The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!

Summary:  Israel and America appear to be conducting a “psy-war” or information operation against Iran.  Whatever its effect on Iran, it has contributed to skyrocketing oil prices, making it the most expensive psy-war ever — at least in terms of what we (Americans, the world) are paying for this game.  I hope the benefits are worth the cost, but I doubt it.

Here is the latest volley of rumors, in chronological order:  about Israel aircraft landing at US bases in Iraq.  I attempt to get as close as possible to the original sources; accuracy decreases rapidly — even among “professional media” — as these stories are passed along.

(1)  The original news story: Nahrainnet, usually described as an “Iraqi news service” or “Sadrist web site”.  No English translation available, that I can find.  As Roger notes in the comments, this story might have been planted by Israel’s government — or ours, or Iran’s.  Any number can play the info-ops game.

One interesting detail of this show the sloppiness of our media professionals:  the source is widely given as Nahrainnet.com, an unrelated online gambling faux-site (the AFP story, #3 below, even includes a link to this).  Perhaps the reports are confusing it with Naharnet.com, the Lebanese news site.

(2)  “Israeli jets using Iraq’s airspace?“, Iran’s Press TV, 10 July 2008 — The first English-language report I found.  Opening:

The US has allowed Israeli jets to use US airbases in Iraq and fly over Iraqi airspace for a likely attack against Iran, Iraqi media say.  It is more than a month that some Israeli planes belonging to Israeli air force use the US military bases in Iraq to land and take off, Iraqi Nahrainnet news network said Wednesday, quoting informed sources close to Iraq’s Defense Ministry.

The activities and traffic of warplanes- especially at nights- has lately increased in the US air bases in Nasiriya southeast of Baghdad and Haditha a city in the western Iraq province of Al Anbar, the Iraqi residents and sources said.  They said the US fighters, cargo planes, helicopters and unmanned planes have intensified their flights in the last three weeks.

The US military officials have imposed severe security measures around the bases, they said.

They said some aircraft suspected to be Israeli warplanes coming from Jordan, have landed in the US controlled al-Assad airbase near Haditha.  It is believed that these activities are parts of a joint Israeli-US training, preparation and coordination to launch an air raid against Iran’s nuclear plants.

(3)  “Israeli jets use Iraqi airspace to practice Iran strike“, AFP, 11 July 2008 — Excerpt:

{Iraq} Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari dismissed the report on Friday.  “We have no information about Israeli jets using Iraqi airspace for rehearsals,” he told AFP.

(4)  Reuters, 11 July 2008 — Excerpt:

Issuing an official denial, the Israeli military spokesman said: “Reports about putative Israeli air force (IAF) activities in Iraq are utterly baseless.”  The Pentagon also dismissed the report. “I find that report inconceivable, and clearly someone is either misinformed or intentionally trying to create mischief,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

(5) “Israel Denies Report of Iraq Military Air Exercises“, Bloomberg, 11 July 2008 — Excerpt:

Government spokesman Mark Regev said the report was “erroneous” and added that Israel has no hostile intentions toward Iran, when contacted by Bloomberg News about the report, which cited Iraqi officials through local media.

(6)  “Israel and the Psywar Campaign Against Iran”, Stratfor, 11 July 2008 — Subscription only.  Excerpt:

The Iraqi news report is intended to give the impression that the United States is already actively cooperating in an Israeli attack against Iran – and that such an attack could be imminent. … The mysterious report in the Iraqi press appears to be yet another link in an ongoing and intensifying psywar campaign against Iran.

My posts about a strike at Iran by Israel

Esp. note #2!

  1. Is Iran dangerous, or a paper tiger?   (13 November 2007)
  2. Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran  (22 December 2007)
  3. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?  (15 June 2008)
  4. A new story about a possible war with Iran  (21 May 2008) — About the 20 May Jerusalem Post story, originally reported by Army Radio.
  5. “As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”  (3 June 2008) — About the Fischer story in the 30 May Daily Star.
  6. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”   (8 June 2008)  — War-talk by a former Defense Minster of Israel.
  7. Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”  (17 June 2008) — Rumors in Der Spiegel of a strike by Israel on Iran.
  8. More rumors of a strike at Iran by Israel  (1 July 2008)
  9. Leaks about a possible strike at Iran (are there any hotter issues today?)  (7 July 2008)

Here is the full archive of my posts about a possible strike at Iran by Israel or the US.

9 thoughts on “The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!

  1. A succesful psywar must have some clear objectives. Like operation Quicksilver (part of Operation Fortitude) which was to create an illusion of a large American army group posed for striking the Germans at Pas de Calais in France instead of Normandy in 1944. The whole army group was non-existing, but it fooled German intelligence and contributed hugely to the succes of Operation Overlord.

    The current psywar has – as far as I can possibly tell – an objective of destabilizing the Iranian regime. Preferable regime-change. Of course the objective can also be to remove the Iranian nuclear program, but the problem is and will always be that it might not be enough. Unless you occupy Iran you can’t be sure they still haven’t some sort of a nuclear program going while they claim otherwise. Please remember that during the sanction years the UN had an extensive search for WMD’s in Iraq, but exactly because men like Scott Ritter couldn’t find anything the US government could claim that it was because they weren’t searching good enough and that regime change would have to be the answer.

