To Israel, an Iranian Bomb Is a Hegemonic as Well as “Existential” Threat (Part Two)

Thirty years ago, the Reagan Administration went on a crash program to increase the U.S. military budget, cut social programs, escalate the nuclear arms race to a degree unprecedented during the Cold War (1945-1989) and revive U.S. interventionalism in the Third World.

Looking back, it’s not hard to discern the Reagan Strategy:

• most of all — either fabricate or greatly exaggerate ‘the threat’, giving the impression that ‘the end of the world’ is at hand through nuclear holocaust

surround the Soviet Union with U.S. bases, with sea-based Trident submarines, a single sub armed with possibly 154 nuclear warheads

impose an economic embargo and engage in counterinsurgency

construct an anti-communist alliance (NATO)

use the nuclear arms race to push the Soviet Union to the limit, making it difficult for the communist government to both re-tool its economy and keep up with military expenditures at the same time

It worked.

Understanding that the USSR could not participate in an arms race and reform its economic and political structures at the same time, Mikael Gorbachev tried to reduce global tensions to reshape his country economically. But it was too little too late — the USSR had long before lost its moral compass; its economy was so hopelessly grid-locked that reform proved impossible. The whole structure collapsed, with the World Bank and IMF finishing off what remained of Soviet Communism with their punishing structural adjustment programs in exchange for financial aid.

Fast forward to today.

A similar political witches’ brew, with slight modifications, is being concocted to bring down the Islamic Republic of Iran one way or another by both the USA and Israel. The exaggerated threat, the vilification of the Iranian leadership, the economic boycott, the ring of military bases surrounding Iran combined with the presence of a naval armada in the Persian Gulf all follow the Reagan prescription for triggering Soviet collapse. The much-inflated Soviet threat has been replaced by the much inflated Iranian threat; the anti-Iranian coalition has replaced the anti-Communist crusade. Add to that the new, often insidious role of NGOs and special forces operations and the more modern-day version of ‘regime change,’ i.e., overthrowing governments, comes into focus.

These last months both the United States and Israel have ratcheted up the anti-Iranian rhetoric to an unprecedented level reaching a new crescendo of hysteria in Netanyahu’s March 5, 2012 speech before AIPAC. The Obama and Netanyahu administrations have painted Iran with such dark colors that should they want to change gears and NOT attack Iran, they would have difficulty explaining it to their peoples who have been worked into a frenzy; it is reminiscent of the media build up preceding the March 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, or as one colleague compared put it — the period just before the outbreak of World War One.

With an election around the corner, Barack Obama is trying to cool down the flames and put the brakes on the very sentiment his administration has helped unleash. ”Too much war talk,” the president told a meeting of AIPAC, that powerful and reactionary pro-Israeli lobbying group a few days ago! Unfortunately, that message was embedded in an otherwise groveling-to-AIPAC, militaristic series of remarks about Iran which watered down Obama’s ‘message of peace.’

Cut out the war talk?

It suggests that the Obama Administration does not want to attack Iran, and does not want Israel to do so… for now, at least until after the elections.

But if Obama and his defense secretary, Leon Panetta, are saying this is not the time for an invasion, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu along with the Republican Party presidential candidates, neo-conservatives, Zionist organizations in the USA like AIPAC , the Looney Tunes Christian Zionists like Hagee and his band of ‘end-of-the-worlders’ are all pushing hard for military intervention.

Do they mean it? Is it not, as Colorado peace activist Arnie Carter suggested ‘just plain nuts’ to engage Iran militarily?

What is crystal clear is that for different reasons, both the United States and Israel are doing their utmost to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The means by which they hope to accomplish this is more a tactical than a strategic question at this point. But the indications are growing that any planned major military action — if it indeed takes place — will be put on hold until after the November 2012 U.S. presidential elections. Unleashing a war against Iran now with all its possible complications could cost Obama the elections and he will do what he can to avoid it.

Obama’s caution on attacking Iran is clashing with Netanyahu and American Republican presidential hopeful’s recklessness. Netanhayu and the Republicans are using the increased Iran war talk to pressure Obama.

