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Iran: Jaw, Jaw or War, War?

Early in June the Israeli airforce carried out an exercise – sending 100 F15s and F16s out over the Eastern Mediterranean and Greece – supported by aerial tankers for in-flight refuelling. It was an impressive logistical feat and is being portrayed in the media as a dry run for bombing the Iranians’ principal nuclear facility at Bushehr. Interestingly it was not the Israelis or any of the other Middle Eastern states which ‘leaked’ the story but the Americans – with the spin that the Israelis were demonstrating to Tehran that they do have the capability of getting as far as Bushehr.

As the news leaked (June 20), the Israeli government stepped up the war of words with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (struggling to regain domestic credibility after more corruption allegations) saying: “Iran will not be nuclear.” Even more ominously Deputy Prime Minster Shaul Mofaz told journalists a strike on Iran was now “unavoidable”.

Arch neocon John Bolton, one-time US ambassador to the United Nations, has gone on record as saying he believes Israeli will strike in between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the new President. A strike before the election might influence it unduly; if Barack Obama were to be elected, the strike would need to take place before he took office and implented his ‘jaw, jaw before war, war’ policy.

Around the same time as the Israelis carried out their remarkable air exercise, Washington revealed that it had presented Tehran with a further batch of irrefutable evidence of large-scale shipments of explosives and other weaponry to be used against American and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it’s open news that Congress has approved $400M for covert action in Iran to destabilise the country, using mainly Iranian dissidents. However, it’s almost certainly true that US special forces in Iraq have already been operating under cover across the Iranian border.

One of the effects of this war talk is to escalate the price of oil just as there were tentative signs of a slight reduction – Iran is the world’s fourth biggest provider of oil. In the event of an Israeli attack, Tehran has said one of its first actions would be to close the Strait of Hormuz – through which about 20% of the world’s oil passes. Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff of the US Fifth Fleet, stationed in Bahrain, has stated that the Strait is international waters and the Navy will keep it open.

Practical difficulties
Despite the Israeli airforce’s impressive performance in early June, there are still tremendous practical difficulties to be overcome by any strike force.

Firstly Israel (theoretically) would have to get the permission of either Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Jordan to cross that country’s airspace – or risk their planes being attacked way before they reached their targets. While it is unlikely any one of those countries alone could take out a sizeable Israeli force, they might inflict sufficient damage to cause the mission to abort. Given the anti-Israeli sentiments held by large numbers of their populations, none of those governments could risk giving permission for Israeli planes to cross their territory to carry out what would be technically an unprovoked attack. The most likely scenario is the Turkish, Saudi or Jordanian planes stay grounded but the fragile diplomatic links between Israel and those countries are seriously damaged.

Once the Israeli planes are over Iran, they will have to attack a number of scattered targets if they really want to inflict major damage on the Iranian nuclear effort. The dispersal of the task force would make them much more vulnerable to counter-attack than if they were attacking a single target – as they did with the 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor (to which the potential attack on Iran is being compared somewhat erroneously).

Then there is simply the fact that the facilities at Bushehr and some of the other nuclear facility sites are buried deep underground berneath tons of concrete. To get through, the Israelis would have to use the type of ‘bunker buster’ bombs the Americans used so effectively when destroying the mountain strongholds of the Taliban in late 2001. The problem is these bombs are so powerful they will shred any vestige of life caught in their explosion – remember how the Americans had to use DNA from small flaps of skin and flesh as the only way to identify which Taliban leaders they had killed? There are an estimated 300 Russian technical advisers in Bushehr – and Moscow can hardly be expected to take kindly to their annihilation.

Then there are the consequences of an Israeli assault.

If Iran reacted overtly, it has medium-range intercontinental ballistic missiles which could reach Israel and just about all the American bases in Turkey and the Middle East. The Americans allege (with some credible evidence) that the Iranians have stockpiles of chemical weapons that they could deliver with these icbms. However, the Americans have also made it clear that any use of chemical weapons against its forces would result in the use of at least battlefield nuclear weapons.

Iran would perhaps more likely play the ‘Muslim brotherhood’ card of taking the moral high ground of being the victim of an unprovoked assault and calling upon Muslims all over the world to join them in attacking Israel and the ‘Great Satan’ of America in whatever way possible. Since Muslims (like Christians) are theoretically a brotherhood (Sura 21:9) and have the duty to defend their brothers against oppression from unbelievers (Sura 2: 191, 193), we would be likely to see a substantial increase in the kind of attacks taking place almost daily in Iraq and Afghanistan and more occasionally in other parts of the world.

