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Are Obama and Netanyahu Trying to Push Iran toward a Nuke?

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Opponents of war with Iran got a boost the other day from an unlikely source. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told a Senate committee, “We do not know … if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

This would be news to most Americans, who for several years have been subjected to a steady drumbeat of alarming reports about Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program and its imminent acquisition of the bomb. Yet here is America’s top intelligence officer admitting that Iran has not even decided to build a weapon.

If this is the case, why is the U.S. government conducting economic warfare against Iran with sanctions and vigorous efforts to get other nations to cease all contact with that country’s central bank? Why is the U.S. House of Representatives attempting to stop the Obama administration from using diplomatic channels to defuse the situation?

The answer is that some interests want Iran’s Islamic regime destroyed or, short of that, badly weakened so that it cannot play any significant role in the Middle East. Leading the charge for an assault on Iran are the Israeli government, American supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the neoconservative foreign-policy activists who promoted war with Iraq on the basis of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

Clapper’s statement is consistent with two national intelligence estimates, made by the U.S. government’s dozen and a half intelligence agencies, that Iran scrapped its nuclear-weapons effort in 2003. That was the year President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein, who attacked Iran in 1980 with U.S. assistance.

Iran is a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which means it is subject to regular inspections. The International Atomic Energy Administration last year certified — once again — that Iran has diverted no uranium to weapons purposes. Iran acknowledges it has enriched uranium for energy and medical purposes, but those eager for an attack on Iran say its ability to enrich uranium at all constitutes a threat warranting a preemptive strike. A few years ago, Iran offered to forgo its program and to obtain non-weapons-grade uranium through trade with Turkey and Brazil. President Obama, however, vetoed the deal, although he had earlier proposed a similar arrangement.

In other words, it appears that nothing Iran does — short of proving a negative — is enough to satisfy the U.S. government and its ally Israel.

One has to wonder what Iran would do with a bomb if it had one. Israel’s government, which openly talks about a future strike (which would require U.S. assistance), offers contradictory theories. On the one hand Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other top officials say they are convinced that Iran wishes to destroy the state of Israel. Yet he recently told Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, writing in the New York Times Magazine, “I accept that Iran has other reasons for developing nuclear bombs.… An Iranian bomb would ensure the survival of the current regime.”

Both theories cannot be true. An Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would bring a massive retaliatory response, most likely destroying the Islamic regime along with much of the country. Israel, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has at least 200 nuclear weapons, some of them on submarines, giving the country an awesome second-strike capability. Thus an Iranian attack on Israel would be suicidal. Yet Barak says the Iranian regime, contradictorily, also wants a bomb to ensure its survival.

Barak also says that a nuclear Iran would serve to protect its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which has fought with Israel. But a clash between Israel and Hezbollah would occur only if Israel invades Lebanon, as it has done twice before.

The American news media has downplayed Clapper’s statement while playing up his warning that Iran appears willing to strike targets inside the United States. However, he made clear that Iran would strike only if it felt threatened — something the Obama administration seems determined to achieve.

Clapper’s acknowledgment that Iran has not decided to build a bomb is significant. But it raises a question that cries out for an answer: Why are the U.S. and Israeli governments working so hard to persuade Iran that it needs one?

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.