Will Iran be another Iraq?


    Almost a decade after the West’s venture in the Middle East, the world finds itself in a similar position having to consider whether a pre-emptive military strike is the correct approach, in order ensure future global security and stability.

    Ten years following the decision to engage in military action in Iraq, the West’s armies are still committed (although slowly withdrawing) and the controversy is still alive and in many ways has redefined the people’s attitude to war and the trust in government. Therefore, in understanding Iran it is important to first look at the events in Iraq, without the media’s hysteria and sensational headlines (at times on the expense of accuracy).

    The biggest controversy is that fact that weapons of mass destructions have never been found. That claim strengthens the notion that the West was never under any threat and therefore there was no  interest for the West to get involved. The other controversy was that at the time a new UN resolution was not sought after, rather an older resolution was used, which some consider illegal. And finally the latest major point of contention is the aftermath of the war, which has seen about 110,000 deaths from military action, although mainly from sectorial violence, which followed the toppling of Saddam.

    The case to invade Iraq is argued very well in a few resources. Perhaps the most interesting and powerful argument is put forward in Tony Blair’s biographical book, where he dedicates a whole chapter to Iraq. Without repeating the argument, Tony argues that the life in Iraq before the war wasn’t much better than after the war. Different in that instead of suicide bombs and sectorial fighting, children were dying of malnutrition and lack of medicine and ethnic groups were deprived of human rights. Tony goes on to argue against Saddam’s history of violence in attacking Iran, Kuwait and more importantly using chemical warfare against his Kurdish population.

    However, many would find that all the argument against Saddam, still do not amount to a justification for war, especially since the Western world is routinely looking the other way in different regimes committing similar crimes. This then leads to an examination of the intelligence used to justify going to war.

    There is still a notion that Tony Blair lied to the people of Britain, fiddling with the intelligence to justify the move. However, the government has exposed the intelligence that was used and made it public (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/iraqwmd0903.pdf). Anyone that cares to read the report would probably conclude that it was the intelligence that was wrong, not the British government’s decision. And therefore the big question is how could the intelligence get it so wrong and could it be trusted again?

    There is no reason to crucify and doubt the intelligence, as it is almost on a monthly basis that we hear that terrorist attacks are being foiled (one has to make the base assumption that the media is doing its job finding out information and would expose a situation in which the government is manufacturing these news). Evidently, the various global intelligence services have informants in the right places as well as the ability to intercept messages and collaborate, so what was so different in Iraq?

    This is where the views differ (please note these are ‘views’ not facts). One view is that Saddam saw admitting a lack of capability of WMD as a regional suicide. In a tough neighbourhood such as the Middle East it is important to have a military might, in order to affect regional policies, ensuring survival of the regime as well as economic prosperity (this would explain, why during years of sanctions and population starvation, Saddam still found the money to fund terrorist activity as well as pay bonuses to families of suicide bombers in Israel). The other view was that Saddam truly believed that the programs were progressing, however in effect he lost control of the army, who were feeding him wrong information. A third view is that the US were so eager to attack Iraq that while knowing of chemical and biological capabilities, they forged some of the intelligence on nuclear, in order to win public support. The most crucial case is that of Saddam’s attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, which seems very unreliable after Wilson’s Op-Ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) claiming he was the one that filed the  report confirming the low likelihood of Iraq signing an agreement with Niger to buy ‘Yellow Cake’.

    The war in Iraq was a political disaster to both the US and Britain. Both leaders have been accused of lying to the people. However the blow would have not been so great had it not been for the longevity of the war and the high number of deaths. Had Saddam been toppled and Iraq stabilized within months, criticism would have probably been minimal.

    However, in politics as well as warfare, not only does one not have the benefit of hindsight, but one can’t accurately assess the outcome of the road untaken.  Arguably, the sectorial fighting that took place in Iraq would have taken place today as a result of the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt and Syria all have a great deal in common with Iraq and are suffering or have suffered a similar consequence. Or even worse, perhaps not toppling Saddam would have meant that the Arab public wouldn’t have risen against their dictators. Furthermore, in defence of the decision to go into Iraq, one should not forget that it is not the army, which is killing civilians en masse, rather ethnic differences and foreign powers, which is dominated by the old Sunni – Shiite conflict.

