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March 15, 2006

Iran and Bird Flu: The Perfect Casus Belli?


by Jorge Hirsch

The casus belli against Iran is about to be unveiled. You may call it the modern equivalent of Pearl Harbor, and it has already occurred without you even noticing. Iran is attacking us with air-delivered weapons of mass destruction, and we have no choice but to respond in kind. Unless we act immediately, the next wave of Iran's deadly chirping missiles will be launched in the next few weeks from the Iranian wetlands toward their targets in Scandinavia and Alaska, and from there will extend their deadly effect, killing millions throughout the Western world.

You see, Americans have grown weary of "preemptive doctrine" [.pdf] after the Iraq fiasco, no matter what the officially adopted "National Security Strategy" proclaims. We will not support a U.S. attack on Iran based on a nuclear threat that is at best several years into the future. The Israeli argument that Iran should be attacked before some ill-defined "point of no return" has no traction. No matter how "grave" the nuclear threat is, no matter how "unacceptable" a nuclear Iran is, we need a trigger. And unfortunately, Israel has bailed out on us. It wisely does not want to be accused of "dragging the nations into a war" with an Osirak-type bombing that would "force us" to step in, so it has said that it will not "act alone against Iran." No, the ball is in our court, it is up to us to get it rolling. And we will.

Why Haven't We Attacked Iran Yet?

The "reasons" to attack Iran are infinitely better than they were for Iraq. Iran is processing yellowcake uranium, which is a precondition for nuclear bombs. Iran is determined without a doubt to build such weapons, as stated repeatedly and categorically by administration officials. Iran is believed by all of Congress and most Americans to be the prime sponsor of terrorism. Iran has missiles that can reach Israel, and its statements against Israel have been prominently amplified in the news. Iran can kill a lot of Americans in Iraq if it so chooses. Iran is "threatening" the U.S. with "harm and pain" (never mind that the statement Iran made was completely distorted in the press). Iran has weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological) and their means of delivery (missiles with suitable warheads), according to administration officials. Iran is stirring up trouble in Iraq. Iran oppresses its people. Iran harbors al-Qaeda. What on earth are we waiting for?

All this is good but not good enough, because the bar has been raised much higher by the Iraq fiasco, and because the upcoming confrontation has much higher stakes: it will result in many more casualties and will involve the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. for the first time in 60 years. We need a mighty good reason, one that will allow the president to stand up and say "we cannot wait any longer" and Americans to stand behind him and cheer. Because the stakes are so high, we need a Pearl Harbor; a Gulf of Tonkin won't do, a "defiant Saddam" much less. Or we need an imminent threat, one so huge that it can be argued to be equivalent to an actual attack, and that has a crucial time element.

The Bird Flu Threat

Iran's Shahab missiles can reach Israel but not Western Europe or the U.S. But Iran's birds can. They can carry a weapon that will potentially cause 150 million deaths, as the media have been pointing out so conveniently [1], [2], [3].

Iran's wetlands in Gilan and Khuzestan and several other locations are reservoirs for thousands of migratory birds. Ducks, geese, and swans from Iranian wetlands will start migrating to cooler northern countries in early April. Some will head northwest through Eastern Europe to Germany and Scandinavia, others will head northeast through East Asia toward Alaska. The deadly strain of H5N1 bird flu virus will travel with them, and their feces will infect chickens and other domestic fowl in their path. And from there, on to kill tens of millions of Americans and Europeans. Or so the story goes.

It has been pointed out by Michel Choussudovsky and others that there is something very strange about the sudden fearmongering by government officials and the Western press on the dangers of bird flu. Avian flu has been around for centuries, and even the particularly virulent form H5N1 has been known since 1959, and human infection has been recorded since 1997. Why the recent emphasis? Why are the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense so deeply involved in preparations for an impending bird-flu pandemic?

