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Slouching towards Armageddon

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What is happening between Iran and the West? And what is going to happen? Clearly we see increased sabre-rattling, warnings of war, mutual bellicosity. But why now? Who gets served by this? Is it likely that there actually will be some further military action? There's already been a surprising amount. What does this look like from the points of view of Iran, the U.S., and Israel? And if push comes to fire, who wins?

There has been a huge push in Western media to demonize Iran. First we had last month's farcical false flag fiasco, which claimed that the Iranian secret service had hired an almost blind alcoholic and lover of prostitutes in Texas to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill a Saudi Ambassador in Washington. As Stephen Walt correctly questioned, "If you are going to attack a target in the United States, wouldn't you send your A Team, instead of Mr. Magoo?" It does continue, as Glen Greenwald noted, "the FBI's record-setting undefeated streak of heroically saving us from the plots they enable." That issue seems to have gotten dropped quickly, but it's worth noting that it came just before the publication of a UN report on Iranian progress towards a nuclear weapon.

The report was a failure from the point of view of those who want a war: it not only failed to find any smoking silos, but the main scientist who was accused of helping Iran to build nukes turns out to never have been involved with nuclear physics, ever, anywhere, and to be a specialist in creating industrial diamonds. (Someone Googled his name to find this out: we're not talking rocket nuclear science here.) The report, the first under Amano, a man the U.S. had hand-picked for the UN job is a double failure: not only did it fail to convince even the U.S. mainstream press, but from the U.S. point of view, as the excellent blog, Iran Affairs, said, "The U.S. showed its best hand, and turned out to be bluffing." All that was needed to complete the disaster was this comment from the preternaturally far-sighted Netanyahu: "The IAEA report includes only the evidence provable at a court of law, but the reality is that there are many more things that we are seeing beyond what the report states." Things that go boom in the night, indeed.

What is Iran actually doing? The most credible analysis is Juan Cole's, who suggests:

"It is likely that Iran wants 'nuclear latency,' or the 'Japan option.' That would involve knowing how to construct a bomb in short order if the country was ever directly menaced with an invasion and regime change a la Iraq. ... It is not the same as constructing an actual bomb. Everything we know about Iran's nuclear enrichment program points to it mainly being for civilian purposes."

What is Israel doing in response? Hareetz, the Israeli newspaper reports that Netanyahu is trying to persuade the cabinet to attack Iran, while Der Spiegal says that ex-Mossad chief Dagan is advising them not to go ahead with an imminent attack. There are two possibilities here: either Israel is preparing for an attack, or they think it is useful to make people think they are preparing for an attack. Why might they want to attack now? There are a few reasons. It's clear that Palestine is gaining traction, and Israel is losing traction, both in the UN, and worldwide. Peaceful negotiations are not going to help get further territory for the settlers, and with the two local dominant arab powers, Egypt and Syria both dealing with their own revolutions, this would be a really good time to do what you're going to do. Israel likes being the only nuclear power in the Middle East, and want to drive home that status quo to Iran, as they did to Syria in 2007 when they bombed their nuclear plant. If they attack Iran, there will be certainly responses from both Gaza and Lebanon (Hezbollah and Hamas) and probably from some on the West Bank. That allows Israel to take the gloves off and attack Gaza and Lebanon, take over the few shards of the West Bank they don't control, and delay Iran's nuclear possibilities. (War Tard plays out the military game in fuller detail, and I'm indebted to his analysis.)

What should the U.S. do? Well, Romney announced this week he would bomb Iran if he felt sanctions weren't working, and Gringrich agreed. (Cain announced he.ll go a step further and stop China from getting the bomb, but it would be too cruel to say more on that.) So if Israel did bomb Iran, and all the Republican candidates supported Israel, and AIPAC and J-Street supported Israel, what do you think Obama would do?


Really the only thing left that we can believe Obama stands for is Obama being president, and abandoning Israel during a major war doesn't get him that second term. Obama knows the war would be a disaster, but in his mind would it be more of a disaster than losing the election? That's another reason for Israel to strike before the next election.

Of course it's not as though Israel and the U.S. had been standing by and idly watching Iran. Within the past two years three top Iranian nuclear scientists have been mysteriously assassinated in Tehran, the Stuxnet virus (a sophisticated computer worm that only targeted Iranian nuclear computers) was released, and yesterday a major blast in Tehran killed 17 people, including the architect of Iran's missile program. As Wikipedia says, "It has been speculated that Israel and the United States may have been involved." Gee, you think?

Why do I think that the war would be a disaster militarily for the U.S.? In 2002, the U.S. ran the Millennium Challenge, a $250 million war game exercise between the Blue U.S. navy and Red, "an unknown adversary," for which you may read Iran. Using speedboats, Chinese Silkworm missiles, and non-radio communication (carrier pigeons!) the Red team destroyed 16 warships, and killed over 20,000 personnel. The Navy refloated the ships, changed the rules to abolish speedboats ("cheating"), and "won." General Riper, who had been in charge of Red, quit.

Other countries outside of the U.S.? China and Russia will be angry, and will introduce censure bills at the UN that the U.S. will veto, and they'll continue to supply weapons to Iran, but they won't get involved. as War Tard says, "It'll be more fun for them to just sit back and watch the death spasms of American superpower."

So what do the Iranians do in response to an Israeli raid? They don't fire everything they have at Israel, because Israel has nukes and wouldn't hesitate to use them in the appropriately named "Sampson option." As a professor of History at the Hebrew University said, "We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under." So instead of that, Iran attacks the major Saudi oil refineries, 100 miles across the Persian Gulf. They're soft targets: close, fat, volatile, and unmovable. Then they attack the oil tankers (fat, volatile, and very slow-moving) and fill the gulf with mines. And there's nothing the U.S. or Israel can do to stop 10,000 speedboats. Oil goes over $300 a barrel, and the economies in the West make 2008 look like boom times.

Maybe it will happen. But Iran Affairs also has a list of how often reports of imminent war on Iran have been in the Western press: 95 times in the last seven years (though it has been "reliably" reported for 18 years.) Obama certainly doesn't want this war, so maybe this is just a game of nuclear chicken, and saner heads will prevail? Let us hope so. But when the world's future comes down to counting Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad as saner heads, it's hard to believe we've ended up in the best of all possible worlds.


[Like this? Look for similar analyses every week in Tikkunista.]

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