Iran and the Lebanon


Wikimedia Commons: Carlos Latuff

Israel plans nuclear strike

One learns much about the total situation with which the Palestinians are confronted - the attitude of the States towards Israel, and the outlook of the Israelis - by considering, in brief, the crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme. Furthermore the topic is of untold importance and urgency in relation to the whole Middle East and indeed the world. Therefore although the present author is no expert on this topic a page will be given to its consideration. Something will also be said about the possibility of future Israeli aggressive intentions towards the Lebanon. Please give any feedback or correction.


The Emergency of August 2010

On 4 August 2010 a group of former American intelligence professionals (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) wrote an open letter to President Obama on the subject of ‘War with Iran’. They commenced: ‘We write to alert you to the likelihood that Israel will attack Iran as early as this month. This would likely lead to a wider war.’ They urged Obama to ‘move quickly to pre-empt an Israeli attack by publicly condemning such a move before it happens’. Part of the context for this memo was that a resolution, H. Res.1553, had recently been introduced in the House of Representatives which spoke of American ‘support for Israel’s right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran … including the use of military force’.  The intelligence professionals argued:

(i) That senior American officials, including the president, have a misplaced trust in Netanyahu. Israelis have shown that they can surprise Americans. Given the strong support he enjoys in Congress and the fact that it is an election year in the USA Netanyahu believes that he holds the trump card.

(ii) The Israelis were concerned that the U.S. may be about to downgrade the threat that it thinks Iran represents. The Director of National Intelligence commented earlier this year: ‘We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build a nuclear weapon.’

(iii) The Israelis didn’t like the recent announcement that U.S. and Iranian officials would, in September, resume talks to find a solution to the question as to how Iran may obtain low-enriched uranium (LEU) for its medical research reactor. This, together with any shipment of a large proportion of Iran’s LEU abroad (see below) would weaken Israel’s pretext for an attack on Iran. What the Israelis want is regime change in Iran.

After Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of

Wikimedia Commons

Iranian Nuclear Installations

Staff (and thus the highest ranking military officer in the US), had in 2008 read Israelis the riot act, they put aside their pre-emptive plans for an attack on Iran. By contrast in February 2010 he returned from a visit to Israel ‘with sweaty palms’, scared that the present Israeli government might trap the U.S. into a war. Mullen warned the U.S. against such a war in no uncertain terms (see further below). The former intelligence officials were concerned at the ‘politicisation of intelligence analysis’ in the States, such that the Administration tends to be told what it may wish to hear. The American press seemingly makes light of the consequences of such an attack, the Washington Post writing that one option for the U.S. is ‘the lonely, unpopular path of taking military action’.  ‘In less than a decade’ - the intelligence professionals commented with alarm - ‘wars of aggression have become nothing more than lonely, unpopular paths.’ Under the title ‘The Guns of August?’ they concluded: ‘The stakes could hardly be higher.’


Bad feeling between the States and Iran goes back many years. The desperate Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s, in which a million died, might well have had a very different outcome had the U.S. not lent military support to the Iraq. In recent years the balance has tipped from Iran needing to back down before the wishes of the international community to a tacit acceptance that Iran will hold LEU for non-military purposes. The maximum enrichment permitted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for non-military purposes  is 4%-5%. Bombs require an enrichment of 90% (highly enriched uranium HEU). The problem is that the technological challenge is enrichment per se; LEU can be enriched to HEU without major technological difficulties. It should be understood that, in the eyes of the Iranian public
(whether or not they support the present Iranian regime) the question as to whether Iran shall be allowed to hold enriched uranium is one of national sovereignty and self-determination. They note that neighbouring nations, whether Pakistan or Russia have the bomb. It is held by Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, a Jewish (so it is believed) and Sunni Muslim (Pakistan) nations: why should it be prohibited to Shi’ite Muslims? There is disagreement and unclarity within the international community both as to what is the present position in regard to any programme to develop nuclear weapons and as to Iranian intentions for the future. According to an American National Intelligence Estimate report of 2007

Flickr Commons:Desmond Kavanagh

The Great Satan.

Mural on the wall of the long-abandoned US embassy in Tehran.

