Friday, February 8, 2008

All Is Not Quiet on the Eastern Front

From the desk of Reuven Kaminer

All Is Not Quiet on the Eastern Front

On the face of it, there is no immediate danger of a clash with Iran over its nuclear development project. The US military seems to have convinced the political echelon that the United States is simply unable to handle a third war, at this stage. This tactical input created the political basis for the shift in US policy in the Geneva talks. Still, there are very powerful forces in the US administration who do not like the idea of waiting around until it might be even more difficult to get an attack off the ground. These forces will try to exploit the to-be-expected difficulties in the Geneva talks as evidence to the effect that Teheran is not getting the message. When the attempt to ratchet up economic sanctions will prove ineffective, as it must in the given conditions, the hawks will be able to argue that it is time to proceed, quickly but surely, to the final option on the table. Even with the Geneva gambit, the basic line of the US administration (with Obama in tow) is that armed intervention would be legally and morally justified, because Iran – even without actually building the bomb - is a new “ticking bomb” in the region. The more aggressive the forces pushing for war in Washington, the deeper their coordination with Israel.

Israel Has Plenty of Room to Maneuver and to Manipulate

Nicholas Kristof (NYT, July 24, 2008) got it exactly right when he suggested that Obama was not doing Israel any favor by swallowing his host’s line on the Iranian crisis. Kristof criticized Obama for missing the critical issue: Israel is contemplating doing “something crazy”, which would include using all its resources and connections to drag the US into a full scale confrontation with Iran.

The prevailing, consensual anti-Iranian discourse creates political space for Israeli maneuvering. This discourse suggests that Israel, even if it ostensibly acts alone, can claim justifiably that it is implementing the principles and the logic of US policy. Israel is an expert in the limitless ways to increase tension in the region and many of these include threats to the Iranian interests. If the US really wants to discourage Israeli military initiatives against Iran, it is clearly insufficient for Washington to express mere unease and hesitation regarding an Israeli air strike. The dark threat of a potential Israeli strike will hover over the region until the US clearly announces that if it is not attacked, it would not intervene by military threat or action, even if Israel pushes the region to the boiling point. Given the level of ambivalence in Washington, Israel has sufficient grounds to assume that, even if the US is displeased (or apparently displeased), it would be forced to come to the aid of its faithful ally. The present posture in Washington is such that the US would not stand on the sideline.

Israel’s Agenda

There is no end of signs that the idea of an Israeli strike is being carefully weighed. General Mullen felt it necessary to repeat, just last week, an earlier warning on the danger of such a strike, for the second time this month. Olmert explained to Obama that time is running out since the Russians are going to upgrade the Iranian air defense system by the end of the year Defense Minister Barak and MK Mofaz, who holds a portfolio named Strategic Coordination with the US, held talks in Washington this week. Mofaz is the darling of the oil speculators for his constant flow of declarations that war is inevitable. This Saturday, MK Hanegbi, chair of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Security Knesset Committee, called for the establishment of a national unity government to deal with the Iranian crisis.

In this respect, it is practically a civic duty to carefully read the wild ranting and raving of Israeli historian, Professor Benny Morris. For Morris, it is the old story of good versus evil, and since a showdown is inevitable, better to bomb now and prepare the nukes, right away, for a necessary second strike. The really sad thing is that these Strangelovish illusions, which are based on the insatiable Israeli demand for absolute Israeli military superiority at all costs, are an integral element in Israel’s current security considerations.

Against Demonization of the Other Side

Many of my readers share with me a decided lack of enthusiasm for the policies and the rhetoric of Ahmadinajad and his circle. Without in any way ignoring the harm and the danger of some of the declarations coming out of Teheran, we must also admit that the Israeli propaganda is very adept at converting whosoever is its current adversary into a “new Hitler”. It should be recalled that both Abdul Nasser and Yassir Arafat were cast in the Hitler role, though their real core positions did not justify such a designation. In truth, their basic political platform created ample room for rational political responses which could have defused “inevitable” clashes. Nasrallah figures, with Ahmadinajad, as the current, not to be appeased, enemy. But there are abundant signs that Nasrallah knows how to do business responsibly and there is good reason to believe that the current leadership in Iran could be influenced by serious and thoughtful politics. It would certainly be helpful if the “rational” West offered total regional disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction (including Israel’s stockpile) to the “irrational and inscrutable” Iranian leadership. Perhaps, the Iranian leadership has cause to ask its critics as to why they consider it is perfectly acceptable that Israel and Pakistan are legitimate members of the nuclear club and why Iran must accept an inferior status. Even if the US and its allies are not ready for anything as fair and logical as regional disarmament, other sets of realistic and patient policies based on mutual respect could go a long way to prevent tensions from getting dangerously out of hand.

Barak In Washington

The month started with Mike Mullen’s warnings about the danger from an irresponsible Israeli air strike. But Barak was not in DC yesterday to relieve this anxiety. He made it clear that Israel continued to demand a sense of urgency and opposed any relaxation of tensions. Barack Obama had told friends that his impression from talks in Israel was that it had no faith in the sanctions track. The LA Times (July 30, 2008) summed it up adequately:

“Bush administration officials reassured Israel’s defense minister this week that the United States has not abandoned all possibility of a military attack on Iran, despite widespread Israeli concern that Washington has begun softening its position toward Tehran.”

Washington is clearly apologetic regarding its own policies and refusing to reign in its Israeli ally. An Israeli strike at Iran is very much on the table.