By Arab News
By Linda Heard
If you believe that current hostilities between Washington and Tehran are all about Iran’s uranium enrichment program opening the door to a potential Iranian-made nuclear bomb engraved “Tel Aviv,” you’ve yet to peel the layers of this increasingly poisonous onion. Once you do, you’ll understand that fundamentally the feud is over which side gets to dominate the oil-rich Gulf region.
Before taking office, President Barack Obama was keen to initiate face-to-face talks with the Iranian leadership which he later failed to pursue despite having received a rather rambling conciliatory letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At stake is a major regional conflict, if not World War III, so one must wonder why the US president who was once keen to reach out to the Muslim world has swapped diplomacy for bellicosity.
There may have been a time when Obama fantasized riding into Tehran on a white horse, olive branch in hand, to end decades of enmity but he would have swiftly bolted that stable on being schooled that America’s strategic interests leave little room for warmth and fuzziness.
America’s appreciates allies as long as they submit to US diktats which the Iranian ayatollahs conceivably would never do as much of their standing at home and elsewhere rests on an ultra-conservative anti-Western ideology. For example, the Americans had no problem with their man Saddam Hussein until he became a liability and were happy to pander to the Shah until he got ideas above his station when he was unceremoniously dumped.
In one way, the US and Iran represent both sides of the same coin. It’s in the interests of both countries to keep up the enmity. In the absence of Saddam Hussein, Washington needs a regional bogeyman as a pretext to retain its mushrooming military bases and sell weapons to the tune of billions to Iran’s worried neighbors. And Tehran needs the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” as a locomotive to distract public sentiment from anti-government discontent and to reinforce its ideological tentacles with anti-US/Israel proxy states and actors.
Likewise, Israel gains from having a belligerent state on its doorstep. As long as Israeli leaders can cite a major ‘existential threat” its exceptionalism and noncompliance with international laws and treaties can be excused. In reality, as various prominent Israeli intelligence figures have confirmed, Iran does not present a threat to Israel’s existence even it succeeds in producing nuclear weapons.
Let’s suppose that Iran has nuclear missiles and decides to launch preemptive strikes. Almost as soon as they got off the ground, the US and Israel would react in kind enveloping Iran in a series of mushroom clouds. Moreover, any nuclear attack on Israel would equally impact Arab Israelis and Palestinians as well as Iran’s Syrian and Lebanese allies. The ayatollahs have shown no suicidal tendencies, however, an Iranian bomb would be a deterrent to would-be foreign occupiers which is primarily why such capability will not be tolerated by the US halls of power.
Iran was one of nine countries on George W. Bush’s invasion wish list as long ago as 2001 and featured in his three-state “Axis of Evil.” A recent column by former US Army intelligence officer Ray McGovern and former Deputy National Intelligence Office Elizabeth Murray reminds us of a 2008 disclosure by the award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who discovered that Bush administration officials brainstormed on how to provoke war with Iran.
There were a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war,” said Hersh. “The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build in our shipyard four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats? Put Navy Seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Strait of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives. And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That the kind of — that the level of stuff we’re talking about — Provocation.”
This is, of course, reminiscent of a Bush administration plot to paint a reconnaissance aircraft with UN colors before being sent into Iraqi airspace with fighter cover in hopes it would be shot down, as revealed in a leaked British memo.
McGovern and Murray also highlight an excerpt from Bush’s autobiography “Decision Points” in which he complains about news that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because without a casus belli his hands were tied on the military side. In the event of regime change in Iran resulting in a more Western-friendly government, the US and Israel would be on the lookout for another regional foe.
You might imagine that were President Bush in the White House today, he’d be rubbing his hands with glee watching 10 days of Iranian naval exercises/war games in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Aden and listening to Iran’s warning that it would seal the Strait to shipping in the event of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry. Clearly, Iran has succumbed to the bait. After years of open threats from Washington and Tel Aviv during which it was on the defensive, it has morphed into a belligerent. But I believe even gung-ho Bush would be hesitant now.
Since 2008, the deckchairs have been rearranged. In the first place, debt-laden America simply cannot afford another major war and especially one that would be almost impossible to sell to the country’s cash-strapped population.
Secondly, the so-called Arab Spring appears to have nurtured the rise of Islamist parties most of which are anti-Israel and well-disposed toward Iran as “the enemy of my enemy.” The US can no longer rely on friendly rulers to forcibly quell the Arab Street’s fury at yet another Muslim country being aggressed — and America’s relations with fellow NATO member Turkey and nuclear Pakistan have visibly cooled.
Most of all, a growing number of military and intelligence experts are warning that strikes on Iranian military sites could have catastrophic unintended consequences. And lastly, over the last years, Tehran has beefed up its conventional weapons capability with missiles capable of reaching European cities.
We’ve reached the point where anything can happen. As tensions rise, so does the potential for a lit match to be inadvertently thrown by either side igniting a massive conflagration that would hike up oil prices at a time when global economies are fighting recession, making the Great Depression seem insignificant by comparison. The possibility of fully-fledged war will be further increased should one of the Republican frontrunners (with the exception of Ron Paul) send President Obama packing as most prostrate themselves before Israel and are champing at the bit to lay into its arch enemy.
Obama held out the promise of being a hero before being indoctrinated by the political establishment. If only he had the gumption to get on that white horse armed solely with dialogue he would finally deserve his Nobel Peace Prize — and rank among George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy as one of America’s presidential greats. But given his clay-footed record to date, I won’t hold my breath.