Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

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Increased Tension Between the West and Iran Risks Unintended Military Confrontation

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Posted Dec. 7, 2011

Interview with Robert Naiman, policy director of the group Just Foreign Policy, conducted by Scott Harris


A confluence of recent events has dramatically increased tensions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and western nations. The early November release of an International Atomic Energy Agency report presenting evidence that Iran had been developing a nuclear warhead over the past decade, while also working toward long-range missile capability, provoked calls for more severe economic sanctions. A massive explosion at an Iranian solid fuel missile testing site on Nov. 12, destroying the facility, has prompted speculation that this blast and another at a uranium conversion facility in Isafahan, could have been the result of a U.S. or Israeli covert sabotage operation. The Nov. 29 Iranian student invasion and trashing of the British embassy in Tehran moved relations between the two nations to the breaking point. The embassy incident was followed by reports on Dec. 4 that Iran had shot down a sophisticated U.S. stealth reconnaissance drone over Iranian airspace.

In response to these events, and the reported earlier assassination of four Iranian nuclear scientists and a computer virus attack on the nation’s uranium enrichment program, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced that they have raised their readiness level to confront potential external air strikes and covert attacks.

While Iran has long maintained that their nuclear research program is for civilian energy production only, both the U.S. and Israel have in the past threatened to launch airstrikes to derail what they believe is a drive to build nuclear weapons. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Robert Naiman, policy director of the group, Just Foreign Policy, who assesses the risk of a military confrontation between Iran and the west as the U.S. presidential election campaign moves into high gear.

ROBERT NAIMAN: In analyzing particular events, there's a lot we don't know. There was an explosion in Iran; why was there an explosion in Iran? Who knows. It could've been an accident, as the Iranian government itself is saying. It could be the result of an Israeli or U.S. covert operation. We don't know.

Tensions have been increasing. The Senate just passed on a vote of 100-0 last week legislation requiring the president to impose broad sanctions on Iran's central bank. This is a major escalation of the sanctions. Remember that at the beginning of this conflict, there were sanctions on Iran's nuclear program. Now the Senate, under the leadership of Sen. Mark Kirk, (R-Ill.) who introduced this amendment, is really pushing for attacking Iran's whole economy. And Sen. Kirk is being quite explicit that his goal is to destroy the Iranian economy, make the Iranian people suffer. That's his goal.

This is a major escalation. We've got a Republican presidential campaign going on now, and some of the candidates, particularly the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has been very aggressive in his rhetoric about Iran, calling, talking about a military buildup, having a military option with Iran. And this is also happening in context where we again, as we've seen so many times before in the run-up to the International Atomic Energy Agency's report, there were again threats from Israel to attack Iran. This is a pattern. It seems every time that the issue of Iran's nuclear program is on the international table, then there are these threats that Israel will attack Iran, and it seems clear and in fact, this is often openly stated that the Israeli goal is to pressure Europe in particular to agree to whatever sanctions are being proposed. And so, the Europeans in a way are being threatened on Iran by Israel's military threat because of course, there would be significant economic and political collateral damage for Europe in particular, and also the United States. The Obama administration has said if the Israeli government were to attack Iran militarily, that Israel could respond by closing the straits of Hormuz, for example, through which the majority of the world's oil passes. It would be a huge disruption in the world economy at a time when already the world economy is quite fragile.

So yes, there is an escalation going on, not just in the present, but with some indications about a possibility in the future. Imagine, if Mitt Romney becomes the president of the United States in January 2013. If we see a war with Iran, we'll be more likely to see a war with Iran then. Many of Romney's advisers are people who served early in the Bush administration who were cheerleaders for war with Iraq. So yeah, there are a lot of troubling signs with respect to the potential for military conflict with Iran.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Are there actors within the Obama administration that will do their best to avoid a military conflict with Iran going into this very dangerous year of saber-rattling around the U.S. presidential election, or do you think that the country could find itself in a new conflict with Iran in the next 12 months?

ROBERT NAIMAN: I think that both those things are true. I think that the administration does not want war with Iran, and is not trying to push the U.S. toward war with Iran. Instead, it is trying to pursue this policy of sanctions and possibly covert action on Iran's (nuclear) program.

However, those policies are dangerous in the sense that the more you escalate the sanctions from narrow sanctions to broad sanctions that are really attacking the economy and the more you do things that are alleged, (like) the U.S. government and the Israeli government assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists, the more things you do things like that, the more you run a risk of an Iranian retaliation which might provoke U.S. or Israeli retaliation and so on and so forth. So things could escalate out of control even if it's not the goal – I don't think it is the goal of the Obama administration to have a war with Iran – but it is the goal of the Obama administration to dramatically increase pressure on Iran, possibly with the goal of regime change.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Robert, along with conservative politicians in this country that want to use foreign policy issues as a cudgel to beat up Barack Obama in advance of the November 2012 election, there is some thought that the Iranian hardliners benefit in some way from confrontation and even airstrikes on the country in that nation is quite divided in terms of a lot of opposition to the mullahs and the fundamentalist government there, and that an attack on the country would stoke nationalism and distract people from any kind of internal dissension going on.

ROBERT NAIMAN: Well I think there's no question that an escalation in the external confrontation benefits hardliners in Iran and benefits the government at the expense of civil society and democratic space, and this trend is well known. I think it's not an accident; and many people think it's not a total coincidence that the protest movement in Iran of 2009 happened in a context where there had been a de-escalation at the beginning of the Obama administration. Obama came in talking about diplomacy with Iran, made some positive gestures. People in Iran stopped believing that the U.S. was going to attack or that attack from the U.S. was imminent. That increased political space because it decreased the ability of the government there to rally people against the threat from the United States. Just the escalation of the climate of confrontation constricts the political space in Iran.

Find more analysis and commentary about the rising tensions with Iran at Just Foreign Policy's website at

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