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Trump And The Iran Protests

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by John Feffer

The last time Iranians went out onto the streets in large numbers, they were protesting what they thought was a stolen election.

It was 2009, and hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had convincingly won the presidency with roughly 63 percent to reformer Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s approximately 34 percent. Adopting their campaign’s green color, Mousavi’s supporters thronged the streets in protest.

These Green Movement adherents were mostly middle class and concentrated in the major cities. Ahmadinejad, by contrast, attracted the support of the more religious, the less well-off and the rural—a sizable constituency that the Green Movement routinely underestimated.

Now it’s their turn to take to the streets: these members of the Iranian working class who live in the boonies, who have not benefited from the economic changes of the reformists. This is a group that analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj calls the “forgotten men and women” of modern Iran.

The current demonstrations are leaderless, and the demands are all over the map. In general, however, today’s protesters seem more concerned with economic issues than political ones, though the two are inextricably linked. For instance, unlike in 2009, the most recent demonstrations have nothing to do with election fraud. After all, the last presidential election went off without a hitch, and some of the same people who protested in 2009 returned to the streets in May 2017 to celebrate the reelection of reformer Hassan Rouhani.

On the economic side, meanwhile, the reformers around Rouhani promised a big boost as a result of the nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and other countries. And, indeed, the economy has grown, mostly as a result of an uptick in oil exports. The growth rate in 2016 was 6.4 percent—a remarkable turnabout from the nearly 2 percent contraction in 2015. That certainly helped Rouhani win reelection in May last year.

But this wealth has not trickled down fast enough. Unemployment has been rising from around 10 percent in 2015 to over 12 percent today. The youth unemployment rate, meanwhile, hovers around 30 percent, which mirrors the conditions in a number of Middle Eastern countries on the eve of the Arab Spring. Moreover, large price increases in staples like eggs and gas have hit the poorer segments of society hard, and the population is bracing for more of the same in 2018.

Iranian society is sharply divided between haves and have-nots, its rate of economic inequality comparable to that of the Philippines. The current unrest reflects the thwarted economic ambitions of a falling working class, not the thwarted political ambitions of a rising middle class.

Iranians are also protesting corruption, which has long been a central feature of economic and political life in the country. There have been the predictable scandals associated with fraud in the oil industry. The earthquake in November toppled many houses built by the state, revealing corruption in the construction industry. The underground economy encouraged by the sanctions regime has also generated a pervasive culture of bribery. And many Iranians view the high salaries that go to some government employees as a form of corruption as well.

Initially, it seems, the protests originated not with reformists, like the Green Movement, but with hardliners hoping to focus anger on Rouhani. The protests broke out, for instance, in religious centers Qom and Mashhad. Writes Ahmad Sadri, “The right-wing powerful duo of the city of Mashhad, Ebrahim Raisi (the embittered rival of Rouhani in the recent elections) and his famously simple-minded father-in-law, Ahmad Alamolhoda, struck the first match by staging a small anti-Rouhani demonstration, blaming the high price of consumer goods on the Rouhani government.”

The conservatives opened a Pandora’s box of resentments. Protesters in other cities have subsequently denounced the Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard. They’ve even sung the praises of the deposed shah and called for the return of his son.

This is a protest of profound disillusionment.

Washington’s Response

The Rouhani government banked on a big dividend coming from the 2015 nuclear deal.

It needed this infusion of capital from outside because, in reality, Rouhani has rather narrow room for maneuver on economic issues. The religious establishment holds all the trump cards when it comes to governance. A large state-owned sector and extensive public services absorb a large chunk of the government budget. Wages and salaries take up around 40 percent of the budget—and social security a little over 30 percent. In a “semi-state sector” bolstered by an opaque privatization process, conservative institutions like the Revolutionary Guards hold considerable sway and are often resistant to any reform.

Rouhani needed leverage from outside the system because he controlled so few levers within the system. The nuclear deal was supposed to reduce sanctions, expand Iranian exports and attract a new wave of foreign investment. Some sanctions have been lifted (but not all). Some exports have spiked (mostly oil). But the foreign investment has been slow to materialize.

