Will Washington attack Iran?


By: Mazda Majidi


Making sense of U.S. policy towards Tehran




Plans for a U.S./Israeli attack on Iran have occupied much of the headlines in recent weeks. Not a day goes by when the ruling-class media do not talk and write about the threat of a nuclear-powered Iran, along with a host of military and political "experts"

discussing the options of what "we" have to do about it.


In early June, Israel conducted a military exercise involving over 100 F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. It was a provocative maneuver that a Pentagon official called a "dress rehearsal" for an Israeli aerial bombardment of Iran's nuclear plants. This was shortly after Shaoul Mofaz, Israel's deputy prime minister, had made the statement, "If Iran continues its nuclear arms program we will attack it."


On July 9 and 10, Iran test-fired long- and mid-range missiles.

Coming on the heels of the Israeli aerial exercise and renewed Israeli threats, the obvious purpose of the tests was to demonstrate Iran's capability of defending itself if attacked. The defensive nature of the missile tests was quite clear. As stated by the Islamic Republic Guard Corps Naval Commander Morteza Saffari, "The IRGC Navy is carrying out this maneuver to show it is fully prepared to counter any possible enemy aggression or adventurism."


Acting as if Iran were the aggressor and Israel the victim, U.S.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reacted by saying, "We take very, very strongly our obligations to defend our allies, and no one should be confused of that." Reversing the roles of aggressor and victim has been a central part of the Bush Administration's propaganda campaign on Iran, a campaign willingly endorsed by the U.S. mass media, an arm of the ruling class.


Blockade as the means


The U.S. House is considering a new resolution against Iran, HR 362, sponsored by New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman. A parallel resolution, SR 580, is circulating in the Senate. These resolutions, in effect, call for a blockade of Iran.


HR 362 states: "Congress… demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by… prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."


Despite being an oil exporter, Iran imports over 40 percent of its petroleum. If these resolutions pass, the United States could block the flow of petroleum to Iran using its heavy naval presence in the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Iran's economy would be severely crippled and Iran might be forced to react. Such a blockade would be a violation of international law.


Regime change as the goal


Military threats are only one component of the regime-change policy.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has reported on $400 million in U.S. funding of for operations to destabilize the regime, including funding terrorist organizations such as Jondollah and MEK.

Millions of dollars are being spent on various U.S. media outlets, Voice of America, Radio Farda and others that broadcast U.S.

propaganda into Iran around the clock.


A brief look at history makes it clear that regime change in Iran is no innovation of the Bush administration. After decades of having its resources plundered, when the Iranian government nationalized the country's oil in 1951, the whole imperialist establishment sprang into action to overthrow the regime. When sanctions did not work, the United States engineered a coup in 1953, the CIA's first successful operation of this magnitude.


It took the Iranian people a quarter century, at tremendous human cost, to overthrow the U.S. puppet regime of the Shah in the 1979 revolution. So long as U.S. corporations are deprived of the ability to plunder Iran's oil and control its markets, regime change will be Washington's policy, much as it was between 1951 and 1953.


Will Israel attack?


Without getting the explicit green light from Washington, Israel will not attack Iran. Israeli jets cannot even get to Iran without going through Jordanian and Iraqi airspace, Jordan being a U.S.

client state and Iraq under U.S. occupation. Longer routes from Israel to Iran would require flying through the airspace of other U.S. client states. Israel's past and present aggressions against Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt have all had the full support of the United States. Israel acting alone in attacking Iran is not a possibility.


Israel's maneuvering and threats notwithstanding, if Iran is attacked, it is unlikely that Israel will even have a direct role.

Israel played no part in the occupation of Iraq in 1991 or 2003.


Outspending the rest of the world combined on military expenditure, the United States does not need Israel's firepower to help it attack Iran. Thanks to bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf states and central Asian countries, and the presence of nuclear vessels in the region, the United States has been in a perfect position to attack Iran from all directions.


The obstacles ahead for the U.S. ruling class


There is no question that the Bush administration would like to bomb Iran. The purpose would not just be the destruction of nuclear facilities but to destabilize the regime and weaken an independent state that stands in the way of U.S domination of the region. If past U.S. bombing campaigns are any indication, an attack on Iran would be extensive, kill thousands of people and destroy much of the country's civilian infrastructure.


What has kept Washington from attacking Iran so far are the potential consequences of such an attack.


First, an aerial bombing, no matter how destructive and devastating, will not bring about the regime-change Washington so desires. Not only will the regime in Tehran survive, it will retain some capacity to retaliate. The missile tests that Iran conducted are worrisome to Washington not just because some missiles with a conventional warhead of a ton can reach Israel. Shorter-range missiles, such as Zelzal and Fateh missiles with ranges of 400 kilometers and 170 kilometers respectively, were also tested, as well as rocket and land-to-sea missiles. Using these missiles, Iran could target U.S.

military facilities in Iraq as well as the oil facilities of U.S.

client states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.


