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Interview With Journalist Gareth Porter: U.S. Withdrawal From Iran Deal And Threat Of War

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Gareth Porter, independent investigative journalist, historian, and author of the book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” joins the show to talk about the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

Porter addresses recent events involving the backlash to President Donald Trump’s decision, as well as Israel’s military strikes on Iranian targets in Syria.

He outlines the threat of war with Iran and discusses his report, “The Latest Act in Israel’s Iran Nuclear Disinformation Campaign,” which was published at Consortium News.

To listen to the interview, click on the above player or go here.

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Below is a partial transcript of the interview, edited for clarity in a few parts.

GOSZTOLA: This past week Donald Trump made it official and pulled the United States out of the Iran deal. We’ve seen a backlash particularly among European countries that are scrambling. The governments are searching for ways that they might be able to continue the agreement with Iran. We’ve seen discussions about the sanctions. There were sanctions re-imposed upon Iran that are going to really go deep into the fabric of the economy and further destabilize it so Europe is trying to figure out how businesses can continue to trade with Iran.

Meanwhile, some parts of the Syrian opposition are praising Donald Trump for pulling out of the Iran deal. I’ve also seen, and this is hugely important, that Israel is launching military strikes against sites in Syria that it says are Iranian targets. So we’ve got an escalation of war, and they claim that this was in retaliation for a rocket attack on Israeli army bases in the Golan Heights, which is occupied Israeli territory.

Let’s begin with what has developed in the past week.

PORTER: You’re correct to focus in on the combination of Trump’s pullout from the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, on one hand and the Israeli attacks in Syria, particularly the most recent one, but a whole series since the beginning of the year that are increasing in tempo and certainly suggest a very real possibility if not probability of further escalation in Syria. It’s a very serious threat of war that in my mind has extremely wide ramifications.

It’s important to understand two things about this combination of the linked events or developments. First of all, there was a meeting last December in Israel between H.R. McMaster and other top national security officials of the Trump administration and the national security adviser and other top officials of the Israeli government, which according to a report in the Israeli press reached a detailed systematic agreement on a strategy for how to deal with Iran. It was explicitly stated in the report that it covered both the question of what to do about the JCPOA—and of course, that meant agreement that Trump was going to pull out.

Secondly, it had to do with the Israeli intention to go on the offensive militarily in Syria. I think what we’ve seen now is a reflection of an understanding that was reached nearly six months ago between the Trump administration and the Israeli government, and I think the implications of that are extremely important to understand because specifically what the Israelis are doing here is really going on the military offensive not because of an imminent or let alone actual military threat to Israel itself but rather it’s an opportunity presented by the ability of Israel to operate freely in the air over Syria, to go ahead and bomb Iranian targets or Syrian targets where Iranians are present, as well as to use cruise missiles according to one credible report from submarines in the waters off the Syrian coast.

So this is viewed by Syria as a real opportunity, which they’re taking advantage of in the anticipation that it could close up because the Russians would give the S-300 anti-missile technology to the Syrians and thus make it difficult if not impossible for them to continue that kind of offensive.

Just to complete the thought, the most recent one, which just occurred May 10, where the Israelis attacked a large number of targets in Syria and claimed this was in response to an Iranian attack. Of course, what actually happened was that Syrians (it appears primarily if not exclusively) were responding to Israeli attacks that came first. So this is the Israeli practice of confusing the situation by its presentation.

I want to lay that on the table because what we’re facing here is the very real threat of escalation, and what we need to do is to get out in front of this and come up with a comprehensive analysis.

GOSZTOLA: As I understand, there’s been some support institutionally within the U.S. military establishment for the Iran nuclear deal. There’s been reluctance to take irrational action against Iran that could cause immediate blowback. We’ve had periodically, at least since 2005 or 2006, the threat of war with Iran. It’s bubbled up to the surface and then receded and for various has never really come to fruition. I know there’s some institutional support within the Israeli military to possibly even have a deal. But you’ve got right-wing forces it would seem that are intent upon having some kind of war of aggression. Can you talk about that?

PORTER: Yes, I think this is extremely important to lay out more comprehensively just what the real problem in terms of the threat of war with Iran and what the forces are on both sides of the equation, as you’ve correctly set it up. You’re right. Going back to 2004 or 2005 and right up to the present, there have been a whole series of episodes in which there was the apparent possibility of the threat of war coming from the United States.

I talk about on the Israeli side in particular. I have a chapter in my book called “The Phony War Threats,” and I’m referring there to a serious of occasions when [Benjamin] Netanyahu himself and his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, had sort of simulated a threat of war against Iran for their own diplomatic political purposes. It was slightly different in each case, but I can tell you that in no instance is there any reason to believe during that period from 2008 that the Israeli government actually intended to attack Iran.

Israel was feigning that on a serious considerations in order to gain leverage over Iran in order to get the United States government to be more pro-active in doing what Netanyahu wanted it to do, specifically [President Barack Obama’s] administration. They wanted it to pressure Iran and threaten to attack Iran.

In one case in 2012, Netanyahu had an elaborate plan to put Obama in a political situation where he would feel he had no choice—basically a threat to Iran—that if it didn’t cease-and-desist with its nuclear program within a given period of time by a certain date that the United States would be prepared to use military force. Of course, it depended upon pressure from the Republican Party in the election campaign in 2012, as well as the idea that a majority in Congress could put pressure on Obama in that regard and that failed.

