Last Updated: Fri Jan 27, 2012 00:36 am (KSA) 21:36 pm (GMT)

Israel-America-Iran — the dangers grow

Rami G. Khouri

The events and tensions that revolve around Iran and its multi-faceted relations with its immediate neighbours — and its antagonists farther afield in the United States, Israel and some Western countries — are increasing in number and complexity so that two things become clear.

First, chances are much greater that we might witness an unintended misstep that triggers armed conflict, a regional Armageddon-type conflict, and a global energy and economic catastrophe.

Second, these same reasons suggest that the many elements in the political arena could easily provide entry into some kind of negotiated agreement that calms things down for many years to come.

Events are moving in overdrive speed, as Israel-America leads a political drive to choke off the Iranian economy by preventing other countries from buying Iranian oil, while increasing sanctions and constantly hinting at a future military strike against Iran. The Iranians retaliate by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz if their oil exports are choked off by Israel-America’s sanctions or if Iran is attacked. This would create massive global dislocation because 20 per cent of all traded oil passes through the strait.

Other Iranian retaliations would be expected, and wider Iranian-Israeli and Iranian-Arab conflicts could erupt, if only at the level of exchanging missiles, not to mention regional conflagrations related to Iranian-Arab or Sunni-Shiite tensions.

This is not your usual Middle Eastern little flare-up or local war that the region has experienced and survived for so many decades. Saudi Arabia now leads those Arab governments and people who see Iran as a serious strategic threat that must be fought in every way possible, while many people in the region side with Iran in its insistence on developing a full nuclear energy capability for peaceful purposes.

It is possible that Iran’s government will prove to be of the same ilk as those of Saddam Hussein, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Muammar Qadhafi, Hosni Mubarak, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Bashar Assad, i.e., militant in their rhetoric and steadfast in their positions, but ultimately proving to be weak and vulnerable when seriously challenged by their own people or foreign coalitions.

Or, Iran might prove to be something very different, and a real nation state that is durable and strong, given its national bulk, human and technical capabilities, and strength of character and confidence.

Iran — like Turkey and Israel — represents a very different brand of nationalism, where power reflects real national assets. Rising tensions with Iran run the risk of catastrophic regional and global conflict — because it has the capability to stand up to and, if needed, respond to the threats and pressures against it and retaliate in case it is attacked.

Given the nature and history of the principal militant and resolute drivers of this situation — Iran, Israel and the United States — the chances of brinksmanship and miscalculation leading to large-scale death and destruction are increasing daily. Yet, like all issues related to Arab, Israeli, Iranian and American interests, there is no agreement on the real causes of the tensions.

The Israeli-American led group of actors fears that Iran clandestinely wants to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons and dominate the Middle East, while Iran and its friends accuse Israel-America of acting in a hegemonic manner by opposing any power in the region that might stand up to them or offer a different strategic vision for the region.

Well, guess what? Both accusations are probably true to a large extent.

The difference between the Iranian and American positions is that Iran is a major regional power in the Middle East, and has been for at least 5,000 years, while the United States is using its power to try to keep shaping a regional Middle Eastern order that suits its inclinations and the strategic perceptions of its Israeli diplomatic taskmaster that tends to drive most American policies in the region.

The fact is that Iran has mastered key technical elements of the nuclear industry it seeks and says it is willing to comply with international safeguards that prevent it from making weapons — which, it says, it does not want to make.

The United States says it accepts Iranian nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes, with the appropriate international safeguards through the legitimate institutions of the United Nations system.

A speedy return to serious negotiation to achieve these goals — not the fake and insincere meetings under Israeli-American threats that were held previously — seems both necessary and feasible, especially with available credible mediators like the Turks. This kind of rational approach to the issue has been available for years, but the two sides have always rejected it.

Meanwhile, all eyes remain on the fanatical rightwing Israeli government to see if it will attack Iran in a desperate attempt to slow down Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

If the issue is and always has been forcing Iran to comply with international law and norms on nuclear capabilities, the question that looms large once again in this region is whether Israel and America are also required to remain within the bounds of the law, rather than attack any country they wish merely on the basis of suspicions about what that target country might do in the future.

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on Jan. 20, 2012

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