Obama Warned Israel May Bomb Iran


FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: War With Iran

We write to alert you to the likelihood that Israel will attack
Iran as early as this month. This would likely lead to a wider war.

Israel's leaders would calculate that once the battle is joined, it
will be politically untenable for you to give anything less than
unstinting support to Israel, no matter how the war started, and that
U.S. troops and weaponry would flow freely. Wider war could eventually
result in destruction of the state of Israel.

This can be stopped, but only if you move quickly to pre-empt an
Israeli attack by publicly condemning such a move before it happens.

We believe that comments by senior American officials, you
included, reflect misplaced trust in Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin]

Actually, the phrasing itself can be revealing, as when CIA
Director Panetta implied cavalierly that Washington leaves it up to the
Israelis to decide whether and when to attack Iran, and how much "room"
to give to the diplomatic effort.

On June 27, Panetta casually told ABC's Jake Tapper, "I think they
are willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran
diplomatically ... as opposed to changing them militarily."

Similarly, the tone you struck referring to Netanyahu and yourself
in your July 7 interview with Israeli TV was distinctly out of tune with
decades of unfortunate history with Israeli leaders.

"Neither of us try to surprise each other," you said, "and that
approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to."
You may wish to ask Vice President Biden to remind you of the kind of
surprises he has encountered in Israel.

Blindsiding has long been an arrow in Israel's quiver. During the
emerging Middle East crisis in the spring of 1967, some of us witnessed
closely a flood of Israeli surprises and deception, as Netanyahu's
predecessors feigned fear of an imminent Arab attack as justification
for starting a war to seize and occupy Arab territories.

We had long since concluded that Israel had been exaggerating the
Arab "threat" - well before 1982 when former Israeli Prime Minister
Menachem Begin publicly confessed:

"In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in
the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was
really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided
to attack him."

Israel had, in fact, prepared well militarily and also mounted
provocations against its neighbors, in order to provoke a response that
could be used to justify expansion of its borders.

Given this record, one would be well advised to greet with
appropriate skepticism any private assurances Netanyahu may have given
you that Israel would not surprise you with an attack on Iran.

Netanyahu's Calculations

Netanyahu believes he holds the high cards, largely because of the
strong support he enjoys in our Congress and our strongly pro-Israel
media. He reads your reluctance even to mention in controversial
bilateral issues publicly during his recent visit as affirmation that he
is in the catbird seat in the relationship.

During election years in the U.S. (including mid-terms), Israeli
leaders are particularly confident of the power they and the Likud Lobby
enjoy on the American political scene.

This prime minister learned well from Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon.
Netanyahu's attitude comes through in a video taped nine years ago
and shown on Israeli TV, in which he bragged about how he deceived
President Clinton into believing he (Netanyahu) was helping implement
the Oslo accords when he was actually destroying them.

The tape displays a contemptuous attitude toward - and wonderment
at - an America so easily influenced by Israel. Netanyahu says:

"America is something that can be easily moved. Moved in the right
direction. ... They won't get in our way ... Eighty percent of the Americans
support us. It's absurd."

Israeli columnist Gideon Levy wrote that the video shows Netanyahu
to be "a con artist ... who thinks that Washington is in his pocket and
that he can pull the wool over its eyes," adding that such behavior
"does not change over the years."

As mentioned above, Netanyahu has had instructive role models.
None other than Gen. Brent Scowcroft told the Financial Times that
former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush
"mesmerized;" that "Sharon just has him "wrapped around his little

(Scowcroft was promptly relieved of his duties as chair of the
prestigious President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and told
never again to darken the White House doorstep.)

If further proof of American political support for Netanyahu were
needed, it was manifest when Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham
visited Israel during the second week of July.

Lieberman asserted that there is wide support in Congress for using
all means to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power, including
"through military actions if we must." Graham was equally explicit: "The
Congress has Israel's back," he said.

More recently, 47 House Republicans have signed onto H.R. 1553
declaring "support for Israel's right to use all means necessary to
confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran ... including the use
of military force."