True, some European firms, such as the French energy firm Total, have dipped their toes into the Iranian market. And Boeing secured a major civilian airplane deal.

But opposition to economic engagement with Iran was strong in Washington, even during the Obama administration. In the wake of their defeat on the nuclear deal, hardliners in Congress were eager to apply new sanctions against Iran and reduce what little investment was flowing toward the country. Granted, it’s not easy to navigate the business environment inside Iran. But the United States didn’t make it any easier.

The Trump administration hasn’t been shy about voicing its opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Even before the latest protests broke out, the administration was also exploring ways of killing the Boeing aircraft deal, as well as the Total investment. Suffice it to say, Trump is not interested in any kind of engagement with the Iranian government.

As soon as the protests broke out in Iran in December, Trump gleefully took to Twitter to support the people in the streets and castigate the Rouhani government. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump tweeted. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

For Trump, the protests vindicate his argument that the government in Tehran is illegitimate. That the protests have resulted at least in part from U.S. policies to squeeze Iran is immaterial to Trump and his supporters in Congress.

This has been their strategy all along. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has said. “I don’t see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism.” Sanctions are not designed to extract a “better deal” from Tehran or even to dissuade it from engaging in “bad behavior” in the region. That’s a canard to make the United States appear to be playing by the rules of respecting sovereignty.

The punditocracy, meanwhile, has largely come out in support of the protests, with people on both sides of the nuclear deal laying down their differences to side with the street. Here’s Daniel Shapiro and Mark Dubowitz in Politico:

We are long-time friends who have disagreed vehemently on the wisdom of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran; Dan is Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, and Mark is one of that agreement’s most persistent critics. But we agree with equal passion that Americans, regardless of party or position on the nuclear deal, should be supporting the aspirations of Iranians to be free from their brutal and corrupt rulers. 

But what are Shapiro and Dubowitz supporting exactly? By all means, the Iranian government should permit freedom of assembly. It should not respond to the protests with violence. And who cannot sympathize with people who are fed up with unemployment and corruption and want to exercise their right of self-determination?

But these protests are not the Green Movement. The current demonstrators don’t have a single, coherent program. They don’t appear to have rallied behind anything to replace the current government. They are, like the groundswell of support for Donald Trump, a movement defined by opposition to the status quo. It’s not immediately clear what alternative system such protesters would support, but it’s just as likely to be something religiously populist along the lines of Ahmadinejad as anything resembling secular liberalism.

Barack Obama received criticism from the Left and the Right for not throwing U.S. support behind the Green Movement. The stakes were clearer then—a hardline president with dubious legitimacy on one side versus a mass movement with leaders and a program. Today, the stakes are considerably muddier. But Trump, who cares so little about Iranians that he’s blocked them from entering the United States regardless of their affiliations, is interested only in the larger game: scoring points against Obama and the Iranian leadership and scoring points for Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Come January 13, when Trump has another opportunity to cancel U.S. participation in the nuclear agreement, he will likely do so in the name of the Iranian people, the very ones who have taken to the streets because Trump and others like him are determined to make sure that the agreement ultimately doesn’t provide any real economic benefits to the Iranian people. His supporters on the Right are already giving him the ammunition to gun down the deal in this way.

What Goes Around

Trump immediately identified the protesters as his kind of people—angry at political elites, upset that economic “reforms” have not benefited them, disgusted with the corruption of the system. Trump knows a “throw the bums out” kind of movement when he sees one.

The groundswell of anger in Iran matches the rage felt by people all over the world at the greed and cluelessness of their leaders. So far, manipulative so-called populists have managed to translate this anger into electoral success—in Hungary, Russia, the Philippines and the United States. The most likely political actor to take advantage of this anger in Iran would walk and talk like Ahmadinejad and embrace positions that are more anti-American, anti-Saudi and anti-Israel than those of the current government.

Trump should be careful when he supports a movement in Iran like that, and not just because it probably wouldn’t produce a more U.S.-friendly regime. Trump is already facing something similar. After all, the president is now undeniably a member of the political elite. He’s the one implementing economic reforms that don’t benefit the vast majority. He’s the one making gobs of money off of the system. And, as in Iran, he’s the one backed by powerful religious fanatics.

