I remember when drone attacks first started. The right wing press and email forwards were filled with fantastical news about these American robot planes, unmanned, killing people from the sky in Pakistan’s border regions. Oh, how I laughed. Demented right wingers. American robot planes? Please stop.
They turned out to be right.
I remember when rumors about Blackwater agents in Pakistan first started. The right wing press and email forwards were filled with breathless news about these 6’4″ American agents running around Pakistani cities, doing intelligence and security work for the CIA. Oh, how I laughed. Silly, silly right wingers. Blackwater in Pakistan? Please stop.
They turned out to be right.
And then there was the “terrorists in Pakistan are supported by the CIA and Mossad” conspiracy theory. Fools, I shouted. Why must we blame outsiders when the problem is staring us in the face?
I now fully expect the following dominos to fall:
1. 9/11 was an inside job.
2. Asif Zardari really did ask Asifa to make that phone call to Benazir.
3. The floods were indeed caused by India.
4. NFP and Najam Sethi are CIA agents.
In all seriousness, stuff like this really does raise the question of how seemingly implausible and crazy scenarios actually come to fruition. It certainly gives me pause, that’s for sure.
Anyway, I urge you to go and read the story. It’s basically only tangentially relevant to Pakistan. But it’s very, very interesting for the following reasons:
1. You’re starting to see some real exasperation within the intelligence and security communities in the U.S. with its putative ally, Israel. I wonder if episodes like this, along with the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, portend a rupture within the U.S. establishment on the question of Israel, with the Congress and media on one side and the defence and intelligence communities on the other. If you think I am exaggerating, just go ahead and read the story. I haven’t seen U.S. intelligence officials express that much angst since the last time I read a story on Pakistan. You’ve got quotes like
“It’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with,” the intelligence officer said. “Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought.”
“But while false-flag operations are hardly new, they’re extremely dangerous. You’re basically using your friendship with an ally for your own purposes. Israel is playing with fire. It gets us involved in their covert war, whether we want to be involved or not.”
“This was stupid and dangerous,” the intelligence official who first told me about the operation said. “Israel is supposed to be working with us, not against us. If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if it was their blood and not ours. You know, they’re supposed to be a strategic asset. Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just don’t think that’s true.”
2. I think it’s very, very plausible that Israel is trying to bait Iran into doing something stupid, such that the outbreak of hostilities can be blamed on them. It’s a bit like Thomas Schelling’s “last clear chance to avoid war” model, except in this case, Israel doesn’t want to avoid war. It just doesn’t want to “officially” start it.
3. Even if Israel is successful in drawing Iran (and the U.S.) into a war that purportedly compromises Iran’s nuclear program, what exactly happens afterward? As Elbridge Colby and Austin Long argue:
But perhaps the most important argument against attacking Iran has received less attention. That is that none of the attack proponents can give a sensible answer to the question General David Petraeus posed at the beginning of the Iraq war: “How does this end?” Kroenig and other advocates for war note, correctly, that a strike against Iran could do substantial damage to Iran’s program. But they fail to explain how the United States will prevent Iran from simply restarting its program, this time in deadly earnest. Moreover, they don’t explain why such strikes won’t contribute to the immediate rallying of the Iranian people around the otherwise reviled regime.
If I’m Iran, I go full-speed ahead on trying to develop full blown nuclear weapons capability (none of this latent capability stuff they’ve been toying with) at the same time as staying the hell away from any other provocative gestures that would give the Israelis (and Americans to an extent) the excuse they’re looking for.