    So now the world is faced with Iran. Similar to Iraq, Iran has decided not to cooperate with the UN, resulting in crippling sanctions, making their civilians’ lives more difficult than they should be. Furthermore, Iran is not taking any steps towards reassuring the world that their nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and while most information is hidden from the public eye, even the media catches a glimpse every now and then of disconcerting facts, such as Iran hiding the existence of the nuclear facility in Qom, the rejection of the compromise to enrich the fuel outside of Iran, advances in the development of long range missiles and most concerning the change of attitude since El-Baradei has been replaced by Amano as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) representative.

    There is little doubt that unless the world waits for advanced stages of the nuclear program, once again it will be hard to produce a “smoking gun”. However, one would think that the governments would have learned from past mistakes and run a different campaign, if action in a foreign country were to be taken.

Here are some of the mistakes that have not been addressed in Iraq and should be addressed in Iran:

–          The support of terrorism. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism and so is Iran. It should not be difficult to invest in collecting proof that it is Iranian financed or Iran militia fighting in Iraq, Syria, Israel as well as abroad (mainly via Hezbollah)

–            Dictator regimes, while the West cannot take the high ground on intervening with every conflict, there is no reason, why they should not intervene in certain cases. Just as there was an intervention in Kosovo to save the Muslims, purely on a humanitarian basis.

–          The UN has proved to be affected by small time international politics, a campaign needs to be done to expose such countries playing international politics rather than fulfilling their humanitarian duties (such as currently China and Russia in the case of Syria)

–          Securing the parameters, if an action is taking place in Iran, the countries have to anticipate and address the involvement of foreign powers (such as limiting across the border movements from neighbouring countries)

    Experience has shown that Iran has already decided to sacrifice its people for the bigger purpose of continuing with their plan. For example sending two war ships through the Suez Canal to Syria is another way to show defiance and give a “Business As Usual” feeling both domestically and overseas.

    The timing is crucial, since the US is going to elections in November and is therefore reluctant to commit to another war, while Israel has hinted towards a ‘point of no return’, which is said to be this spring, in which if there is no evidence of the program stopping, they will attack, not allowing Iran to secure the nuclear facilities deep in the ground.

    In the meantime, Israel is practicing warplane manoeuvres as well as drills simulating rockets hitting the center of the country and there is much talk about who is behind the mysterious killings of personnel involved in the missile and nuclear program in Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s economy is suffering with the Rial, Iran’s currency, dropping by half (the unofficial rate, which is not regulated by the government), the sanctions on oil and commerce, which will see their export revenue declining and cost of commerce increasing and the most recent blow, disconnecting them from SWIFT, the international money transfer system.

    Only time will tell whether an attack will take place and if so whether this conflict would be perceived as justified or another Iraq. However one thing is almost certain, which is the Iranians will suffer like the Iraqis did, because of their dictatorship government’s reluctance to drop their last century aggressive mentality.

There is still venom in the West’s sting


    It is becoming increasingly popular to speculate that the West’s and in particular the US’s Golden Age is coming to an end. After years of dominating the financial system, giving the West disproportioned power over the rest of the world, the situation might be changing. This power has often attracted much criticism as it set the scene for imperialism as well as the ability to influence global events to fit with the Western view of the world.

    The surge in power for the West started centuries ago and could be explained by understanding the relationship between religion, government system and how that contributes to individual innovation (Brilliantly explained in Niall Ferguson’s book Civilization). The current narrative, however, is that while the Western countries are now sinking in debt, they are looking for countries such as China, Brazil, Russia and India to bail them out, ultimately handing over a great deal of power.

    This change in power, understandably, has a deep effect on the Middle East, since typically in politics, as some powers are rising and some declining, there is a consequential change in alliances and ideology.  A very direct effect of the current alignment could be seen for example with the result of the elections in Egypt. If not understanding the relationship, it would seem very odd that the Al-Nour (extreme Salafi Muslim party) and Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’ sponsor party from which it branched out) are calling to respect the peace agreement with Israel, while Hamas itself is calling to occupy all of Israel and rejects its existence (one would expect the movements to be aligned or the more extreme Salafis to oppose Israel at least as much as Hamas). It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that had the US not been supporting Egypt financially and influencing the Middle East, a war between Israel and Egypt would have broken out shortly after the election or toppling of the army rule.