In short, Trump is now the bum that a growing movement wants to throw out of the White House. When the time comes, will Mark Dubowitz and his conservative brethren similarly defend American citizens who aspire “to be free from their brutal and corrupt rulers”?

Photo: Donald Trump (White House via Flickr).

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

A secret campaign of surveillance, sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations has slowed but not stopped Tehran’s programme

President George W Bush in 2007

Iran’s nuclear ambitions led then US president George W Bush to launch a covert war in 2007 to thwart the programme. Photograph: Jim Young/REUTERS

The covert war on Iran‘s nuclear programme was launched in earnest by George Bush in 2007. It is a fair assumption that the western powers had been trying their best to spy on the Islamic Republic since the 1979 Iranian revolution, but the 2007 “presidential finding” put those efforts on a new footing.

Bush asked Congress to approve $400m for a programme of support for rebel ethnic groups, as well as intelligence gathering and sabotage of the nuclear programme. Part of that effort involved slipping defective parts such as centrifuge components into the black market supply to Iran, designed to blow apart while in operation and in so doing bring down all the centrifuges in the vicinity. The UK, Germany, France and Israel are said to have been involved in similar efforts. Meanwhile, western intelligence agencies stepped up their attempt to infiltrate the programme, seeking to recruit Iranian scientists when they travelled abroad.

That espionage effort appears to have paid dividends. In 2009, the US, British and French intelligence agencies were able to confirm that extensive excavations at Fordow, a Revolutionary Guard base near the Shia theological centre of Qom, were a secret uranium enrichment plant under construction. The digging had been seen by satellites, but only human sources could identify its purpose. Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy were able to reveal Fordow’s existence at the UN general assembly in September 2009, a diplomatic setback to Iran. Russia, which had been Iran’s principal protector on the world stage, was furious with Tehran at having been taken by surprise.

It is harder to gauge the impact of sabotage. Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said: “I never saw any direct evidence of sabotage. We could see that they had breakages but it was hard to say if those were the result of their own technical problems or sabotage. I suspect a little of both.”

Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, complained to the press in 2006 about sabotage but vowed that Iran would overcome the challenge by making more of the centrifuges and other components itself.

But it was impossible to make everything at home. The computer systems which run the centrifuge operations in Natanz, supplied by the German engineering firm Siemens, were targeted last year by a computer worm called Stuxnet, reportedly created as a joint venture by US and Israeli intelligence. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conceded that Stuxnet had caused damage, and last November, Iranian scientists were forced to suspend enrichment to rectify the problem. A few days later, however, the centrifuges were working once more.

The black operations have not been confined to hardware and computer systems. They have also targeted Iran’s scientists. In July 2009, an Iranian nuclear expert called Shahram Amiri vanished while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. A year later, he surfaced in the US claiming he had been abducted by American agents, and in July 2010 he returned to a hero’s welcome in Tehran.

US officials said he had been a willing defector who had been paid $5m for his help, but who had since had a mysterious change of heart. There have since been claims Amiri had been an Iranian double agent all along. The truth is unclear.

Other attempts to remove Iran’s scientists have been blunter and bloodier.

Starting in January 2010, there were a series of attacks in Tehran on Iranian physicists with links to the nuclear programme. The first target was Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a physicist and lecturer at the Imam Hussein university, run by the Revolutionary Guards. He was on his way to work when a bomb fixed to a motorbike parked outside his house exploded and killed him instantly.

In November that year, assassins on motorbikes targeted two Iranian scientists simultaneously as they were stuck in morning traffic. In both cases, the killers drove up alongside their targets’ cars and stuck bombs to the side. Majid Shahriari, a scientist at the atomic energy organisation, who had co-authored a paper on neutron diffusion in a nuclear reactor, was killed.

The other target, Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani, suspected by western officials of being a central figure in experiments on building a nuclear warhead, was only injured. Three months later he was promoted to the leadership of the nuclear programme.

A third scientist, Darioush Rezaeinejad, was killed in an attack in July this year, when gunmen on motorbikes shot him in a street in east Tehran. He was initially described in the Iranian media as a “nuclear scientist”, but the government later denied he had any involvement in the programme.

