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Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year January 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011.An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011. ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

By Tony BurmanSpecial to the Star
There will be a war in the Middle East within the next several months, triggered by an Israeli attack on Iran, and this is how it will happen. Like the Iraq war, it will be a fatal blend of political arrogance and near criminal risk-taking, and this should come as no surprise to us because we know the political players. But we should also know that the time to prevent it is running out.

In Iran, the government is reeling from colossal economic and political pressures. There are signs of desperation. Western sanctions over its nuclear program are biting and there is an open power struggle among key government leaders. The murders since 2010 of four nuclear scientists — most certainly masterminded by agents of Israel’s Mossad — are deeply humiliating. With parliamentary elections in March regarded by many as the most important in the history of the Islamic republic, the pressure within Iran to hit back at Israel in some damaging way is inevitable — and this will happen soon.

In Israel, the calculation is also overwhelmingly political. The fractious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear Iran even if the evidence is still unclear how imminent that threat is. Netanyahu is also driven by his bitter rivalry with President Barack Obama. There is growing speculation the prime minister will trigger early Israeli elections in June to shore up his political position before Obama, as Netanyahu believes, is re-elected in November. He knows his best opportunity to attack Iran will be shortly before the U.S. election when he figures Obama would be politically cornered. But Netanyahu needs a pretext to act in “self-defence” and that is why Mossad is still covertly at work inside Iran. Iran will have to retaliate before Israel can act — and this will happen soon.

In the United States, Obama is caught up in the morass of election-year politics. His likely Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, is accusing the president of being weak on Iran: “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. and its European allies now have a deadline of July 1 to impose a full embargo of Iranian oil. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, claimed on Wednesday that a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike is “very far off.” But U.S. defence officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to strike Iran — and this will happen soon.

READ MORE: Burman’s columns

Can we be certain that events in the Middle East will unfold in this way? Of course not. But like a high-stakes poker game where each player slowly reveals his cards, there are increasing signs that this game is careening out of control.

There is no consensus within Israel in favour of an attack on Iran. In fact, a recent poll suggests that less than half of Israelis (43 per cent) support a strike even though 90 per cent of them believe Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons. But the drumbeats for action are growing louder inside of Israel and they are egged on in the U.S. by the shrill tone of the extremist Republican primary process.

In Israel, the political case in favour of a strike, led by Netanyahu, points to its limited attack in 2007 on a burgeoning Syrian nuclear facility. But there are crucial differences this time. Iran’s nuclear facilities are well-dispersed and well-defended, and most experts believe that such a strike would likely fail or, at best, only delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a year or two.

But even more significant are the potentially frightening consequences of such a strike. Iran has threatened to hit back with full fury if its nuclear facilities are attacked. It could place Israel in considerable peril and lead to a resurgence of anti-American fever. Such a strike would also strengthen Iran’s rulers internally at a time of its greatest weakness and would radicalize the Arab world.

Serious people are doing serious work to prevent this from happening. There are meetings later this month in Tehran with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the move to stiffen sanctions against Iran is accelerating. However, this first decade of the 21st century serves as no model. Disastrous decisions were made by political leaders in an environment of arrogance and stupidity, and these disasters were condoned by a public which largely chose to look the other way and a news media which, at various times, was either complicit or incompetent.

Let’s hope that, in the handling of Iran, history is not repeating itself.

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com

Iran’s Nuclear Scientists are not being Assassinated. They are Being Murdered January 17, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iran, War on Terror.
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Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 by The Guardian/UK

Killing our Enemies Abroad is Just State-sponsored Terror – Whatever Euphemism Western Leaders Like to Use

  by  Mehdi Hasan

On the morning of 11 January Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy head of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, was in his car on his way to work when he was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. He was 32 and married with a young son. He wasn’t armed, or anywhere near a battlefield.

Since 2010, three other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in similar circumstances, including Darioush Rezaeinejad, a 35-year-old electronics expert shot dead outside his daughter’s nursery in Tehran last July. But instead of outrage or condemnation, we have been treated to expressions of undisguised glee.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the Iranian nuclear scientist killed in Tehran on January 11, with his son, Alireza. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

“On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear programme in Iran turn up dead,” bragged the Republican nomination candidate Rick Santorum in October. “I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.” On the day of Roshan’s death, Israel’s military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, announced on Facebook: “I don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear” – a sentiment echoed by the historian Michael Burleigh in the Daily Telegraph: “I shall not shed any tears whenever one of these scientists encounters the unforgiving men on motorbikes.”

These “men on motorbikes” have been described as “assassins”. But assassination is just a more polite word for murder. Indeed, our politicians and their securocrats cloak the premeditated, lawless killing of scientists in Tehran, of civilians in Waziristan, of politicians in Gaza, in an array of euphemisms: not just assassinations but terminations, targeted killings, drone strikes.

Their purpose is to inure us to such state-sponsored violence against foreigners. In his acclaimed book On Killing, the retired US army officer Dave Grossman examines mechanisms that enable us not just to ignore but even cheer such killings: cultural distance (“such as racial and ethnic differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the victim”); moral distance (“the kind of intense belief in moral superiority”); and mechanical distance (“the sterile, Nintendo-game unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim”).

Thus western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers – who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals – as state-sponsored murder fall quiet as their states kill, with impunity, nuclear scientists, terror suspects and alleged militants in faraway lands. Yet a “targeted killing”, human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith tells me, “is just the death penalty without due process”.

Cognitive dissonance abounds. To torture a terror suspect, for example, is always morally wrong; to kill him, video game style, with a missile fired from a remote-controlled drone, is morally justified. Crippled by fear and insecurity, we have sleepwalked into a situation where governments have arrogated to themselves the right to murder their enemies abroad.

Nor are we only talking about foreigners here. Take Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist preacher, al-Qaida supporter – and US citizen. On 30 September 2011, a CIA drone killed Awlaki and another US citizen, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, another CIA-led drone attack killed Awlaki’s 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman. Neither father nor son were ever indicted, let alone tried or convicted, for committing a crime. Both US citizens were assassinated by the US government in violation of the Fifth Amendment (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”).

An investigation by Reuters last October noted how, under the Obama administration, US citizens accused of involvement in terrorism can now be “placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions … There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel … Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”

Should “secret panels” and “kill lists” be tolerated in a liberal democracy, governed by the rule of law? Did the founders of the United States intend for its president to be judge, jury and executioner? Whatever happened to checks and balances? Or due process?

Imagine the response of our politicians and pundits to a campaign of assassinations against western scientists conducted by, say, Iran or North Korea. When it comes to state-sponsored killings, the double standard is brazen. “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them,” George Orwell observed, “and there is almost no kind of outrage … which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side”.

But how many more of our values will we shred in the name of security? Once we have allowed our governments to order the killing of fellow citizens, fellow human beings, in secret, without oversight or accountability, what other powers will we dare deny them?

This isn’t complicated; there are no shades of grey here. Do we disapprove of car bombings and drive-by shootings, or not? Do we consistently condemn state-sponsored, extrajudicial killings as acts of pure terror, no matter where in the world, or on whose orders, they occur? Or do we shrug our shoulders, turn a blind eye and continue our descent into lawless barbarism?

© 2012 The Guardian

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Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan is senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman and a former news and current affairs editor at Channel 4. His New Statesman blog is here

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