    Considering the US and West’s power over the Middle East, this shift in power should be very concerning for Westerners, since a financial shift could change reality very quickly. For example a shortage of oil supply or increase in price could break the already fragile economy, which is still very much reliant on the combustion engine for mobility (and existence).

    One of the intriguing questions is how did this situation occur and how could the timing be explained. No doubt, plenty of books will be written about the topic offering different explanations as well as discussing the shortcomings and periodicity of the capitalist financial system. However, a simpler explanation would be the evolvement of the political systems in moving away from communism and towards capitalism and the time it takes them to readjust. The changing technology is also a major factor in the time and depth of this changes taking place (setting up a call center in India these days is arguably easier than it was to establish a new trading route for goods).

    Regarding the timing, there is no surprise that while the new economies have suddenly opened their trade routes and technology made their integration easier, many of the funding from the Western companies, were diverted to the countries that could offer comparable services cheaper. The result was Western companies increasing profit, while developing countries showing a massive growth to their economies. Ironically, the capitalist push to increase profits and stay competitive is what led to the banking systems taking irresponsible risks, which ultimately led to the economic crisis in the West. As a result the West is now going to those previously weaker economies, looking for funding.

    This shift of power is very apparent in politics as suddenly China, Russia and Brazil are rearing more economic power than ever before and affecting real outcomes. For example China and Russia have been voting against any actions to be taken as a response to the killings of protestors by the Syrian government, or against tougher sanctions against Iran. Turkey, which also showed great growth and economic stability in 2010, also defied the West and moved its ideology and investment towards the East. It should be noted, that this move coincided with some criticism by the Turkish government of the German handling of the Turkish population as well as the falling out with Israel (an event unimaginable, when Turkey had a dependent and weaker economy).

    However, despite the grim outlook for the Western world, at times one must balance the headlines in the media with the facts on the ground, in order to fully grasp the situation. 

    Despite being an oil rich country and the economic crisis in the West, tough sanctions on Iran are starting to bite and the Iranian economy is showing signs of collapse by the rapidly growing inflation and consequential an even higher unemployment rate (Iran does not release official statistics). Some argue that the sanctions are inefficient and liken the situation to North Korea, who continued its nuclear weapon program, despite the sanctions, however, this comparison ignores the big middle class in Iran (which didn’t exist in the same way in N. Korea), who are motivated to protect their financial assets.  The Iranians also do not have the same isolation from the Western world as the North Koreans.

    Perhaps not directly or wholly related, but since taking a hard-line in politics, Turkey has also seen a massive decrease in its currency (60% decrease against the dollar from 2007 to 2011, taking into account that the dollar has taken a tumble in those years as well). There are many reasons for this change, however no doubt that decrease in investment and tourists has had an impact. Also, since 2005 Turkey’s external debt (i.e. total public and private debt owed to non-residents and repayable in foreign currency, goods, or services), has been rising rapidly from $16 billion in 2005 to $270 billion in 2011. While Turkey is still considered an emerging economy with a forecast to grow, it is obvious that its economy is tied with the rest of the world and it has to acknowledge that and act accordingly both economically and politically.

    Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and other countries around the world are in a similar situation, in which while they have more prospect for growth, their markets are, dominantly, the Western world. This situation is not likely to change, until there is enough critical mass and infrastructure from countries completely independent of the Western world to trade amongst themselves. There are speculations that this is already taking place, however, it will take time until “new” countries on the scene match the innovation and knowledge of the Western world (political change in those countries almost certainly has to happen first).

So, while the West is losing ground and the reality for its citizens is almost certain to change somewhat, one mustn’t jump to conclusions or lament fate prematurely, after all, the US had the same fear in the 80’s when Japan was gaining ground.

Arab Spring Turning into a Bitingly Cold Winter


 

    As the winter months are upon us and in the Northern Hemisphere we feel the cold weather, so do we start to realize the true error of what we called the “Arab Spring”. The term Arab Spring is based on the “Spring of the Nations”, which took place in 1848. It was in fact a series of revolutions which took place in the world, without any apparent central coordination and opposed the multi-national empires. The revolutions extended achievements are somewhat debated, but it was certainly a big step towards giving every country more power to rule itself.

    The Arab Spring started in a somewhat similar way, while there was no apparent central coordination; people in the street rose against their absolute leader and demanded more control. However, unfortunately, this is where most of the similarities end. Unlike Europe and the world at the time, the Middle East did not have a limited number of empires that ruled the region. In fact it was quite the opposite, each country in the Middle East has/had its own ruler and the revolution was never about breaking the rulings into smaller chunks, so that the leader truly represents the local interests.

     In the Middle East the countries already have local rulers, who were supposed to look after the local interests. The real dispute is whether they were actually doing it, as well as the fact that they could not be replaced by a democratic procedure, if they weren’t.

    When the Egyptians started gathering in Tahrir Square, many people criticized Obama for not responding quickly enough to the government crackdown. The “common wisdom” accused him for not doing so, because of Mubarak’s positive attitude towards the West. However, while that might be partly true, there is another bigger issue. Like many others, Obama didn’t know who would come next. While accepting that democracy is a positive process as a whole, Obama like many other leaders appreciated that true democracy is not something achieved overnight.

    Many people consider democracy the act of the people putting ballots into voting boxes and then giving the power to he/she with the most votes, however, this is where most people are mistaken. The action of voting is merely allowing people to participate, however democracy cannot exist without other institutions to support it. For example, how could people form their opinion with the absence of freedom of press? If no mass medium is reporting objectively on what is really happening how could people judge the candidates or their policy? Or even be aware that things could be different?

    Another institution, whose presence is essential, is the Court of Law. How could anyone seek justice or expect the country to be run fairly, when there isn’t a truly independent body that serves as a judge on matters that might be uncomfortable for the government to bear? In a way an objective media can exist only in a country where the law enforcement and courts are fair and independent and therefore can protect it from unfair censorship or retribution.

    While some institutions are missing from democracy, there are some whose presence is a hindrance, for example religion. When religion becomes a political power, democracy is damaged, since in some cases people are made to vote as religion dictates rather than what they truly believe in. Having religious involvement in politics is an issue that can be seen in Western democracies as well. In the Middle East for example, it is said that Israel is getting to a dangerous point, where the religious population is inclined to vote in accordance with the religious leaders, which is hampering the democratic process. It could be argued that it is the people’s choice to become religious, however there are plenty of examples to refute that and argue against its participation in the process of democratic elections. Another worrying example would be the US, which also has a large element of religious votes, however there it is also based on values and there is a true separation between religion and state.

    Returning to the concept of the 1848 Spring of Nations, while in 1848 the countries fought a separate local rule in the Arab Spring, it seems that the end result is turning out to be quite the opposite. In the Arab world, it seems that the religious parties are gaining more power and it is actually more likely that the Muslim Brotherhood movement would have a continuum of control across borders, as they win the majority in every country. Bizarrely this is very reminiscent of the Al-Qaeda goal to have a single Muslim Caliphate rule for region. So in some ways, the partial democracy taking place in the Middle East is pushing the region further away from the West in terms of ideology and consequently commerce and culture.

    However, while the revolutions are taking place and governments are changing, one must remember that in the Middle East many things are in play and therefore do not always seem logical to a Western eye.  As the US is ramping up its pressure on Iran, putting it under more economic constraint and possibly stopping its nuclear power, the result might invoke a regime change and possibly a decline as a key player for the foreseeable future. In the same breath it could be argued that despite the militant stance the Al-Nour  (Al Qaeda inspired Salafi party in Egypt) and the Muslim Brotherhood, have declared in their election campaign, once they start to govern they will find it difficult to give up the US financial aid ($1.5 billon a year according to Forbes magazine), as well as see tourism dithers as a result of their Muslim stance and Westen-phobia, so will become less radical.  Syria has not yet collapsed and the recent talk of a Hamas “kiss and make-up” deal, may harm Hamas and Hezbollah more than they think as Asad loses more legitimacy and sees his army taking more beatings from the rebel army.  This will no doubt have a ripple effect on Lebanon and the Israel/Palestine conflict, which may have a ripple effect on other aspects as well.