‘What a horrible, disgusting relationship expressed so brutally.’ (Kavanagh)

the Iranian weapons plan was terminated in 2003 and there is no evidence that it has been renewed; the British argue it was renewed in 2005; and Israelis that it has probably been kept alive throughout. (Eiland, p.117.) Naturally the Iranians think that the West is being disingenuous. There is ample evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons, which it holds illegally; not subject to inspections of the IAEA, nor to sanctions.


One may grasp something of the outlook of many Israelis through a substantial article, ‘Israel’s Military Option’, published in The Washington Quarterly in January 2010 by Major General Giora Eiland, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and former head of the Israeli National Security Council. What is clearly a deeply informed and in some sense ‘rounded’ article is nevertheless alarming (and blind) for the position espoused. War can be avoided. ‘An explicit and strict U.S. veto on an Israeli military attack will take the option off the table.’ (At the other political extreme, the US intelligence veterans think likewise.) ‘On the other hand’ Eiland continues, ‘if the United States does not explicitly oppose an Israeli attack, there could be different levels of support.’ (Again, one might say, the US intelligence officials think likewise - in their case pointing out how dangerous it is that such Israelis apparently enjoy widespread support, not least in the House of Representatives). Eiland warns that: ‘Avoiding an attack will sooner or later expose Israel to a permanent situation of life under an Iranian nuclear threat.’ (pp.127-28). Thus if there is to be no attack there should of necessity be a ‘strategic pact’ that defines Iranian aggression towards Israel as equal to aggression against the U.S., thus protecting Israel. Israel would endorse an ‘effective’ deal with Iran that guaranteed that it would not have a military nuclear capability; it could be satisfied if the US managed to build a strong international front that adopted a policy of tough and effective sanctions ‘that will isolate Iran completely’; it would be ‘very frustrated’ were there to be a soft deal, one that kept Iran at the threshold of military nuclear capability. In any of these circumstances Israel would probably not attack. ‘Israel might however attack if ... the negotiation with Iran fails but the United States neither succeeds in creating an effective international front against Iran nor considers taking military action.’ The article is thus a warning to the U.S. that it had better take heed; Israel is the tail that wags the dog.

The article - from its title forwards - may strike one

Wikimedia Commons - Eileen Fleming.

Mordechai Vanunu

June 2009.

A former technician at a secret nuclear plant, Vanunu acted as a whistleblower, giving details of Israel’s nuclear arsenal to The Sunday Times. After being kidnapped by Mossad agents in Rome he was convicted and spent 18 years in Israel’s jails, much of it in solitary confinement. Released in 2004, he has spent further periods in jail (most recently being released again 08.08.10) for continuing to speak out. He has on many occasions been nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

as extraordinary for the candidness with which the author apparently contemplates the possibility of Israel mounting a military strike, the results of which would presumably be calamitous not least for Israel. There appears to be no recognition as to how the Arab world might at present feel, faced with the military might of Israel.

Israel is the only state in the region that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. It has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Stuxnet ‘Worm’

In the event what happened (as was suspected and has now been confirmed by the Palestine Papers) is that Israel with the help of the United States, introduced a sophisticated computer virus into the nuclear centrifuges which Iran was using to try to enrich uranium. The news is (January 2011, as reported by The New York Times and repeated by the British press) that Israel managed to acquire centrifuges virtually identical to those used at Iran’s Nantanz facility. Working at Dimona, an Israeli nuclear complex in the Negev desert, using the Siemens operating system that the Iranians use, the Israelis first perfected the weapon (which the Iranians had had the greatest difficulty in doing) and then having done this created the virus. The most sophisticated cyber-weapon ever made, the Stuxnet worm is particularly brilliant in that it could tell the operators that everything was just fine while it was doing its work. It makes centrifuges spin wildly out of control and destruct, such that it seems a fifth of Iranian centrifuges have been wiped out. It is not known how Israel managed to introduce the worm in that, precisely to avoid any such sabotage, Iranian facilities are not connected to the internet; but it is surmised through the laptops of Iranian nuclear technicians. Only in January 2011 (to my knowledge) did it become known that the United States has been working together with Israel in developing this technology.
However the Israeli cyber warfare industry is itself very advanced, the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence commenting that Israel ‘did not need to rely on foreign assistance or technology’ (Reported in The Times 2 December 2010). In the first place Ahmadinejad played down the harm that had been caused, speaking only of some ‘problems’ which it was said had been ‘resolved’. But it seems that the

Wikimedia Commons: Hamed Saber

Anti-aircraft Guns Guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran

Iranians have been set back such that they would not now be able to build an atomic bomb until at least 2015. Gary Samore, Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, commented at a recent conference: ‘I’m glad to hear [the Iranians] are having troubles with the centrifuge machines, and the US and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.’ (The Times 16 January 2011).