More worrisome to the attackers is the fact that Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, as it has explicitly threatened to do if attacked. The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway that connects the Persian/Arabian Gulf to the Sea of Oman. An estimated 40 percent of the world's oil supplies travel through the Strait. Only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, the shipping lanes are only six miles wide. The numerous ships traveling daily through the Strait have to follow a Traffic Separation Scheme, reserving a two-mile wide lane for traffic in each direction and a two-mile wide separation median.


The sinking of even one ship, or even missiles launched in the direction of the Strait, would cause a serious disruption to the world supply of oil. Imperialism does not base its war policies on short-term considerations such as the day-to-day price of oil.

Nevertheless, the managers of the affairs of U.S. capitalism must consider the catastrophic consequences should the Strait of Hormuz be blockaded during the current economic crisis.


Despite overwhelming military superiority over Iran, the U.S. Air Force will be unable to annihilate all Iranian missiles on the ground. In the summer of 2006, during Israel's murderous aggression against Lebanon, the Israeli Air Force was unable to stop Hezbollah's launching of missiles despite being equipped with state- of-the-art, U.S.-manufactured jet fighters and other high tech- equipment.


The area of southern Lebanon where Hezbollah was waging its resistance against Israel is a fraction of the area the U.S. air force will have to worry about should it attack Iran. Nothing lies to the north of the Strait other than Iran, including mountaineous areas where missile launch pads would be easy to hide. There is no doubt that, as a state, Iran has much more resources than did Hezbollah, a popular resistance movement.


Although Iran is not an Arab state, its support for the Palestinian cause, its backing of Hamas and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, and its standing up to Israel and the United States have made it popular in the Arab world. A question for U.S. planners is how an attack on Iran would influence the unstable situation in occupied Iraq, or in countries run by client regimes that are deeply unpopular among their people.


These obstacles explain why there are voices in the U.S. ruling establishment that have expressed their opposition to an attack on Iran. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is one of those voices.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has gone on record saying, ''Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us.''


`Negotiations' as another tool


A new round of negotiations on Iran's nuclear program is to take place in July. Javier Solana, foreign policy chief of the European Union, will lead negotiations with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. It is reported that U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns will attend the July 19 meeting in Geneva. The topic of discussion will be the latest package offered by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.


Not much can be expected out of negotiations around this package, however, as it is designed to fail. Aided by the more compliant leadership of Germany and France, Washington has exerted great pressure to ensure all packages offered to Iran are essentially the same, re-branded each time to make them look like generous offers.


Essentially, they demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment and reprocessing before any meaningful negotiations can happen. For Iran to accept this condition would be to give up its right to develop nuclear energy, guaranteed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Incidentally, it is a concession that Iran has made in the past when it voluntarily suspended its nuclear activities in the hopes that the European negotiators would reciprocate the good will gesture with a meaningful offer.


The hope was in vain. All the Europeans had to offer, as acknowledged by negotiators in an interview with Asia Times, was "an empty box of chocolates."


The ongoing threats of war against Iran may be part of a designed psychological warfare to force Iran to capitulate to the inflexible demands of the imperialist alliance, as believed by the Iranian leadership. This would explain the timely leaks to Seymour Hersh, who has been reporting for years of an impending U.S. attack on Iran.


The purpose of the war talk could be to strengthen the hand of those in the Iranian leadership who are willing to take a more moderate approach, give up on the nuclear program and scale back active support for Hamas and Hezbollah, major anti-imperialist resistance forces in the Middle East. If this is all part of a bluff, the more imminent an attack on Iran appears to be, the more likely the bluff is to succeed.


But there are fundamental reasons why the whole imperialist establishment would want Iran bombed, the potential costs notwithstanding. It may well be true, as has been reported for some time, that a grouping in the Bush administration, headed by Vice President Cheney and encouraged by Israel and its powerful lobby, are actually advocating an attack on Iran before the end of Bush's term. In that case, whether or not Iran is attacked will be determined by the struggle between the different factions of the ruling establishment.


Among the factors that will impact the outcome of the ruling class in-fighting is their estimate of Iran's willingness and capability to retaliate. Another factor will be the domestic effect of such an attack. While working people in this country are struggling to survive in the middle of a deep economic crisis, how would yet another "pre-emptive" war affect the people's movement?



For those of us who have been engaged in anti-war activities, our task is clear. It is not to work towards getting Democrats elected in November, as they are directly contributing to the war drive, but to organize and mobilize for building a grassroots movement to oppose a war against Iran and all future imperialist wars.