Friday, February 24, 2012

Iran, Israel & the U.S.: The Slide To War

Iran, Israel & the U.S.: The Slide To War


by Conn Hallinan

Dispatches From The Edge


February 22, 2012


Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their

interests to fight them. World War I was not started over

the Archduke Ferdinand's assassination, nor was it triggered

by the alliance system. An "incident" may set the stage for

war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it's a good

idea. The Great War started because the countries involved

decided they would profit by it, delusional as that

conclusion was.


It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure

out if there will be a war with Iran. In short, what are the

interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough

for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?


First off, because oil and gas are involved, a war would

have global ramifications. Iran supplies China with about 15

percent of its oil, and India with 10 percent. It is a major

supplier to Europe, Turkey, Japan and South Korea, and it

has the third largest oil reserves and the second largest

natural gas reserves in the world. Some 17 million barrels

per day pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a

significant part of the globe's energy supply.


In short, the actors in this drama are widespread and their

interests as diverse as their nationalities.


According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran

is building nuclear weapons that pose an "existential"

threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this,

including the bulk of Tel Aviv's military and intelligence

communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz

said recently, Iran "is not an existential" threat to

Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb

and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United

Nations inspection regime.


But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East

a fragmented place, riven by sectarian divisions and

dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal

monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from

its former British overlords, it is "divide and conquer."

Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in

Egypt and Tunisia, and it now finds itself on the same page

as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation

Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab

Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.


Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a

political problem, because Tel Aviv sees Teheran's fierce

nationalism and independence from the U.S. and Europe as a

wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel's major regional

enemy, Syria--with which it is still officially at war-- and

the Shiite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and

the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.


In the Netanyahu government's analysis, beating up on Iran

would weaken Israel's local enemies and at little cost. Tel

Aviv's scenario features a shock and awe attack, followed by

a United Nations mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500

Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to

strike back, and, if they did attack Israeli civilian

centers or tried to close the Hormutz Strait, it would bring

in the Americans.


Of course that rose-colored scenario is little more than

wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a

ceasefire--it fought for eight long years against Iraq--and

war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. In real

life it will be long and bloody and might well spread to the

entire region.


Iran's leaders use a lot of bombast about punishing Israel

if it attacks, but in the short run, there is not a lot they

could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has

drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis

have the technology to blank out most of Teheran's radar and

anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv's

mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and

Jericho ballistic missiles.


For all its talk about "everything being on the table." The

Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war,

but with the 2012 elections looming, would Washington remain

on the sidelines? On the "yes" side are polls indicating

that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle

East war. But on the "no" side are a united front of

Republicans, neo-conservatives, and the American Israeli

Political Action Committee pressing for a confrontation with Iran.


Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that in

the run-up to the 2012 American elections, an Israeli attack

might force the Obama Administration to back a war and/or

damage Obama's re-election chances. It is no secret that

there is no love lost between the two leaders.


But the U.S. also has a dog in this fight, and one not all

that different than Israel's. American hostility to Iran

dates back to Teheran's seizure of its oil assets from

Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically

elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the

dictatorial Shah. The U.S. also backed Saddam Hussein's war

on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship

with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel

Aviv's local enemies are Washington's local enemies.


When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary

purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged

Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and

Syria, and blocked the spread of the "Arab Spring" to its

own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a

lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed

the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the

U.S. and Israel on the Palestinians--although it is careful

not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv--but the GCC is on the

same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon and Iran.


The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although

France and Germany have explicitly rejected the use of

force. Motivations in the EU range from France's desire to

reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe's need to

keep its finger on the energy jugular vein. In brief, it

isn't all about oil and gas but a whole lot of it is, and,

as CounterPunch's Alexander Cockburn points out, oil

companies would like to see production cut and prices rise.

A war would accomplish both.


Iran will be the victim here, but there will be some who

would take advantage of a war. An attack would unify the

country around what is now a rather unpopular government,

allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition, and

give cover to the current drive by the Ahmadinejad

government to cut subsidies for transportation, housing and

food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary

elements of the current regime.


There are other actors in this drama--China, Russia, India,

Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom support a

war--but whether they can influence events is an open

question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its

interests are served by starting a war, and that the U.S.

will go along because it is much of the same mind.


Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?


The sobering thought is that the three most powerful actors

in this drama--Israel, the U.S. and its European allies, and

the Gulf Cooperation Council--have many of the same

interests, and share the belief that force is an effective

way to achieve one's goals.


On such illusions are tragedies built.


[Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In

Focus, "A Think Tank Without Walls," and an independent

journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the

University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the

journalism program at the University of California at Santa

Cruz for 23 years, and won the UCSC Alumni Association's

Distinguished Teaching Award, as well as UCSC's Innovations

in Teaching Award, and Excellence in Teaching Award.  He was

also a college provost at UCSC, and retired in 2004. He is a

winner of a Project Censored "Real News Award," and lives in

Berkeley, California.


Conn Hallinan can be read at and


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