 

    So predicting which player will rise, which player will fall and what will the reality look like, once the dust has settled, is currently anyone’s guess.

Christopher Hitchens


   Before being able to welcome 2012, Christopher Hitchens lost his battle to cancer and passed away at the aged of 62. Hitchens has been a journalist and an author for a long time. Many will remember his strong anti god-view and his accusations of the Church and Mother Theresa, in particular accusing her for spreading ignorance, disease and undesired populations growth. However, most of all he would be remembered for taking a stand in support of the Iraq war, which has labeled him a liberal turned neo-con in the minds of many.

    Hitchens was also especially interested in the achievements of Thomas Jefferson as a person and a founding father of the USA. He wrote a biography of Jefferson and often used his knowledge to combat claims that the US was founded on the base of religion (he differentiated between faith and organized religion). 

    Hitchens has been a long time reporter on the Middle East. He covered the politics in the Arab countries including the wars and the political developments. He was also a known criticizer of the Israeli policy over the Palestinians and opposed the idea of Zionism harshly, however, he was a supporter of the notion of the Jews living in peace in a UN recognized democratic country.

    Hitchens was dubbed a neo-con, when he refused to follow the ultra-liberal move towards criticizing the Western involvement in conflicts in foreign countries and mainly for speaking out in favour of the Iraq war, while Noam Chomsky and other prominent left-wing thinkers took an opposing view.

    Hitchens was a talented orator and a true polemic. In the early millennium he enjoyed ripping people like George Galloway apart in debates, exposing their double standards of supporting and promoting war in Iraq, Syria and Gaza and returning to the West to criticize violence.  Hitchens also criticized the history of the anti-war coalition, which opposed involvement in the Bosnia conflict as well. When debating with an anti-war promoter, Hitchens would often recount the ideology of Al-Qaeda and published reasoning (such as over the dispute in East Timor) to prove that their actions are not as a response to Colonisation, rather a spread  of their way of life globally.

    Noam Chomsky who was once revered by Hitchens was applauded for his earlier work, but harshly criticized for his new-found promotion of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and his “anti-imperialist” view.

    The World has lost a truly inspirational man who was not afraid to say what he thought and argue his point even if it didn’t fit the “liberal” stream he used to belong to.

    It is a shame that Hitchen’s death was not more widely publicized. However he lives behind him a wealth of knowledge and his essence and a string of books and publications such as Hitch-22, God Is Not Great, Love Poverty and War and others.

    The global intellectual debating scene will miss one of its most talented members.

 

UN Games: Iran, Russia, China and the Rest


This article was written nearly a month ago. It was not completed on time, so I decided not to post it. Having just re-read it, little progress has been made and it is still as relevant as always. So please disregard the time-bound events and hope you enjoy my analysis   

 

    This week Britain has seen some of the most horrific accidents on its roads. Slowly the news of a 34 car pileup with at least 7 dead started hitting the global news. From the initial reports it was hard to understand what had actually happened, however with this number of casualties, it did not matter, as this was already a tragedy.  From reports later it was assumed that the large scale accident was caused by a combination of heavy rain, poor visibility and a nearby firework display, which blew smoke onto the road.  Whether someone will actually be accused of negligence is yet to be seen, but it was through an apparently indirect event that this tragedy has happened and it is too late to undo it.

    In world politics and especially the Middle East, this chain of events is often observed. Almost always in politics a team of people could be found sitting in a back room running scenarios of cause-and-effect to ensure that decisions that are taken would serve certain interests, provided time allowing of course. However, despite this fact every now then an event transpires that sets off another. The Arab Spring is a great example of minor events taking place shaping others. The massive arms smuggled into Gaza from Libya, as a result of the instability of the Gaddafi regime is one. The severed Iran and Hamas relationship as a result of Syrian uprisings is another. Not only do those events destabilize the region with their unpredictability, but it is often hard to understand when they have finished, which makes an analysis impossible to do.

    While there are many of these indirect events taking place, there is currently one, which is possibly the most substantial. As expected, the most substantial event involve the most influential country in the Middle East, which in many respects is Iran. On the other side of this events are NATO countries headed by Israel and the USA. The surprising element (surprising to anyone who does not follow the events in the UN) is that the indirect cause of this major event is the actions of China and Russia.