Iran has blamed the attacks on the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and in August sentenced an Iranian, Majid Jamali-Fashi, to death for his alleged involvement in the Ali Mohammadi killing. He had confessed to being part of a hit-team trained in Israel, but it appeared likely he had made the confession under torture.

Despite the millions spent, stalled machines and deaths of leading scientists, Iran has steadily built up its stockpile of enriched uranium to 4.5 tonnes – enough for four nuclear bombs if it was further refined to weapons-grade purity. At most, the covert war has slowed the rate of progress, but it has not stopped it.


US Officials Peddle False Intel to Support Terror Plot Claims by Gareth Porter

US Officials Peddle False Intel to Support Terror Plot Claims

Posted By Gareth Porter On October 17, 2011

Officials of the Barack Obama administration have aggressively leaked information supposedly based on classified intelligence in recent days to bolster the allegation that two high-ranking officials from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were involved in a plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.

The media stories generated by the leaks helped divert press attention from the fact that there is no verifiable evidence of any official Iranian involvement in the alleged assassination plan, contrary to the broad claim being made by the administration.

But the information about the two Iranian officials leaked to NBC News, The Washington Post, and Reuters was unambiguously false and misleading, as confirmed by official documents in one case and a former senior intelligence and counterterrorism official in the other.

The main target of the official leaks was Abdul Reza Shahlai, who was identified publicly by the Obama administration as a “deputy commander in the Quds Force” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Shahlai had long been regarded by U.S. officials as a key figure in the Quds Force’s relationship to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq.

The primary objective of the FBI sting operation involving Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant that was started last June now appears to have been to use Arbabsiar to implicate Shahlai in a terror plot.

U.S. officials had learned from the DEA informant that Arbabsiar claimed that Shahlai was his cousin.

In September 2008, the Treasury Department designated Shahlai as an individual “providing financial, material, and technical support for acts of violence that threaten the peace and stability of Iraq,” which made him subject to specific financial sanctions. The announcement said Shahlai had provided “material support” to the Mahdi Army in 2006 and that he had “planned the Jan. 20, 2007, attack” by Mahdi Army “Special Groups” on U.S. troops at the Provincial Coordination Center in Karbala, Iraq.

Arbabsiar’s confession claims that Shahlai approached him in early spring 2011 and asked him to find “someone in the narcotics business” to kidnap the Saudi ambassador to the United States, according to the FBI account. Arbabsiar implicates Shahlai in providing him with thousands of dollars for his expenses.

But Arbabsiar’s charge against Shahlai was self-interested. Arbabsiar had become the cornerstone of the administration’s case against Shahlai in order to obtain leniency on charges against him.

There is no indication in the FBI account of the investigation that there is any independent evidence to support Arbabsiar’s claim of Shahlai’s involvement in a plan to kill the ambassador.

The Obama administration planted stories suggesting that Shahlai had a terrorist past and that it was therefore credible that he could be part of an assassination plot.

Laying the foundation for press stories on the theme, the Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it was sanctioning Shahlai, along with Arbabsiar and three other Quds Force officials, including the head of the organization, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, for being “connected to” the assassination plot.

But Michael Isikoff of NBC News reported the same day that Shahlai “had previously been accused of plotting a highly sophisticated attack that killed five U.S. soldiers in Iraq, according to U.S. government officials and documents made public Tuesday afternoon.”

Isikoff, who is called a “national investigative correspondent” at NBC News, reported that the Treasury Department had designated Shahlai as a “terrorist” in 2008, despite the fact that the Treasury announcement of the designation had not used the term “terrorist.”

On Saturday, The Washington Post published a report closely paralleling the Isikoff story but going even further in claiming documentary proof of Shahlai’s responsibility for the January 2007 attack in Karbala. Post reporter Peter Finn wrote that Shahlai “the guiding hand behind an elite group of gunmen from the feared militia of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr,” which had carried out an attack on U.S. troops in Karbala in January 2007.

Finn cited the fact that the Treasury Department named Shahlai as the “final approving and coordinating authority” for training Sadr’s militiamen in Iran. That fact would not in itself be evidence of involvement in a specific attack on U.S. forces. On the contrary, it would suggest that he was not involved in operational aspects of the Mahdi Army in Iraq.

