For Neocons, an Attack on Iran Has Been a Six-Year Project

By Larisa Alexandrovna

http://www.alternet.org/story/47921

The escalation of US military planning on Iran is only the latest chess move
in a six-year push within the Bush Administration to attack that country.
While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" in
2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the
post-9/11 war on terror.

Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a
nuclear weapon than the CIA's own analysis shows and positing Iranian
influence in Iraq's insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been
conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or
non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In
classified defense planning guidance -- written for then-Secretary of
Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby,
World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassador-nominee to the United
Nations Zalmay Khalilzad -- Cheney's aides called for the United States to
assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the
emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked to the
New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats
and many in George H. W. Bush's Administration.

In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued a
report titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses," which espoused similar
positions to the 1992 draft and became the basis for the Bush-Cheney
Administration's foreign policy. Libby and Wolfowitz were among the
participants in this new report; Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and other prominent figures in the Bush administration were PNAC
members.

"The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in
Gulf regional security," the report read. "While the unresolved conflict
with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial
American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of
Saddam Hussein. ... We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar
states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or
threaten the American homeland itself."

This approach became official US military policy during the current Bush
Administration. It was starkly on display on January 22 when Undersecretary
of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns noted a second aircraft
carrier strike force headed for the Persian Gulf, saying, "The Middle East
isn't
a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn't a body of water to be
controlled by Iran. That's why we've seen the United States station two
carrier battle groups in the region."

The structure

Almost immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Iran became a focal
point of discussion among senior Administration officials. As early as
December 2001, then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and the
leadership of the Defense Department, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and
Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, allegedly authorized a series of
meetings between Defense Department officials and Iranian agents abroad.

The first of these meetings took place in Rome with Pentagon Iran analyst,
Larry Franklin, Middle East expert Harold Rhode, and prominent
neoconservative Michael Ledeen. Ledeen, who held no official government
position, introduced the US officials to Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher
Ghorbanifar. According to both Ghorbanifar and Ledeen, the topic on the
table was Iran. Ledeen said last year the discussion concerned allegations
that Iranian forces were killing US soldiers in Afghanistan, but Ghorbanifar
has claimed the conversation focused on regime change.

In January 2002, evidence that Iran was enriching uranium began to appear
via credible intelligence and satellite imagery. Despite this revelation --
and despite having called Iran part of the Axis of Evil in his State of the
Union that year -- President Bush continued to focus on Iraq. Perhaps for
that reason, throughout 2002 the strongest pressure for regime change flowed
through alternative channels.

In early 2002, Ledeen formed the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, along with
Morris Amitay, the former executive director of the American Israeli Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In August 2002, Larry Franklin began passing classified information
involving United States policy towards Iran to two AIPAC employees and an
Israeli diplomat. Franklin pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2005,
explaining that he had been hoping to force the US to take a harder line
with Iran, but AIPAC and Israel have continued to deny them.

At the same time, another group's political representatives begin a
corollary effort to influence domestic political discourse. In August 2002,
the National Council of Resistance of Iran -- a front for a militant
terrorist organization called Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK) -- held a press
conference in Washington and stated that Iran had a secret nuclear facility
at Natanz, due for completion in 2003.

Late that summer , the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
Douglas Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz expanded its
Northern Gulf Affairs Office, renamed it the Office of Special Plans (OSP),
and placed it under the direction of Abram Shulsky, a contributor to the
2000 PNAC report.

Most know the Office of Special Plans as a rogue Administration faction
determined to find intelligence to support the Iraq War. But that wasn't its
only task.

According to an article in The Forward in May 2003, "A budding coalition of
conservative hawks, Jewish organizations and Iranian monarchists is pressing
the White House to step up American efforts to bring about regime change in
Iran. ... Two sources [say] Iran expert Michael Rubin is now working for the
Pentagon's 'special plans' office, a small unit set up to gather
intelligence on Iraq, but apparently also working on Iran. Previously a
researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, Rubin has
vocally advocated regime change in Tehran."

