During the Veterans for Peace National Convention in Seattle, I conducted an interview with Ray McGovern. McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
In the second installment of this interview series for Truthout, McGovern discusses US policy regarding Iran, a US/Israel “mutual defense treaty” and the security ramifications for Israel.
Dahr Jamail: What is your perspective on the possibility that the US could take the present day situation in Lebanon and use it as a pretext to wage war against Iran?
Ray McGovern: If you are talking about pretexts, there doesn’t have to be much reality behind the pretexts. We saw that in Central America. We were told that the Soviets were going to use the Nicaraguans as pawns to come up into Texas, remember? Did Ronald Reagan really believe this?
They don’t really have to plant anything – they’ve got the Iranian missiles there [southern Lebanon] there are stories about Iranian soldiers in there advising them, stories which to my knowledge are not true. But if they want to use this as a pretext to take off after Iran, they are free to do so.
Who would do it? As with the case with respect to Iraq, Iran poses no danger to the US. I repeat, no danger to the US. Iran has not started any wars in that part of the world. They hate us for other reasons. They hate us because they had a democratically elected government in 1953 and we overthrew it because we wanted their oil, pure and simple. They know that, and they are used to it, and they don’t want it anymore.
DJ: How does this lead into Iran, if you are the policy-makers in Israel/US?
RM: What we have here is that Israel does feel threatened. Why? Because the Israelis have a nuclear monopoly now in the Middle East, and most people believe they have about 300 nuclear weapons which they can fire from missiles and submarines and whatever else. And Iran and their other neighbors have none.
Now, if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon, would that be a threat to Israel’s security? I don’t think so. They’d have to be suicidal to mount an attack on Israel because they would be obliterated. What would it give Iran? It would give Iran a certain modicum of what we used to call deterrence. It’s a word that’s dropped out of the vocabulary of Washington but it worked for 40 years after WWII. It would give them a measure of deterrence. So if the Iranians, say 10 years from now, saw the Israelis about to pounce on Syria and do what they are doing to Lebanon, in this case to Syria, perhaps the Ayatollahs would say, “Now wait a minute, we know of your plans. Don’t think that you can do this with impunity.”
And this would give the Israelis pause. Up until now, they have had free reign, they have been unencumbered in doing whatever they hell they please in the West Bank, in Gaza, and now in Lebanon, with the support of the US government and military, and they don’t want to lose that kind of freedom of action. So they are hell bent on preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. In that sense they see a threat.
Now, our government … On inauguration day 2005 Dick Cheney found it necessary to say that Iran was a terrible threat, the top of the list of threats to us. That it should not get a nuclear weapon. And that the Israelis just might go ahead and take that capability out and let the rest of us pick up the pieces.
He said that in such a way as to indicate that that would be fine with him, it’s a possibility, and why not? Since then, the president in the US has time after time talked about “our ally Israel.” That “our ally Israel” deserves our support, and if “our ally Israel” is attacked, we will automatically spring to its aid under our defense treaty.
Now, Americans who might be reading this, listen up, as we used to say in the Army. There is no treaty of mutual defense between the US and Israel. That’s a lie. It’s a misrepresentation; juridically speaking Israel is not our ally.
I’ve often been interested in that. When I started out as an analyst I wondered, why is there no treaty? And I concluded, very understandably, that this was a mark of US prudence. Why would we want to tick off the Arabs even more than we already have? Why would we want to be juridically obliged to engage in hostilities in the Middle East?
But guess what? That wasn’t the case at all. In 1967 after the first Arab/Israeli War, we offered Israel a mutual defense treaty with the rationale that perhaps this would give the Arabs pause from attacking Israel again, and give us a certain leverage over the Israelis. And guess what? The Israelis said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I was surprised to hear that. I asked the people who were involved in this, who happen to be involved in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, including one person who was actually in the process of making this overture to Israel. I said, “Why did they turn it down?” He said, “Ray, mutual defense treaties require clearly defined international boundaries. And the Israelis, after they took the occupied territories in ’67 and ’73, didn’t want any part of clearly defined international boundaries. And also, the Israelis really like to be able to do what they want to do. If they want to attack Iraq and take out the Osirak nuclear reactor as they did in 1981, they don’t want to have to ask Washington, they just want to do it. So they didn’t want to be inhibited by any of the normally accepted norms of behavior. If you have a mutual defense treaty, you usually tell the other partner what you’re going to do, if you are going to invade or bomb another country.”
So what’s the upshot of all of this? There is no mutual defense treaty between Israel and the US. But why does the president say there is? Well, I don’t know why he says there is. General Scowcroft, his father’s National Security Advisor, told us, “Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger.” He had our president “mesmerized,” according to Scowcroft.
In any case, he has made it out that there is a defense treaty with Israel. So, the Israelis are smiling all the way to the bank and saying, “Hey, we have no treaty obligations on the one hand, and yet we’ve got just as good as a treaty because the president either really believes there is one or he’s going to act as if there is one. So we’ve got the best of both worlds. We can have our cake and eat it too.”
That, to me, bespeaks a violation of the admonition of our very first president, who happened to be a general and knew about this kind of stuff. George Washington warned us, very vividly, against entangling alliances. The kind of alliances where the perceived needs of another country become inextricably woven around what we perceive to be the needs of our country. When, in fact, those needs do not coincide.
DJ: What are some of the intermediate steps US/Israeli policy makers might take before beginning a war with Iran?
RM: So this is a very important factor here, and I mention that because if this president is going to proceed on the assumption that Israel is a mutual defense treaty partner of ours, and Israel takes off after Iran and takes the first shot (and they do have the capability, not of doing the whole job, but of doing half or 3/4 of it, with our weaponry of course, our smart bombs and everything else) then, as Cheney pretty much explicitly said, we will be in the position of picking up the pieces. Because Israel is our ally, and we’ll be involved in what will be the most dangerous situation that our country has faced since Pearl Harbor.
We’ll be involved in a major war in the Persian Gulf with a country that has done us no wrong, has posed no threat to us – but has in Israeli eyes caused a possible longer-term threat – a country that has incredible oil resources which the Chinese desperately need, which the Indians desperately need. And we’ll have a major world conflagration there, because I’m sure the Iranians will – I’m sure – do the kinds of things that will put the world economy back several steps, drive up the price of gasoline to over $10 a gallon, and cause all manner of trouble to our troops in Iraq.
Our troops in Iraq are incredibly vulnerable. The Iranians can send three Revolutionary Guard Divisions right across that border into Iraq within a week or two. And our guys are busy with the resistance on the part of most of the Iraqi population. We’re not deployed to contain an invasion from Iran. Indeed, the Iranians wouldn’t even have to do it themselves. All they have to do is encourage their Shia allies to cut our lines of communication and cut our supply line between Kuwait and Baghdad, an easy thing to do, and our guys would be in deep kimshei. Because what happens then? The only option the US would have would be to use these clever mini-nukes. That really scares me because the people advising this president are convinced that these mini-nukes are just a little more powerful than high explosive weaponry and our air force is so precision targeted that we can cope with this kind of thing. Not only if the Iranians pour across the Iraqi border, but if the North Koreans start to fool around … and this is idiocy. Anyone who knows about either of these situations, the Middle East or Korea, knows that these are not options, and if they are options everyone will suffer monstrous losses.
DJ: Next week, the final segment of this interview with Ray McGovern.