By S. Nihal Singh
Mar 26, 2012
To anyone outside America, starting a new war in the Greater Middle East region after defeats or near defeats in two wars would be sheer madness. But the manner in which the United States is discussing the prospect of a war against Iran in collusion with Israel, or singly by the latter, is a startling reminder of how Iran is part of domestic policy and the compulsions of electoral politics.
The conventional wisdom in America is that much as US President Barack Obama wants to avoid a third war in the region, he cannot but strike a macho pose because Israel has formidable advantages in compelling the White House to act as it desires. Apart from possessing its own highly influential lobbies, it has the support of the evangelical right and the power of the purse in financing presidential and Senate and House of Representatives races. Any US legislator knows that he has to pay a heavy price for making the mildest criticism of Israel’s policies.
Not only has Israel achieved the unassailable power of compelling a US President to do its bidding through its power over Capitol Hill but it has also succeeded in neutralising efforts by sections of American Jews such as the “J Street” group to follow a saner policy. Unless public opinion in Israel shifts, there is little prospect of President Obama asserting the primacy of US interests over those of the present right-wing dispensation in Israel which revels in the anachronism of being a colonial power in the post-colonial era.
The increasingly severe American and Western sanctions against Iran is an effort to buy time on America’s part to have more elbow room in dealing with the Iranian problem once the US presidential election is out of the way. The forthcoming round of talks with Iran is one small window of opportunity, but the present right-wing dispensation in Israel knows the stakes as well as anyone else and, given the Israeli support base in America, greatly buttressed by the evangelical right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows the score better than anyone else.
It is no secret that Mr Netanyahu has little time for President Obama and their first summit was demonstrably frigid. Although the two leaders have learnt to be more civil to each other and President Obama has sharpened his rhetoric against Iran, there is little sympathy for each other’s viewpoint. Given the strength of the Jewish lobby in the United States and Israel’s ability to intimidate American legislators through the power of the purse and allies such as the evangelical right, a US President who defies Israel does so at his peril, as the elder George H.W. Bush found to his cost.
The logic of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities is that it would delay, if not stymie, Iran’s apparent ambition to build a nuclear bomb. In Israeli calculations, Iranian retaliation against Israeli and (Israel hopes) American targets such as warships would lead to the decimation of Iranian nuclear facilities, including the underground ones in Qom, among other places, by bringing to bear on America’s military might. And weary as Americans might be with fighting two seemingly interminable wars, Israel occupies a special place in the American psyche, apart from Washington’s larger strategic interests in avoiding the further nuclearisation of the Middle East we call West Asia.
Perhaps the United States is also banking on the antipathy of the Arab Middle East towards the Persian Iran. With the advent of the year-old Arab Spring, the Shia-Sunni divide in the region has become accentuated, with the recent Saudi and UAE military intervention in Shia-majority Bahrain ruled by a Sunni minority a pointer to future trends. The US has a base for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and as so often in the past, America’s circumspect behaviour was witness to the triumph of realpolitik over principle.
America’s, and most of the world’s, hope is that the punitive measures against Iran in a wide range of sanctions will lead to a revision of Tehran’s seemingly inexorable march to adopting the nuclear bomb option. If Tehran is seeking an escape route, it could be easily organised through the forthcoming meeting with the Western group. In any event, Iran has repeatedly declared that its intention is not to build a bomb, but to conduct research and the planned uranium enrichment to 20 per cent is for cancer treatment purposes. It has also announced its permission for the visit of a team of the International Atomic Energy Agency although it has not specified how wide-ranging the inspections would be.
In a narrow sense, the cards are stacked in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favour because he has the power to bring America into a new and even more unpredictable war in the region. Despite the antipathy President Obama has towards Mr Netanyahu, the logic of American politics would involve America fighting on Israel’s side. Such a dénouement would redefine the political and strategic contours of the region and the world, apart from plunging the world into a new crisis.
Some American analysts fear that the period leading up to the US presidential election is the most dangerous phase because the American post-electoral scene would inhibit Israel’s moves to try to demolish Iranian nuclear assets. That might well be so but Israel has permanent political and financial assets in America — well-oiled lobbies, financial and media clout and the backing of the evangelical right.
Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, has argued that a possible Iranian retaliation for Israeli strikes on nuclear facilities would be bearable. Besides, Israel is banking on the probability that an Iranian attack on part of the American war fleet in the area would bring Washington into the war, with predictable consequences. While Israel might relish such a prospect, the rest of the world would view such a scenario with great trepidation and alarm. There is still a chance for the United States and other major powers to pull Israel and Iran away from the brink, but the clock is ticking.
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi