Gareth Porter’s Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books) is a densely-researched investigation into how the United States and Israeli governments have exaggerated the threat posed by Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Among the many theses Porter puts forward are the claim that the US and Israel conspired to transform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from a technical agency charged with ensuring compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into a politicized agency that could be manipulated to sway world opinion. Porter argues that Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in a kind of “good cop, bad cop” charade in which Israel appeared to be on the verge of attacking Iran when it had no intention of doing so.
Porter also documents how US corporate media outlets routinely showed little interest in fact-checking US claims about Iran, often sensationalizing “leaks” from US officials concerning forthcoming IAEA reports that were not substantiated when the reports themselves were subsequently published.
Porter has been covering the Iran nuclear scare for nearly a decade for such outlets as the Inter Press Service, The Nation, The Raw Story and Truthout. His skills as an investigative reporter and foreign policy analyst earned him the Martha Gellhorn Prize, awarded to journalists who expose government propaganda.
Porter concedes that for many years Iran acted in a covert manner but argues that this stemmed from US efforts to block Iran from acquiring the technology needed for a civilian nuclear program.
These US actions violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows ratifying countries to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Faced with US-imposed obstacles, Iranian officials believed they had no alternative but to become self-sufficient in producing nuclear energy and to achieve that goal it became necessary to conceal efforts to acquire certain kinds of nuclear technology.
One of Porter’s key points is that Iran’s religious rulers had issued Islamic law judgments (fatwas) against the use of nuclear and chemical weapons. Despite the fact that neighboring Iraq killed nearly 20,000 Iranians and severely injured another 100,000 with chemical weapons during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Iran never retaliated in kind, even though it possessed the ability to master the production of chemical weapons.
Porter argues that US officials routinely ignored the reality of this adherence to religious law as well as statements from Iranian political figures who indicated that Iran would follow the “Japan model” — a kind of latent nuclear weapons capability that in itself could serve as a defensive deterrent without actually producing a nuclear weapon.
As the only nuclear weapons state in the Middle East, with conventional military superiority as well, Israel had reason to oppose Iran acquiring even a break-out nuclear weapons capability. Yet Porter shows that the Israeli military and intelligence establishment largely dismissed Iran as a military threat until Iran began improving the accuracy of its ballistic missiles around the turn of this century.
In fact, it was Iran’s missile program that Netanyahu originally identified as an “existential threat” in 1998 during his first term in office. Israeli efforts to put an end to Iran’s nuclear program were largely motivated by a political agenda that varied in its objectives over the years, Porter maintains.
Under the government of Yitzhak Rabin, for example, Israel reversed its policy of providing secret support to Iran due to their common rivalry with the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the most famous example of which was the Iran-Contra affair. Porter cites evidence that Rabin’s change in policy was dictated by both domestic and strategic needs.
Domestically, Rabin needed a reason for pursuing talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization and ending the Palestinians’ first intifada. By conjuring up the specter of an Iranian nuclear bomb, Rabin tried to convince his domestic political opponents that if Israel failed to end the Palestinian revolt, it would ultimately face a far larger threat from Iran’s Islamic fundamentalism.
Strategically, Rabin hoped to fashion an alliance with Arab countries that feared Iran as a rising power and to position Israel as a key ally to the US at a time when the end of the Cold War jeopardized Israel’s “special relationship.” Iran replaced the Soviet Union as the principal threat to US interests in the Middle East, according to this scenario.
“The idea of Israel as indispensable ally generated a host of political and economic benefits to the Jewish state,” Porter writes, “not the least of which was to persuade the United States to continue to give it wide latitude in its negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Manufactured Crisis also documents the role played by Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, in supporting the Mujahedeen-e-Khalk (MEK), an Iranian rebel group that for decades was on the State Department’s terrorist watch list. The MEK is widely believed to be the group that assassinated several Iranian nuclear scientists.
Porter finds “convincing evidence” that Mossad supplied documents to the MEK purporting to show evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. Porter tells the story of how these so-called laptop documents were discredited among many experts due to technical flaws that exposed them as fabrications.
But Mossad also played a more direct role in trying to steer the IAEA into various investigations that helped feed the Iran nuclear scare, including the alleged role of a Russian nuclear scientist and a supposed chamber designed to test a nuclear weapons trigger.
Finally, the Israel lobby in the US, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also comes under examination. Porter concludes that despite AIPAC’s stranglehold on the US Congress, it ultimately failed to reverse the Obama administration’s decision to give negotiations with Iran more time.
In Porter’s account, the US motivation in the Obama-Netanyahu military threat charade was primarily to induce Iran to return to the bargaining table. Porter provides evidence that Israel’s national security establishment rejected a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but he leaves unclear whether Israel still seeks a joint US-Israeli attack.
He has no doubt, however, that Israel will continue to play a “potent” role in seeing that the manufactured crisis continues.
Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He is active with Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace-Portland Chapter and the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign.