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2009 US Policy Paper Planned Current Israeli-Iranian Tensions

Above photo: A graphic depicting cogs in a machine with an Iranian flag (Left) and an Israeli flag (Right) over a backdrop of the globe. New Eastern Outlook.

Since October 7, 2023 it would appear a spontaneous chain of events is leading the Middle East deeper and deeper into conflict. From Israel’s ongoing military operations in Gaza to its strikes on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and repeated strikes across Syria (including the recent strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus), to the ongoing US-led confrontation with Yemen in the Red Sea, it would appear that poor diplomacy is failing to prevent escalation and is instead leading to mounting tensions and a growing potential for wider war.

In reality, almost verbatim, US-Israeli diplomacy (or lack thereof) and military operations are following a carefully laid out policy described in the pages of the Brooking Institution’s 2009 paper, “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran.”

Washington’s Middle East Playbook

The Brookings Institution is a Washington-based think tank funded by both the US government and military, as well as the largest corporate-financier interests across the collective West. Its board of directors and experts are among the most prominent figures in US foreign policy and political circles. What is produced in the institution’s papers is far from speculation or commentary, but instead reflects a consensus regarding the direction of US foreign policy.

Its 2009 paper is no exception. For those who read its 170 pages in 2009, they would have learned about ongoing or future plans to overthrow or contain the Iranian government.

There are entire chapters regarding “diplomatic options” which laid out plans to appear to engage with Iran in a deal regarding its nuclear program, unilaterally abandoning the plan, and then using its failure as a pretext to apply further pressure on the Iranian government and economy (Chapter 2: Tempting Tehran: The Engagement Option).

There are chapters that detail methods of creating unrest within Iran, both by using US government-funded opposition groups (Chapter 6: The Velvet Revolution: Supporting a Popular Uprising) and even through supporting US State Department-listed foreign terrorist organizations like the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) (Chapter 7: Inspiring an Insurgency: Supporting Iranian Minority and Opposition Groups).

Other chapters detail a direct US invasion (Chapter 3: Going All the Way: Invasion) and a smaller scale air campaign (Chapter 4: The Osiraq Option: Airstrikes).

Finally, a whole chapter is dedicated to using Israel to trigger a war the US could then appear reluctant to wade into afterwards, (Chapter 5: Leave it to Bibi: Allowing or Encouraging an Israeli Military Strike).

Since 2009, each and every one of these options has either been tried (in some cases multiple times) or is in the process of being implemented. The so-called Iran Nuclear Deal signed under the administration of US President Barack Obama, unilaterally abandoned under the administration of US President Donald Trump, and efforts to revive it blocked under the administration of US President Joe Biden is an illustration of not just how faithful US foreign policy unfolded in regard to the paper’s contents, but the continuity of this policy regardless of who sat in the White House or controlled the US Congress.

Today, one of the most dangerous options explored appears to be fully in motion, with the US and Israel deliberately creating a permissive environment across the Middle East for war and repeatedly provoking Iran to trigger it.

“Leave it to Bibi”

The Brookings Institution makes several points clear. First, Iran is not interested in war with either the United States or Israel. Second, the US must take great effort to convince the world that Iran, not Washington, provoked a US-desired war. And third, even if repeatedly provoked, there is a high likelihood Iran would not retaliate and therefore deny the US and/or Israel a pretext for wider war.

The report notes:

…it would be far more preferable if the United States could cite an Iranian provocation as justification for the airstrikes before launching them. Clearly, the more outrageous, the more deadly, and the more unprovoked the Iranian action, the better off the United States would be. Of course, it would be very difficult for the United States to goad Iran into such a provocation without the rest of the world recognizing this game, which would then undermine it.

It continues:

(One method that would have some possibility of success would be to ratchet up covert regime change efforts in the hope that Tehran would retaliate overtly, or even semi-overtly, which could then be portrayed as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression.)

The paper is admitting the US seeks war with Iran, but wants to convince the world it is Iran itself provoking it.

The paper lays out the framework for a disingenuous diplomatic tract Washington could take with Tehran to enhance the illusion that Iran will be to blame for any war between it and the US (or Israel):

In a similar vein, any military operation against Iran will likely be very unpopular around the world and require the proper international context—both to ensure the logistical support the operation would require and to minimize the blowback from it. The best way to minimize international opprobrium and maximize support (however, grudging or covert) is to strike only when there is a widespread conviction that the Iranians were given but then rejected a superb offer—one so good that only a regime determined to acquire nuclear weapons and acquire them for the wrong reasons would turn it down. Under those circumstances, the United States (or Israel) could portray its operations as taken in sorrow, not anger, and at least some in the international community would conclude that the Iranians “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.

Israel plays a key role in this strategy. While Washington seeks to appear to be distancing itself from Israeli brutality amid its operations in Gaza as well as its recent strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus, such provocations are central to Washington’s own desire to pull Iran into a war it admits Tehran does not want to fight.