Plus, it’s worth noting, since a number of learned commentators compare an attack on Bushehr with Osirak, that the Israeli assault then was nothing more than a relatively minor set-back to the Iraqi nuclear effort and only increased Saddam Hussein’s determination to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

There are a number of factors that don’t fit the attack scenario. George W Bush, for one, almost certainly would prefer a solution to the Iranian issue that didn’t involve an outright war. Secondly, when Israel has achieved at least passable relations with Egypt and Jordan and is in on-again negotiatons for a comprehensive settlement with Syria, an attack on Iran would have to be condemned by these countries and Syria at least would be very vulnerable to being sucked into a war scenario. How ever much they might fear and despise Iran – Sunnis in the region view an Iranian-supported hegemony with real trepidation – they cannot continue to have any kind of positive relations with Jews when their Muslim brothers have been attacked. The thousands of radicalised mullahs in those countries would see to that.

So the question is:-
Are the Americans and Israelis creating a story to put pressure on Tehran…?
Are the Americans and Israelis preparing their populations for military conflict with the Iranians…?
Is the warmongering talk a sign of the pressure the Americans are under, with events threatening to slip from their control…?

Iranian radicalism and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – the Problem #1
Since the 1979 ‘Islamic Revolution’, Iran has provided the West with real difficulties in its espousal of spreading Shia Islam and its criticisms of Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians particularly and Western decadence and neo-imperialism generally. Hence, not altogether unsurprisingly Western support, covert and overt, for Iraq in its war 8-year war with Iran.

Iranian governments since 1979 have been distinguished primarily by just how radical the key players were – but current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have outdone his competitors quite handsomely.

Whether he actually meant Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’ literally in his speech at the 2005 World without Zionism Conference is open to debate – there is no equivalent to ‘wipe off the map’ in the Persian language. There have been apologist explanations attempting to say Ahmadinejad was misunderstood and really meant the Jewish regime of the land currently called ‘Israel’ should be destroyed. Ahmadinejad himself has said he has nothing against Jews or Christians per se. However, he has never distanced himself from the ‘wipe off the map’ interpretation.

Add to that his description of the Holocaust as a ‘myth’ and the allegations of anti-Semitic programmes being broadcast unhindered on Iranian TV and you can understand why the Israelis view this man having access to nuclear weapons with sheer dread and/or determination to stop him.

It would seem that Ahmadinejad is driven primarily by a harmonic of the RED and BLUE vMEMES – or, as Don Beck (2003) might describe him, he is a ‘zealot’. He wants the world to live by the rules as he personally sees it. His take on things is the only way things can be – any differing view is simply wrong and needs to be eradicated.

Of course, in a country where one’s political influence is often marked by how radical your public statements are, Ahmadinejad is far from being the only one to allude to the destruction of Israel. For example, back in 2001 then-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani postulated that, if Muslim states had nuclear weapons, they might use them against Israel. But Rafsanjani, for all his rhetoric, was a pragmatist, his ORANGE able to anticipate the swings and shifts in the very dangerous political arenas of Iran. He made extreme statements at times for domestic consumption; yet at the same time showed a pragmatic willingness to do at least a limited amount of business with the West.

Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, seems oblivious to many of the realities of international relations. There appears to be something Psychoticist in his impulsive, compulsive and remorseless behaviour. Indeed, it might even be at times he moves beyond being merely Psychoticist into actually being psychotic; certainly he shows signs of being both delusional and paranoid.

Was his idea that he and George W Bush could actually face off in a grand debate at the United Nations General Assembly merely a stunt – or was he actually deluded enough to think he could make it happen?

Certainly not an easy man to countenance doing business with!

American foreign policy and George W Bush – the Problem #2
Since the inception of the state of Israel in 1948 the United States, under the influence of the powerful ‘Jewish lobby’, has dealt consistently unfairly with the Middle East.

Certainly the modern state of Israel has needed overt American support for much of its existence, surrounded as it is by neighbours of varying degrees of hostility.

That support has all too often been given blindly. The Israelis have been allowed to treat the Palestinians in ways which at times were not altogether dissimilar from some of the treatment meted out to European Jews in the 1930s and early 1940s. That inevitably offends the PURPLE/BLUE harmonic running throughout much of the Arab world – PURPLE loyalty to the Arab peoples and fellow Muslims and BLUE strictures of Islam demanding that those fellow Muslims be rescued from oppression by the unbelievers.

