Is Iran Next?
The Pentagon neocons who brought
you the war in Iraq have a new target
by Tom Barry
In These Times magazine, October
Shortly after 9/11, Undersecretary of
Defense for Policy Douglas Feith began coordinating Pentagon planning
for an invasion of Iraq. The challenge facing Feith, the No. 3
civilian in the Defense Department, was to establish a policy
rationale for the attack. At the same time, Feith's ideological
cohorts in the Pentagon began planning to take the administration's
"global war on terrorism:' not only to Baghdad, but also
to Damascus and Tehran.
In August it was revealed that one of
Feith's Middle East policy wonks, Lawrence Franklin, shared classified
documents-including a draft National Security Presidential Directive
formulated in Feith's office that outlines a more aggressive US.
national security strategy regarding Iran-with the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Israeli officials. The FBI
is investigating the document transfer as a case of espionage.
This spy scandal raises two concerns for
US. diplomats and foreign policy experts from across the political
spectrum. One, that US. Middle East policy is being directed by
neoconservative ideologues variously employed, coordinated or
sanctioned by Feith's Pentagon office. And two, that US. Middle
East policy is too closely aligned with that of Israeli hardliners
close to US. neoconservatives.
Feith is joined in reshaping a U.S. foreign
Middle East policy-one that mirrors or complements the policies
of the hardliners in Israel-by a web of neoconservative policy
institutes, pressure groups and think tanks. These include the
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Institute
for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), Center for
Security Policy (CSP) and the Zionist Organization of America
(ZOA)-all groups with which Feith has been or still is closely
First Iraq, now Iran
In the months after 9/11, rather than
relying on the CIA, State Department or the Pentagon's own Defense
Intelligence Agency for intelligence about Iraq's ties to international
terrorists and its development of weapons of mass destruction,
neoconservatives in the Pentagon set up a special intelligence
shop called the Office of Special Plans (OSP). The founders, Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Feith, are fervent advocates
of a regional restructuring in the
Middle East that includes regime change
in Iran, Syria and, ultimately, Saudi Arabia.
Not having its own intelligence-gathering
infrastructure, Feith's office relied on fabricated information
supplied by Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate who led the Iraqi
National Congress (INC). In 1998, Chalabi's group was funded by
the Iraq Liberation Act, a congressional initiative that was backed
by neoconservative institutions such as AIPAC, CSP, Project for
the New American Century (PNAC) and the American Enterprise Institute
At the same time that Chalabi and other
INC militants were visiting Feith's office, so were Israeli officials,
including generals, according to Lt. Col Karen Kwiakowski, who
formerly worked in the Near East and South Asia office under Feith's
supervision. Like the neoconservatives in the United States, Israeli
hardliners believe that Israel's long-term security can best be
ensured by a radical makeover of Middle East politics enforced
by the superior military power of the United States and Israel.
It now appears that Feith's Office of
Policy, which was creating dubious intelligence rationales for
the Iraq war, was also establishing a covert national security
strategy for regime change in Iran-most likely through a combination
of preemptive military strikes (either by the United States or
Israel) and support for a coalition of Iranian dissidents.
This covert operation is now the subject
of an FBI espionage investigation and inquiries by the House Judiciary
Committee and Select Senate Intelligence Committee-inquiries that
have been postponed until after the election.
Without notifying the State Department
or the CIA, Feith's office has been involved in back channel operations
that have included a series of secret meetings in Washington,
Rome and Paris over the last three years. These meetings have
brought together Office of Policy officials and consultants (Franklin,
Harold Rhode and Michael Ledeen), an expatriate Iranian arms dealer
(Manichur Ghorbanifar), AIPAC lobbyists, Ahmed Chalabi, and Italian
and Israeli intelligence officers, among others.
