Exclusive: Leaked cable reveals US-Israeli strategy for regime change in Iran
Wiki-leak confirms reporting by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh
According to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, in August 2007 the head of Israel’s intelligence agency urged US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, R. Nicholas Burns, to join with Israel in carrying out a five-part strategy to implement regime change in Iran.
Mossad Director Meir Dagan acknowledged at the meeting that the American analysis of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program was different from Israel’s, but he insisted that the threat from Iran was “obvious” and stated that Israel was willing to take action unilaterally.
The classified diplomatic cable outlining the meeting is part of a large cache of documents leaked to the whistleblower website Wikileaks, and released to the public on Sunday via several international newspapers, including The Guardian and The New York Times.
Dagan began the meeting by thanking the US for its support of Israel, as well as for a recent $30 billion aid package.
The Mossad chief then conceded that US analysis of Iran’s alleged nuclear capabilities differed from Israel’s, but remarked that such differences were essentially irrelevant and that if need be Israel would take action alone.
“The threat is obvious, even if we have a different timetable,” he said. “If we want to postpone their acquisition of a nuclear capability, then we have to invest time and effort ourselves.”
Philip Giraldi, a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and the Central Intelligence Agency, who served for eighteen years in Turkey, believes Dagan’s comment that Israel will have to “invest time and effort ourselves” in dealing with Iran was, in essence, a veiled threat.
“It is essentially setting up a situation in which the threat of Israel acting alone becomes a wedge issue to force the US to do something so that it will be able to manage the situation rather than respond to Israeli initiatives,” Giraldi told Raw Story on Sunday. “It pushes Washington into planning a military strike to force the Israelis to stand down on their own plans.”
The differences between how each nation viewed the Iranian nuclear program were not discussed by either the US or Israeli officials in the cable.
R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. envoy at the meeting — who is now the Sultan of Oman Professor of the Practice of International Relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government – did not respond to requests for comment.
The Israeli embassy also did not respond to request for comment.
The Five Pillars of Israeli Strategy
According to the cable, Dagan continued the meeting by enumerating Israel’s “five pillar” strategy on Iran, which he urged that the US and Israel both implement:
1. Political Approach
2. Covert Measures
5. Force Regime Change
Each of the so-called pillars is briefly summarized in the cable.
The political approach advocated by Dagan involved continued pressure from the United Nations Security Council to force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The covert pillar of the Israeli strategy was not discussed by Dagan or other Israeli envoys, nor does the classified cable elaborate on the particulars.
The counterproliferation part of the Israeli plans emphasize that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear “know-how and technology.”
Dagan noted that the economic sanctions pillar of the strategy was already working, citing the failure of three Iranian banks.
Finally, Dagan suggested that the U.S and Israel should both help “force regime change” in Iran by proxy, “possibly with the support of student democracy movements, and ethnic groups (e.g., Azeris, Kurds, Baluchs) opposed to the ruling regime.”
It is unclear from the cable just exactly what “support” of “ethnic groups” meant or whether Dagan offered any suggestions.
Robert Baer — a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who spent his career stationed in the Middle East, including in Iraqi Kurdistan and on whom the Academy Award winning movie Syriana is based — interprets Dagan’s suggestion as a violent one.
When asked what he thought forced regime change meant in this context with respect to support for the Azeris, Kurds, and Baluchs, Baer told Raw Story, “it means give them money so they can set off bombs – the Mad Max approach.”
Dagan suggested that all five pillars be enacted simultaneously, including regime change, implying there was no need to allow time for the other pillars to work, including economic sanctions and political pressure. This would have put the U.S in a difficult position, given its history in Iran.
Events leading up to and after the meeting
According to published sources, both the United States and Israel have been active in attempts to spy on Iran’s nuclear program and destabilize its government since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and those efforts intensified as concern over Iran’s nuclear program mounted in late 2005.
Seymour Hersh wrote for the New Yorker In April 2006 that the previous December, Mossad Director Dagan had told the Knesset, “Iran is one to two years away, at the latest, from having enriched uranium. From that point, the completion of their nuclear weapon is simply a technical matter.”
Over the next few months, Under Secretary Burns was active in diplomatic approaches to dealing with Iran. By the end of January 2006, he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had convinced Russia and China to vote for the International Atomic Energy Agency to report Iran to the Security Council.
But in March, the Bush administration decided against direct talks with the Iranians and the State Department announced “that a newly established Office of Iranian Affairs within the department would focus on introducing democracy in Iran.” Burns, Rice, and Elizabeth Cheney –daughter of then Vice President Dick Cheney — were all said to be behind the new policy.
A few weeks later, Hersh noted that “the Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups.”
Those clandestine efforts continued over the next year, amid widespread reports that the CIA was behind “a wave of unrest in ethnic minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination campaigns against soldiers and government officials.”
In the spring of 2007, there were signs of an apparent softening of policy towards Iran, including the disbanding of Liz Cheney’s Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, which had been seen as “plotting covert actions that could escalate into a military conflict with Iran or Syria.”
Any softening, however, was short-lived. On July 21, 2007, Burns and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams met with representatives of Iranian ethnic groups in the US to discuss (pdf) Iran’s nuclear policies. And in August, Burns joined the Israeli foreign minister in Jerusalem to sign a new military aid package amounting to $30 billion over ten years — an increase of 25% from previous levels.
That was the immediate background for Burns’ meeting with Dagan, as described in the newly-released cable.
Within a few months, the Bush administration had decided to intensify its covert actions against Iran.
According to Hersh, in late 2007, “Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.”
This is precisely the approach Dagan and Burns discussed at August 2007 meeting, as described in the leaked cable.
Larisa Alexandrovna is Raw Story’s managing editor for investigative news. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Muriel Kane is Raw Story’s research director.
Edited by Stephen C. Webster.