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2012-02-16

Iran Tensions Rise with Diplomat Bombings, Scientist Killings, Nuke Claims and Media Warmongering

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Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified with bomb blasts targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia and Iranian accusations of Israeli responsibility for the assassinations of Iranian scientists. Iran, meanwhile, is claiming significant new advances in its nuclear program, citing new uranium enrichment centrifuges and domestically made reactor fuel. "If you listen to the media, you would see Iran as this sort of irrational aggressor, this country that is just kind of lashing out arbitrarily at other nations, and specifically at Israel and the United States, for no reason," says Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. "What’s so amazing about that is it completely ignores the context of what the United States and Israel have been doing to Iran." We’re also joined by Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council. "What makes this [conflict] so dangerous and increasingly likely is there’s little to no communication going on between the parties," Marashi says. "And when you don’t communicate, that increases the likelihood for misperceptions and miscalculations." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Iran, which is claiming it has made significant new advances in its nuclear program, citing new uranium enrichment centrifuges and domestically made reactor fuel. According to state media reports, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has inserted the first Iranian-manufactured fuel rod into a Tehran test reactor. In a speech broadcast on state television, Ahmadinejad hailed Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] I am announcing that within the regulations of the agency, we are ready to share our nuclear know-how with the IAEA member states. The nation of Iran has found its bright path—nuclear—one that our martyrs opened for us. We saw the mother of the martyrs say one thing: continue in the path of the martyr. Our nuclear path will continue.

JUAN GONZALEZ: U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland downplayed Ahmadinejad’s announcement by saying the Iranian uranium enrichment advances were neither particularly new nor impressive. However, Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu had a far harsher response. He called Iran, quote, "the world’s greatest exporter or terror," and said Iranian aggression threatens the safety of countries around the world.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Iran is the world’s greatest exporter of terror. During these very days, Iran’s terror actions have been revealed to everyone’s eyes. Iran upsets the stability of the world. It harms innocent diplomats in many countries. And the countries of the world must condemn Iran’s terror actions and demarcate red lines against Iranian aggression. If such aggression is not stopped, it will spread to many countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Israeli officials are blaming Iran after Israeli diplomats were targeted in nearly simultaneous bombings in India and the former Soviet state of Georgia. Four people were injured in India, including the wife of the Israeli embassy’s defense attaché. The bomb in Georgia was disarmed after it was discovered on a vehicle parked at the Israeli embassy. Iran denied responsibility for Monday’s bombings, saying the Israeli accusations were part of a "psychological war" against it. Yesterday, two Iranians were arrested and charged with plotting the bomb attack in Bangkok, according to Thailand’s foreign minister. Iran has also accused Israel of being behind the recent assassinations of five Iranian nuclear scientists inside Iran.

Well, for more, we’re joined now by two guests. Reza Marashi joins us from Washington, D.C., research director at the National Iranian American Council. And Glenn Greenwald joins us via Democracy Now! video stream, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger for Salon.com. He’s been writing about what he calls irresponsible media fear mongering around Iran.

Reza Marashi and Glenn Greenwald, welcome to Democracy Now! Glenn, let’s start with you. You know, we just finished a conversation with Jeremy Scahill about the targeting of American citizens in Yemen, the killing of Awlaki, his son, and the killing of many other Yemenis by drone attacks. Can you talk now about what we’re seeing with Iran and Israel?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what’s so bizarre is that if you listen to the media, you would see Iran as this sort of irrational aggressor, this country that is just kind of lashing out arbitrarily at other nations, and specifically at Israel and the United States, for no reason. And what’s so amazing about that is it completely ignores the context of what the United States and Israel have been doing to Iran for the last several years.

On a virtually daily basis, you can pick up newspapers in either of those countries and see constant threats issued to attack Iran. There is widespread belief, among virtually everybody, that those two nations jointly were responsible for a very sophisticated cyber warfare attack on the nation’s nuclear facilities with the Stuxnet virus. There have been a string of Iranian scientists who have been murdered through means that are clearly terroristic, whether it means bombs exploding on Iranian soil or magnetic bombs strapped to cars, where scientists have been killed, their wives have been severely wounded. And you even have an NBC report from last week that says that a dissident organization that has long been devoted to the overthrow of the Iranian government, the MEK, a group that the United States government has long classified as a terrorist organization, is being armed, funded and trained by Israel. And we’ve known for a long time that numerous prominent American officials and politicians from both parties are on the payroll of the MEK and have been advocating on their behalf.

