By Arab News
By Linda Heard
The question is: What’s the end game of this cacophony of saber rattling?
When it comes to US/Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Iran’s insistence on its right to enrich uranium ostensibly for peaceful purposes, there are wheels within wheels. If you think the situation is confusing that’s because it’s meant to be. What is certain is that tensions between the two sides have risen to incendiary levels in recent weeks. It only needs the purposeful or accidental strike of a match to thrust the entire Middle East and Gulf region into a full-scale conflict with devastating consequences.
Yet, for some reason, major Western news channels and newspapers are treating this story in somewhat of a cavalier fashion, placing it way behind the turmoil in Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. This may be because such mutual belligerence between the West and Tehran has been going on for years – or, more likely, news outlets have been advised by governments to avoid incitement. Iran’s naval exercises, its threats to seal the Strait of Hormuz to shipping and its warnings to Gulf oil producers not to supplement oil shortages resulting from US and European sanctions on Iran’s oil industry should be big news. Similarly, the fact that the US has sent 9,000 troops to Israel and 15,000 to one of the Gulf states should be dominating the headlines.
The belief that Israel is poised to strike Iran’s nuclear sites to wipe out what it perceives to be an existential threat no matter what the short-term cost is far from new and so it’s tempting to think that current threats from Tel Aviv are akin to the boy who cried wolf. Therein lies the danger. Hostilities have reached such a crescendo that they may soon result in the point of no return. Israel’s media, however, have no such diffidence. Its dailies and websites are ramping up the ante with reports suggesting that the Netanyahu-led government may be on the verge of striking Iran with or without a green light from the White House. The Israeli press has a reputation of being unfettered but I can’t help wondering whether much of its so-called news is, in fact, disinformation. The idea that Israel would go it alone is preposterous when it relies on the US financially, militarily and diplomatically.
Ha’aretz, for instance, is reporting a rift between Netanyahu and Obama who is purportedly attempting to put restraints on Tel Aviv and seeking assurances that the Israeli government will not act before alerting Washington. The Debkafile, said to have links to the Mossad, reports this under the banner “US, Israel in open rift over Iran”: “US-Israeli discord over action against Iran went into overdrive Sunday, Jan. 15 when the White House called off Austere Challenge 12, the biggest joint war game the US and Israel have ever staged, ready to go in spring, in reprisal for a comment by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon in an early morning radio interview. He said the United States was hesitant over sanctions against Iran’s central bank and oil for fear of a spike in oil prices.” This doesn’t sound feasible to me.
Obama cannot afford to be that sensitive. It’s more likely that 9,000 US troops weren’t deployed to engage in war games, which could have been a pretext from the get-go allowing the US and Israel to prepare for the real thing. Moreover, President Obama isn’t about to fall-out with Israel when he’s falling over himself to express his allegiance to the Jewish state in the run-up to November’s presidential election. Israel and the US are playing good cop, bad cop and sending mixed messages to throw a cloak around their intentions and retain an element of surprise.
The real battle is not about the potential of an Iranian nuclear bomb, which even if it existed would be used as a deterrent. It is driven by a fundamental clash of ideologies but at its kernel is domination of the oil-rich Gulf. GCC states are the victims of this power play that’s been ongoing since the folding of the British Empire when its foothold was replaced by the US and its man, The Shah.
From the US perspective, Iran and its ally Syria together represent the last bastion of anti-Americanism in the area obstructing Washington’s hegemonic ambitions. If the US could succeed in bending those countries to its will, it could control much of the world’s oil supplies assuring its superiority over its oil-hungry competitor China while muscling-in on Russia’s sphere of influence, notably the Caspian.
The Israeli point of view is far simpler. Were Iran and Syria to be defanged, Hezbollah and Hamas would wither from a lack of funds and weapons giving Tel Aviv a free rein to pursue its long-held expansionist plans. If Iran were to be pacified due to US/UK/Israeli military action at a time when Syria is fragmented or engaged in civil war, apart from a weakened Hezbollah, there would be nothing to prevent Israeli tanks rolling in to Beirut or Damascus.
The question is what’s the end game of this cacophony of saber rattling? No amount of sanctions can pressure Iran into U-turning on its nuclear program, especially when it has the support of China that imports 11 percent of its oil from Iran and Russia which benefits from lucrative trade deals with Tehran. Ten years of hard-hitting sanctions didn’t succeed in converting Saddam Hussein from a wolf to a lapdog and are hardly likely to bring Iran’s ayatollahs to heel.
The bottom line is that there are only two ways this standoff can be resolved: The type of dialogue and carrot and stick diplomacy used to bring Pakistan, Myanmar and, less successfully, North Korea into the fold – or death, destruction and economic suicide. For responsible leaders with a conscience this would be a no-contest decision. But as Jeane J. Kirkpatrick once said, “We have war when at least one of the parties to a conflict wants something more than it wants peace.”