Now, the other side of the equation is that, yes, the U.S. Pentagon and the military have been very strongly opposed to the idea of an attack on Iran from the beginning of the period that we’re talking about. Some people with long memories may recall Fox Fallon, the newly named CENTCOM commander in late 2006, early 2007. And I wrote a story on this at the time in which he was quoted telling an associate that no war against Iran would take place on his watch, as he put it, because he would resign and make an issue out of it and make it difficult for the Bush administration to do that.

In the end, we know that in 2007 using an event in Iraq that [Bush] could portray as caused by Iran, indirectly by providing weapons to a Shi’a militia who would cause deaths to multiple troops, that was quashed by the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staffs effectively and that was really the last time that we had that kind of threat of war by a U.S. administration.

I think that is still the case today. We would see any plan hatched by John Bolton and the Trump administration, along those lines, to be opposed very strongly by the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs. At the same time, we don’t have the situation, which you had in 2007, where George W. Bush was listening to the Joint Chiefs and Pentagon because he had realized Dick Cheney had steered him into a terrible mistake in Iraq. So that is seriously a problem if that idea crops up in the next year or two. It’s not going to be quite the same situation as we had in 2007.

GOSZTOLA: It does seem we’ve seen from this permanent war state that while the military may have been hesitant to carry out certain acts under Bush they will find a way to satisfy Donald Trump as they’ve done in relation to Syria, giving him some kind of a set of options that he can carry out when he makes proclamations that there will be an act of aggression carried out in response to something. I suppose that makes the situation more hairy then previous administrations.

PORTER: I agree with that general analysis. We do know that James Mattis, secretary of defense, still does have Trump’s ear to an extent that at least gives him some degree of ability and makes it possible that he might be effective in opposing war against Iran. And let’s be clear that the reason that Mattis and the Joint Chiefs will oppose any plan that might be cooked up by Bolton and his friends is that as soon as the United States took the first step toward war they would be able to say, look, what’s Iran’s response going to be?

They know Iran has anti-ship missiles that could destroy U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz instantly; that they don’t have any defense against it, and they would lose very important assets from their point of view for reasons they would not be clear about having any validity.

I do think you’re right that he can ask for the options. They would be inclined to give him the military plans he asked for, but of course, he’d be giving the order through Mattis, and Mattis could then resign if he had the spine to do so. That would be one of the questions we would have to be looking at at that point.

GOSZTOLA: The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal was preceded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coming forward and doing this twenty-minute presentation. As we’ve said on this show, Rania and myself, we believe this was another disinformation hit that you could add to Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest disinformation hits collection if you wanted. He claimed to have stolen Iranian files. Talk about what he was doing through this presentation.

PORTER: Right. I totally agree with that characterization of this theatrical performance of Netanyahu. It was a completely implausible tale that he was peddling there about sort of stealing a half a ton of what he called atomic archives out from under the noses of the Defense Ministry and police and so forth. That tall tale was expanded in other stories that I’ve seen—in the British press, particularly, adding more implausible details to it.

There’s nothing in that presentation that could not be easily fabricated or made up. Pictures that he was showing had no necessary connection with the Iranian government whatsoever. There is absolutely nothing to connect them. And the documents that he did, in fact, show on screen are all documents that go back to the cache of documents that suddenly surfaced in 2004. The CIA got them from German intelligence, and they were then peddled to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005. The IAEA under Mohamed El Baradei basically refuse to use them as evidence against Iran for four years for very good reason.

Baradei was convinced that they were not authentic for a variety of reasons. What I’ve shown in my book, “Manufactured Crisis,” and in other writing that I’ve done is those documents were turned over to the BND, the German foreign intelligence agency, in 2004 not by somebody who was a spy for the Germans within the Iranian government secret nuclear weapons program but rather by a sometime source that German intelligence who happened to belong to the Mujahideen-E Khalq, the MEK, which has been known as an armed Iranian exiled terrorist organization because they used to blow up targets where civilians were meeting in Iran and had worked for Saddam Hussein against Iran and against some of his own people in Iraq and then basically worked hand-in-hand with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency.

We know that MEK was given the coordinates of the Natanz nuclear facility in 2002 by Mossad and then made it public. It was a way to launder intelligence that the Israelis did not want to have attributed to themselves, and it was quite effective as a public relations political device. So what the MEK did was to turn over documents they had gotten very clearly form Mossad, which I’ve also shown in my book and in other published work, were fabricated.

There are a couple key indications that I’ve talked about at length. One, on the documents that show the warhead or re-entry vehicle of the Shahab-3 missile. This was one of those that Netanyahu showed. Many people who watched that will remember that as one of the images flashed on the screen.

The problem with that image is that it was the wrong re-entry vehicle. It was the re-entry vehicle that we now know from official sources, including the CIA, was discarded by Iran as early as 2000, as they began to re-design the Shahab-3 and turn into what ultimately was a very different missile with much more range, a longer performance.

But the Iranians cleverly kept that information about the re-design from the outside world, and so the Israeli Mossad was not aware that when they were fabricating these documents in 2002-2003, the Iranian Defense Ministry had already gone on to a completely different design for the re-entry vehicle, which had a baby bottle shape rather than a conical shape that you see in the one that was flashed on the screen. That was the most spectacular indication that I’ve talked about in my writing that these documents were a fabrication.

Then there was another storyline that I won’t go into detail on, but it had to do with the so-called green salt drawing of a bench scale plan for conversion of uranium for enrichment. The problem there was that was connected to a larger Project 5 in these documents that included a sub-project they called Project 5.15 but it wasn’t part of the secret nuclear weapons program or project. It was a civilian-run atomic energy organization of Iran project that the IAEA got the official documents on and the contract for that project was signed to two and a half years before this supposed nuclear weapons project, as early as 1999.

Again, the people who fabricated the projects did not count on the IAEA getting information.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."