Monday, November 27, 2006

White House: Between Rhetoric And Reality Over Iran

The recent American overtures to induct Iran in any political settlement over Iraq have immensely troubled the Israel. So perturbed has been the government in Jerusalem that it has mounted a concerted campaign in America to keep alive the notion that Iran poses a grave danger to the US and must be thwarted at any cost. On 12/11/2006, The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson told the newspaper that, "Only a military strike by the U.S. and its allies will stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons."

Former Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh was also blunt about attacking Iran: "I am not advocating an Israeli pre-emptive military action against Iran and I am aware of its possible repercussions. I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort." The Israeli Prime Minister on his visit to Washington earlier this month said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show: "I know that America will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons because this is a danger to the whole Western world."

American think tanks also joined in the foray against Iran. In an opinion editorial piece in the Los Angeles Times, Joshua Muarvchik, resident scholar at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute argued: "We must bomb Iran. The path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere. Our options therefore are narrowed to two: we can prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to prevent it."

John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a military issues think-tank, likewise noted: "They [Americans] are going to bomb WMD facilities next summer. It would be a limited military action to destroy their [Iranian] WMD capabilities."

Clearly uncertainty has permeated the corridors of power in Washington regarding Iran. On the one hand, Washington is prepared to entertain the idea that force against Iran cannot be ruled out. At the same time, the Bush administration is warming to the idea of reaching out to Iran to help US extricate itself from the quagmire in Iraq.

The muddled signals stem from the ongoing conflict between the realists, who are in ascendancy, and the neoconservative, who are in bitter retreat. The neoconservatives believe that America's strategic interests in the Middle East are intertwined with Israel's security. Therefore, anyone who poses a danger to Israel's security must be neutralised. This not only involves disarming the so-called menacing country, but also dividing the country along ethnic and sectarian lines - a sort of Lebanonisation (term first used by Bernard Lewis, the chief patron of the neocon movement).

From Israel's perspective, the Muslim populace surrounding her borders must be kept busy in perpetual conflicts manufactured by exploiting ethnic and sectarian tensions, and thereby creating new countries that are weak and incapable of threatening Israel's security - this is known as the Kivunim plan.

The desire to Lebanonise the Middle East came to the fore in US foreign policy with the emergence of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration. Their rise to power neatly fitted with Israeli aspirations and hence their respective interests converged. With the debacle in Iraq, the realists have regained the upperhand and are exerting their influence over all foreign policy matters.

What this means for Israel's supporters inside the Bush administration is that time is running out for the likes of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams, as they are likely to be replaced by realists. A more calibrated approach that is inclusive of the concerns expressed by America's Muslim allies will be adopted.

Thus, the belligerent statements emanating from US and Israeli officials regarding Iran should not be interpreted as the manifestations of a hostile US policy towards Tehran. Rather, it should be read as the vestige of a discredited neoconservative theory that is in its last throes. This was aptly summed up by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who mentioned three reasons why the United States is currently unable to carry out a military operation against Iran: the wish to solve the crisis through peaceful means; concern that a military strike will be ineffective - that it would fail to completely destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities; and the lack of precise intelligence on the targets' locations.

Without US assistance, it is very unlikely that Israel would carry out such strikes. Leaving the military capability aside, there is another major factor that makes its difficult for Israel to contemplate military action against Iran. The Iraq war, the re-occupation of Palestinian territories and Hizbollah's stiff resistance has not made Israel any safer. On the contrary, these events supported and engineered by the neoconservatives have not only shattered the myth of Israel's invincibility, but also exposed her population to perpetual insecurity.

Abid Mustafa is a political analyst who specialises in affairs of Islamic countries and organizations.

26/11/2006

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