The power of the Likud Lobby, especially in an election year,
facilitates Netanyahu's attempts to convince those few of his colleagues
who need convincing that there may never be a more auspicious time to
bring about "regime change" in Tehran.

And, as we hope your advisers have told you, regime change, not Iranian nuclear weapons, is Israel's primary concern.

If Israel's professed fear that one or two nuclear weapons in
Iran's arsenal would be a game changer, one would have expected Israeli
leaders to jump up and down with glee at the possibility of seeing half
of Iran's low enriched uranium shipped abroad.

Instead, they dismissed as a "trick" the tripartite deal, brokered
by Turkey and Brazil with your personal encouragement, that would ship
half of Iran's low enriched uranium outside Tehran's control.

The National Intelligence Estimate

The Israelis have been looking on intently as the U.S. intelligence
community attempts to update, in a "Memorandum to Holders," the NIE of
November 2007 on Iran's nuclear program. It is worth recalling a couple
of that Estimate's key judgments:

"We judge with high confidence that in fall of 2003 Tehran halted
its nuclear weapons program. ... We assess with moderate confidence Tehran
has not restarted its nuclear program as of mid-2007, but we do not
know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons ..."

Earlier this year, public congressional testimony by former
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair (February 1 & 2) and
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Ronald Burgess with Vice
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James Cartwright (April 14) did not
alter those key judgments.

Blair and others continued to underscore the intelligence
community's agnosticism on one key point: as Blair put it earlier this
year, "We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build a nuclear

The media have reported off-the-cuff comments by Panetta and by
you, with a darker appraisal - with you telling Israeli TV "... all
indicators are that they [the Iranians] are in fact pursuing a nuclear
weapon;" and Panetta telling ABC, "I think they continue to work on
designs in that area [of weaponization]."

Panetta hastened to add, though, that in Tehran, "There is a
continuing debate right now as to whether or not they ought to proceed
with the bomb."

Israel probably believes it must give more weight to the official
testimony of Blair, Burgess, and Cartwright, which dovetail with the
earlier NIE, and the Israelis are afraid that the long-delayed
Memorandum to Holders of the 2007 NIE will essentially affirm that
Estimate's key judgments.

Our sources tell us that an honest Memorandum to Holders is likely
to do precisely that, and that they suspect that the several-months-long
delay means intelligence judgments are being "fixed" around the policy -
as was the case before the attack on Iraq.

One War Prevented

The key judgments of the November 2007 NIE shoved an iron rod into
the wheel spokes of the Dick Cheney-led juggernaut rolling toward war on
Iran. The NIE infuriated Israel leaders eager to attack before
President Bush and Vice President Cheney left office. This time,
Netanyahu fears that issuance of an honest Memorandum might have similar

Bottom line: more incentive for Israel to pre-empt such an Estimate by striking Iran sooner rather than later.

Last week's announcement that U.S. officials will meet next month
with Iranian counterparts to resume talks on ways to arrange higher
enrichment of Iranian low enriched uranium for Tehran's medical research
reactor was welcome news to all but the Israeli leaders.

In addition, Iran reportedly has said it would be prepared to halt
enrichment to 20 percent (the level needed for the medical research
reactor), and has made it clear that it looks forward to the resumption
of talks.

Again, an agreement that would send a large portion of Iran's LEU
abroad would, at a minimum, hinder progress toward nuclear weapons,
should Iran decide to develop them. But it would also greatly weaken
Israel's scariest rationale for an attack on Iran.

Bottom line: with the talks on what Israel's leaders earlier
labeled a "trick" now scheduled to resume in September, incentive builds
in Tel Aviv for the Israelis to attack before any such agreement can be

We'll say it again: the objective is regime change. Creating
synthetic fear of Iranian nuclear weapons is simply the best way to
"justify" bringing about regime change. Worked well for Iraq, no?

Another War in Need of Prevention

A strong public statement by you, personally warning Israel not to
attack Iran would most probably head off such an Israeli move. Follow-up
might include dispatching Adm. Mullen to Tel Aviv with
military-to-military instructions to Israel: Don't Even Think of It.