Franklin, an Iran expert who was pulled
into Feith's policy shop from the Defense Intelligence Agency,
met repeatedly with Naor Gilon, the head of the political department
at the Israeli embassy in Washington. According to US. intelligence
officials, during one of those meetings, Franklin offered to hand
over the National Security Presidential Directive on Iran. For
more than two years, an FBI counterintelligence operation has
been monitoring Washington meetings between AIPAC, Franklin and
Israeli officials. Investigators suspect that the draft security
document was passed to Israel through an intermediary, likely
Franklin, who is known to be close to
militant Iranian and Iranian-American dissidents, is the common
link to another series of meetings in Rome and Paris involving
Ledeen (an American Enterprise Institute scholar who was a special
consultant to Feith), Harold Rhode (a cohort of Ledeen's from
the Iran-Contra days, who is currently employed by Feith to prepare
regime-change strategy plans for Middle Eastern countries on the
neoconservatives' hit list), and Ghorbanifar (an arms dealer who
claims to speak for the Iranian opposition). These meetings addressed,
among other things, strategies for organizing Iranians who would
be willing to cooperate with a U.S.-spearheaded regime change
agenda for Iran.
Echoes of Iran-Contra
This cast of characters indicates that
US. Middle East policy involves covert and illegal operations
that resemble the Iran-Contra operations in the '80s. Not only
are the neoconservatives once again the leading actors, these
new covert operations involve at least two Iran-Contra conspirators:
Ledeen, who has repeatedly complained that the Bush administration
has let its regime-change plans for Iran and Syria "gather
mold in the bowels of the bureaucracy"; and Ghorbanifar,
who the CIA considers a "serial fabricator" with whom
the agency prohibits its agents from having any association
During the Iran-Contra operation, Israel
served as a conduit for US. arms sales to Iran. The proceeds went
largely to fund the Nicaraguan Contras despite a congressional
ban on military support to the counterrevolutionaries. This time
around, however, the apparent aim of these back channel dealings
is to move U.S.-Iran relations beyond the reach of State Department
diplomats and into the domain of the Pentagon ideologues. Ledeen,
the neoconservative point man in the Iran regime-change campaign,
wrote in the National Review Online that too many US. government
officials "prefer to schmooze with the mullahs" rather
than promote "democratic revolution in Iran:'
In early 2002, Leeden, along with Morris
Amitay, a former AIPAC executive director as well as a CSP adviser,
founded the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI) to build congressional
and administration support for Iran regime change. AIPAC and CDI
helped ensure passage of recent House and Senate resolutions that
condemn Iran, call for tighter sanctions and express support for
The CDI includes members of key neoconservative
policy institutes and think tanks, including Raymond Tanter of
the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (WINEA)-an off-shoot
of AIPAC-and Frank Gaffney, president of CSP. In the '90s, Feith
served as the board chairman of CSP, whose slogan is "peace
through strength," and where Woolsey currently serves as
cochairman of the advisory committee. Other neoconservative organizations
represented in the coalition by more than one member include AEI
and Freedom House.
Rob Sobhani, an Iranian-American, who
like Ledeen and other neoconservatives is a friend of the Shah's
son Reza Pahiavi, is also a CDI member. CDI expresses the common
neoconservative position that constructive engagement with the
Iranian government even with the democratic reformists-is merely
appeasement Instead, the United States should proceed immediately
to a regime change strategy working closely with the "Iranian
people:' Representatives of the Iranian people that could be the
front men for a regime change strategy, according to the neoconservatives,
include, the Shalis son, Reza Pahlavi (who has also cultivated
close ties with the Likud Party in Israel), the Iraq-based guerrilla
group Mujahadin-E Khalq (MEK), and expatriate arms dealer Ghorbanifar.
The CDI's Ledeen, Amitay and Sobhani were
featured speakers at a May 2003 forum on "the future of Iran'
sponsored by AEI, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for
Defense of Democracies. The forum, chaired by the Hudson Institute's
Meyrav Wurmser, the Israeli-born wife of David Wurmser (he serves
as Cheney's leading expert on Iran and Syria), included a presentation
by Un Lubrani of Israel's Ministry of Defense. Summarizing the
sentiment of neoconservative ideologues and strategists, Meyrav
Wurmser said: "Our fight against Iraq was only a battle in
a long war. It would be ill-conceived to think we can deal with
Iraq alone. We must move on, and faster."
JINSA, a neoconservative organization
established in 1976 that fosters closer strategic and military
ties between the United States and Israel, also has its sights
on Iran. At a JINSA policy forum in April 2003 titled "Time
to Focus on Iran-The Mother of Modern Terrorism," Ledeen
declared, "The time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time
for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon."
