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Target Iran: Where's Harper?

PM silent as White House edges toward attack.

Murray Dobbin 16 Oct

Murray Dobbin writes his State of the Nation column twice monthly for The Tyee.

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Are we on board or not?

As we go through the numbing process of listening to what passes for news these days -- Britney Spears losing custody of her kids, O.J. arrested for kidnapping and Pamela Andersen getting married -- Canadians seem blissfully unaware of the increasing signs of a global catastrophe. There are extremely worrying indications that the U.S. is planning -- and soon -- to attack Iran.

According to the Guardian, the hawkish French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, recently stated "we must expect the worst, and the worst is war." John Bolton, Bush's former UN ambassador, used a Tory conference in Britain to call for a strike against Iran. Rumours persist a strike could involve tactical, "bunker busting" nuclear weapons. Such an attack targeting multiple nuclear sites could release tonnes of radioactive material into the air and threaten hundreds of thousands of lives. Virtually every analyst not actually working for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney can tell you with convincing certainty of the catastrophic results -- human, environmental and geo-political -- of such an attack

But in this country it's as if the no one is listening.

Certainly Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said virtually nothing about the subject. He has not revealed whether he agrees with the U.S. analysis of the alleged Iranian threats, he hasn't commented on the revelation that the U.S. is considering using nuclear weapons, he has said nothing regarding what he or the foreign affairs department think the consequences would be.

Does the prime minister have an opinion? Or better yet, an assessment? If he does, time is running out for him to reveal it because given his virtual carte blanch support of George Bush's Middle East policy, he has backed himself into a corner. His early support for the Iraq invasion, his uncritical support for Israel, his acceptance of all the premises of the misnamed war on terror, his pandering to the Christian right on these issues, and his desire to extend the U.S.-inspired Afghan mission, all suggest that he will support whatever the U.S. and Israel do regarding Iran. His silence on the issue just reinforces that fear.

Get ready for war

The signs are everywhere that the Bush administration, apparently led by a genuine madman in VP Dick Cheney, is prepping for war. The same Oct. 5th Guardian article reported: "Cheney had been discussing the possibility of encouraging Israel to launch missile strikes at an Iranian nuclear site in order to provoke Iran into 'lashing out', and open the way to a wider U.S. assault." The U.S. Senate recently declared the Iranian Republican Guard (actually a branch of the Iranian Army) a "terrorist organization" freeing up the president's hand to attack it.

The hawks have changed tack in the past few weeks because their first gambit -- trying to scare Americans with images of Iranian nuclear weapons -- wasn't working. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it is the U.S. and Israel who pose a nuclear threat to Iran, not the other way round.

The new tack is to crank up American anger by tying the Iranian government directly to the deaths of American soldiers by claiming that the war's most deadly IEDs are being supplied by official Iran.

The problem with this theme is that it is on equally shaky ground. Iran has no strategic interest in seeking to destabilize Iraq. In fact, the Iranian government supports the same two powerful Shia institutions currently backed by the U.S. government: the Supreme Islamic Council of Iran and the Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iran has excellent diplomatic relations with the al-Maliki government. This may explain why the U.S. has had such difficulty in coming up with even a shred of hard evidence for its claims. There is none.

Terrifying toll

Despite this, the drum beat of war continues amongst Republican hawks and especially those around Vice President Dick Cheney. Two of the most reliable investigative reporters on Iran, Seymour Hersh and Canadian Eric Margolis, are warning about an impending attack. As early as spring 2006, Hersh reported that the U.S. was considering the use of tactical, "bunker-busting," nuclear weapons to destroy nuclear sites allegedly deeply buried in Iran.

While some claim these tactical weapons have been withdrawn, rumours persist. A recent story, so far unconfirmed by any other media outlets, poses a terrifying scenario of just how close the use of nuclear weapons may have come. The story revisits a bizarre incident last August 30 in which a B52 Air Force bomber "accidentally" transported six nuclear armed cruise missiles half way across the U.S. The event was dubbed a "Bent Spear" in military lexicon -- the result of inexplicable and unprecedented "security failures at multiple levels."

But U.S. analyst Wayne Madsen quotes anonymous intelligence sources in claiming that in fact the incident revealed an ongoing struggle within the military and between the Pentagon and the White House over plans to attack Iran: "...elements of the Air Force, supported by U.S. intelligence agency personnel, successfully revealed the ultimate destination of the nuclear weapons and the mission was aborted due to internal opposition within the Air Force and U.S. Intelligence Community."

Any massive bombing attack on nuclear facilities, whether conventional or nuclear, would be catastrophic. The U.S. National Research Council has warned that: "earth-penetrating nuclear weapons cannot go deep enough to avoid casualties at ground level, and they could still kill up to a million people or more if used in populated areas." Monstrous conventional bombs could have a similar affect, releasing massive amounts of radioactive material.

Enough of Iran's key nuclear facilities are close to large population centres that the death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands. Tehran -- population 12 million -- is close to the country's nuclear research centre. Isfahan, with a population of 2 million, is located in close proximity to a uranium conversion facility. A heavy water reactor is located in Arak with a population of 500,000. Experts point out that even conventional bombs could release massive amounts of radioactive material.

Global political fallout

The geo-political consequences of a massive bombing war would scarcely be less catastrophic. Seymour Hersh quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national-security adviser, who predicted Iran would respond to an American attack "by intensifying the conflict in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, their neighbours, and that could draw in Pakistan. We will be stuck in a regional war for 20 years." In the short term, Iran could also close the Strait of Hormuz through which most of the Middle East oil has to flow.

Do Stephen Harper and Rick Hillier, his macho military commander, fully grasp what is happening? On the nuclear issue the government has already taken a position that should worry Canadians. At a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 20, Canada abstained in a vote that asked Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under IAEA controls (the same controls demanded of Iran and North Korea by the U.S). The resolution was passed by the 144-member IAEA General Meeting on Sept. 20 by a vote of 53 to 2 (the U.S. and Israel), with 47 abstentions.

There is a terrifying irony in this whole picture. Anti-terror experts in North America fear one thing more than any other: a massive attack on a nuclear reactor causing a meltdown of Chernobyl proportions. Are terrorists considering such a plan? Nobody knows. But if the U.S. and Israel destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, releasing radiation over the whole of the Middle East, you can be sure terrorists will begin planning such a revenge attack the next day.

Is the Harper government out of the loop on U.S. plans to attack Iran? Or is it being played for a sucker, as Tony Blair was in the lead up to the Iraq war, and poised to support an attack? Either way, Canadians had better take the prospect of an attack on Iran -- nuclear or otherwise -- seriously and demand that the government take an unequivocal stand against such a prospect.

Otherwise we will find ourselves on the wrong side of history. And our nuclear facilities the potential target of terrorist plots.

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