Might The US/Israel Attack Iran ?

One would have thought that the United States would be most unlikely to go to war with Iran.

(i) Iran is a country of some 80 million people, much of it mountainous, four times the size of Iraq. It has an army which approaches the size of the U.S. army, moreover concentrated in Iran, not spread out over many countries as is the US military. In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the States could mount a ground offensive. Apart from the southern coast of Iran, the Persian gulf, the US has no border from which it could mount such. Bombing (other than a nuclear holocaust, killing millions) could only temporarily hold back any weapons programme.

(ii) In the event of an attack using conventional weapons Iran could immediately wreak havoc with the world economy; in particular, war would have devastating consequences for the energy-hungry U.S. Iran accounts for only around 7% of internationally-traded oil. But by attacking tankers with its lethal Noor anti-ship missiles it could further block another 40% of oil coming from Iraq and the Gulf states. (Dyer). ‘In a few days insurance rates for tankers planning to enter the Gulf would become prohibitive, effectively shutting down the region’s oil exports completely.’ (Dyer).

It is thus hardly surprising to learn that, in the war games that the Pentagon’s planners have over the past decade and a half devised to mimic an attack on Iran, the US never comes out as the winner. (Dyer). One may also imagine that Obama’s style is to attempt to win others over through dialogue rather than to pursue outright aggression. We may be thankful that the prerogative to execute war lies with the executive not with the legislature in the United States. (If passed, the House of Representatives resolution referred to above would be non-binding.)

Israel by contrast may be a wild card. If Eiland is to be believed, it is precisely an Israeli perception of American lack of resolution that might lead it to take a pre-emptive strike, reckoning that, once war was joined, the States would be bound to intervene on the Israeli side. What seems alarming is the extent to which Israel is being allowed to dictate or manipulate US policy at present; it is to a frightening extent the tail wagging the dog. Meanwhile the fact that so many in the States clearly support a right-wing Israeli position may mesmerise Israelis into thinking that an attack would be condoned. Such an attack could of course lead to a wider conflagration in the Middle East. But - if they perceive the ‘only alternative’ to be living under the shadow of a nuclear Iran - who is to say that the Israelis might not risk bringing the roof down on their heads? Israel has in the past shown a marked inability to tolerate any balance of power; to conceive of themselves as one nation among others, living within their own internationally-defined legal boundaries, alongside others. Their strategy has rather consisting in making sure that they at all times have the upper hand over others who should cower before their military prowess. Psychologically anything else seems intolerable to them. That the Arab world might at present live under constant fear as to what Israel might do seems not to have occurred. It is Israel that has in recent years attacked and held Arabs in thrall, occupying their land, not vice versa.

For the present it seems clear that not only Israel but also the US has not ruled out some kind of military action. It may be thought horrifyingly significant that, during their 8-hour discussion in New York on 11 Nov. 2010, in the course of which Hillary Clinton offered a packet of inducements to Benjamin Netanyahu to prolong the moratorium on settlement building, she apparently offered Israel a gift of twenty F-35 stealth bombers worth $3 billion. The only role for these offensive weapons could be to give Israel the ability to attack Iran. There was some impression in Israel that these stealth bombers might be forthcoming in any event. (Click here.)

So Where Are We?

Fresh talks held between the five permanent members of the Security Council (the US, China, Russia, France and the UK) plus Germany and Iran in Geneva in December 2010 were inconclusive. However the group is due to meet again in Istanbul on 21/22 January 2011 (Update.) The gap seems to be as wide as ever. The chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has made it clear that Iran will not ‘negotiate’ the enrichment of uranium which he says it is Iran’s inalienable right to do. Extreme bad feeling has been caused by the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Jalili blames on the UN Security Council, asking after its relation with ‘terrorists’.

