Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year January 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Iran, iran israel, iran nuclear, israel, Middle East, mitt romney, mossad, netanyahu, nuclear scientists, roger hollander, tony burman, war
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. firstname.lastname@example.org