The United States has tended to favour one or 2 power brokers among the Middle East states – eg: pre-revolution Iran, pre-Kuwait invasion Iraq, Saudi Arabia – to maintain its regional interests (primarily oil and keeping them from uniting too strongly against Israel).

That lack of fairness and clear self-interest has played straight into the hands of the Islamic extremists and fed an increasing hatred of all things Western and ‘decadent’. Moreover, the fact that the United States has been so transparent in its uneven dealings and ruthless self-interest has made it hard for moderate Muslims to get a hearing.

If Iranian extremism has reached its apogee in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then American self-interest and short-sightedness has reached its equivalent in George W Bush and, in particular, the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Just exactly what the reasoning of Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumpsfelt, Paul Wolfowitz and their clique (sometimes including Tony Blair) was – we’ll have to wait for the memoirs and declassified documents to find out – but it certainly wasn’t the 2nd Tier thinking some apologists have described it as. (Leave Afghanistan to fester in post-Taliban squalor while invading Iraq on a false pretext without a plan for post-war government – and 5 years later we’re not winning ongoing wars in either Afghanistan or Iraq!)

In fact, it’s probably the best example of groupthink since Irving Janis (1972) popularised the concept from studying how John F Kennedy’s White House got itself into the Bay of Pigs fiasco back in 1961!

Bush, in his thinking, is not entirely unlike Ahmadinejad – again it seems a RED/BLUE (I’m right – I know how it should be!) mode of thinking dominates. Only Bush lacks Ahmadinejad’s eloquence!

His unthinking crusade against a War on Terror that is as much a war-on-anything-that-opposes-his-version-of-America’s-interests and can take on any vendetta his RED fancies has driven outraged and disaffected young Muslims into the arms of al-Qaeda and their like right around the world – from the streets of Leeds to the slums of Gaza. They could hardly have asked for a better recruiting sergeant than George W!!

The mess we’re in…
The irony is that technically Iran currently seems to be working within the remit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – as the Russians are quick to point out. (Notably Israel is not a signatory!) Under that treaty Iran has the right to develop nuclear capability for its energy needs.

The problem comes from the fact that in 2003 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) exposed an 18-year secret uranium-enrichment programme in Iran – hardly in keeping with the development of nuclear energy for purely peaceful purposes! These activities were ostensibly terminated – but Iran continued to work on uranium enrichment for domestic energy purposes and succeeded in achieving nuclear function status in 2006.

Despite the Americans’ own 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to the contrary, since 2003 Iran has never even come close to satisfying the international community as a whole that it does not intend to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Limited and inconsistent cooperation with the IAEA have only served to heighten suspicion and the United Nations has demanded Iran ceases uranium enrichment. Even the Russians and the Chinese have agreed to limited sanctions against the Iranians.

Various offers have been put to the Iranians over the past few years – initially to persuade them to give up attempts to enrich uranium. More recently IAEA supremo Mohamed ElBaradei has suggested the Iranians be allowed to enrich uranium but under strict IAEA supervision to ensure no fissile materials are diverted for military purposes. The Americans have proposed effectively normalising relations with Iran – effectively broken off in 1979 – lifting trade embargoes and unfreezing frozen financial assets if the Iranians will cooperate.

So far the Iranians will agree only to a temporary 2-year suspension of uranium enrichment.

While the 2007 NIE stated that the Iranians seemed far less interested in developing nuclear weapons capability, it did acknowledge it was possible (though unlikely) they could have an atomic bomb by the end of 2009.

It is this nightmare possibility that is driving Israel. For Israelis, this is BEIGE survival.

And Israel’s concerns impact upon the United States. Even Europe, tentatively playing the international elder statesman, is involved. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has warned that war is possible if Iran does develop nuclear weapons capability: “We will not accept that such a bomb is made. We must prepare ourselves for the worst.”

Through the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, the Twin Towers, Bali, Madrid, London and a host of other terrorist incidents, al-Qaeda has succeeded in making Islamic extremism one of the key issues of the early 21st Century. The thought of a state led by Islamic militants, already associated strongly with anti-Western activities and anti-Israeli rhetoric, having access to nuclear weapons is something to concern most Westerners, let alone most Israelis!

So what to do?
For some time I have thought that, if the Americans don’t take care of Iran, Israel will.

