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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Behind the AIPAC Probe, Neocons Seen Battling Rivals

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2004; 10:30 AM

A high-level Washington power struggle over U.S. policy toward Iran is driving the espionage investigation of the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), according to international online observers.

On one side of the conflict are neoconservative officials in the Pentagon who favor bold U.S. action to bring down Iran's theocratic government. On the other side, some see intelligence officials who view the neocons as too close to Israel.

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Americans, distracted by two political conventions, the Olympics and summer vacations, probably missed the news that the governments of Israel and Iran spent the summer trading threats to attack each other.

Iran, the most populous country in the Middle East, has been secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, according to international weapons inspectors, a charge Tehran denies. Israel, which has maintained an official stance of nuclear ambiguity, is long suspected of possessing a nuclear arsenal but has never accepted weapons inspections. It is, by all accounts, determined to prevent the emergence of another nuclear power in the Middle East. In 1982, Israeli jets destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. Israeli officials have threatened to do the same in Iran.

In mid-August Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani upped the ante by telling al-Jazeera television that his government might launch preemptive strikes against Israel to protect its nuclear facilities, according to the China Daily.

On Aug. 27, CBS News broke the story that the FBI was investigating Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Lawrence A. Franklin for allegedly sharing sensitive U.S. documents on Iran policy with AIPAC. The Post then reported that the two-year-old probe was broader than just one person and that investigators are looking into whether other defense officials had given sensitive materials to AIPAC and Ahmed Chalabi, the former Iraqi dissident who enjoyed support in areas of the Pentagon before the war.

While the Post quoted sources as saying they were "puzzled" and "baffled" about the motivation of the AIPAC probe, many foreign observers show no such doubt.

The AIPAC scandal "stems from bureaucratic competition between neoconservatives and their opponents within the administration," according to columnist Avinoam Bar Yosef of the Jerusalem Post.

A commentator in a leading Arabic daily agreed.

The scandal "tells us less about Israeli spying efforts than it does about the existence of some serious disagreements within the Bush administration on how to deal with Iran," said columnist Helena Cobban in the London-based Dar al-Hayat.

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. military victory in Iraq over Saddam Hussein's army in April 2003, Cobban writes that "many ranking members of the [Bush] administration started talking openly about the need to bring about a similarly violent 'regime change' in Iran and Syria as their next goal."

The AIPAC investigation, she says, is a challenge to their ambitions.

"More and more people in the U.S. military and the country as a whole have seen how hard it has been to achieve what they wanted in Iraq, alone, and how high the costs have been there," Cobban wrote.

The Economist magazine, in a piece reprinted in the Toronto Star, noted that Franklin worked for two of the leading advocates of "regime change" in Iran: Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary for policy.

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