    Will the psywar succeed in Iran? I doubt it. But a psywar – if executed well – could create confusion (are the Americans going to strike or the Israelis – or both?), weaken the cohesion of the Iranian leadership and create tensions inside Iran. But it will almost certainly also create a greater risk for war by mistake. Tensions are already high.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree on all points, esp on the danger that these games spark a real war.

    But is it realistic to expect these “paper bullets of the mind” to initiate regime change in Iraq? Are there any historical precedents? I suspect “no” to both.

  2. I agree with Robert Peterson, his last paragraph in particular.

    Nasiriya doesn’t make any sense for an Israeli forward base. It has the advantage of being close to the Iranian border but is far too visible to the Iranians for a surprise attack. Putting the aircraft in the western desert would make considerably more sense but the Israelis are still not likely to do it because it’s too likely that somebody in the US would leak the story.

    The StratFor article makes some sense but I think they’ve got the polarity wrong. Iran could easily be running the psy-op against the US and Israel. It costs them very little and potentially gains them more breathing space.

    Regardless of whether anybody is running a psy-op, the situation between Israel and Iran is very murky right now with no good way to measure the potential adversary’s intentions or capabilities.

  3. Reply to FM: I think perhaps operation PBSuccess in Guatemala in 1954 could count as such a succes. According to CIA history (which not necessarily has to be true) a large psywar was waged against the pro-socialist (and democratic elected) government led by Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. A small army of 400 fighters – supported by the CIA – invaded the country and the CIA used a lot of propaganda to convince the Guatemalan government it was about to be overrun by a giant force. The radio traffic itself indicated that a large force was on the move.

    For the record – while PBSuccess might have overthrown an anti-American government it also resulted in a large civil war that lasted from 1960 until 1996. Especially in the years 1980-1982 the war almost become genocidal and more than 400 villages were destroyed by the army. A total of 200.000 people were killed. I visited Guatemala in 2001 and the detruction was still visible.

  4. Given that the Iranian missile tests replete with photoshopped missile launches done earlier this week were nothing but a effort yank American and Israeli chains. And given that some of the major sources stating the Israelis are preparing to attack either come from official Iranian mouthpieces or its Iraqi Shia puppets points IMO to a Iranian psy-ops.

    And a good one too. They’ve managed to shift attention away fromtheir nuclear weapon program and lunatic president who wants to finish what Hitler started, not to mention painting the Israelis as a pack of war mongers in the process in the eyes of westerners.

    As for high oil prices they do benefit Iran. 4 million barrels a day times $140 a barrel is a nice chunk of income for a country that isn’t know for exporting much of anything. Israel being a importer,it only hurts them.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: A powerful point, and one which I have added as an update. Both sides (or “all” sides) are playing this game.

  5. So let’s review the bidding… there may be a worldwide depression and a thermonuclear war as these three faith-based foreign policies play chicken with one another. The players:

    Israel has no designs on anyone else’s territory, and no resources anyone really wants other than some land for the Palestinians. It’s of zero strategic value to the US. A demographic time bomb looms in their future no matter what. They are in violation of several UN resolutions and have massive weapons of mass destruction.

    Iran has no designs on anyone’s territory but doesn’t like the Israelis. All they seem to want is some respect as a regional hegemon, and to not be overthrown by the US. Their blustering president has no foreign policy power or responsibility at all. Like the Chinese, they are most likely to not start a nuclear war, as doing so would result in the loss of all the heritage of their ancient civilization.

    The US has no vital (strategic) interest in Israel, and is not at all threatened by Iran even if they get the bomb. The US does need massive amounts of Middle Eastern oil, which is jeopardized by all this noise with Iran as it has been made much more expensive by the foolish adventure in Mesopotamia.

    This is insanity, if one adheres to the root Latin meaning of ‘unsoundness.’ The people of the future, if there is one, are going to wonder why there were no intelligent adults in charge of any of this…
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I do the geopolitical math differently, but come to the same result. Our grand strategy is insane. It will be very difficult to explain to our grandkids.

    However, I consider a global depression an unlikely outcome. Atomic warfare even less so. But we can avoid these things and still find the outcome painful.

  6. If Iran stops enriching uranium, it will have backed down. If Iran continues enriching uranium, and the US and Israel don’t bomb, then the US and Israel will have backed down.

    The national leaderships of Iran, Israel, and the US are divided into factions, some more belligerent that others. Within each of these national leaderships, the more warlike faction is given to rhetoric that lets it present the less warlike faction as favoring a humiliating and disastrous national backdown.

    This isn’t a situtation in which we can count on all players making rational decisions.

