Michael Jansen: Beating the war drums
November 06, 2011
Israel and its neoconservative champions in the US and elsewhere are, once again, playing a dangerous game by threatening to bomb Iran. The aim, say Israel and its allies, is to destroy Tehran’s nuclear facilities before it is able to, to quote Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, “achieve nuclear [weapons] capability,” i.e., the ability to build nuclear bombs rather than actual possession of bombs. Barak can count on an arsenal of at least 200 nuclear devices and advanced delivery systems, thanks to French and US support.
This time the Israelis began beating the war drums ahead of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s past attempts to achieve the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons. This report is expected to prompt the US and France to step up pressure on members of the UN Security Council to agree to toughen sanctions against Iran.
So far, Russia and China have refused to go along with this plan. In a bid to boost the case for harsher sanctions, the US recently accused Iran’s elite Quds force of plotting with a US citizen of Iranian origin to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. However, this conspiracy has been dismissed as an improbable fantasy by many US experts on Iran and is unlikely to convince Russia, China or other doubting Council members.
By threatening to go to war unilaterally on a number of previous occasions, Israel has managed to compel the US — which does not want to become embroiled in a conflict with Iran — to stiffen sanctions. The aim was, as US-based Iranian analyst Trita Parsi blogged, “to preserve the peace.” Parsi observed, “The choice is, the tactic dictates, between sanctions and war; not between confrontation and diplomacy.”
Diplomacy has never been seriously considered by Washington because of the immense power and influence wielded by Israel, the pro-Israeli lobby in the US and their neoconservative allies who not only play important roles in policy making but also in Western media.
Parsi made the valid point that, in the view of Israel, sanctions and war are “complementary:” sanctions slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear programme while a major attack on the country’s nuclear facilities would set the programme back for some years. Parsi warned that the ongoing Israeli-neocon campaign is particularly risky because the US “has little left to sanction in Iran” and Israeli “sabre rattling” is losing credibility.
On his first point, it is useful to note that the Obama administration has hesitated to call for the imposition of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank by barring financial institutions or firms that deal with the Iranian bank from carrying out transactions with US banks and companies. India and China and other customers for Iran’s oil would certainly oppose such sanctions, which would harm the global economy at a time of crisis. Sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank would also harm ordinary Iranians and constitute “collective punishment,” illegal under international law.
On Parsi’s second point, this past week’s test by Israel of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching Iran has boosted Israel’s military credibility and added a new dimension of menace to Israeli brinkmanship. If not firmly told by the Obama administration it would be on its own if it resorts to the use of force, Israel could launch a first strike on Iran — staging scores of bombing runs with aircraft dropping US-made bunker busters — in order to compel the US to mount a full-scale aerial campaign that could last for several weeks. In such a campaign, the US would have to target Iranian army, air force and naval bases, command-and-control centres, military industries, civilian infrastructure, and research institutions as well as nuclear research facilities and Iran’s nuclear power installations.
The US would, in effect, be forced to wage all-out war on Iran with the aim not only of taking out its nuclear programme but also crippling the country and, perhaps, effecting regime change. This would be a very dangerous proposition for US interests in this region. Iran has threatened to retaliate and could do so in a variety of ways. Unless the US takes out all of Iran’s airfields, war planes and rocket launchers in an initial strike, Tehran could fire long-range rockets at Saudi oil fields, ports and refi-neries, at US bases in the region, and at Israel.
Iran’s ally, Hizbollah could lob rockets into Israeli towns and cities, including Tel Aviv, while pro-Iranian Shia militias in Iraq could strike at US troops and facilities in that country. Iran could also exact vengeance by hitting at US and Western troops in Afghanistan. The price of oil, already an unacceptable $110 a barrel, would soar to $150-200 and higher at a time when the US and its Western allies are struggling to overcome a deepening recession and do not have the money to wage a new major conflict in this region.
A war with Iran could plunge the globe into a depression as deep as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Furthermore, a fresh US onslaught on another Muslim country is likely to prompt massive anti-US protests everywhere in the Muslim world, even where the populace is not fond of Iran and its government. Angry young men could wage terrorist attacks anywhere they find US and Western citizens, communities and interests.
This would suit Israel which has always done its utmost to undermine US relations with potential and existing Arab and Muslim allies and to humiliate these allies by attacking neighbours and dispossessing Palestinians. Israel wants to be Washington’s sole friend and ally in the so-called “Greater Middle East” and to exclude from US friendship Muslim countries which have no dealings with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are eager to beat the war drums at this time because Obama is weak and preoccupied with running for re-election in November 2012. Netanyahu and Barak have not only agreed that hitting Iran is a good idea but they have also convinced hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to go along. Deputy Premier Moshe Yaalon, a former chief-of-staff of the Israeli army, is opposed as is Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
As the cabinet debated the issue, news of the discussion was leaked to the press, apparently by former Mossad (foreign intellgence) chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet (domestic intelligence) head Yuval Diskin who oppose military action. A second former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy has joined them. “An attack on Iran could affect not only Israel, but the entire region for 100 years,” he warned. These veteran intelligence operatives understand the consequences of war against Iran and do not want to risk it.