Contextual Content

How would a US-Iran war begin?

"Don’t be nonchalant about an attack on Iran, it won’t work," claims former CIA Senior Analyst Ray McGovern. Together with Iraq WMD whistle-blower Greg Thielmann, the two intelligence experts break down the various means at Iran’s disposal of responding to US-Israeli provocations or attacks. Their conclusion is that the US government’s strategic best interest is clearly cooperation with Iran, but such a move requires a break with the Israeli government, not a commonly held position amongst politicians in the US.

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Story Transcript

RAY MCGOVERN, FORMER CIA ANALYST: I wanted to ask my own self a question here. It’s a question that came up last night. And I think that, especially for staffers here, I’d like you to know, for what it’s worth, how I feel about the cavalier way that people talk about regime change, people talk about going into Iran, people talk about zapping their nuclear potential or their nuclear installations. It’s very similar to Vietnam. When the generals used to talk about, well, if worst comes to worst, we can nuke these guys, the path starts with Israel provoking an incident or we and Israel doing something that Iran has to retaliate against. They’ve been very circumspect, but there are certain events that they will have to retaliate against. And then all hell breaks loose, folks; all hell breaks loose. The straits are closed. Now, Mullen, Admiral Mullen, was asked, you know, don’t the Iranians have the capability to close the straits? And he gulped and he said, "Yes, they do. Oh, but we could reopen them in a short period of time." Well, give me a break. How are you going to reopen the straits, huh? You’re going to send the Marines in. Where are you going to get the Marines from? There aren’t any extra Marines. It’s a problem, folks. Now, what else can they do? Those of you who have been in the military know about LOCs, huh? Lines of communication, okay? Look at our line of communication between Kuwait and Baghdad. They could easily sever that thing and take not 52 hostages this time but 52,000 US servicemen and women north of where they sever that line or south. They have that capability, folks. They have the capability of hitting Israel. They have all kinds of capability, and I think they would be inclined to use at least some of them. They don’t want to commit suicide, so they may be restrained in retaliating directly against Israel, but they have all manner of other opportunities. All those boats in the Persian Gulf, I mean, they swarm, and we lose a destroyer or worse. So what’s the bottom line here? Well, the bottom line here is that it’s a—I tried to say this to the congressmen last night. For me it’s a conscience problem. If Iran does not pose a strategic danger to us, then where do we get off taking young people from the towns of less than 10,000 people in this country and from the inner city and sending them out there to what? To reopen the Straits? For what? A lot of people have already died, folks, from this kind of reasoning, and I think that—I don’t know if I persuaded anybody last night, but people had just come back from Israel, and they talked about Israel, and if we don’t do it, the Israeli’s are going to—. Well, we ought to be clear on what the Israelis might do, and we ought to be just as firm as Admiral Mullen was in June 2008 in going there to Tel Aviv and saying, don’t you even think—don’t you even think of perpetrating the kind of incident in the Gulf that will get us enmeshed with you in a war. And he even raised the USS liberty incident from June 8, 1967, which has been covered up by this government. Look it up: USSLiberty.org, okay? So last little thing here: where was Admiral Mullen on Sunday? Anybody know? Nobody knows. I guess it hasn’t been in the papers. If you look at the Iranian Press TV, simple report: Admiral Mullen was in Normandy. Why? To meet with the Israeli chief of staff, Ashkenazi. I leave it to your imaginations as to why. I hope that he is doing a reprise of what he did last June, or June ’08, in telling Israelis, "Look, looks like we’re going to get this Iranian thing in hand now. Don’t upset the apple cart," which they might be very strongly tempted to do at this point in time. So that’s what I’d like those of you who are counseling your congresspeople to know is that don’t be blithe, don’t be nonchalant about an attack on Iran. Not only wouldn’t it work; I think it would be a very immoral thing to do.

GREG THIELMANN, FMR. STATE DEPT. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I just want to add one thing about the surgical strike against the Iranian nuclear program, which one sometimes reads about. This is one of the things that people just have to think a little bit through. Remember that our troops in Afghanistan are served by very long lines of communication going through Pakistan and now Russia. So one has to think: what would the governments of Russia and Pakistan do in reaction to news that Israel, with US facilitation, had just attacked the Muslim neighbor of Pakistan and Russia? I don’t think their reaction would be favorable. What would the Iraqi government do if Israeli warplanes overflew Iraq? Who controls Iraqi airspace? We do. It is now, though, officially Iraqi sovereign airspace. We have ceded that to Iraq. So we would have two choices: we could shoot down the Israeli aircraft or we could let them fly through. If we let them fly through, we could either tell the Iraqi government about it or not tell the Iraqi government about it. In either case we are in big trouble, because how’s the Iraqi government government to maintain its legitimacy when it becomes a facilitator for an Israeli attack on the Shia regime next door? It’s just unimaginable to me that the Iraqi government [inaudible] to say, "You have to leave, and you have to leave now." So these are some of the consequences of not a US attack, necessarily, but even facilitating or tolerating an Israeli attack. We have to think these things through.

AUDIENCE: You’ve both alluded to areas where there’s been cooperation, even during the Bush-Cheney period, between the United States and Iran. My question is: what might be some of the benefits of actually moving back towards a normalization of relations with Iran? You’ve mentioned Afghanistan. Obviously, withdrawing from Iraq, that’s a potential very sensitive thing. I’m wondering, since we usually talk about the downside, what would be the upside if we do get this kind of full normalization after more than 30 years?

THIELMANN: There are a number of shared interests between the US and Iran that we don’t spend much time on, but let’s say anti-narcotics. I see great similarities in the viewpoint between the government of Iran and the government in Washington on narcotics and trying to do something about it. The Iranians are no friend of al-Qaeda. We had some constructive cooperation for a while before we started beating the drum against the Iranians. I think that we could return to that, if they were convinced that we were not a military threat to them, if we would stop talking about regime change. Obviously, in the commercial area, the US has a great deal of expertise in oil and gas development, which right now is pretty much between—seems to be between the Iranians and the Chinese. I think we would have an interest in contributing in that sector if we could move towards normalized relations. So I hope that we will use the leverage that we have, and we have considerable leverage, to go for realistic objectives and negotiations. Don’t try to eliminate Iranian uranium enrichment capabilities; concentrate on getting the International Atomic Energy Agency in the country on a permanent basis with greater transparency, so that our confidence level can be raised about Iran’s non-nuclear-weapons intentions, and then go to work on finding common ground in these other areas. And there are obviously things where we’re going to have big problems with [Iran], human rights among them, but, you know, we have some of those problems with a lot of other governments with whom we have fairly friendly relations.

MCGOVERN: Yeah, I would just add, after this catalog of benefits, of possible positives that would come out of this kind of thing, well, okay, what’s the negative? Anybody? Come on. What’s the negative? Our total identification with the policy of the state of Israel. They would complain, and so would a lot of your bosses. A lot of your bosses would be under great pressure to do everything they could to prevent rapprochement with Iran. And this is kind of noxious sort of thing, because, you know, it could be that this list, you could add toward the bottom more restraint on Hezbollah, more restraint on Hamas. You know. It could come to that. And in my view, the Israeli attitude towards these kinds of things is incredibly myopic, and I think in the near term, not just the medium term, Israeli security will suffer greatly if this myopic anti-negotiation, full-power approach keeps being pursued.

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