Finn then referred to a “22-page memo that detailed preparations for the operation and tied it to the Quds Force.” But he didn’t refer to any evidence that Shahlai personally had anything to do with the operation.

In fact, U.S. officials acknowledged in the months after the Karbala attack that they had found no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the operation.

Talking with reporters about the memo on April 26, 2007, several weeks after it had been captured, Gen. David Petraeus conceded that it did not show that any Iranian official was linked to the planning of the Karbala operation. When a journalist asked him whether there was evidence of Iranian involvement in the Karbala operation, Petraeus responded, “No. No. No. … [W]e do not have a direct link to Iran involvement in that particular case.”

In a news briefing in Baghdad July 2, 2007, Gen. Kevin Bergner confirmed that the attack in Karbala had been authorized by the Iraqi chief of the militia in question, Qais Khazali, not by any Iranian official.

Col. Michael X. Garrett, who had been commander of the U.S. Fourth Brigade combat team in Karbala, confirmed to this writer in December 2008 that the Karbala attack “was definitely an inside job.”

Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is on the list of those Iranian officials “linked” to the alleged terror plot, because he “oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot,” as the Treasury Department announcement explained. But a Reuters story on Friday reported a claim of U.S. intelligence that two wire transfers totaling $100,000 at the behest of Arbabsiar to a bank account controlled by the FBI implicates Soleimani in the assassination plot.

“While details are still classified,” wrote Mark Hosenball and Caren Bohan, “one official said the wire transfers apparently had some kind of hallmark indicating they were personally approved” by Soleimani.

But the suggestion that forensic examination of the wire transfers could somehow show who had approved them is misleading. The wire transfers were from two separate non-Iranian banks in a foreign country, according to the FBI’s account. It would be impossible to deduce who approved the transfer by looking at the documents.

“I have no idea what such a ‘hallmark’ could be,” said Paul Pillar, a former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center who was also national intelligence officer for the Middle East until his retirement in 2005.

Pillar told IPS that the “hallmark” notion “pops up frequently in commentary after actual terrorist attacks,” but the concept is usually invoked “along the lines of ‘the method used in this attack had the hallmark of group such and such.’”

That “hallmark” idea “assumes exclusive ownership of a method of attack which does not really exist,” said Pillar. “I expect the same could be said of methods of transferring money.”

The World Today – Ex-CIA warns US ‘dangerously wrong’ on Iran 12/10/2011

Ex-CIA warns US ‘dangerously wrong’ on Iran

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:22:00

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the United States where a former intelligence analyst is warning the Obama administration to step back from blaming Iran for the foiled assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

The US attorney-general says Iran is behind what would have been a blatant act of international terrorism and which investigating authorities said was intended to be a prelude to other attacks.

The Iranian regime is denying any involvement in the plot and says the allegations are US propaganda.

At a press conference announcing the plot and the charging of two Iranians, attorney-general Eric Holder said that the US would “hold Iran accountable for its actions”.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also warned that the US will consider ways to isolate Iran from the international community.

HILLARY CLINTON: This kind of action which violates international norms must be ended and other areas where we can cooperate more closely in order to send a strong message to Iran and further isolate it from the international community will also be considered.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

But a former CIA analyst with decades of experience studying Iran, says the US may have got this dangerously wrong.

Robert Baer spent 21 years working as a CIA case officer in the Middle East.

When he spoke to me this morning, he said this plot does not appear to him to be driven by the Iranian government and he says the US administration must now step back from its comments and open a direct diplomatic channel with the Iranian regime or risk igniting an uncontrollable war.

Robert Baer, were you surprised when you heard about this assassination plot?

ROBERT BAER: Oh absolutely. I mean right now is not the time for Iran to provoke the United States. We’re on edge already vis-à-vis Iran and it came as a total surprise to me.

ELEANOR HALL: The Iranian authorities have dismissed this as US propaganda; is it credible that the Iranian government is behind it?

ROBERT BAER: I don’t think it’s credible, not the central government, there may be a rogue element behind it. This doesn’t fit their modus operandi at all. It’s completely out of character, they’re much better than this. They wouldn’t be sending money through an American bank, they wouldn’t be going to the cartels in Mexico to do this. It’s just not the way they work.

