An animal is said to be most dangerous when it is wounded. The midterm elections have wounded the Obama administration, just like severe and increasing international sanctions have wounded the Iranian government. This begs the following questions: Are we on the brink of a confrontation in which “other options" will be used? And if so, who will use them first?
Iran was supposed to resume negotiations with the 5+1 Group (the UN Security Council's 5 permanent members and Germany) in the middle of this month. According to the announcement made by Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, at the European Summit in Brussels, the chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili informed her of his approval to hold talks between November 15 and 17 in Vienna. However, in a television interview 48 hours later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened and then shut the door for negotiations when he said that there is no alternative to negotiations for the 5+1 countries, but then insisted that the group first announce their stance regarding the “Zionist bomb” in Israel, declare when the sanctions would end, and when the United States would eliminate its nuclear weapons. In other words, there will be no negotiations. Ahmadinejad was then followed by his media aide who said that the proposed negotiations will not include the nuclear program on the agenda, although this is the only issue that the 5+1 Group wants to negotiate.
Four UN Security Council resolutions that gradually imposed intensifying sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to change its position regarding its nuclear program. We have now reached a point where Iran cannot bear any further sanctions, and where the United States cannot come up with any more sanctions to force it to halt the enrichment of uranium. All that remains then, is for Iran to harass the Americans in the Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan in order to reach an agreement that would leave neither party defeated, or for Israel to carry out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities that would give the United States a chance for military intervention, which may help Barack Obama to somewhat restore his declining popularity in the United States, in preparation for the 2012 presidential election.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran has endured 30 years of sanctions but did not surrender. However, he failed to mention that Iran needs to import 4.7 million gallons of fuel every day, and that there are heavy economic pressures facing ordinary citizens, to the extent that the Ayatollahs in Qom explicitly said that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's assertions regarding the Iranian economy are incorrect.
The Gulf States are extremely concerned over the possible fallout of the Iranian situation. While there is a consensus amongst them not to get involved in any U.S. attack on Iran, there are divergent views regarding the attack itself, as some welcome it from a distance and others oppose it for fear of being affected by the Iranian response to the attack. Moreover, the Gulf States fear that Iran may turn to "other options" in order to break its stifling siege.
On the other hand, there is disagreement between the Americans and the Europeans on how to best deal with Iran. While both sides have imposed sanctions beyond those approved by the UN Security Council, Europe does not want ordinary Iranian citizens to suffer. For this reason, it left the door open for oil and gas imports from and exports to Iran, even after imposing restrictions on the sale of oil equipment and technology to Tehran, in conjunction with similar measures taken by the United States.
The Obama administration must no doubt be frustrated: Even after all the sanctions that were imposed, it seems that Iran still has enough surplus money to send 500 to 700 thousand Euros in cash to Afghanistan once or twice a year, and enough money to establish Islamic banks in many countries, from Malaysia to Iraq, in order to bypass the restrictions imposed on the external transactions of 16 Iranian banks.
Since Israeli pressures affect the United States much, much more than they affect Europe, and since they will only increase in the aftermath of the midterm election results, Gary Samore, who is Barack Obama’s coordinator for countering unconventional weapons, was reflecting the administration’s stance when he said during a scientific conference in Washington last week: If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, it would have an utterly catastrophic effect in the region. Other states will seek their own nuclear weapons. Also, an attack by Israel could set off a regional war. Therefore, stopping the Iranian nuclear program is the “No. 1 job.”
Here, I do not underestimate the dangers of the Iranian regime’s extremism at all and its impact on the countries of the region. However, I want Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon for the same reasons that the U.S. official is warning against such a scenario. If Iran indeed acquires this weapon, the other countries in the region will seek their own nuclear weapons, at which point the United States and major countries will intervene to strip the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction, instead of leaving Israel alone with a nuclear arsenal in the hands of a fascist government that occupies, murders and destroys every day.
Since I cannot predict the future, I will only say that the current situation cannot last for very long. Iran will not be able to live with the sanctions, and the United States cannot wait forever for Iran to change its position. There are “other options” available to both sides, and so I do not rule out the possibility that these options will be pursued.
*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on Nov. 7, 2010.