Israeli officials face a conundrum that may take more than military
muscle-flexing to resolve: how to deal with Iran? The solution to this dilemma
will require no less than sheer political genius.
It must be frustrating for Israeli policymakers and their friends and backers
elsewhere to stand idle as Iran openly carries on with its nuclear-enrichment
program, facing nothing but United States and European chest-thumping and a
mere threat of more sanctions, which will unlikely bend Iranian resolve.
It's doubly frustrating considering the relative ease that led the US, its
timid coalition and Israeli cheerleaders to unleash a war against Iraq. Alas,
those days are long gone. Now, the US is anxiously cloaking its failure in Iraq
by pressing the need to tend
to more urgent battles elsewhere, namely Afghanistan.
Regardless of why the US targeted Iraq, and why its objectives were not met,
Israel's own calculations were a surprising success, as the Iraqi menace
(manufactured or real) has been eliminated, and the ghost of chaos will likely
haunt that unfortunate country for years to come.
Now, it's Iran's turn. In fact, it has been Iran's turn for years, but nothing
seems to be moving on that front. If the Iraq experiment were successful, the
US would have definitely jumped at the opportunity to trample Iran, an oil-rich
country with crucially strategic positioning. Controlling Iran would have been
the missing piece of the puzzle that would push the borders of US control and
influence to lock horns, if necessary with the emerging Asian giants, and of
But a US military move against Iran, under the current circumstances, is no
less than military suicide. Iraq has established the limits of US military
capabilities, inspiring the Taliban to ascertain their own. July 2009 has gone
down in history as the month with the highest causalities among US forces.
Deadly July is promising many repeats as daring Taliban and all sorts of tribal
militias in Afghanistan emerge stronger and savvier than before.
A large-scale US military attack, and needless to say, invasion and subsequent
occupation, of Iran is simply not feasible. If such imprudence ever actualized,
all hell would break loose in Iraq as well, considering the solid political and
sectarian ties that unite both countries, which also share an infinite border.
This is precisely the source of frustration among Israeli officials, who have
counted on US military generosity to bully Israel's enemies, or, as was the
case in Iraq, to take them down.
Israeli frustration must have also turned into sheer rage when US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton once more brought up the subject of a "defense umbrella"
over the Middle East to shield it from a future nuclear Iran.
"If the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even
more to develop the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it is unlikely that
Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and
dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon,"
she was quoted as saying in a Thai television interview.
Clinton's reinvention of the defense umbrella idea - introduced in a March 4
report by a pro-Israeli think-tank, Washington Institute on Near East Policy
(WINEP) - stands at odds with her enthusiastic promise to "totally obliterate"
Iran should it attack Israel, while trying to lure in supporters during her
last year's run for presidential nomination. It seems that the US - despite the
use of threatening language - is edging towards living with and "containing" a
nuclear Iran, but, expectedly, Israel is not.
The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now
maneuvering to entice a tougher US position towards Iran, especially as the
recent internal destabilization of the Islamic Republic failed to deliver.
Israeli maneuvers are both political and military. The Times reported on a quid
pro quo deal where Israeli “concessions” regarding its illegal settlements in
occupied Palestinian territories are to be reciprocated with a Western nod for
an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. "Israel has chosen to place the
Iranian threat over its settlements," a senior European Union diplomat told The
Times on July 16.
That political scheme was supplemented by a show of force, as two Israeli
missile-class warships and a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile
strike were reportedly permitted to sail through the Egyptian Suez Canal for
the first time. The unprecedented deployment into the Red Sea was meant as a
signal that Iran is within Israeli range. The message, however, carried perhaps
a deeper political meaning - that Israel is capable of striking Iran with the
help of regional allies. In other words, Israel is hardly the isolated party in
this conflict. More, considering serious US attempts aimed at weakening the
Syria-Iran alliance, the Suez Canal message was even more politically loaded,
although its military value is yet to be determined.
Militarily, things are not very promising, as the highly touted Israeli
military exercise - conducted recently in the United States - registered little
success. Israel called off tests of its Arrow anti-missile system due to
technical problems. The Arrow program, which is half-funded by the United
States, is meant to intercept and destroy such Iranian missiles as the
As the US military option against Iran largely dissipates, Israel's frustration
and worries grow. If Iran is not neutralized militarily - as the US did Iraq -
then a nuclear Iran is a matter of time. If Israel strikes Iran, there are no
guarantees that such an act - which will certainly harm US strategic interests
- will in any way destroy, or even slow down the Iranian nuclear program.
The US and its European allies seem out of ideas regarding how to deal with
Iran, leaving Israel with a major conundrum: either living in the potential
shadow of a nuclear Iran, as a long-term regional power, or striking the
Islamic Republic with the hope that its erroneously perceived "shaky" regime
will quickly crumble, leaving the US to pick up the pieces, and the whole
region to deal with the chaos that will surely follow.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers,
journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is, The
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press,
London), and his forthcoming book is, My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).