The 2009 paper anticipates that Israeli strikes on Iran could, “trigger a wider conflict between Israel and Iran that could draw in the United States and other countries.”

In reality, Israel’s brutality amid its Gaza operations and its most recent strike on Iran’s embassy are enabled entirely by US political, diplomatic, and military aid. The US not only gives Israel the military means to carry out this violence, it uses its position within the United Nations to lend impunity to Israel as it does so, as illustrated in the Washington Post’s April 4, 2024 article, “U.S. approved more bombs to Israel on day of World Central Kitchen strikes.”

Many analysts appear surprised by Washington’s paradoxical behavior, willing to believe the current Biden Administration is simply incompetent and unable to rein in its Israeli allies. However, considering the central role such egregious provocations play in advancing stated US foreign policy objectives against Iran, this should come as no surprise at all.

All that is required now is an Iranian retaliation, or an incident the US and Israel can convince the world was an Iranian retaliation.

Washington’s Greatest Fear is that Iran Won’t Retaliate

Iran has suffered US and Israeli provocations for decades. Perhaps the most egregious provocation in recent years prior to the Israeli strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus was the US assassination of senior Iranian military officer Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in 2020. While Iran did retaliate, it did so in a measured manner.

The attack on Iran’s embassy on April 1, 2024 was designed specifically to surpass the scale of the 2020 assassination, hoping to place irresistible pressure on Tehran to finally overreact specifically because of the strategic patience Iran has exhibited in the past. It may also be to convince the world that irresistible pressure has been placed on Iran to make a staged attack blamed on Iran seem more believable.

The 2009 Brookings paper, “Which Path to Persia?” clearly stated the problem (emphasis added):

It would not be inevitable that Iran would lash out violently in response to an American air campaign, but no American president should blithely assume that it would not. Iran has not always retaliated for American attacks against it. Initially, after the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988, many believed that this was Iranian retaliation for the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 455 by the American cruiser USS Vincennes in July of that year. However, today all of the evidence points to Libya as the culprit for that terrorist attack, which if true would suggest that Iran never did retaliate for its loss. Nor did Iran retaliate for America’s Operation Praying Mantis, which in 1988 resulted in the sinking of most of Iran’s major warships. Consequently, it is possible that Iran would simply choose to play the victim if attacked by the United States, assuming (probably correctly) that this would win the clerical regime considerable sympathy both domestically and internationally.

Washington has attempted to convince the world it fears escalation between Israel and Iran. Newsweek in its April 4, 2024 article, “White House ‘Very Concerned’ About Prospect of Israel-Iran War,” would even quote the White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby as saying, “nobody wants to see this conflict escalate.”

Despite Washington’s words, its actions demonstrate an eager desire toward escalation. The 2009 Brookings paper admits that even a “semi-overt” retaliation by Iran could be used as a pretext, which should prompt fears that the US and Israel may cite any attack, regardless of the party responsible, and assign blame to Iran to justify further escalation.

In many ways, both the US and Israel have already attempted to do this in regard to the October 7, 2023 Hamas attacks, despite admitting there is no evidence of Iran’s involvement.

Washington and its Proxies are Desperate and Dangerous

Strategic patience has paid off well for Iran. By avoiding outright war with either the US or Israel, it and its allies have been able to slowly but surely reshape the region. Iran has done this by circumventing US sanctions. It is also closing the artificial rifts the US has cultivated since the end of World War 2 to divide and rule the Middle East. This includes repairing its own relations with Saudi Arabia and repairing ties between its ally Syria and Washington’s Persian Gulf allies.

As the region reshapes itself, the US is finding its primacy over it waning. Washington’s list of willing proxies is growing shorter. Washington’s proxies who remain are finding themselves increasingly isolated. And as each year passes, Washington’s military power in the region becomes increasingly tenuous. Iran, if it continues along the successful path it has taken, will inevitably prevail over US interference along and within its borders.

The only prospect the US has of reasserting itself over the region and advancing its regime change policy toward Iran is by provoking a large-scale war, in which the US (and/or Israel) can use direct military force to accomplish what decades of sanctions and subversion have failed to do. Eventually, the window of opportunity to do even this will close for both the US and Israel as Iran and the rest of the multipolar world continue to grow and the US and its proxies continue to find themselves increasingly isolated.

As the US has revealed in Europe regarding its proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, this quickly closing window of opportunity has triggered dangerous desperation in Washington.

Only time will tell just how far this desperation compels US foreign policy in the Middle East and the actions of its proxies, especially Israel. Washington’s other proxy, Ukraine, has resorted to desperate measures ranging from extraterritorial terrorism to strikes on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in a dangerous bid to change its flagging fortunes. Israel actually possesses nuclear weapons, making Washington’s desperation in the Middle East all that much more dangerous.

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