Israel’s War Talk on Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is pounding the war drums on Iran again, drawing support from the usual suspects in Washington’s think tank community and the media. The goal seems to be to derail prospects for negotiations with Iran and on the Palestinian dispute, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Amid a prolonged campaign to keep us scared about what is depicted as an inexorable Iranian march toward acquiring nuclear weapons, it is easy to lose sight of the cyclical nature of discourse about Iran’s nuclear program, which began in the days of the Shah and has been the subject of repeated unrealized predictions about how close the Iranians supposedly were to getting a bomb.

Rather than any one-way march, what we are seeing is a wheel of alarm that keeps turning around. Discourse on this subject is better understood not in terms of threats posed by Iran but instead in terms of the purposes, both long- and short-term, served by hyping of such a threat.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appearing as host Bob Schieffer’s guest on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

A couple of developments in particular have pushed the latest turn of the wheel. One is Hassan Rowhani’s victory in the Iranian presidential election, which has made it harder for the alarmists to keep painting the face of Iran as a menacing one. The chief agitator on Iran, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, already sorely misses one of its most helpful props: outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though he does not leave office until next month.

Netanyahu’s government also is discomfited by recent movement, or at least appeals for movement, in diplomacy aimed at settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry really does seem to be serious about getting something done on this problem.

There also have been pointed reminders lately from voices within Israel, including editorialists at major newspapers and experienced security officials such as former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, that continuing the government’s current course means a bleak future for Israel of costly international isolation and even losing any identity as a Jewish and democratic state.

For Netanyahu’s government, one of the purposes of ringing alarm bells about Iran as the “real problem” in the Middle East is to divert attention from these truths about the conflict with the Palestinians and to divert energy from any diplomacy aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Any new attention to the Palestinian issue is a spur for that government to ring the bells yet again.

It thus was unsurprising that Netanyahu took to U.S. airwaves on Sunday to try to scare the pants off us again about the Iranian nuclear program. As usual, he conducted his fear-mongering while seemingly oblivious to major realities about this subject. He ignored the repeated and publicly expressed intelligence judgments that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon and may never decide to do so.

His demand that Iran end all enrichment of uranium is clearly a non-starter and only a prescription for making diplomacy fail. The amped-up saber-rattling he demands from the United States as well as Israel only heightens whatever interest the Iranians may have in a nuclear deterrent, further impairs diplomatic prospects by making the Iranians even more doubtful about U.S. intentions, and ignores how implementation of a military threat would probably be counterproductive by leading the Iranians to make the very bomb-building decision they have not to date made.

His description of the Iranian government as a “messianic, apocalyptic, extreme regime” is a crude stereotype that continues his practice of treating this entire issue in a cartoonish way, even when he is not using literal cartoons at a podium at the United Nations. He ignores that the only existential threat that a nuclear weapons state in the Middle East poses to another state in the region is the threat that Israel poses to Iran, and he ignores that the only threats of military attack in that duopoly are the threats that Israel is making against Iran rather than vice versa.

Besides not being led astray by this pied piper of alarm, there is work to be done on the issue of Iran, and all the more so in the wake of the Iranian presidential election. Some of the most important points to bear in mind are expressed in a just-released open letter to President Obama from 29 national security experts and former government officials (myself included).

The letter observes that Rowhani’s election presents “a major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.” It calls on the administration to redouble efforts to engage Iran not only on the nuclear issue but also on other matters of concern to the United States.

On the nuclear issue, it states that a new proposal is needed that, while incorporating what the United States and its Western partners are seeking regarding limiting and verifying Iran’s nuclear activities, treats sanctions in terms of their stated purpose of leverage to obtain such an agreement, rather than just being unending punishment or a domestic political statement.

Sitting back and expecting Iran to make the next move would likely lead to just one more episode in the long history of missed opportunities in this relationship.

While doing these things, avoiding what is unhelpful is also important. As the letter states, “no further sanctions should be imposed or considered at this time as they could empower hardliners opposed to nuclear concessions at the expense of those seeking to shift policy in a more moderate direction.” Also unhelpful would be more of the sorts of military threats that Benjamin Netanyahu likes to make.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

10 comments for “Israel’s War Talk on Iran

  1. GG
    July 24, 2013 at 02:49

    Pillar is a blithering idiot. Iran is a terrorist state that must be confronted with force. The Islamic Fascists must be eliminated.

  2. elmerfudzie
    July 21, 2013 at 19:46

    In response to just plainbill, your rant has lit a match under my behind. Merkel! stop mugging the Greeks and Spanish. Stop giving a favorable nod to clansmen from the global bankster jet set. Let France handle, if it can, the rest of the EU. Enjoin your lite and heavy industry sectors, convince them to unite with our disemboweled (USA) manufacturing industries. Find a way to create a single currency between our countries. These political maneuvers will gradually undo damage caused by pure corporate greed. Become that, show case to the world; the first world’s understanding of what organized labor can mean for prosperity. Step right into an empty void here in the USA’s domestic tool and die industry, metal stamping and other similar sectors. These industries were deliberately off-shored along with their means of production, organized by a renegade group from corporate America. China may indeed be the great assembler of things but united, our efforts can both design and distribute finished products. Why be maneuvered into a negative historical position as the Visigoths revisited? by that I mean, ransacking and looting your European neighbors? Well?

  3. just plainbill
    July 20, 2013 at 04:33

    This pied piper of alarm, as long as he has been in politics seems “to keep us scared about what is always depicted as an inexorable Iranian march toward acquiring nuclear weapons.”

