It always pays to be suspicious when a U.S. official ramps up fear, but Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff‘s “gut feeling” remark about an Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. this summer sparks a different suspicion — and a similar sinking feeling: Israel is about to launch a unilateral strike on Iran.
It’s not a cinch, but that queasy feeling is building. Seymour Hersh wrote long ago (in his January 2005 “The Coming Wars”) about such a Pentagon-induced nightmare. But now that Iraq is a total disaster, the warhawks are stepping up the drumbeat to attack Iran — either by the U.S. or Israel, even arguing that Iran has in effect already declared war on the U.S. by aiding rebels in Iraq.
One of Israel’s top officials says he’s got the go-ahead from NATO’s U.S. and European officials to attack Iran. Chertoff, aware of a longstanding, fierce debate in the White House over attacking Iran, admits a “gut feeling,” saying it’s about Al Qaeda but probably feeling queasier about what an attack on Iran would do to inflame terrorists. Condoleezza Rice, said to be an opponent of a U.S. attack on Iran, suddenly cancels a visit to Israel. For the warhawks, that keeps her out of harm’s way and blunts her attempts to talk with both Muslims and Jews. Israel couldn’t very well attack Iran while hosting the U.S. secretary of state.
For all you conspiracy theorists out there — and those of you who pooh-pooh this as simply conspiracy theorizing — here are some of the building blocks of that suspicion:
• July 2: Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Israel/Connecticut) tells the Hartford Courant that “the fact is that the Iranian government has by its actions declared war on us.” Lieberman doesn’t speak for the entire U.S. government, obviously, but he does speak for a substantial number of powerful warhawks in and out of the White House. Lieberman adds:
• July 10: Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, says Europe and the U.S. have given tacit approval for Israel to unilaterally attack Iran’s nuclear plants. From Israel Today:
“If we start military operations against Iran alone, then Europe and the US will support us,” Lieberman told [Israeli] Army Radio following a meeting earlier in the week with NATO and European Union officials.
Lieberman said the Western powers acknowledged the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat to the Jewish state, but said that ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are “going to prevent the leaders of countries in Europe and America from deciding on the use of force to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities,” even if diplomacy ultimately fails.
The message Avigdor Lieberman said the NATO and EU officials conveyed to him is that Israel should “prevent the threat herself.”
That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. As conservative anti-war talking head Philip Giraldi notes on the same day as Avigdor Lieberman’s comments:
It is widely believed that Vice President Dick Cheney and his national security adviser David Wurmser have deliberately limited the playing field because they have no desire to engage Iran amicably and are instead fixated on regime change in Tehran as the only acceptable solution to the “Persian problem.” Cheney has been ably seconded by fellow hawk Elliot Abrams at the National Security Council, who has been working to undercut Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to avoid a war. Wurmser, meanwhile, has been advising the like-minded at the American Enterprise Institute that Cheney does not believe in negotiations and has promised that the Bush Administration will deal with Iran militarily before its term of office ends.
The Cheney-Wurmser-Abrams axis is opposed to Administration figures like Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and the intelligence agency chiefs, all of whom are reluctant to do a replay of Iraq in Iran. The Iraq Studies Group (ISG) recommended engaging Iran and all other local players including Syria to help stabilize Iraq and the broader Persian Gulf region. It also recommended taking serious steps to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As “serious steps” would consist of Washington pressuring Israel, the ISG report has been coolly received by the White House and with intense hostility by certain Congressmen who are closely tied to Israel.
• July 10: Chertoff tells the Chicago Tribune‘s editorial writers:
• July 12: Rice hastily cancels her trip to Israel and the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories, as the U.N. and many others refer to it).
Spokesman Sean McCormack downplays it at his daily briefing for reporters as merely a postponement:
At least some reporters are skeptical. One follows up with this:
McCormack’s reply doesn’t pass the smell test:
• July 12: U.S. intelligence chiefs meet at the White House to discuss a report that Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 9/11. From this morning’s Times (U.K.):
Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary, has spent days trying to play down comments that his “gut feeling” was that the US faced a heightened risk of attack this summer. . . .
Mr Chertoff emphasised yesterday that “we don’t have any specific information about an imminent or near-term attack on the homeland”. However, the Times has been told that US and British intelligence services monitoring al-Qaeda networks have picked up “an increased level of chatter” in recent weeks.
Maybe so, but Chertoff could have been ratcheting up fear so that an attack on Iran would be more palatable to the masses as yet another “front” in the War of Terror. Or perhaps he was just unconsciously channeling the more ominous “chatter” from our own warhawks about an Israeli attack on Iran’s nukes. Think about the poisonous cloud of radioactivity and even more terrorists that would produce.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2007