So here we are with the open threat of an Israeli strike that may buy some time. 2012 might be the timeline for an Iranian bomb, rather than 2009. But the cost of that time at best would be an escalation of Islamic jihad around the world and at worst the eruption of full-scale war in the Middle East, with the possible use of chemical and battlefield nuclear weapons.

But the Israelis cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. (Visit ‘The Unthinkable Consequences of an Iran-Israel Nuclear Exchange’ for a possible scenario of what might just happen if Iran did get the bomb…)

And that puts incredible pressure on the international community – but especially the Americans.

George W does appear to have escaped groupthink to some extent, as wiser voices have prevailed against direct military action in the short term – after all, the US is already failing to win 2 wars without going into a third! (Having said, that perhaps the US is already fighting Iran via its proxy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?…and some might argue the way to win those wars is to take on Iran directly?)

However, the public announcement of $400M to interfere in the affairs of another sovereign state smacks of all the familiar arrogance of the Rumsfelt-Wolfowitz era.

Quite how George W intends using that money is a mystery. Certainly there are Iranian dissidents, both in and out of the country, who will eagerly take some of that money to make mischief for the regime. But the Iranians are a proud people – direct descendants of the Persians who dominated the Middle East in ancient times. A combination of PURPLE/BLUE loyalty to the nation and BLUE righteousness make it unlikely the vast majority of Iranians would support any kind of insurrection if it was thought to be in any way sponsored via the Great Satan.

One thing that is most clearly needed is a strategy that clearly separates Islam from terrorism – that way moderate Muslims can have their voice and any actions taken against Iran and al-Qaeda are against terrorists, not Muslims. The work of people like Akbar Ahmed, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, who spoke at Don Beck’s ‘SDi Confab’ this year, is critical for both Muslims and non-Muslims wanting to understand how Islam doesn’t have to be in outright confrontation with the forces of globalisation. Instead, as Ahmed points out, Islam can interact positively – and, in so many places, already is – with non-Muslim communities. Ahmed’s site is definitely recommended for those wishing to explore this issue.

Another thing essential is the accordance of respect to Iran. It wants to be a regional superpower. It can be that without directly threatening Israel. (In fact, it would most likely be the Syrians who would have their noses put out of joint by the Americans and the Europeans courting Iran as a partner in the region.)

For all his stage charisma and popular support, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not an absolute tyrant. He does have the support of many leading mullahs, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i. However, if Iran as a country and Islam as a religion, were shown respect by the West and seen as partners rather than opponents) in the emerging global structure, that would take away the reasons for supporting a zealot like Ahmadinejad and would give political pragmatists like Rafsanjani more chance of exerting influence.

Then, as the so-called ‘oil era’ starts to approach end-game, there is every reason for the West and Iran to collaborate on managing the remaining oil and meanwhile working on new energy sources – including nuclear. It is to the economic benefit of both Iran and the United States to reach a level of normality in trade relations. One of the unfortunate by-products of the trade embargoes on Iran is that they helped freeze Iranian Islam in a particularly vicious and extremist mode. While many Islamic states have problems with extremists, many are also developing into something that might be thought of as a hybrid between traditional culture and Western consumerism – and that is, in part at least, due to regular exposure to ideas beyond traditional culture.

Of course, in all this, the United States has to become fair in its treatment of Israel and the Arabs. For sure, Israel will need American guarantees – but that doesn’t mean Bush’s successor shouldn’t take a very dim view of what Israel’s doing in Gaza. And, if human rights continue to be violated by the Israeli military, as they so often are, can’t the United States threaten sanctions in areas that don’t undermine Israeli security? As for the West Bank, exactly as Don Beck and Elza Maalouf have postulated: with help the West Bank can be grown into a nation-state partner for Israel. Where then would that leave the hapless extremists of Hamas in impoverished Gaza?<

And then the unthinkable…if Israel and Syria can edge closer to a deal, it surely can’t be beyond the bounds of possibility that one day Israel and Iran could do a deal?

So, extremists can be undermined and isolated; and diversity understood, valued and connected.

But time is important here. The world can’t afford a nuclear Iran led by Ahmadinejad – and the Israelis certainly can’t!

The events of June have shown we may just be on a timetable to disaster. There is still time for jaw, jaw but the diplomats and the trade negotiators and the inspectors must move quickly. If not, we may just find ourselves in the middle of a war, war!