    However, as Mr. Pillar asserts, and I agree, for Netanyahu’s government, “one of the prime purposes of ringing alarm bells about Iran as the “real problem” in the Middle East is to divert attention from these truths about the continued conflict with the Palestinians, the growing concern over the apartheid nature of the state that casts a shadow that covers all things Palestinian and the loud expression of EU concern on the question of the continuing ‘strangulation’ of the settlements.

    As Dr. Daud Abdullah reminds German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin last year gave him a ‘heads up’ her message was plain and simple; choose between isolation as an apartheid outcast, or acceptance in accord with democratic principles. Naturally, Netanyahu has been quite oblivious to such a warning as he continues to spin the saga of six decades of Israel existence which has thrived on the illusions of victimhood and democracy. He barley manages to remain in power in each election by manipulation of the parliamentary system and like similar leaders of his cut of cloth, his public, as well as the worlds, has grown sick and tired of Israeli aggression,its apartheid state and treatment of the Palestinian people. And most certainly his woeful, scary tales.

  4. Hillary
    July 19, 2013 at 14:08

    In general the Iranian Muslim seems to get on well with the Iranian Jew although the Jews generally tend to keep to themselves. There is very little intermarriage even though it is considered by the Muslims a good thing to marry a Jewish woman.
    Jews even have a member in the Iranian Parliament, Maurice Motamed.

  5. Steve
    July 17, 2013 at 19:28


    Imagine the American JOBS that would be created if we traded with 95 Million Iranians rather than letting 12 million people leech off our taxpayer dollars.

    95 MILLION Consumers for American goods. A consistent flow of oil and natural gas from Iran that would push the Saudis and their supply. Cheaper gas and oil for all Americans and we dont have to send one single soldier to die for a false cause. That wont help OUR economy???

    So rather than do what is good for Americans and the USA our politicians kneel before a foreign country. Shameful!

  6. nathan
    July 16, 2013 at 19:59

    I strongly believe that there is much more going on that meets the eye. If you could picure a world map in front of you and think about US and NATO troop positions. Their troops have conquered many countries in the middle east and built bases there plus they have patriot missile systems lined up on their borders. Then further south you have the US in south korea with its fleets there, iran has US fleets off the Strait of Hormuz…. Now if you are picturing it from a world map, you can see that since the cold war, US and NATO have been pushing towards russia and have been targetting their allied countries of which the US conquered or where they have supplied the “rebels” with weapons. Iran is blocking the way, and is very powerful, and for once the American propaganda can’t bring down a country like Iran, who hasn’t taken offensive military action in more than a century

  7. elmerfudzie
    July 16, 2013 at 14:17

    The public’s attention has been deliberately drawn away from issues buried beneath sovereign rights and commercial nuclear capability. The deep state spokespersons contend that it’s all about weapons proliferation to non-state actors. If this were true, the global Intel community would be going hammer and tongs after those responsible for the Erwin Tennessee and Apollo Pennsylvania plutonium thefts, enough taken to make at least a dozen atomic bombs. Years have passed since these and other diversion incidents occurred but not a word or lead as to where the most toxic thing on mother earth has gone. I include in this missing melodrama, approximately one hundred suit case nukes that the former KGB lost control of during the last days of the Soviet Union. Alexander Lebed, who for a period of one year, was the Secretary of the the Security Council, responsible for lording over the former USSR’s entire atomic stockpile, paid with his life when he announced that these suitcase nukes were indeed missing. The cooperation that would have been required between Russian police and the Western Occident Intel agencies and INTERPOL was too much to bear, forgive the pun, for the powers that be in this so called, new world order. So down his plane went, along with other courageous men destined to do great things. They have earned their place in the halls of Valhalla. Here’s a very, very short list of them; JFK, MLK, Senator Paul Wellstone, Anwar El Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and those journalists who fell on the battlefield for truth who are all represented here by the late Michael Hastings. I now recall a famous or should I say infamous remark by Secretary Lebed; quote: “We began the war with lofty aims but ended up with a war against the people.” And that quote surely sums up the predicament our citizens now find themselves in.

  8. Hillary
    July 16, 2013 at 12:04

    Israel claims to want peace while it continues to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Muslim and Christian Arabs.
    It can do so because it is a Super Power through its control of the US Congress and having the 4th.most powerful military in the world.
    It is just amazing how less than 0.2% of mankind dictates to the rest of the world .

  9. wrf1984
    July 16, 2013 at 11:52

    PRECISELY!!! I NEVER hear discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal in discussions of Iran acquiring even a single nuclear weapon. Iranians are not idiots or insane: if they GOT a nuclear weapon they wouldn’t use it against Israel, but it would sure keep the US from attacking them (i.e. North Korea vs. Iraq). Saddam Hussein wasn’t right about much, but didn’t he say he wished he DID have nuclear capability prior to the 2003 invasion? For the truth on this (and many other) issues, see Cole reminds us, again and again, that Iran has attacked no one internationally for more than a century.

    • Ben
      July 26, 2013 at 00:28

      Iran is hub of state sponsored terrorism. They provide the weapons most of the terrorist groups in the middle east. They stand in defiance of the US and Israel. Without Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Hamas,Jihadists, Al Quds, Taliban, Army of Islam, and dozens more would not be funded or suuplied. They have created more havoc by subterfuge than direct war.

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