JINSA, along with CSP, serves as one of
the main institutional links to the military-industrial complex
for neoconservatives. Ledeen served as JINSA's first executive
director and was JINSA's "Godfather," according to Amitay.
Amitay is a JINSA vice chair. JINSA board members or advisers
also include former CIA director James Woolsey, former Rep. Jack
Kemp and the AEI's Joshua Muravchik. After he joined the administration,
Feith resigned from JINSA.'s board of advisers, as did Vice President
Dick Cheney and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John
Like other neoconservatives, Feith sees
Israel and the United States sharing common national-security
concerns in the Middle East. In 1996, Feith was a member of a
study team organized by IASPS and led by Richard Perle that also
included representatives from JINSA, the AIPAC-related WINEA,
and Meyrav and David Wurmser.
The resulting report, A Clean Break: A
New Strategy for Securing the Realm, advised Israeli Prime Minister-elect
Benjamin Netanyahu to "work closely with Turkey and Jordan
to contain, destabilize and roll back" regional threats,
to help overthrow Saddam Hussein, and to strike Syrian military
targets in Lebanon and possibly in Syria proper. It recommended
that Israel forge a foreign and domestic policy based on a "new
intellectual foundation" that "provides the nation the
room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism."
Ideology alone does not explain Feith's
close connections to Israel. His old law firm Feith & Zell,
which has an office in Israel, specialized in representing arms
dealers and missile defense contractors. The firm has boasted
of its role in facilitating technology transfers between U.S.
and Israel military contractors.
Zionism runs deep
Feith's right-wing Zionism typifies neoconservatism.
The Pentagon's advocacy of an invasion of Iraq and, more recently,
its hard-line postures with respect to Iran and Syria, must be
considered in light of the Zionist convictions and Likud Party
connections of those shaping the administration's Middle East
Through the early '70S anti-totalitarianism
was the core political tenet that united neoconservatives and
their forerunners. In this Manichean political worldview, the
forces of good and democracy led by the United States were under
constant threat by the forces of evil as embodied in communism
and fascism. At home, the "present danger" came in the
form of appeasers, prodétente advocates, isolationists
and peace activists who shied away from direct and preemptive
military confrontation with the totalitarian empire builders.
Although the early neoconservatives were
largely Jewish, most were not Zionists. In the '50S and through
most of the '60s, neocons such as Irving Kristol-widely known
as the father of neoconservatism regarded Israel more as a key
Cold War ally than as the biblically ordained homeland of God's
After the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973
Yom Kippur War, the Jewish neoconservatives embraced their Judaic
roots and incorporated Zionism into their worldview. Anti-totalitarianism
remains a core neoconservative foreign policy principle. Since
the end of the Cold War, neoconservatism has focused on the Muslim
world and to a lesser extent China-but is now tied to the ideological
and political imperatives of right-wing Zionism.
Feith's own Zionism is rooted in his family.
In 1997, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) honored Dalck
Feith and his son Douglas at its annual dinner, describing the
Feiths as "noted Jewish philanthropists and pro-Israel activists:'
The father was awarded the group's special Centennial Award "for
his lifetime of service to Israel and the Jewish people:' while
Douglas received the "prestigious Louis D. Brandeis Award:'
Dalck Feith was a militant in Betar, a
Zionist youth movement founded in Riga, Lativia in 1923, by Ze'ev
Jabotinsky, an admirer of Mussolini. Betar, whose members spouted
militaristic slogans modeled after fascistic movements, was associated
with the Revisionist Movement, which evolved in Poland to become
the Herut Party, the forerunner of the Likud Party.
In 1999, Douglas Feith contributed an
essay to a book titled The Dangers of a Palestinian State, published
by the ZOA. That same year, Feith spoke to a 150-member ZOA lobbying
mission to Congress that called for "U.S. action against
Palestinian Arab killers of Americans" and for moving the
U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The ZOA lobbying group
also criticized the Clinton administration for its "refusal
to criticize illegal Palestinian Arab construction in Jerusalem
and the territories, which is far more extensive than Israeli
In addition to his close ties with the
right-wing ZOA, before assuming his current position at the Pentagon
Feith co-founded One Jerusalem, a group whose objective is "saving
a united Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel:' Other
cofounders of this Jerusalem-based organization are David Steinmann,
chairman of JINSA, board member of the CSP and chairman of the
executive committee of the Middle East Forum; Dore Gold, a top
adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and Natan Sharansky; Israel's
Minister of Diaspora Affairs and current chairman of One Jerusalem.
