The Shape of the War to Come--The View from Beyond

“It’s rather like getting a death threat on the telephone, you know. The nutjob that makes the call isn’t going to do anything, because if he were, he wouldn’t have told you about it.”


I had gotten my freshly-rehabbed Ouija board working again, and had reached the spirit of my old friend James Jesus Angleton, formerly head of CIA’s counterintelligence team (and longtime liaison with Israeli intelligence via his buddy Teddy Kollek, Ben Gurion’s private secretary and then mayor of Jerusalem). I couldn’t think of anyone better to ask about all the war talk involving Israel, the United States, and Iran. He was inclined to downplay the seriousness of the talk.

ML:  “Does that apply to everyone? To all three? Or mainly — maybe exclusively — to the Iranians?”

JJA:  “In a rational world, it would apply to everyone. But you have to wonder how many rational actors there are…”

ML:  “So maybe it’s all a form of geopolitical theater, and nobody really intends to attack anyone else?”

JJA:  “No. But I think that there’s a lot of theater, and much of it is disinformation. Let’s start with the Iranians. A while back there were disturbances in Bahrain, and the Saudis were threatening to send troops to help their neighbor put down the uprising. The Iranians — top officers in the Revolutionary Guards — pounded their chests and proclaimed they would not sit still for it. If the Saudis dared to intervene, the RG guys said, there would be blood in the streets of Bahrain, and the Guards would slaughter the Saudis.”


ML:  “Right.  And the Saudis actually did it.  And the Iranians…”

JJA:  “The Iranians ran away.  Didn’t fire a shot.  Went home.”

ML:  “And so?”

JJA:  “So they phoned in their death threat and did nothing.”

ML:  “And you think this applies to Israel’s threat — a threat that has been given great resonance by a whole series of American officials, from SecDef Panetta to Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey and spokespersons from the White House and the State Department — that they will attack the Iranian nuclear project if and when they think they know that the project is dangerously close to fruition?”

JJA:  “No. I think it applies to Iranian public threats, things like threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. There again, the Iranians said they were now in full control of the waterway, and if the Americans dared set sail without explicit Iranian permission, they’d sink our ships. So we sent a carrier group in. And the Iranians didn’t do anything.”

ML:  “And of course there’s the promise to stop sending oil to some European countries, heh…”

JJA:  “Right.  Followed immediately by ‘but not in the winter because we’re such great humanitarians.'”

ML:  “So it seems that when the Iranians issue threats, they don’t really mean it.”

JJA:  “Exactly. Which is not to say that they aren’t doing nasty things. But they don’t talk about THOSE things.”


ML:  “As in Syria, where they’re going all-out (or is it ‘all-in’?) to try to save Assad.”

JJA:  “That’s a very good example, where they’re in cahoots with the Russians and of course Hezbollah, which is so often the key to their foreign operations.”

ML:  “Or their Latin American gambit. Did you happen to notice that report about 42,000 Iranian agents in South America?”

JJA:  “That seems too big a number, somehow.”

ML:  “I agree. But they’ve certainly made a big investment in their Latino network, whatever the real number may be.  The main thrust of the article — which quotes a recent defector — is that they’re operating under commercial cover, while carrying out wicked operations, preparing to attack the United States with terrorists and perhaps even missiles.”

JJA:  “You have to be careful of defectors, as I learned… sometimes the enemy will send phony defectors to make sure you do NOT know what they are really up to.  And also to find out if you are buying their disinformation.”

ML:  “Right. Pity you never wrote the book on that one.”

JJA:  “Not my style at all…”

ML:  “You’re telling me! I went into the World War II archives once to read some of your material from Italy, but all the key folders were empty.”

JJA:  “Sorry. If I’d known you cared so much, I’d have left you some juicy fragments.”


ML:  “Haha. Anyway, we can say that the Iranian public statements are not real warnings, right?”

JJA:  “Yeah, I think so. Very often, anyway.”

ML:  “And what about the Israeli warnings?”

JJA:  “That’s very different. The Israelis have long believed that Iran was too big a strategic challenge for them to deal with by themselves. They never thought they could go it alone. They needed allies, above all, the United States. So they concentrated on convincing the Americans to do what was necessary.”

ML:  “So are the Israeli warnings like the Iranian ones?  A deception of sorts?”

JJA:  “Not entirely. I think that the Israelis are still hoping to convince the Americans to take serious action against the Iranian nuclear project.  On the other hand, it’s clear that Israel has been acting—they are almost certainly involved in Stuxnet and other acts of sabotage (no doubt there are things we don’t know about)—and it’s easy to imagine circumstances in which they would have to do more, regardless of American policy. But they’d much rather we did it, or did it in tandem with them. I don’t think they’ll give up on that until D Day. But if they have no alternative, they’ll move. They have to.”

ML:  “So if the Israelis became convinced the Iranians were on the verge of acquiring a nuclear warhead that they could put on a missile, they’d have to act?”


JJA:  “Maybe even before that point. They’re saying that they might have to strike before key elements of the Iranian project get moved deep underground or inside a mountain, or some such.”

ML:  “Yes, I’ve read that stuff, but I don’t believe it.”

JJA:  “Why not?”

ML:  “Because I don’t believe that they are planning to conduct that big Hollywood spectacular bombing run. I wouldn’t do it that way, if I were in their sandals.”

JJA:  “Good thinking.  Why put all those pilots at risk?”

ML:  “Exactly.  If they can organize assassinations in daylight in downtown Tehran, and speed off on their motorcycles, they can certainly take their motorcycles to the sites of the centrifuges or missile assemblies.”

JJA:  “Or work with various opposition groups to do that.  I agree.”

ML:   “And there are lots of opposition groups, and plenty of people within the regime who would cooperate. Just look at what’s been going on inside the Pretorian, I mean Revolutionary Guards Corps…”

A whiff of smoke came out of the Ouija board. I couldn’t tell if that was cigarette smoke or burning insulation.

JJA:  “Yeah. Four top officers died in 4 days! Shades of Stalin…”

I thought, if I were in Angleton’s condition I’d be careful about using words like ‘shades,’ but now there was static so I had to speed up before I lost him.

ML:  “And what about the Americans?  What if the president figures it would be good for him to deliver a blow to the Iranians…just him, no Israelis involved.”


JJA:  “Can you imagine that?”

ML:  “He’d need a direct provocation, but there are people in Washington — serious people, I might add, not the usual conspiratorial crowd — who think he’s doing that right now. They think he’s sending warships into the Gulf, hoping for an Iranian attack, so he can blast them.”

JJA:  “Seems far fetched. He’s invested so much in trying to make a deal with them.”

It was getting difficult to understand him, with all the crackling. And now there was more smoke, unmistakably insulation…

ML:  “Do you know if that’s still going on? It’s hard to keep track of it all. There have been secret contacts all along.”

JJA:  “Someone from the State Department met…(static) early November…(loud crackling) told him to go to hell…”

And he was gone.  I should have asked earlier about secret talks. Oh, well, next time. I should get the thing rewired in a couple of weeks.


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