I’ve followed them for 30 years and they’re much more careful. And they always use a proxy between them and the operation, and in this case they didn’t. I mean it’s the, either they’re shooting themselves in the foot or there’s pieces of the story, I don’t know what they are.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the US attorney-general is alleging that it’s the Iranian government and has warned that the US will take further action against Iran; what could he mean by that? What form could that action take?

ROBERT BAER: Well if they had gone through with this and set off a bomb in a Washington restaurant and attacked the Israeli embassy and the rest of it, that’s a casus belli, they could have gone to war with Iran.

And will they move? Sanctions are not working, they’ve done all the sanctions they can, are they going to move to some sort of naval blockade, an embargo? I can’t tell you.

But if they truly believe the central government was going to launch an attack inside the United States like this, they have to do something now that they’re on the record.

ELEANOR HALL: Well they are on the record. They’re now saying that they will take further action. It’s surely not likely that they would launch a war?

ROBERT BAER: There could be retaliatory attacks or, you know, hit/bomb a Quds Force base in Tehran, any number of things of course which would lead to a huge escalation.

I just cannot get over the fact though, and I have to come back to this, the Iranians are not that sloppy to plan something like this and then call back to Tehran. So I can’t explain what’s going on here.

ELEANOR HALL: So are you suggesting that the US attorney-general is actually speaking out too soon in blaming the Iranian government?

ROBERT BAER: I think he is. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the administration sort of backing down from this in the coming days.

On the other hand, if they increase the rhetoric, we are looking at an escalation which is uncontrollable.

ELEANOR HALL: And which could lead where?

ROBERT BAER: It could lead to a conflict in Iran. I mean, if we were to launch an embargo, there’s a limited amount of troops in Iraq, would the Iranians retaliate against them? Would they retaliate against us in any number of places?

This is the problem, you know, Iran truly is the third rail of American foreign policy and no-one’s done anything over the years to ameliorate relations with Iran.

ELEANOR HALL: If it’s not Iran behind this assassination plot, what are the possibilities?

ROBERT BAER: You could have an individual claiming it’s the Iranian government, an Iranian radical. You might actually have a radical in Tehran attempting to frame the government.

ELEANOR HALL: And to what extent should the Saudis be concerned about such a plot against their ambassador in the US, whether it’s driven by the official authorities of Iran or not?

ROBERT BAER: I think that they should be worried about attacks inside Saudi Arabia, and again that goes back to escalation.

ELEANOR HALL: Well Iran and the Saudis have long been rival powers in the region, but are the various Arab Spring uprisings ratcheting up the tensions between the two?

ROBERT BAER: I think they are because if you look at something like Syria, Iran, no matter what they say, supports the minority regime. My contention is we’re sitting on a volcano in the Middle East. But that’s all could be ignited by this kind of tension. And people in the White House, that’s exactly what they don’t need going into an election.

ELEANOR HALL: So what’s your advice right now to the president?

ROBERT BAER: Well I think he made a huge step in this press conference in the wrong direction. You know, now is the time we should have a back channel to Iran, figure out who these people are, a red line, like we used to have with the Soviet Union, and sort this out. We need a direct channel to the Iranians to talk this through.

ELEANOR HALL: And the way that you’re speaking at the moment, this is a really serious point of crisis?

ROBERT BAER: I think it’s an act of war. If that bomb had gone off, if indeed this was a real plot, it had gone off, it would have been an act of war and the United States would have been forced to respond with military… an attack. There would have been no question in my mind.

So were we that close to a war with Iran? I don’t know.

ELEANOR HALL: But at this point you’re saying actions need to be taken to step it back, from the United States?

ROBERT BAER: Absolutely. We could not control the consequences of a war with Iran, it’s uncontrollable.

Look, all these scenarios are worst case, and fortunately they rarely come about and I hope we step back on this one.

ELEANOR HALL: Robert Baer, thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERT BAER: Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s former CIA analyst Robert Baer. His most recent book on Iran is called Dealing with the Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower. And you can listen to a longer version of that interview on our website.