So when you talk about Iran’s terrorist network and engaging in terrorism and aggression, what I think we need to realize, first and foremost, is that they’ve been the target of exactly those sorts of attacks by the U.S. and Israel, at the same time that the U.S. virtually has Iran militarily encircled with military bases in virtually every bordering country. And just like Jeremy described how, when you drone attack and kill citizens in a country like Yemen, you generate severe blowback and anti-American animus, the same thing is obviously going to happen when you target a country like Iran with those sorts of series of attacks. And it’s why diplomacy and negotiation—exactly what the U.S. government refuses to do—is the far better course.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Glenn, one of the points that you’ve made in some of your writings is that the astounding press clamor around Iran is somewhat different from the clamor in the lead-up to the war against Iraq, in that the press seems to be even more vociferous than the administration, whereas, at least in the situation with Iraq, it was the administration that was using the press, and the press was going along. But in this case, it seems that the press is its own agent in drumming up war.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, by all appearances, the top levels of the Obama administration are not particularly anxious for a military conflict with Iran, whether that’s because they believe it’s not the right course of action or because it would be politically harmful to the President in an election year. I think all signs have been pretty clear that the Obama administration would like to avoid a military confrontation and is not really out there beating the drums of war. They’re certainly demonizing Iran. They’re orchestrating very severe sanctions that are harming the people of Iran in increasingly serious ways. But they don’t really seem to be eager for a confrontation with Iran the way the Bush administration was with regard to Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

I think what you’re seeing is the military—the American media speaks to people other than top-level Obama administration officials. They speak to Israeli officials. They speak to neoconservatives who are very much in positions of influence. They speak to other people who are probably hawkish within the Obama administration, who do seem to want a confrontation with Iran. And the American media is leading the way, as usual, in demonizing Iran, in ratcheting up fear levels. There was an extraordinarily irresponsible report yesterday from ABC News, Diane Sawyer and Brian Ross, claiming that synagogues and other Jewish facilities in New York City and around the country are now targets of Iranian terror, even though there is zero evidence for any sort of claim like that. There are now claims from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post that Iran has an operational relationship with al-Qaeda. And so, what you see is exactly the same kind of techniques—they’re not even hiding it—that were used to lead the nation to war in 2002 and 2003 are now being employed for Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, we want to go to a clip of that report on ABC News that you just referred to by Diane Sawyer and Brian Ross. Sawyer begins by warning a kind of shadow war being waged by Iran around the world.

DIANE SAWYER: Evidence of a kind of shadow war now being waged by Iran around the world. Tonight, Israeli and Jewish facilities everywhere, including here in the U.S., are on heightened alert. Overseas today, three U.S. warships defied Iranian threats and entered the vital oil gateway, the Strait of Hormuz—our own Martha Raddatz right there on board, and she’ll bring us her report in a moment. But first we want to tell you what is causing this new concern and the evidence of secret Iranian attacks. ABC’s chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross has been talking to the FBI all day. Brian.

BRIAN ROSS: Well, Diane, it appears to be hit squad versus hit squad, with the FBI telling ABC News tonight it is worried the violence could spill over to the U.S. Israeli diplomatic facilities and Jewish places of worship in at least 10 U.S. cities have been told they could be targets.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the report by Brian Ross and Diane Saweyer on ABC. Reza Marashi, let’s bring you into this discussion. You’re with the National Iranian American Council. Your response, and how Iranians are responding right now as the escalation of rhetoric against Iran continues?

REZA MARASHI: Well, this Iranian government has recently changed its strategic calculus and its strategic outlook, and has said very plainly multiple times that they will now respond to pressure with pressure. And, you know, I think we need to look beyond and move past this chicken-and-egg argument of who’s doing what to who and who did it first, and focus on how do we stop it, because there is a steadily increasing chance of conflict between the United States and Iran, and Israel, that could draw in the rest of the world, that I think all parties would independently seek to avoid.

What makes this so dangerous and increasingly likely is there’s little to no communication going on between the parties. And when you don’t communicate, that increases the likelihood for misperceptions and miscalculations. And when you misperceive and you miscalculate and you’re not communicating, very, very bad things can happen.

And, you know, the Obama administration started its Iran policy when it came into office in an effort to try and shift the paradigm. And various domestic and international political forces, including the Iranian government’s own actions, but not limited to, have caused the Obama administration to shift back to what’s essentially what the Bush policy was when Bush left office. And we’re in a dangerous place now. I don’t think that means that war is going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month. But again, when you don’t have channels of communication that can prevent escalation and let people know what red lines are and things like that, then you are setting a dangerous precedent that could quickly spiral out of control.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Reza Marashi, what do you make of the announcement by President Ahmadinejad yesterday in terms of progress in Iran in nuclear enrichment?

