Normally, if two countries with powerful nuclear arsenals were openly musing about attacking a third country over mere suspicions that it might want to join the nuclear club, we’d tend to sympathize with the non-nuclear underdog as the victim of bullying and possible aggression.
You might think that – unless you were told that the two nuclear-armed countries are Israel and the United States and the non-nuclear country is Iran. Then, different rules apply, especially it seems in leading American news outlets like the New York Times.
In what reads like a replay of the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Times and other major U.S. news media appear onboard for war, again happy to make the likely aggressors the “victims,” and to turn the prospect of a bloody conflict in a Muslim country into a parlor game.
Indeed, the New York Times on March 28 presented the idea of “imagining a strike on Iran” as “Washington’s grimmest but most urgent parlor game,” assessing how a military strike by Israel, “acting on its fears that Iran threatens its existence,” would play out.
That same day, the Times also led its front page with an alarmist story about Iranian atomic energy official Ali Akbar Salehi saying Iran might soon begin work on two new nuclear enrichment sites built into mountains to protect against bombings.
The article by reporters David E. Sanger and William J. Broad repeated a recurring falsehood in the Times, that it was President Barack Obama who “publicly revealed the evidence of a [previous] hidden site,” a hardened facility near Qum.
The actual chronology was that Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about the non-operational Qum site on Sept. 21, four days before Obama joined with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in highlighting its existence.
At the time, the Obama administration spun Iran’s earlier disclosure of the Qum facility as having been prompted by Tehran’s awareness that the United States was onto the plant’s existence, but there was no independent evidence of that and the undisputed fact is that Iran disclosed the facility’s existence before Obama’s revelation.
Yet, the Times has now altered the chronology to put Obama’s announcement first, and thus cast Iran into a more sinister light.
The Times’ biased approach toward the Iranian nuclear issue is underscored further by the Times’ refusal to mention that the presumed “victim” in this story, Israel, possesses one of the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenals yet has neither publicly admitted that it has nukes nor signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Indeed, it is the fact that Iran is a treaty signatory -- and renounces any interest in building a nuclear bomb -- that is the basis for IAEA inspections of its facilities and for the legal requirement that it disclose new facilities, such as the one at Qum.
But the through-the-looking-glass quality of the Times coverage is that it portrays Israel as the “victim,” although it is a rogue nuclear-weapons state and refuses to abide by international inspections or other safeguards, restrictions that Iran accepts.
Even more remarkable, Israel is openly contemplating bombing Iran, an act that supposedly would be justified by Israel's assertion that a possible Iranian nuclear bomb would represent "an existential threat" to Israel.
It is true that some Iranian leaders favor a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian impasse, i.e. making the territory of Israel and the West Bank into a non-religious state where both Jews and Arabs would live as equals. Israel also has cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's wish that the “Jewish state” would disappear.
This claim of an “existential threat," in turn, has become the rationale for Israel openly plotting to bomb Iran and its nuclear facilities.
On March 28, David Sanger wrote a “Week in Review” story about the unabashed discussions underway in Tel Aviv and Washington about the geopolitical consequences of attacking Iran, doing what Sen. John McCain once playfully sang about as “bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran.”
Sanger’s article noted that in 2008, “the Israelis secretly asked the Bush administration for the equipment and overflight rights they might need some day to strike Iran’s ... nuclear sites. They were turned down, but the request added urgency to the question: Would Israel take the risk of a strike? And if so, what would follow?
“Now that parlor game question has turned into more formal war games simulations. The [U.S.] government’s own simulations are classified, but the Saban Center for Middle East Policy [a neoconservative adjunct] at the Brookings Institution created its own in December.”
The war game, directed by Kenneth M. Pollack, assumed that Israel would attack Iran without notifying the Obama administration, which would then demand that Israel halt the bombing even as Washington beefed up its own military forces in the Persian Gulf.
As the war game played out, Iran would retaliate against both Israeli targets and Saudi oil fields, spiking oil prices and pushing the United States toward the brink of its own attacks to destroy Iran’s military capability to disrupt oil supplies. At that point – a hypothetical eight days into the conflict – the war game ended.
Interestingly, the Times’ accompanying graphic included a rare – though indirect – acknowledgement of Israel’s undeclared nuclear-weapons capability. In a box entitled “Iran Strikes Back,” the war game anticipated that Iran would fire “missiles at Israel, including its nuclear weapons complex at Dimona.”
It would seem that if the Times truly wanted to provide an objective assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue – including Tehran’s possible motives for wanting a nuclear bomb – the Times would routinely make reference to the region's rogue nuclear states of Israel, India and Pakistan.
That the Times typically ignores that key fact suggests the Times sees its journalism on Iran as similar to its credulous reporting about Iraq’s non-existent WMD in 2002-03, more as propaganda than as a fair-minded presentation of the relevant facts.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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This story was published on April 2, 2010.