One Jerusalem actively courts the involvement
of Christian Zionists. In May 2003, One Jerusalem hosted the Interfaith
Zionist Summit in Washington, DC, that brought together Christian
Zionists such as Gary Bauer of American Values and Roberta Combs
of the Christian Coalition with Daniel Pipes of the Middle East
Forum and Mort Klein of the ZOA.
The Israeli government and AIPAC have
denied that they engaged in any criminal operations involving
classified Pentagon documents about Iran. Sharansky said, "There
are absolutely no attempts to involve any member of the Jewish
community and any general American citizens to spy for Israel
against the United States." He observed that the investigation
of the Pentagon's Office of Policy staff most likely stemmed from
an inter-agency rivalry within the US. government.
For his part, Ledeen told Newsweek that
the espionage allegations against Franklin, his close friend,
were "nonsensical:' Ledeen and other neoconservatives see
the investigations as instigated by the State Department and the
CIA to undermine the credibility of neoconservatives and to obstruct
their Middle East restructuring agenda, particularly regime change
Given the depth of congressional bipartisan
support for Israel and close ties with right-wing Israeli lobbying
groups like AIPAC, it's unlikely that the investigations will
provide the much-needed public scrutiny of the dual and complementary
agendas that unite US. and Israeli hardliners. Feith's policymaking
fiefdom inside and outside of government continues to drive US.
policy in the Middle East with no evidence that these radical
policies are increasing the national security and welfare of either
the United States or Israel.
Meanwhile tensions with Iran deepen which
suits the Iran war party just fine. "Stability' Michael Ledeen
once said, "gives me the heebee jeebies:'
On September 21, Iran's President Mohammed
Khatami warned that Iran may withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty if Washington and the International Atomic Energy Commission
demand that the country desist from plans to enrich uranium. The
Iranian government says that it has no plans to develop nuclear
weapons, and international inspectors have not determined otherwise.
However, if Iran does proceed with its plans to enrich nearly
40 tons of uranium, which it says will be used to generate electricity,
it is commonly acknowledged that in a few years it could produce
several nuclear bombs.
But it's not only the possibility that
Iran could emerge as the Middle East's second nuclear power that
worries the United States and Israel. At the same time that Washington
was demanding that the Iranian case be sent to the Security Council,
the Iranian army was test-firing its long-range (810 miles) missile-a
demonstration of its commitment to an effective deterrent capacity.
From the point of view of the Middle East
restructurers, Iran represents an increasing threat to regional
stability. Not only does it already have long-range missiles,
and might be developing nuclear weapons, its close ties with the
Shiite majority in Iraq do not bode well for the type of political
and economic restructuring the Bush administration planned for
Iraq. Moreover, neoconservatives and Israelis have long complained
that Iran backs the Hezbollah militias in Lebanon and is fueling
the Shiite rebels in Iraq.
Effectively, Washington has already declared
war on Iran. Being named by President Bush as part of the "Axis
of Evil" triad targeted in the global war on terrorism and
the new U.S. strategy of preemptive war has = made Iran increasingly
Iran-itself a victim of a 1953 British
and U.S.-engineered regime change that installed the Shah-has
seen the United States implement regime change in Iraq to its
west and Afghanistan to its east. Moreover, the US. government
has for the first time solidly allied itself with the military
hardliners in Israel-the region's only nation with nuclear warheads
and one of the few nations that has refused to sign the nonproliferation
Back in 1996, Feith was busy representing
the armament industries in Israel and the United States while
at the same time preparing a policy briefing for the Israeli government.
In A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, Feith
et a!. recommended "a new vision for the US.-Israeli partnership
... based on a shared philosophy of peace through strength"-a
"clean break" policy that is currently being dually
implemented by the Bush and Sharon administrations. The next demonstration
of TI strength may well be with Iran.
TOM BARRY is policy director of the Interhemispheric
Resource Center of Silver City, New Mexico, www.irc-online.org
and director of its Right Web project.