In the wake of the 2007 NIE, President Bush overruled Vice
President Cheney and sent Adm. Mullen to Israel to impart that hard
message. A much-relieved Mullen arrived home that spring sure of step
and grateful that he had dodged the likelihood of being on the end of a
Cheney-inspired order for him to send U.S. forces into war with Iran.

This time around, Mullen returned with sweaty palms from a visit to
Israel in February 2010. Ever since, he has been worrying aloud that
Israel might mousetrap the U.S. into war with Iran, while adding the
obligatory assurance that the Pentagon does have an attack plan for
Iran, if needed.

In contrast to his experience in 2008, though, Mullen seemed troubled that Israel's leaders did not take his warnings seriously.

While in Israel, Mullen insisted publicly that an attack on Iran
would be "a big, big, big problem for all of us, and I worry a great
deal about the unintended consequences."

After his return, at a Pentagon press conference on Feb. 22 Mullen
drove home the same point. After reciting the usual boilerplate about
Iran being "on the path to achieve nuclear weaponization" and its
"desire to dominate its neighbors," he included the following in his
prepared remarks:

"For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international
power are and ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope
they are always and consistently pulled. No strike, however effective,
will be, in and of itself, decisive."

Unlike younger generals - David Petraeus, for example - Adm. Mullen
served in the Vietnam War. That experience is probably what prompts
asides like this: "I would remind everyone of an essential truth: War is
bloody and uneven. It's messy and ugly and incredibly wasteful ..."

Although the immediate context for that remark was Afghanistan,
Mullen has underscored time and again that war with Iran would be a far
larger disaster. Those with a modicum of familiarity with the military,
strategic and economic equities at stake know he is right.

Other Steps

In 2008, after Mullen read the Israelis the riot act, they put
their pre-emptive plans for Iran aside. With that mission accomplished,
Mullen gave serious thought to ways to prevent any unintended (or, for
that matter, deliberately provoked) incidents in the crowded Persian
Gulf that could lead to wider hostilities.

Mullen sent up an interesting trial balloon at a July 2, 2008,
press conference, when he indicated that military-to-military dialogue
could "add to a better understanding" between the U.S. and Iran. But
nothing more was heard of this overture, probably because Cheney ordered
him to drop it.

It was a good idea - still is. The danger of a U.S.-Iranian
confrontation in the crowded Persian Gulf has not been addressed, and
should be. Establishment of a direct communications link between top
military officials in Washington and Tehran would reduce the danger of
an accident, miscalculation, or covert, false-flag attack.

In our view, that should be done immediately - particularly since
recently introduced sanctions assert a right to inspect Iranian ships.
The naval commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards reportedly has
threatened "a response in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz," if
anyone tries to inspect Iranian ships in international waters.

Another safety valve would result from successful negotiation of
the kind of bilateral "incidents-at-sea" protocol that was concluded
with the Russians in 1972 during a period of relatively high tension.

With only interim nobodies at the helm of the intelligence
community, you may wish to consider knocking some heads together
yourself and insisting that it finish an honest Memorandum to Holders of
the 2007 NIE by mid-August - recording any dissents, as necessary.

Sadly, our former colleagues tell us that politicization of
intelligence analysis did not end with the departure of Bush and
Cheney...and that the problem is acute even at the State Department's
Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which in the past has done some of
the best professional, objective, tell-it-like-it-is analysis.

Pundits, Think Tanks: Missing the Point

As you may have noticed, most of page one of Sunday's Washington
Post Outlook section was given to an article titled, "A Nuclear Iran:
Would America Strike to Prevent It? - Imagining Obama's Response to an
Iranian Missile Crisis."

Page five was dominated by the rest of the article, under the title "Who will blink first when Iran is on the brink?"

A page-wide photo of a missile rolling past Iranian dignitaries on a
reviewing stand (reminiscent of the familiar parades on Red Square) is
aimed at the centerfold of the Outlook section, as if poised to blow it
to smithereens.