  7. The story from nahrainnet.net has fact and has opinion, here is a rough translation:

    Informed sources in Baghdad close to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense that there is considerable doubt that planes belonging to the Israeli Air Force for more than a month in Alajua Iraqi flight and landing at a base of more than U.S. bases inside Iraq.
    The sources said the network Nahrin Net newsletter, “The military bases controlled by U.S. forces in Iraq began experiencing night aircraft action, but noted the imposition of U.S. forces tightened security measures around the airport and stringent control.”

    According to these sources, “the information is spread when some military retirees in Anbar that the aircraft coming from Jordan penetrate Iraqi airspace and landing at Assad airbase close air of a modern, and there is a belief that a large Israeli warplanes, and perhaps come within the Israeli maneuvers conducted by Israel’s Training and preparing to launch a devastating aerial attack against Iranian nuclear installations.. ”

    These sources say that this activity night warplanes also monitor at the base of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb Airbase in Nasiriyah, where the citizens with housing scattered open spaces in the region, that this rule has seen an increase in the activity of aircraft landings and take it at night, since three weeks To know why ”

    Translation from google

    The fact: “increase in the activity of aircraft landings and take it at night”

    The opinion: “there is considerable doubt that planes belonging to the Israeli Air Force”

  8. All good points, but there is another theory. Reading the “Clean Break” document (Ref: http://www.iasps.org/strat1.htm) the resentment towards the US by the Israeli neo-con equivalents (many are also US neo cons of course) is palpable. Though they acknowledge that they need the US’s money they don’t want them to limit them. Examples:

    ” reinforce this point, the Prime Minister can use his forthcoming visit to announce that Israel is now mature enough to cut itself free immediately from at least U.S. economic aid and loan guarantees at least, which prevent economic reform {OS: my comment good}. [Military aid is separated for the moment until adequate arrangements can be made to ensure that Israel will not encounter supply problems in the means to defend itself].” {OS: my comment is since they pay nothing for weapons now they don’t want the gravy train to stop and defence is not really what they are thinking about}

    “Israel can make a clean break from the past and establish a new vision for the U.S.-Israeli partnership based on self-reliance, maturity and mutuality — not one focused narrowly on territorial disputes. Israel’s new strategy — based on a shared philosophy of peace through strength — reflects continuity with Western values by stressing that Israel is self-reliant, does not need U.S. troops in any capacity to defend it, including on the Golan Heights, and can manage its own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of pressure used against it in the past. ”

    So the ideal, from their point of view at this moment, is a US attack on Iran, smash it to pieces and buy Israel another 10 years. Then leave the Middle East entirely (broke of course), freeing them to to make their own moves and deals (e.g in the Kurd areas or military sales to China or more deals with SA). And they, and their mouthpieces, are pushing it hard. Excepting Ron Paul and a few others, the entire US Congress is behind war with Iran (the blockade bill going thorugh right now is a prima facia declaration of war).

    These from Wiki:

    An October 2003 editorial in The Nation criticized the Syria Accountability Act and connected it to the ‘Clean Break’ report and authors[11]:

    “To properly understand the Syria Accountability Act, one has to go back to a 1996 document, ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,’ drafted by a team of advisers to Benjamin Netanyahu in his run for prime minister of Israel. The authors included current Bush advisers Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. ‘Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil,’ they wrote, calling for ‘striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.’ No wonder Perle was delighted by the Israeli strike. ‘It will help the peace process,’ he told the Washington Post, adding later that the United States itself might have to attack Syria. But what Perle means by ‘helping the peace process’ is not resolving the conflict by bringing about a viable, sovereign Palestinian state but rather – as underscored in ‘A Clean Break’ – ‘transcending the Arab-Israeli conflict’ altogether by forcing the Arabs to accept most, if not all, of Israel’s territorial conquests and its nuclear hegemony in the region.”

    “Commentator Karen Kwiatkowski [1] has pointed to the similarities between the proposed actions in the Clean Break document, and the subsequent 2003 invasion of Iraq.”

    A cynic would say “you’ve been played”. Another cynic would say that there are some, very influential, US neo-cons with, at least, divided loyalties.

    The “Clean Break” writers?
    Richard Perle, American Enterprise Institute, Study Group Leader
    James Colbert, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
    Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Johns Hopkins University/SAIS
    Douglas Feith, Feith and Zell Associates
    Robert Loewenberg, President, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
    Jonathan Torop, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
    David Wurmser, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
    Meyrav Wurmser, Johns Hopkins University

  9. Update

    The NY Times (confirmed by Fox News) has revealed that the Israelis were planning an air strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities during the 2007-08 time period. They even requested US permission to fly missions over Iraqi airspace. “U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site”, NY Times, 10 January 2009 — Excerpt:

    President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.

    There aren’t that many ways this revelation can be taken. Either the Israelis were exploring their raiding options but weren’t that serious about performing the raid or they were deadly serious about it and were not that far from performing the raid. Given the paranoid state that they had worked themselves into during that time period, I suspect the latter.

    Apparently Bush defused the crisis by sharing information with the Israelis about our efforts to keep the Iranians from getting the bomb and by refusing to let the Israelis fly over Iraq. Yet another interesting challenge for the incoming Obama administration.

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