Mark Perry: Israel and Iran’s ‘low-level war’ is ‘dangerous stuff’

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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The car of an Israeli diplomat burns after a bomb went off in New Delhi, India
(AP Photo/Joji Thomas, Economic Times)

Tensions rose sharply in the Middle East this week after a bomb blast in New Delhi, India injured an Israeli diplomat and another bomb was found under the car of a Tbilisi-based Israeli diplomat. Police in Thailand also announced that they have detained a group of Iranians found with explosives.

Israel immediately blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the attacks, and Thai police said that the bombs in their country were meant for Israeli diplomats as well. Thai officials also said that “the devices they found were similar to the ones used in Delhi and Georgia.” Iran has denied the charges, and Juan Cole pointed out that India, so far, does not suspect Iran in the blast in New Delhi.

The overseas attacks come as Israel’s reported involvement in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists garners more attention and as harsh sanctions continue to be placed on Iran.

For more on the escalating situation, I called up Mark Perry, a journalist and historian who is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy (FP) magazine and Al Jazeera. Perry authored the recent bombshell piece in FP that exposed how Israeli intelligence attempted to recruit known Pakistani terrorists to wage covert war on Iran by disguising themselves as CIA agents. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, which took place two days ago.

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Mark Perry speaking on Al Jazeera (Photo via DJIA TV)

Alex Kane: Israel has accused Iran and/or Hezbollah of being behind the recent attacks in New Delhi, India and Georgia. What is your immediate take on the accusation?

Mark Perry: Well, Israel has a lot of enemies. It could be anyone. I suppose that it’s not unpredictable that they would accuse Iran, but I don’t think Hezbollah was involved. Hezbollah, as we know, does larger operations, they usually take their good time, so maybe it’s Iran, but we don’t know. There’s a long list of suspects, and the suspicion is Iran, but it’s only a suspicion.

AK: And have you been in contact with any government sources about this?

MP: Well, obviously policy makers here are convinced that Israel and Iran, and know that Israel and Iran, are conducting a very low-level, asymmetric war. So they come to the natural conclusion that if Israel uses proxies to kill Iranians, then it’s likely the Iranians will respond. One of the reasons the United States does not like to get involved with this sort of thing–and we do not target or assassinate foreign government officials–is because we don’t want it happening to us. We want to stay clear of it. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the United States did steer clear of this.

AK: These attacks come days after NBC reported that Israel had been coordinating with the Iranian terror group the MEK to assassinate nuclear scientists in Iran. Obviously, it’s an interesting report in the context of your own article in Foreign Policy that pointed to a different Sunni extremist group in Pakistan that Israel had been collaborating with. What are your thoughts on this news in the context of your own reporting as well as the attacks overseas?

MP: Well, NBC did a good job and they got it. The story was always out there, there were a lot of reporters following it. It doesn’t come exactly as a shock. It was headlined in the mainstream media as kind-of to be expected. That Israel is cooperating with the MEK is not a surprise. They’re a much more robust group than, say, Jundallah. They certainly have the capabilities to do assassinations inside of Iran. They are a natural suspect in the killing of the scientists.

My immediate response to NBC’s story was, “yeah, well of course.” It was out there waiting to be proved and to be shown, and it was shown. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t at all surprised. You know, the brass ring was there to be grabbed. The question was who’s going to do it first. You know, with that said, I think it’s still very hard to prove. I think NBC did a very good job of showing that it was true.

AK: So you reported that Israel was collaborating with Jundallah. And now NBC is reporting that they’re collaborating with the MEK. Is it possible that Israel is collaborating with even more groups?

MP: Well, I don’t know that. And my story didn’t say that Israel had successfully recruited Jundallah, or that Jundallah had carried out operations on behalf of Israel.

Listen, my view on this is really pretty simple: this is dangerous stuff. When you recruit a terrorist group, you become a state supporter of terrorism by definition. I think that’s the real story here–that Israel attempted to recruit Jundallah using a false flag is a big story, and that Israel has been shown to use MEK is a big story.

But the elephant in the room, the story that no one is really talking about and that is there to be talked about and ought to be, publicly, is — is it a good idea for the United States to have a strategic ally that is recruiting terrorist groups to conduct terrorism? The United States’ answer to this question is we do not do this. We do not hire terrorists to conduct terrorism. It undermines every single principle of the war on terror. So the fact that Israel is doing it should be talked about in the consuls of government, it ought to be talked about in public, it ought to be condemned, they ought to be told in no uncertain terms that their relationship with the United States will change if this continues. The United States has done plenty of wrong in the world, and continues to do plenty of wrong in the world, but one of the things that we don’t do, is we don’t recruit terrorist organizations in the war on terror. It completely undermines every single principle in the war on terror that we have, and that includes the Bush administration right through to the Obama administration.

AK: And what do you think this all means for the future of Iranian, U.S. and Israeli relations? Do you think that this is moving very fast to a full-out war in the region, based on recent events and reports?

MP: I go from day to day. Yesterday I thought, boy, we’re really close. Today, I don’t think we’re close. Tomorrow, I’ll probably think we’re close. No one really knows. Anytime you escalate on something like this, you run the danger of starting a conflict you don’t want. And I’m a military historian, and everyone says, well, what is the historical metaphor? Is it August 1914? Everyone says, oh, it’s August 1914.

It’s August 1941. In August of 1941 the Japanese high command met in Tokyo and determined that they would bomb Pearl Harbor because the United States would not respond or would enter into negotiations and that they could get away with it. Four years later, 80 percent of their cities were destroyed, millions of Japanese were dead and Japan was absolutely on its knees.

No matter what you think is going to happen in the conflict, it’s not going to happen. You take your plans and you throw ‘em away, and multiply your assessments of losses by three, four or five and you understand that war is a serious business and that if you enter into it, you’re not going to get away with a surgical strike. Iran is not going anywhere–it’s going to be there forever. And if you hit Iran and you’re Israel, I think you’re asking for much bigger trouble than, “well we can do it today and tomorrow, and they’ll sit back and say, ‘gee, we shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons.’” That’s not going to happen. If there’s a war, we don’t know where it’s going to end, but one thing’s for sure: it will be a lot worse than we think.

AK: Is there anything you want to add before we go?

MP: The only thing that I would add is, in kind of nosing around Washington for the last six months, and particularly in talking to the military, it’s very clear to me what the United States does and does not want. And this administration does not want a war with Iran, and the U.S. military does not want a war with Iran, and will do a lot to make sure there isn’t a war. The people out there calling for a conflict–I mean, I think this morning the Washington Post had an editorial that sounded like, you know, “let’s do this”–people who say, “let’s hit Iran before they get nuclear weapons,” is a completely irresponsible position. And it’s usually taken by people who don’t have skin in the game–who don’t have members of their family in the military. We’re asking, in an era of non-conscription and volunteer army, we’re asking other people to pay a price for us. Before we do that, we have to exhaust every other alternative, and we haven’t yet.

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