What is going on here?

As stated in Part One, we believe Netanyahu is talking tough on Iran in an effort both to weaken Obama’s chances for a second term and to press the President for major concessions on the Palestinian issue (more settlements, complete annexation of Jerusalem, even greater integration into US strategic operations in the region).

As for the Republicans, throughout the primary campaign, other than attacking each other, the main candidates have failed to come up with an issue to get traction against Obama.

Attacking Charles Darwin just didn’t fly; not even the abortion issue is getting the attention it used to. Balancing the budget on the backs of the unemployed, working class and middle classes while cutting taxes for the rich does not seem to have the appeal it used to either.

Now the Republicans think they have come up with the answer: using the Iran issue to create global jitters which push up oil prices which in turn, among other things, threatens the weak economic recovery here in the United States. This could not only hurt the fragile U.S. economy but undermine the weak global recovery. Having contributed in large measure to the oil jitters and understanding well its consequences, then they attack Obama for the economic slowdown. Nice!

Openly nervous, Obama made reference to the spike in oil prices in his AIPAC talk and called for a toning down of the rhetoric. In an effort to drive oil prices back down again he has continued since his AIPAC speech to publicly challenge the Republican hopefuls on Iran, calling their tough talk bluff. Obama and his coterie have responded to their offensive by arguing that the sanctions against Iran are working.

The rational case against a US and/or Israeli attack on Iran has been repeatedly stated1 (see end note 1).

There is now another consideration that enters the picture, the Syria crisis, which Obama is also using as a pretext for not attacking Iran. Regardless of outcome of the present crisis there, the Syrian regime will be weaker and accordingly, its regional coalition with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas somewhat diminished in strength, placing Iran in a more difficult, weaker position vis a vis the U.S. and Israel. Iran will be more isolated — it is only a question of how much more. Hamas has already jumped ship (with promises of Saudi and Qatari money?) from the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance. Attacking Iran at this moment (or a Libyan NATO-like invasion of Syria) could only bring together and unify what is an increasingly less potent Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah alliance.

But if the timing is not right for a U.S. and/or Israeli attack on Iran, will the plans for military intervention turns to Syria?

End note:

1.1. It would probably further strengthen the authority and position of the mullahs, uniting the Iranian nation against the outside aggressor (as the threats have already done) and weakening the democratic movement in the country considerably.

2. There is nothing to indicate that invading Iran – whatever shape the military action might take – would result in the collapse of the government there as it did in Iraq in 2003. Without overstating the case – the 2009 protests revealed deep fissures within the country – still, the current government in Iran has considerable mass support. It is easy to forget one of the worst wars of the 20th century – the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988 when Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger and the like argued that supporting Iraq would result in the collapse of the Iranian regime. Didn’t happen then; won’t now either.

3. If war did break out, it would probably not be as one-sided as the U.S. led 2003 Iraq invasion where the Iraqi military all but collapsed. Iran is in a position to hurt the U.S. and its closest allies in the region militarily and politically. A ‘shock and awe’ type military offensive would cause great suffering in the country, but it is doubtful such a campaign would either bring down the regime, or for that matter, eliminate its potential to strike back militarily and politically.

4. Although rarely discussed, the U.S. actually needs (and cooperates with) Iran for stability in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Any U.S. military operation against Iran would seriously undermine the U.S. position, already quite tenuous, in these two countries. The U.S. military is obviously much stronger, but in any war, you can expect that there will be serious U.S. casualties with the naval fleet in the Gulf being essentially sitting ducks. Then there are the Saudi (and Kuwaiti and Emirates) oil fields. One has to be either pretty stupid or blinded by arrogance to believe the strategic resources the U.S. military is in the Middle East to protect, would not be hit in the event of war.

5. An attack on Iran – or some kind of regional military confrontation involving Iran, Israel, the US and other regional players – would almost certainly lead to a spiking in the world price of crude oil, something which could easily cause the current very weak global economic recovery to collapse. Such price increases would seriously undermine both the European and East Asian economies that are more reliant on Gulf oil than the USA.

Also read Part One.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog. Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.