Dark actors/covert activities

While the Iraq war was publicly founded upon questionable sources, much of
the buildup to Iran has been entirely covert, using non-government assets
and foreign instruments of influence to conduct disinformation campaigns,
plant intelligence and commit acts of violence via proxy groups.


A few weeks prior to the Iraq invasion, in February 2003, Iran acknowledged
that it was building a nuclear facility at Natanz, saying that the facility
was aimed at providing domestic energy.
However, allegations that Iran was
developing a nuclear weapons program would become louder in the course of
2003 and continue unabated over the next three years.

That spring, then-Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) opened a channel on Iran
with former Iranian Minister Fereidoun Mahdavi, a secretary for Ghorbanifar.
Both Weldon and Ledeen were told a strikingly similar story concerning a
cross border plot between Iran and Iraq in which uranium had been removed
from Iraq and taken into Iran by Iranian agents. The CIA investigated the
allegations but found them spurious. Weldon took his complaints about the
matter to Rumsfeld, who pressured the CIA to investigate a second time, with
the same result.

In May 2003, with pressure for regime change intensifying within the US,
Iran made efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the United States.
According to Lawrence Wilkerson, then-Chief of Staff to Secretary of State
Colin Powell, these efforts were sabotaged by Vice President Cheney.

"The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran,"
Wilkerson said.

The US was already looking increasingly to rogue methodology, including
support for the Iranian terrorist group MEK. Before the US invasion, MEK
forces within Iraq had supported Saddam Hussein in exchange for safe harbor.
Despite this, when they were captured by the US military, they were disarmed
of only their major weapons and are allowed to keep their smaller arms.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hoped to use them as a special ops team in
Iran, while then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and State
Department officials argued against it. By 2005, the MEK would begin
training with US forces in Iraq and carrying out bombings and assassinations
in Iran, although it is unclear if the bombings were in any way approved by
the US military.

The Pressure is On: 2004-2006

For a variety of reasons -- ranging from the explosion of the insurgency in
Iraq following the high point of "Mission Accomplished" to Iran's
willingness to admit IAEA inspectors -- the drumbeat for regime change died
down over the summer of 2003. In October 2003, with Iran accepting even
tougher inspections, Larry Franklin told his Israeli contact that work on
the US policy towards Iran which they had been tracking seemed to have
stopped.

Yet by the autumn of 2004, pressure for confrontation with Iran had resumed,
with President Bush telling Fox News that the US would never allow Iran to
acquire nuclear weapons. By then, the Pentagon had been directed to have a
viable military option for Iran in place by June 2005.

This phase of pressure was marked by increased activity directed at
Congress. An "Iran Freedom Support Act" was introduced in the House and
Senate in January and February of 2005. Neoconservatives and individuals
linked to the defense contracting industry formed an Iran Policy Committee,
and in April and May presented briefings in support of MEK before the
newly-created Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus of the House of
Representatives.

In March 2006, administration action became more overt. The State Department
created an Office of Iranian Affairs, while the Pentagon created an Iranian
Directorate that had much in common with the earlier Office of Special
Plans. According to Seymour Hersh, covert US operations within Iran in
preparation for a possible air attack also began at this time and included
Kurds and other Iranian minority groups.

By setting up the Iranian Directorate within the Pentagon and running covert
operations through the military rather than the CIA, the administration was
able to avoid both Congressional oversight and interference from
then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who has been vocally
skeptical about using force against Iran. The White House also successfully
stalled the release of a fresh National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which
could reflect the CIA's conclusion that there is no evidence of an Iranian
nuclear weapons program.

In sum, the Bush Administration seems to have concluded that Iran is guilty
until proven innocent and continues to maintain that the Persian Gulf
belongs to Americans -- not to Persians -- setting the stage for a potential
military strike.