Iran has been subjected to six rounds of sanctions. In June 2010 the United Nations (9 June) and specifically the United States unilaterally (24 June) imposed tough new sanctions against Iran; sanctions which Obama proclaimed to be having a marked effect. As a result of agreed sanctions Russia cancelled the sale of a new missile defence system to Iran. Meanwhile Iran announced in December 2010 that it is now mining its own uranium, saying that this makes it self-sufficient in  regard to the entire nuclear cycle. An Iranian defector has claimed that Iran is receiving North Korean technical assistance. (The Guardian 7 December 2010).

It appears that Israel is conducting a massive undercover intelligence surveillance operation to monitor Iranian developments. On 5 June 2011 The Sunday Times reported that Israel may be using cargo ships on which helicopters and men are hidden in unsuspicious looking containers, allowing the ships to approach the Iranian coast. An American blogger who specialises in breaking Israeli defence secrets, Richard Silverstein, has claimed that Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) uses Ofer Group cargo ships to smuggle its agents into Iran. This would seem to fit with other evidence: Ofer’s links with the Israeli government and the frequency with which its ships visit Iran.

The Lebanon

Seasoned Israel watchers were warning in the autumn of 2010 that the next horrific scenario to open up is that Israel may be looking to attack the Lebanon within the next 12 – 18 months. On 17 Nov. 2010 Israel announced that it would withdraw from the northern part of the village of Ghajar (on the Israeli Lebanese border), a move which is seen as far from innocent. If Israel for its part withdraws from southern Lebanon, it thinks to be in a strong position to demand the dismantling of Hezbollah.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701

11 Aug. 2006

The text read that the Security Council:

Clause 3: ‘Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon.’

Clause 8: calls for

- full implementation of [previous accords] that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State. …

- no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government.

Such a dismantling was clearly implied by the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted 11 Aug. 2006, which brought to an end the Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon. Clauses in that Resolution are clearly aimed at Hezbollah and a potential supply of arms from Iran.

But (as, not least, Robert Fisk points out) the Lebanese government is powerless to disarm Hezbollah. Besides which the Hezbollah representatives in parliament hold the power of veto over the cabinet. The position of the southern, Shi’a, Lebanese is overwhelmingly clear from the hero’s welcome they gave to Ahmadinejad on his visit to the Lebanon in October 2010. 

Israel will then see itself as having (or will create) a pretext to intervene. It would seem that in such a war missiles might land on Tel Aviv, provoking major Israeli response. As for Israel, one supposes that it would use pulverizing force to flatten southern Lebanon, causing heavy civilian casualties. (The case of Gaza doesn’t bode well.)

What is at stake here
for Israel is that it has been humiliated, twice, in southern Lebanon at the hands of Hezbollah. It is not going to let this happen on a third occasion! A major driving force of Israeli policy (so seasoned Israel watchers contend) is that Israel should have a deterrence effect, created by its overweening power as compared with its ‘enemies’. But Iran (which unlike in the case of Hamas) has close relations with Shi’a Hezbollah, would be unlikely to stand by and watch Hezbollah be defeated. For its part, Israel would see an attack in southern Lebanon as the first stage of an assault on Iran. Western powers would be

Wikimedia Commons

Hassan Nasrallah

Secretary-General (head) of Hezbollah

likely to be drawn in: the West loathes Hezbollah as a non-state, anti-Israel, actor on the scene. What hell would be let loose goes without saying.


Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity: Memorandum for the President, ‘War with Iran’

Giora Eiland, ‘Israel’s Military Option’

Gwynne Dyer, ‘Attacking Iran: US Options’.

Philip Giraldi, ‘A Cakewalk Against Iran’.


There are many podcasts available on the present situation. The last mentioned, a debate hosted by Al Jazeera, is particularly interesting.


‘If Arabs do not change their attitude and will continue with war, they will be expelled from there forever, just because Israel is militarily stronger. After all, isn't it how things are decided in gentile world? If other nations will decide to interfere on behalf of Arabs, Israel would have to use her nuclear arsenal. You should understand that we are fed up with you, guys, and if we have to go down we will, only we will take all of you with us. Remember Gideon? Zealots? Masada? We'll do it again. So, back off or die. There are no more choices.’

Private correspondence: a Russo-American Zionist writing to a British man whom I know.