The H5N1 virus is not transmissible from human to human, so a pandemic is impossible unless the virus undergoes a random mutation. However, any random mutation of any virus could potentially be very dangerous to humans. What if the HIV virus suddenly mutated into a form where it was transmitted by casual contact or even worse, through the air? What if the ebola virus suddenly mutated into a form that remains dormant for six months before killing the victim? Why aren't we panicking about those possibilities, which are as likely (or rather, as unlikely) as H5N1 mutating into a human transmissible virus?

Simply because the H5N1 disaster scenario lends itself to a casus belli against Iran. Iran has the "weapons" and the "means of delivery." Time is of the essence. All that is missing is the bioterrorism connection, which the Bush administration is about to kindly provide.

Iran and Bioterrorism

Iran is accused by the U.S. State Department, the CIA, the Department of Defense, and John Bolton of "operating a clandestine biological weapons program." Judith Miller was warning as far back as 1998 that Iran was working on germ warfare, at the same time Rumsfeld was warning about Iran's "means of delivery." There is not a shred of real evidence for this claim, which does not prevent the administration from continuously repeating it.

In May 2003, the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq claimed that "Iran has begun production of weaponized anthrax and is actively working with at least five other pathogens, including smallpox, in a drive to build an arsenal of biological weapons," and that "the anthrax weapons are the first fruits of a program begun secretly in 2001 to triple the size of Iran's biowarfare program." This was duly reported in the press, despite the fact that no evidence in support of these claims was presented. "Experts" said the description "seemed plausible" since the group had "provided solid leads in the past." Indeed, this is the same group that exposed the existence of the Natanz nuclear enrichment complex, claiming that it was part of a " very sophisticated, advanced, serious, and expensive nuclear weapons program," which, coincidentally, has also been the U.S. position, again without a shred of real evidence.

Iran has an advanced biotechnology research and development effort and certainly knows how to genetically modify organisms. What prevents the U.S. from arguing that because biotechnology could potentially lead to bioweapons, Iran should not be allowed to pursue biotechnology for non-weapons purposes? It would be no different from the U.S. stance toward Iran's nuclear aspirations.

Watch for more explicit language on Iran's "biological weapons" programs to be added to the H.R. 282 bill in the next few days. It will be the equivalent of the congressional authorization for the Iraq war.

Bolton has accused Cuba of pursuing biotechnology for the sake of biological weapons, but not Iran. Experts and a Canadian military agency have warned about the possibility of using bird flu as a bioterrorist weapon. The U.S., however, has been silent on this, and there is a good reason why: the surprise factor.

Classified Information

T he U.S. has gathered intelligence revealing that Iranian scientists have been working intensely in hidden underground facilities to develop a strain of the H5N1 virus that is transmissible from human to human. The information is being kept classified, following Executive Order 13292 of 2003, which made all information on "weapons of mass destruction" and "defense against transnational terrorism" classifiable. The real reason to keep such information classified is, of course, to avoid public scrutiny.

I should clarify that I am not privy to classified information. However, there is no doubt that at the very least administration officials believe that what I just described is possible, and a single individual such as "Curveball" making such a "plausible" claim could lead the administration to act, if it fits their aims. So let's continue with the scenario:

Dual-use facilities disguised as Iranian chicken farms are being used to test how fast the virus can be transmitted from a wild duck to a chicken and on to the humans handling the chicken, and from them to their family and friends. In the last few weeks, a breakthrough was achieved, and the perfect strain was finally found. Iranian ecologists are currently at work in the Iranian wetlands to deploy the mutated virus among wild ducks, swans, and geese, in preparation for the launching of the birds along their migratory paths toward the Western world in early April.

Does that sound like a good enough casus belli to you? It does to me.

If true, this could potentially lead to tens of millions of deaths in the Western world over the next six months. Can you prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is not true?

Time is of the essence. The birds start migrating in early April. There is no time to "trust but verify."

A B61-11 nuclear earth-penetrator aimed at Iran's underground facility where the mutated virus is being manufactured would destroy the facility and prevent a bioholocaust, at the inevitable cost of a few lives. "The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just."

"Geographic combatant commanders may request presidential approval for use of nuclear weapons for a variety of conditions. Examples include… Imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy."

