بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
American Iranian Tensions: Brinkmanship or War?
Recent tensions between Western powers and Iran have again embroiled the region in a diplomatic frenzy, as nations scramble to shield themselves from the fallout of America's renewed confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme. Iranian military exercises laced with fiery rhetoric emanating from Tehran, and the presence of Western warships to enforce sanctions in the Persian Gulf has caused international panic.
Against the backdrop of Iranian threats to close the Straits of Hormuz, oil prices have spiked and speculation is forever mounting about Israeli and American military strikes against Iran. For instance, the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hinted at military action in the event Iran went too far. He said, "We have to make sure we are ready for any situation and have all options on the table. We must keep all capabilities ready in the event those lines are crossed." (Tensions high, US warns Iran not to block shipping, AP Online, January 13 2012). The latest bout of verbal dueling occasionally punctuated with threats of military action has sounded alarms bells as far away as Moscow and Beijing. Speaking at a news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned about attacking Iran. He said, "I have no doubt that it would pour fuel on a fire which is already smoldering, the hidden smoldering fire of Sunni-Shia confrontation, and beyond that (cause) a chain reaction - I don't know where it would stop...On the chances of whether this catastrophe will happen or not you should ask those who repeatedly talk about this." (Western strike on Iran would be "catastrophe": Russia, Reuters Online, January 18 2012). Li Song, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, "Military action would have a disastrous effect on the peace and stability of the Middle East. Once a war takes place in the region, not only will countries in the region be affected and impacted, world energy security and the world economy will suffer a deadly blow." (Iran attack would be 'disastrous', China Daily Online, January 19 2012).
However, beyond the current military buildup, there are gestures from both sides that are seemingly at odds with the warmongers in Washington and Tehran. The American rescue of hijacked Iranian fishermen and Obama's letters to the Iranian leadership suggests that America wants to resolve the issue diplomatically. Commenting on the letter, Ebrahimi, who is the Deputy Chairman of the Majlis's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee said, "In the letter, Obama has mentioned cooperation and negotiation based on the interests of the two countries. He has stated in the letter that they will not take any hostile action against the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is not the first time that Obama has sent a message and letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has repeatedly spoken in a soft tone about the Islamic Republic of Iran, but, in practice, he has not acted accordingly." (Details of Obama's letter to Iran released, Tehran Times Online, Jan 18 2012)The Iranians have also reciprocated with warm overtures of their own and have stated that the US has a right to move its warships in the Persian Gulf. All of this begs the question: Is this a serious crisis that will lead to war or is the crisis manufactured to support ulterior motives?
One cannot help but notice that over the past six years or so America has had ample opportunities to attack Iran's nuclear sites or initiate regime change, but on each occasion America either downplayed the Iranian threat or gave half-hearted support to the Iranian people to topple the regime. Some of these incidents can be summarized as:
1. In 2005, the Bush administration dismissed Israeli fears of a nuclear armed Iran after the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) revised its estimate from 2010 to 2015, the date by when Iran would possess an atomic bomb. Additionally, and more significantly, the NIE claimed that Iran had abandoned plans to weaponize its nuclear program in 2003.
2. In 2007, America's ambivalence toward Iran was again on display when another close ally, Britain, found its naval personnel captives of Iranian forces. American indifference was deliberate, as Washington feared that Britain had engineered the naval fiasco to instigate an attack on Iran.
3. In 2008, America also refused to sell Israel advanced versions of its bunker-buster bombs and dismissed Israel's show of air power over the Mediterranean, which was widely interpreted by many observers as a dry run to attack Iran
4. In 2009, protests in Iran erupted against Ahmadinejad's re-election. The protestors were strongly supported by the European Union, but America's support was cagy at best. America's patchy support was out of step with European support for the Iranian people and underscored America's reluctance to take decisive action against the Iranian regime.
But one may argue that all of this was in the past, and that the US has finally come round to attacking Iran and thereby addressing Israeli concerns. Supporters of this view bring several evidences to justify their stance. For instance they point to the advance weaponry that is being deployed in Israel as well as the GCC countries, and covert actions to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme. For instance the Wall Street Journal revealed that the White House will provide the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with "thousands of advanced ‘bunker-buster' bombs and other munitions, part of a stepped-up U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran. Another source mentioned 500 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles in addition to the other munitions. The Wall Street Journal report added: "The Obama administration is trying to build up the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, U.A.E. and Kuwait, as a unified counterweight to Iran. The newspaper reminded its readers of a $67 billion arms deal initiated by the White House with Saudi Arabia in 2010 to supply the second nation with 84 F-15 fighter jets and 2,000-pound bunker-busting bombs, 72 Black Hawk and 70 Apache Longbow attack helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-2 and other missiles, and warships. The Wall Street Journal also reported that the U.S. Defence Department plans to supply Stinger missiles and medium-range air-to-air missiles to Oman. (US Plans Bomb Sales in Gulf to Counter Iran, Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2011). The news media is rife of reports regarding Israeli covert actions that include a campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyber attacks and defections to weaken the Iranian regime and to halt the country's attempts to develop nuclear capabilities.
