a so-called peaceful nuclear explosive (PNE) in 1974. Pakistan’s acquisition and subsequent development of nuclear weapons have been driven by its perceived need to match India in this sphere as well as to compensate for its conventional military inferiority to India in the context of a possible war over Kashmir.
Short of becoming party to the treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states—a remote prospect at this time—these countries need to be more fully engaged in the non-proliferation regime. For example, it is not clear that Iran can be convinced or coerced into giving up its perceived weapons ambitions unless Israel accepts constraints on its unacknowledged nuclear program, after all Israel is just another member of world community and is nothing special. The same applies to India, Pakistan and North Korea. In effect, the U.S.’s view of the nuclear reality in Israel, India, and Pakistan as a situation to be “managed” rather than reversed, weakens if not undermines its position on Iran.
What is clear is that the folly of the United States, guided by its favourite ally Israel has only served to achieve the very opposite outcome both countries were planning or hoping for. The invasion of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, and the subsequent role in the destruction of Libya and Syria has only strengthened Iran.
Israel, which lived in relative peace since 1967, is now facing a battle-hardened Hezbollah at its borders, a Syria that owes it’s survival to Iran and Hezbollah and Russia, and unknown numbers of Iranian Republican guards. Israel’s survival has become doubtful, for its hostile borders are now ten times longer and indefensible. Iran is the least of its worries.
The idea that a prolonged civil war that will follow will eliminate most of the Jihadis, weaken Hezbollah and bleed Syria into impotence, leaving Israel the undisputed master of the eastern Mediterranean was nothing short of a pipe dream and it has gone terribly wrong.
The arrogance that underlies these calculations is breath-taking: indeed, the United States and Israel can be simply described as powers gone berserk presupposing a capacity to control the outcome of war that, history has shown, does not exist.
Unfortunately, it does not seem that they and their usual allies have learned anything from the present, or anything from history. They are doubling down on their losses and now think a war against both Syria and Iran is the only logical way forward to secure their allusive objectives.
Churchill’s imperialist viewpoint brought both praise and horror. Like Adolf Hitler, Churchill believed in the supremacy of his race, and although he stood against Hitler, he was also an imperialist who compared Gandhi to Hitler, celebrated racism and claimed India would never become a democracy.
The truth which both the United States and Israel have trouble accepting is that they will never get hegemony over the world or in Israel’s case over the Middle East. Like all previous emperors, imperialists, conquerors, fascist or other aspiring world rulers to ever rise, they all failed and were bankrupted in the process.
Two generations of that material civilization have shown us its lopsidedness, its aimlessness, its grand attempt to conceal its emptiness by extending concrete roads and asphalted streets and vacuum cleaners to more and more remote terrains. our most humane writers like Anderson, have shown how mercilessly the whole human being is crippled by this one-sided triumph; and even our most bewildered writers like Melville, who have exulted in all these maimed energies, have shown in their very act of deification how brutal and aimless they are. We realize that the effort of culture, the effort to make Life significant and durable, to conquer in ourselves that formidable confusion which threatens from without to overwhelm us.
Herman Melville's world is our world, magnificently bodied and dimensioned: our synthesis must include and sublimate that very quest of power which Melville portrayed with such unique skill, as a combination of science and adventure and spiritual hardihood, in Typee, Mardi, and Moby-Dick. Melville's life warns us not to stop here: men must test their strength in surrender as well as in lonely conquest.
In its pursuit of domination and hegemony, the United States & Israel is like Ahab who impel their fellow countrymen to support thwir fanatical mission. When Moby Dick is finally sighted, Ahab's hate robs him of all caution, and the whale drags Ahab to the bottom of the sea.The same fate awaits what was once the greatest country in the world and its blind allies: it is truly a shame.