REZA MARASHI: It’s a great question. You know, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same day that the Iranian government responded positively to a letter from the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, to resume negotiations, they make these nuclear announcements, they put on a nuclear show. I think what they’re doing is signaling to the United States and the international community that they’ll come to the table and negotiate, but they will not give up their rights through pressure. They will not let pressure force them to capitulate their nuclear rights at the negotiating table.

And right now, if that message isn’t internalized in Washington to the degree that it seriously considers what Iran’s security interests and preferences are, and Washington doesn’t seriously consider whether or not it can address them, then these negotiations are going to fail. So, we need to take a step back and shift the paradigm. We need to take a step back and say, "All right, this is what the Iranian government is doing. This is what they’re seeking to accomplish." Not all of our interests overlap with the Iranian government, but there are some interests that do overlap. So, focusing on the nuclear issue exclusively, where there really isn’t a lot of overlap, is going to doom negotiations to failure. The agenda needs to be broadened to focus on areas of mutual interest, mutual concern, increase the likelihood of not only a way to find a peaceful solution to this crisis and diffuse it, but also figure out a way to get back on the same page, because there’s been little to no dialogue and conversation going on. And that’s the right way to move things, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, President Obama said in an interview with NBC that the United States is working in lockstep with Israel to deal with Iran’s disputed nuclear program. I want to go to that clip.

MATT LAUER: Has Israel promised you that they would give you advanced warning to any such attack, should they give you that warning?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I won’t go into the details of our conversations. I will say that we have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we ever have. And my number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel, and we are going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically.

AMY GOODMAN: Reza Marashi, talk about the U.S.-Israel relationship in relation to Iran. And especially in watching the media in these last few days, with the attempted assassinations of Israeli officials in various places—in India, in the former Soviet state of Georgia—very little reference to—how horrendous that is, but very little reference to what happened before, with the assassinations of the Iranian scientists. And I’m wondering what Iranian public is feeling about this.

REZA MARASHI: Oh, you’re asking great questions. Let’s unpack that a little bit. I mean, there is no relationship between Iran and the United States. I think we should be very honest about that. That’s one of the most dangerous things about this situation as it moves forward. You know, when you bring Israel into the equation, I think President Obama has been a great friend to Israel. There are no greater friend to Israel than President Obama, and his track record speaks to that, irrespective of what neoconservative officials in the United States or right-wing officials in the Israeli government may say.

I think, at the end of the day, the United States and Israel are on the same page. They’re not in lockstep, though. I think the Israeli government is more hawkish on the Iran issue than the United States government is. Interests don’t entirely overlap, but Prime Minister Netanyahu will be coming to Washington for the AIPAC conference in the coming weeks, and, you know, they’ll continue to try to get on the same page. But, you know, the United States realizes that negotiations are going to be necessary—sustained negotiations, because negotiations can’t—excuse me, can’t work in a day, a week, a month. It’s going to take some time. And they realize that, and I think Israel is slowly coming around to that conclusion, as well.

But speaking about the assassinations, I mean, at the end of the day, terrorism is terrorism. And we shouldn’t sit here and talk about one form of terrorism being OK and another form of terrorism not being OK. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms, irrespective of who’s doing it. And, you know, Israel takes pride in the fact that it calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East. So, engaging in acts of terrorism, irrespective of who those acts of terrorism are targeting—and it does fit the U.S. government’s own definition of terrorism, state sponsorship of terrorism—is unbefitting of the country that considers itself the only democracy in the Middle East. So, we need to take a step back, establish what the rules of the game are, or at least acknowledge what they are, because we do know what these rules are, and proceed accordingly to try and diffuse the crisis. I think right now we’re locked in this paradigm of conflict management rather than conflict resolution. And I think the most dangerous part about that is, rather than the governments controlling the conflict dynamic, the conflict dynamic is beginning to control the governments.

AMY GOODMAN: Reza, we only have 30 seconds, but the Green Movement, how powerful it is right now? They were protesting in New York recently. They’re against war with Iran. They’re against sanctions against Iran. And they’re not supportive of the Iranian government of Ahmadinejad.

REZA MARASHI: I think that the Green Movement can be considered to be a very diverse socioeconomic swath of Iranian society. The Iranian government’s own repression has made, you know, mobilization and movement towards a more democratic future in Iran much more difficult, but I would argue that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Iranians are capable of achieving their goals indigenously. And the United States should follow the lead of the Iranian people, rather than vice versa.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us, Reza Marashi, with the National Iranian American Council, and Glenn Greenwald, joining us from Brazil, constitutional law attorney and blogger at Salon.com. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute. We’re going to go south to look at the hundreds of prisoners who just died in a prison in Honduras. Stay with us.

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