However, by deploying advanced weaponry in Israel, arming GCC countries and conducting clandestine activities against in Iran does not mean that the intended US target is Iran. The US can easily point the weaponry elsewhere.
Furthermore, the most important question which observers forget to ask is why the US would risk further instability in the region and attack Iran.
It should be noted that Iran has played a pivotal role to help entrench US hegemony in the region. These are:
1. Iran has provided stability in Iraq through the governing Shia leadership much of it was developed and nurtured under Tehran's tutelage.
2. Tehran has also provided invaluable support to American forces to contain the Afghan Pushtun resistance from spreading westwards.
3. Iran continues to buttress Assad's regime in Syria by providing military support as well as soliciting support from movements and countries across the region.
4. America has adroitly exploited the Iranian threat to bolster its military agreements with Israel and GCC countries. Hence, Iran is a pillar of US stability in Middle East, and the US has often regarded Iran as the leader of the Shia crescent stretching from Lebanon to Yemen, and act as her watchman over the Middle East's hydro-carbon reserves.
5. America has exploited Iran's nuclear programme to justify its missile shield for allies in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
So by attacking Iran the US will only undermine her interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East. Simply put, America has too much to lose. Additionally, the high price of oil that would naturally ensue from such a conflict would exacerbate the US economy and hamper the miniscule growth that the US is currently experiencing. Obama cannot afford to go war, as his re-election depends on the US economy generating more jobs for the unemployed.
The reason behind the imposition of sanctions and clandestine operations in Iran is to assuage Israeli security concerns, and secure much needed Jewish votes for the Obama administration ahead of the US general elections in November 2012. America is fully aware that this is the maximum pressure it can apply on Iran without toppling the Iranian regime and impacting America's regional hegemony.
As for the Jewish state, it still harbours ambitions to hoodwink America into a military confrontation with Iran. Israel's defence minister Ehud Barak is said to have told General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Israel will give the US no more than 12 hours notice before it ventures to demolish Iran's nuclear installations. As a result the US postponed its military exercise with Israel (US miffed as Israel hints at unilateral strike on Iran N-sites, Times of India, January 23 2012). America is treading carefully with Israel, and trying to ensure that it does not launch any military strikes. The Europeans on the other hand are keen to support Israel covertly, hoping that any confrontation with Iran would drag America into another war that it cannot afford and would eventually bleed America to death. Nonetheless, the European effort is timid, as Europe is consumed with the economic crisis. All of this means that unless Israel gets support from Europe in particularly the GCC countries that are loyal to Britain, the chance of a military strike is of diminutive proportions.
This then leaves the unanswered question of the timing of the tensions coupled with the rapid buildup of arms. The tensions between Iran and America were accentuated in response to the IAEA report, and serve two objectives. First, America sought to address Israeli concerns by demonstrating its seriousness to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions by enforcing sanctions and talking tough. Second, America is preparing to intervene in Syria and the buildup of weapons is in part to address this eventuality. The timing of the intervention will depend on how quickly the US can get the Syrian opposition united to take over from Assad's regime. Russia is acutely aware of American intentions to invade Syria and has warned America that it would not support a UN resolution authorizing force.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "If some intend to use force at all cost ... we can hardly prevent that from happening. But let them do it at their own initiative on their own conscience, they won't get any authorization from the U.N. Security Council." (Russia warns against military action against Syria, rejects criticism of munitions delivery, Washington Post Online, January 18 2012). To dissuade the US, Russia has sent shipment of weapons to Syria, signed a military jet deal worth $550 million and stationed some of naval ships in Syria.
The other reason for flooding the region with arms is that America is preparing for an eventual war with major powers such as Russia, China and Europe over the control of the oil and gas supplies of the Middle East. She is also preparing for the return of the Caliphate and will use her agents to delay the unification of Muslim countries in the region.
01 Rabi' I 1433