Typically, the authors address the Iranian "threat" as though it
endangers the U.S., even though Secretary Clinton has stated publicly
that this is not the case. They write that one option for the U.S. is
"the lonely, unpopular path of taking military action lacking allied
consensus." O Tempora, O Mores!

In less than a decade, wars of aggression have become nothing more than lonely, unpopular paths.

What is perhaps most remarkable, though, is that the word Israel is
nowhere to be found in this very long article. Similar think pieces,
including some from relatively progressive think tanks, also address
these issues as though they were simply bilateral U.S.-Iranian problems,
with little or no attention to Israel.

Guns of August?

The stakes could hardly be higher. Letting slip the dogs of war
would have immense repercussions. Again, we hope that Adm. Mullen and
others have given you comprehensive briefings on them.

Netanyahu would be taking a fateful gamble by attacking Iran, with
high risk to everyone involved. The worst, but conceivable case, has
Netanyahu playing - unintentionally - Dr. Kevorkian to the state of

Even if the U.S. were to be sucked into a war provoked by Israel,
there is absolutely no guarantee that the war would come out well.

Were the U.S. to suffer significant casualties, and were Americans
to become aware that such losses came about because of exaggerated
Israeli claims of a nuclear threat from Iran, Israel could lose much of
its high standing in the United States.

There could even be an upsurge in anti-Semitism, as Americans
conclude that officials with dual loyalties in Congress and the
executive branch threw our troops into a war provoked, on false
pretenses, by Likudniks for their own narrow purposes.

We do not have a sense that major players in Tel Aviv or in Washington are sufficiently sensitive to these critical factors.

You are in position to prevent this unfortunate, but likely chain
reaction. We allow for the possibility that Israeli military action
might not lead to a major regional war, but we consider the chances of
that much less than even.

Footnote: VIPS Experience

We VIPS have found ourselves in this position before. We prepared
our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of February 5,
2003 after Colin Powell's speech at the UN.

We had been watching how our profession was being corrupted into
serving up faux intelligence that was later criticized (correctly) as
"uncorroborated, contradicted, and nonexistent" - adjectives used by
former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller after a
five-year investigation by his committee.

As Powell spoke, we decided collectively that the responsible thing
to do was to try to warn the President before he acted on misguided
advice to attack Iraq. Unlike Powell, we did not claim that our analysis
was "irrefutable and undeniable." We did conclude with this warning:

"After watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you
would be well served if you widened the discussion ... beyond the circle
of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling
reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely
to be catastrophic." (https://www.afterdowningstreet.org/downloads/vipstwelve.pdf)

We take no satisfaction at having gotten it right on Iraq. Others
with claim to more immediate expertise on Iraq were issuing similar
warnings. But we were kept well away from the wagons circled by Bush and

Sadly, your own Vice President, who was then chair of the Senate
Foreign Affairs Committee, was among the most assiduous in blocking
opportunities for dissenting voices to be heard. This is part of what
brought on the worst foreign policy disaster in our nation's history.

We now believe that we may also be right on (and right on the cusp
of) another impending catastrophe of even wider scope - Iran - on which
another President, you, are not getting good advice from your closed
circle of advisers.

They are probably telling you that, since you have privately
counseled Prime Minister Netanyahu against attacking Iran, he will not
do it. This could simply be the familiar syndrome of telling the
President what they believe he wants to hear.

Quiz them; tell them oth

ers believe them to be dead wrong on
Netanyahu. The only positive here is that you - only you - can prevent
an Israeli attack on Iran.

Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

  • Phil Giraldi, Directorate of Operations, CIA (20 years)
  • Larry Johnson, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; Department of State, Department of Defense consultant (24 years)
  • W. Patrick Lang, Col., USA, Special Forces (ret.); Senior Executive
    Service: Defense Intelligence Officer for Middle East/South Asia,
    Director of HUMINT Collection, Defense Intelligence Agency (30 years)
  • Ray McGovern, US Army Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA (30 years)
  • Coleen Rowley, Special Agent and Minneapolis Division Counsel, FBI (24 years)
  • Ann Wright, Col., US Army Reserve (ret.), (29 years); Foreign Service Officer, Department of State (16 years)

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