Plus:

"The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack.

Bush's April 2006 Speech

I am not a speechwriter. Still, I feel compelled to help the president out, to make my small contribution to the New World Order. Here is what President Bush will announce to the nation and the world in early April 2006:

  • Iran has flouted the international community and continues in its determined path to manufacture nucular weapons.
  • Iran has announced that it will destroy Israel, and once it has a nucular weapon it will do so.
  • Iran is the prime sponsor of terrorism, and once it has nucular weapons it will give them to terrorists to detonate in New York, London, and Tel Aviv. It will also put nucular weapons on missiles aimed at Europe and the U.S.
  • I have said that I will not remain idle while dangers gather. Nevertheless, I am mindful of those that say that there is still time to pursue diplomatic action, however unlikely it is to succeed. But I am here to announce that we no longer have that luxury.
  • Thousands of Iranian birds will begin their journey along their migratory pathways in the next few days. Their routes will bring them to Europe and the United States. This is a fact, and nobody can accuse the United States of making it up. [smirk]
  • Intelligence gathered by the U.S. and British governments shows that Iranian scientists have developed a mutated strain of the H5N1 virus that can be transmitted from human to human. World health agencies and experts have warned that such a virus will lead to a bird-flu pandemic that can potentially kill 150 million human beings. Iranian birds have already infected and killed innocent birds of our allies in Europe.
  • Even a single bird carrying the mutated strain can transmit it to countless other birds and humans, causing a nightmare of unimaginable proportions.
  • I demand that the Iranian government immediately destroy all strains of the mutated virus and provide to the international community incontrovertible proof that it has done so.
  • While we are at it, I demand that the Iranian government immediately destroy all its dual-use nuclear facilities, as well as all the knowledge it has about nucular weapons, including all physics books written after September 27, 1905.
  • I demand that the Iranian government immediately open up all its military, industrial, scientific, health care, and agricultural facilities for full and unconstrained international inspections.
  • I demand that the Iranian government immediately and verifiably destroy the wetlands at Gilan, Khuzestan, and Hamoon that breed the deadly birds that will attack us.
  • The Iranian government has 24 hours to comply with these just demands. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.

The rest, such as "[we] did nothing to deserve or invite this threat," "before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed," and other appropriate statements you can cut and paste from the March 17, 2003 speech. Bombing will start right after the 24-hour deadline expires. You are welcome, William McGurn.

Why It May Not Work

There is of course the small point that there will be no proof Iran is making the deadly virus. But that doesn't matter: Iran will have 24 hours to prove that it is not making the virus. The proof that Bush's claim was false will be buried in radioactive fallout, impossible to retrieve. In the administration's logic, because it will not be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that their claim was untrue, it must have been true. They trust, based on earlier experience, that the American people will treat them as criminal justice demands: innocent, even if suspect, until proven guilty. And that is good enough for them, given the important goal that will be achieved.

But it may not work, because it is being exposed in this article and elsewhere. The fact that I and others can predict these events proves that they will not be based on real facts gathered from intelligence, since I am not privy to classified information on any Iranian bioweapons work. These future events can be predicted today based on publicly available information only because they are not based on facts but rather on a sinister plan: to manufacture conditions that will make the U.S. nuclear attack on Iranian underground facilities palatable to the American public.

It may not work because those who are privy to this plan or parts of it still have time to make choices that may prevent it from happening: to blow the whistle, disobey orders, or resign from their posts. To talk to their colleagues and persuade them not to carry it through.

Or perhaps the American people will come out en masse, when the ultimatum to Iran is given, and demand that the administration back down. Others have done this and succeeded [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Perhaps the military, seeing the overwhelming public opposition, will collectively refuse to go along with the plan.

If the Bush administration carries through with the attack, at least we will know that it is heinously criminal. The terrorists who retaliate against America will know it, and Americans will know why they are being attacked. At the very least, we will be able to put a new administration in place that will bring the perpetrators to justice, swiftly, and with penalties that match the crime.

 

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Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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