From what has been reported over the past week on the FBI's spy probe into the activities of senior AIPAC lobbyists, Israeli diplomats, and a mid-level Iran analyst named Larry Franklin who hails from the neoconservative stronghold of Douglas Feith's policy shop in the Pentagon, it is hard to escape the impression that the story is more of a smear campaign than an espionage investigation.
It is true that it is still early and perhaps the press-crazed FBI will seek indictments of one or more of the suspected bad guys on some charge or another before this story is quietly filed away like the loud and groundless investigations of CIA employee Adam Ciralsky and US Army civilian engineer David Tenebaum in the late 1990s. Both men, who were accused of spying for Israel, are currently suing the US government for discrimination, claiming they were placed under investigation simply because they are Jews.
But even if nothing comes from the story, the obvious target of the leak has been hit. That target is not specifically AIPAC. Nor is it Douglas Feith or Paul Wolfowitz. And the target is also not the Israeli Embassy or Israel per se. The target of the leak is a policy direction, and the leaked story, regardless of its as-yet-amorphous legal grounding, has dealt that policy direction a below-the-belt punch.
In Washington today, the central issue of debate in policy circles is Iran. Iran, which, with its documented ties to al-Qaida and its sponsorship of Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, as well as Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces in Iraq and other terrorist militias in Afghanistan, is today the epicenter of global terrorism. And Iran, with its now all-but-declared pursuit of nuclear weapons, its proven ballistic missile capabilities, and its long suspected chemical and biological weapons arsenal, is both an active enemy and a looming threat to US national security and of course to the physical existence of Israel, which is a major non-NATO ally of the US.
And yet, as a US government source involved in the policy debate on Iran told The New York Times on Thursday, "We [the US] have an ad hoc policy [on Iran] that we're making up as we go along."
Which is why policy directions become so important. The Pentagon, along with Israel and AIPAC, is the leading proponent of a view that says Iran cannot be contained and cannot be appeased. On the other side, the CIA, the State Department, and the Democratic Party, as well as Germany, France and Britain, believe that it can be contained and appeased.
The most recent attempt to articulate the US's policy toward Iran was made on August 17 by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton in an address at the Hudson Institute. After spelling out specifically why the US believes that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, Bolton explained that the US believes that it is necessary to isolate rather than engage Iran. As a result, the US is working to convince the EU and members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of directors to refer the issue of the Iranian nuclear program to the UN Security Council.
There are only two problems with the so-enunciated US policy on Iran. First, the US has almost no chance of success in moving the issue to the Security Council. Second, even if it were successful in moving the Iranian nuclear program to the Security Council, it is quite certain that the Council would take no action that would in any way dissuade Iran or prevent it from continuing its nuclear weapons program.
In the wake of the US campaign in recent weeks to have the Iranian nuclear program referred to the Security Council, IAEA spokespeople and German, French and British officials engaged in the issue have all claimed that there is no reason to do so. In Amman this past Sunday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany, France and Britain were working to reach an understanding with the Iranians whereby in exchange for nuclear energy technology the Iranians would agree to cease their uranium enrichment activities. The same plan is also being touted by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. It cannot have escaped the Iranians' attention that North Korea exploited a similar deal to develop its own nuclear arsenal.
And in the unlikely event that the US is successful in having the Iranian nuclear program referred to the Security Council, why should there be any expectation that Iran would come under sanctions? Russia built the nuclear reactor at Bushehr. China has reportedly supplied Iran with nuclear technologies through the Pakistanis. France, Britain and Germany, as well as Japan and China, are all actively courting the Iranians for oil contracts and business opportunities. Indeed, three years of attempts to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat through diplomatic means have not brought the international community even a half-step closer to taking issue with Iran's nuclear program or, for that matter, its active support for international terrorism.
In the meantime, the Iranian government has in recent months taken to issuing apocalyptic threats of nuclear destruction against Israel on almost a daily basis. The Iranians have begun to issue similar threats against the US mainland and against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In just one recent example, a newspaper associated with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published an editorial on July 6 threatening, "The White House's 80 years of exclusive rule are likely to become 80 seconds of hell that will burn to ashes. That very day, those who resist [Iran] will be struck from directions they never expected. The heartbeat of the crisis is undoubtedly [dictated by] the hand of Iran."
And on the ground, the latest IAEA report states that Iran plans to conduct a test of a plant that converts raw uranium into nuclear fuel. Nuclear experts have claimed that the amount of raw uranium that Iran plans to enrich will be sufficient to make five nuclear bombs.
The Times quotes a former Bush administration official who claims that all discussion of a military option against Iran had proved sterile. In his words, "There's no military option." This statement leads to the inevitable question of why? Given Iran's refusal to reach any accommodation on either its support for international terrorism or its nuclear program, why hasn't a directive been given to the responsible authorities to put together a plan for action against Iran's nuclear installations?
No doubt, with US forces now bordering Iran in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no military option because no one has been given instructions or even permission to develop one.
And now, in the aftermath of the leak of the spy probe that has reportedly been going on for two years and has led thus far to zero indictments, chances of developing such options are even smaller than they were last Thursday before the story was leaked. After all, a victory for the Pentagon (which now stands officially accused of working for Israel) on the issue of Iran policy would make the job of those claiming that the US policy is dictated from Jerusalem all the easier.
It is hard to shake the impression that leaking or making groundless allegations against administration hawks through their foreign counterparts has become the tactic of choice by their opponents in the policy debate. The spy probe story calls to mind similar allegations against another Pentagon favorite, Ahmed Chalabi.
On Wednesday, at the same time as the Israeli spy probe began fizzling out, counterfeiting charges against Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, were dropped. Murder charges against his nephew Salam Chalabi, who is building the war crimes case against Saddam Hussein, were also dropped.
The arrest warrants for the Chalabis, which were issued with great fanfare by US-appointed judge Z
uhair al-Maliky last month, were viewed by many as a further attempt by Chalabi's enemies in the CIA and State Department to discredit a man known to all as the Iraqi point man for the Pentagon's hawks. The initial attempt was made in early June when Chalabi was accused of spying for Iran. Those charges, which like the allegations against Franklin made little sense to begin with, have never been substantiated. But in the meantime, the allegations themselves, like the arrest warrants, have worked to discredit Chalabi and his Pentagon associates in the eyes of the American public and the media.
It may be that given the damage now wrought on the reputations of apparently the only forces in Washington who may be willing to admit that the US non-policy towards Iran, in all its permutations, is a colossal failure, means that the US will not take any action against Iran's nuclear installations. If this is the case, Israel may quite simply be forced into a position of having to ignore America for now and do what needs to be done.
If, as a result of the prominence of the appeasers in US policy circles and their fast and dirty tactics, the US is no longer able to take military action against threats to its national security that happen to constitute even larger threats to Israel's national security, then going it alone, and as quickly as possible, may be Israel's only option. Israel can simply not afford to be paralyzed by American policies on Iran that have already failed or by spy scandals that make no sense.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.