by Mark Silva
Seymour Hersh, the prize-winning journalist who has written of the Bush administration’s inside planning for an assault against Iran, returns with a new look in The New Yorker magazine at what he calls a shifting strategy -- a changing of the "target.'
While the Bush administration insists that it wants to resolve its differences with Iran diplomatically – yet holds out the caveat that “all options are on the table'' – Hersh says the strategy toward Iran has shifted from one that justifies a strategic assault against the country’s suspected developing nuclear weaponry program to one of attacking the forces and chain of weapon-supplies that Iran is providing for insurgents inside Iraq.
“The strategy is, it's a targeting change,’’ Hersh said on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer today. “We're threatening Iran. We've been doing it constantly. But instead of saying to the American people, instead of saying internally it's going to be about nuclear weapons, it's now going to be about getting the guys that are killing our boys.
“We're going to hit the border facilities, the facilities inside Iraq we think are training terrorists,’’ Hersh asserted “We're going to hit the facilities we think are supplying some of the explosive devices into Iraq. This is the administration's position.’’
Hersh also maintains that Bush will not leave office without settling the question of Iran’s nuclear designs – while Tehran insists it is developing only nuclear power, the U.S. and allies see the beginning of a bomb, though still several years from fruition, most outside analysts agree.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also interviewed by Biltzer today, suggested that the distinguished journalist, Hersh, has been “wrong’’ before about his predictions of U.S. designs for an invasion of Iran. But he did agree – “it is a fact,’’ he said – that Iran and others are supplying weapons inside Iraq, not perhaps so much as a means of destabilizing the government of Iraq but as a way of confronting American forces. Iraq, he says, has told Iran to reconsider its strategy.
Here are some excerpts from the interview with Zebari on CNN’s Late Edition, followed by excerpts from the interview with Hersh:
ZEBARI: On the one hand, Iran has a very clear policy in supporting the government politically and supporting the political process and majority rule government. This government is friendly to them.
On the other hand, really we see evidence that there has been intervention by Iran and by others as well, maybe not directly against the government, but to bloody Americans or make lives more difficult there.
And this is what we have been telling them. I mean, this is the wrong policy. If you think that by doing this you can keep the prospects of a confrontation away, this can only provoke the Americans more and more.
So really we have been very honest in speaking with them and trying to encourage them to deal constructively with the government, with the security, to stop this intervention.
And we are planning a major meeting in Istanbul in early November for Iraq's neighbor, plus the P5 and the G8, and we will -- going to confront all of our neighbors with evidence, with facts that this is what Iraq requires from you to stop meddling, to support the government in good faith.
Asked about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s close relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – the two pictured holding hands as they walked into a room together recently:
ZEBARI: Well, Wolf, Iran -- our destiny is to live with Iran. It's our largest neighbor. There has been longstanding relationship, religiously, culturally, socially between the Iraqis and the Iranians for many years. And Iraq and Iran need each other.
We're going to live there, you know, for the rest of our lives as two countries. This is difficult to explain to the American public. On the one hand, to be friends to the United States and on the other hand to be friends to Iran. And these things actually are understandable in the culture of the Middle East.
Maybe in the American culture it's difficult to explain it to you. But that is the reality. And I remember General Casey, before leaving his mission in Iraq, I said, General, what did you learn in Iraq? He mentioned this point, that now I understand how you Iraqis could be friends to us and at the same time friends to the Iranian.
And that is the reality of that part of the world.’’
ZEBARI: The Iranians always have been supportive, I mean, in their words and statements. And I attended many of these meetings. In fact, they went as far as if you feel that Iran should talk to the United States, its archenemy, that it could benefit the Iraqi people, we'll do it for your sake.
I mean, they have made these statements in my presence. But, in fact, the Iranian leaders have been saying that they are not interfering, they are supporting, but the evidence on the ground -- this is what is worrying and bothering.
I mean, the support for certain militias or certain interventions, and that's why we tried to establish a subcommittee between the United States, Iran and Iraq to deal with this issue of the flow of weapons, of EFPs technologies, of infiltrators. This is what we are trying to work, but the process, because it's the beginning, really we don't have the high expectations...
BLITZER: I just want to make -- minister, I just want to be clear. What you're saying is the Iranians may say the right things but their deeds don't necessarily follow their words.
ZEBARI: Well, this is, in fact, this is the problem. From us, many of this evidence has been investigated by the multinational force by the Americans. In many cases, the Iraqi authorities have not been in the loop.
But I suspect really -- I mean, from the evidence we have that there has been intervention. Not only by Iran, by other countries as well. And this is a fact. And that's why we are going to Istanbul with clear minds, with a clear set of needs to confront our neighbors and to put them on the international spotlight to live up to their commitment and to match their words with their actions.
And here are excerpts from Blitzer’s interview with Hersh:
On the Bush administration’s message on Iran:
HERSH: Well, they've changed their rhetoric, really. The name of the game used to be, they're a nuclear threat. Iran is going to have a bomb soon. We have to do it.
Sort of the same game we had before the war in Iraq. And what's happened is in the last few months, they've come to the realization that they're not selling it. It isn't working. The American people aren't worried about Iran as a nuclear threat, certainly as they were about Iraq. There's some skepticism. So they switched, really.
On a change in U.S. strategy for Iran:
HERSH: Well, the strategy is, it's a targeting change. We're threatening Iran. We've been doing it constantly. But instead of saying to the American people, instead of saying internally it's going to be about nuclear weapons, it's now going to be about getting the guys that are killing our boys.
We're going to hit the border facilities, the facilities inside Iraq we think are training terrorists. We're going to hit the facilities we think are supplying some of the explosive devices into Iraq. This is the administration's position.
On Hersh’s assertion that there is a “significant increase in the tempo of attack planning”
HERSH: Well, publicly, they've castigated the Revolutionary Guards. The language is increasing, just as you heard the president say to the -- last August in the clip you showed.
On the inside, the CIA has really been ramping up very hard. There's something called the Iranian Operations Group. We had the same kind of a group for the Iraqi war. Before the war in Iraq, we had an operations group. It's suddenly exploding in manpower. And they've been going around, just dragging a dozen people here, a dozen there. They built it up into a large, large operational group.
I'm told also, I didn't write this in the article, I'm told that the National Security Council inside the White House is focused much more on attacking Iran and what's going on in Iran than it has been before. There's been a significant increase on the inside.
On the possibility of a military strike on Iran
BLITZER: Now, you've been writing about this possibility of a U.S. military strike on Iran for some time.
HERSH: A year-and-a-half.
BLITZER: It hasn't happened yet but you're convinced before the president leaves office it might happen?
HERSH: Oh, well, there's no -- that's easy. I don't know. What I do know -- what I do know -- is he wants to do something. He will not leave Iran in a position to be a nuclear power, in a position to be the threat. ‘’