It always pays to be suspicious when a U.S. official ramps up fear, but Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff's "gut feeling" remark about an Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. this summer sparks a different suspicion — and a similar sinking feeling: Israel is about to launch a unilateral strike on Iran.
It's not a cinch, but that queasy feeling is building. Seymour Hersh wrote long ago (in his January 2005 "The Coming Wars") about such a Pentagon-induced nightmare. But now that Iraq is a total disaster, the warhawks are stepping up the drumbeat to attack Iran — either by the U.S. or Israel, even arguing that Iran has in effect already declared war on the U.S. by aiding rebels in Iraq.
One of Israel's top officials says he's got the go-ahead from NATO's U.S. and European officials to attack Iran. Chertoff, aware of a longstanding, fierce debate in the White House over attacking Iran, admits a "gut feeling," saying it's about Al Qaeda but probably feeling queasier about what an attack on Iran would do to inflame terrorists. Condoleezza Rice, said to be an opponent of a U.S. attack on Iran, suddenly cancels a visit to Israel. For the warhawks, that keeps her out of harm's way and blunts her attempts to talk with both Muslims and Jews. Israel couldn't very well attack Iran while hosting the U.S. secretary of state.
For all you conspiracy theorists out there — and those of you who pooh-pooh this as simply conspiracy theorizing — here are some of the building blocks of that suspicion:
• July 2: Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Israel/Connecticut) tells the Hartford Courant that "the fact is that the Iranian government has by its actions declared war on us." Lieberman doesn't speak for the entire U.S. government, obviously, but he does speak for a substantial number of powerful warhawks in and out of the White House. Lieberman adds:
"The United States government has a responsibility to use all instruments at its disposal to stop these terrorist attacks against our soldiers and allies in Iraq, including keeping open the possibility of using military force against the terrorist infrastructure inside Iran."
• July 10: Israel's minister of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, says Europe and the U.S. have given tacit approval for Israel to unilaterally attack Iran's nuclear plants. From Israel Today:
"If we start military operations against Iran alone, then Europe and the US will support us," Lieberman told [Israeli] Army Radio following a meeting earlier in the week with NATO and European Union officials.
Lieberman said the Western powers acknowledged the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat to the Jewish state, but said that ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are "going to prevent the leaders of countries in Europe and America from deciding on the use of force to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities," even if diplomacy ultimately fails.
The message Avigdor Lieberman said the NATO and EU officials conveyed to him is that Israel should "prevent the threat herself."
That's not as far-fetched as it sounds. As conservative anti-war talking head Philip Giraldi notes on the same day as Avigdor Lieberman's comments:
It is widely believed that Vice President Dick Cheney and his national security adviser David Wurmser have deliberately limited the playing field because they have no desire to engage Iran amicably and are instead fixated on regime change in Tehran as the only acceptable solution to the "Persian problem." Cheney has been ably seconded by fellow hawk Elliot Abrams at the National Security Council, who has been working to undercut Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's efforts to avoid a war. Wurmser, meanwhile, has been advising the like-minded at the American Enterprise Institute that Cheney does not believe in negotiations and has promised that the Bush Administration will deal with Iran militarily before its term of office ends.
The Cheney-Wurmser-Abrams axis is opposed to Administration figures like Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and the intelligence agency chiefs, all of whom are reluctant to do a replay of Iraq in Iran. The Iraq Studies Group (ISG) recommended engaging Iran and all other local players including Syria to help stabilize Iraq and the broader Persian Gulf region. It also recommended taking serious steps to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As "serious steps" would consist of Washington pressuring Israel, the ISG report has been coolly received by the White House and with intense hostility by certain Congressmen who are closely tied to Israel.
• July 10: Chertoff tells the Chicago Tribune's editorial writers:
I believe we're entering a period this summer of increased risk. We've seen a lot more public statements from Al Qaeda. There are a lot of reasons to speculate about that but one reason that occurs to me is that they're feeling more comfortable and raising expectations. In the last August, and in prior summers, we've had attacks against the West, which suggests that summer seems to be appealing to them. I think we do see increased activity in South Asia, so we do worry about whether they are rebuilding their capabilities. We've struck at them and degraded them, but they rebuild. All these things have given me kind of a gut feeling that we are in a period of increased vulnerability.
Spokesman Sean McCormack downplays it at his daily briefing for reporters as merely a postponement:
I want to update you on the Secretary's travel schedule. At this point, we are going to postpone the stop — the planned stops in Jerusalem and Ramallah until the end of the month. The Secretary and — Secretary Rice is going to be traveling to the region, as the President announced, in part with Secretary Gates. So she decided that it was appropriate to postpone these two stops and combine it with that trip. So we'll have more information on that trip, the dates, and the stops as we get closer to it, but I would expect that we would leave towards the end of the month and then there would be some joint travel with Secretary Gates at the very beginning of August.
At least some reporters are skeptical. One follows up with this:
Why was it appropriate to postpone those stops if she still plans to travel next week and she's going to be in Africa not that far away? Why not just go ahead and do the important work with the Israeli and the Palestinians?
McCormack's reply doesn't pass the smell test:
Well, if you look at where she is going, there is actually quite a distance from where she still plans to go to travel in the Middle East. And also, given the time in which we find ourselves, there's a lot of discussion going on concerning Iraq, there's certainly a lot of discussion, policy-wise, about the Middle East. And she thought it was appropriate to be back in Washington during this time and plus, from a logistical standpoint, it just made sense.
• July 12: U.S. intelligence chiefs meet at the White House to discuss a report that Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 9/11. From this morning's Times (U.K.):
Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary, has spent days trying to play down comments that his "gut feeling" was that the US faced a heightened risk of attack this summer. . . .
Mr Chertoff emphasised yesterday that "we don’t have any specific information about an imminent or near-term attack on the homeland". However, the Times has been told that US and British intelligence services monitoring al-Qaeda networks have picked up "an increased level of chatter" in recent weeks.
Maybe so, but Chertoff could have been ratcheting up fear so that an attack on Iran would be more palatable to the masses as yet another "front" in the War of Terror. Or perhaps he was just unconsciously channeling the more ominous "chatter" from our own warhawks about an Israeli attack on Iran's nukes. Think about the poisonous cloud of radioactivity and even more terrorists that would produce.