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  1. Zanshin Post says

    Comparing behavior of individuals / groups of people / nation-states to that of the Nazis / Adolf Hitler. Tempting because it makes, in a very provocative way, the statement that one disagree with the discussed behavior ’Tricky’ because it triggers with many people an emotional response and the meaning becomes easily misunderstood H

    ow about the following propositions? (All in the context of the Palestinian – Israeli Conflict) Israel violates international law Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing Israel is guilty of genocide Israel is guilty of war crimes The above statements are also provocative and (probably) less prone to misunderstanding And there are plenty of arguments supporting these statements René

  2. Alex Kravchenko says

    In your article you said: That support has all too often been given blindly. The Israelis have beenallowed to treat the Palestinians in ways which at times were notaltogether dissimilar from some of the treatment meted out to European Jews in the 1930s and early 1940s.

    Are you suggesting that Jewish political parties were represented in German parliament? Or maybe, that Nazi government gave humanitarian aid to the Jews? Or have you discovered new historical records of Nazi negotiating with Jewish terrorist groups with the intention having them stop killing innocent German children? I don’t know anything about you, your background and your sources of information beyond this article, so I’ll restrain myself from publishing what I’m thinking about you at the moment (nothing flattering).

    I would ask you, however, to be specific, be very specific about what aspects of Israeli treatment of Palestinians you consider “notaltogether dissimilar” from what happened to Jews during WW2.

    • keitherice says

      Hi, Alex

      Not for a second am I insinuating – or, at least I didn’t mean to (“The message received is more important than the message sent!”) – that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is the same as that of the Nazi treatment of the Jews per se. On the grand scale it’s nothing like. But there are some aspects which resemble – and my wording was “ways which at times were not altogether dissimilar”. “Not altogether dissimilar”, in my lexicon means there are some likenesses – they are not totally unalike.

      Firstly, the Israelis are sitting on occupied land – the United Nations says there should be a means of giving it back (which Israel has largely ignored for 41 years). Similar perhaps to Austria and the Sudetanland for the indigenous peoples who included sizeable Jewish populations. Secondly, there are restrictions on travel and movement for Palestinians. Granted, these have eased considerably since the establishment of the Palestinian government – especially on the West Bank. Then there is the ‘wall’ which effectively, from one perspective, is a ‘ghetto-isation’ project. Thirdly, Israeli military reaction to Palestinian militant attacks is often out of proportion to the provocation itself, with notable numbers of innocent civilians usually dying. Again it’s got better over the years. Iraeli intelligence is better and the counter-attacks usually – though not always! – ‘smarter’ (ie: more targeted). We’re hopefully now way beyond the brutality of the Satilla and Sabra incursions. Even so usually – not always! – far more Palestinian innocents die than Israeli innocents in these exchanges. No government can afford to allow its civilian population to be attacked on home territory. The Israelis have to do something about it. Actions which result in the wanton deaths of innocent civilians – and some (not all!) Israeli responses have led to this – are hard to justify, though.
      The blatant disregard for innocent Palestinian lives in some of these responses does mirror to some extent Nazi disregard for the lives of Jews in occupied Europe.

      Histories show that most occupying armies, when under pressure, slip into this kind of disregard for the lives of the indigenous populations. But underpinning this in the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a streak of racism. Extreme Zionists believe that Jews – and only Jews – are God’s chosen people and that the occupied territories are theirs by God-given right (the ‘Greater Israel’ of King David’s time). Since the Jews are God’s chosen people, all other races are by default inferior because they are not chosen. The Torah Books of Moses contain several accounts of Jewish genocide of other tribal peoples as a direct consequence of these beliefs (God told them to do it!). Of course, the vast majority of Israelis want nothing to do with this – just as the vast majority of Muslims want nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, extreme Zionism is a notable influence in the right wing of Israeli politics.

      The ACE model Don Beck developed from Muzafer Sherif’s work shows clearly how intractable such RED/BLUE Zealots and BLUE-driven Idealogues are to deal with. I perhaps should have said “ways which at times were not altogether dissimilar from some of the treatment meted out to German Jews in the mid-1930s and other European Jews in the early stages of the Second World War.” Thus distinguishing between the earlier stages of discrimination, ghetto-isation and harrassment and the later death camp era. In this respect, Alex, your criticism is quite valid

  3. Albert says

    Great analysis, Keith!

    Simply want to add at this moment the work of first Pan Europan Think Tank : European Council on Foreign Relations. I am Associate member and was present when it was launched last year in November in Berlin. Its a discussion which should fully focus on European responsibilities and possibilities too. Best, from Berlin Albert Klamt