    The background for this event has been in the headlines for some time, so it is no secret that Israel has been, somewhat unusually, trying out their long range missiles, running massive evacuation drills preparing for a missile attack as well as simulating, in Italy, fuelling in midair and attacking distant targets. To add to these events there has been much debate regarding whether attacking the nuclear plant in Iran should take place. The local reports in Israel give the impression of the government being in favour, while the previous heads of the Mossad and other security organization are against this assignment. Those who would have thought that the strong opposition of the security heads to this operation would mean this is a ‘no go’, should be reminded that a similar situation occurred in 1981, which resulted in the government pushing ahead and approving the execution of the bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq.

    There are many sceptics doubting Israel’s true intention to attack. These sceptics are claiming that this is clever politics intended to bring the Iranian situation back to the center of the Middle East, after a long break, in which the Arab Spring and the struggling regimes have taken center stage, allowing Iran to continue work away from the spotlight. This theory goes on to couple this event with the low status of Iran following the exposed assassination plot. It is worth mentioning that some suspect a conspiracy theory, concocted by Israel and the USA, which puts the entire authenticity of the assassination plot in question*.

    On the other side of the sceptics, there are some opinions warning of the window of opportunity closing on a military action taken against Iran. Some reports indicate that Iran is more advanced than previously believed. There are analyses indicating that the stuxnet virus released in the nuclear facility has not significantly damaged Iran’s capability. Other speculations are that Iran has made progress developing missiles to mount and launch an atomic bomb. Once you factor in the possibility of Iran moving their sensitive facilities into safer locations (underground facilities carved under mountains), add to that the potential of the weather during winter delaying any actions and the window of opportunities does seem to close rather quickly. Some of these speculations have been confirmed by the damning IAEA report released this week, which has been doubt showed that Iran’s intentions are anything but pure.

    Needless to say that any attack on Iran could quickly escalate into a full blown regional conflict, or as former CIA analyst, Riedel, put it “attack on Iran would ignite regional conflict from Gaza to Afghanistan ….”  Therefore as stated before by most Western players, it is generally believed that an attack should be the last option used. The other option available to the Western world is tougher sanctions, which would suffocate Iran economically, leading to either a rebellion within, toppling the government, or draining the funds used for the nuclear program. In fact, this option is also the favourite option by the heads of the military mentioned previously. This method is less risky and if military action has to be taken later, it would be easier to fight an economically weak Iran.

So why is this option not being pursued?

    This is where the indirect effect comes into play. There have currently been three rounds of sanctions past in the UN against Iran. Those sanctions have been proposed by the US and significantly watered down by China and Russia in exchange for not vetoing them in the Security Council. So while these sanctions were passed, their scope has been very limited, targeting only specific organizations whose link to the nuclear program has been established. This did not exclude China from trading with Iran in other areas, mainly oil, which has been keeping it afloat. In the next round of proposed sanctions the USA wishes to tighten the rope and disallow any trading with Iran’s central bank, which would essentially stop all foreign trading with Iran. If these sanctions are passed, it is very likely that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be abated, however, if those sanctions are watered down again and become ineffective, the current threat would remain on the cards.

    In the Middle East often things are said in the heat of the moment and are not followed through. For example, during the Palmer report leak and Israel’s refusal to apologize Erdogan made some game changing statements such as that Turkey would pursue to hound Israel down every UN route as well as send armed Turkish ships for any future flotilla heading to Gaza. So far there has been no significant impact in the UN and the 2 ships Flotilla, which arrived last week near the Israeli shore was not escorted and stopped as per the Navy procedure Israel said it would follow. Therefore, it is not unlikely to believe that Iran itself does not want a conflict and perhaps has now found itself in a difficult position. The Iranian regime could possibly be hoping to turn time back to a couple of years ago, when they had the option to accept the deal the US and Euro proposed, in which they would achieve their nuclear power aspirations by allowing the Uranium to be enriched in a different country. However that window has passed and perhaps explaining to their people that the dire economic situation in the past two years has been as a result of a badly calculated risk and could have been avoided all together, would have a worse impact on the longevity of the current regime than a well calculated military response.

     If Iran was indeed bluffing and would be looking to avoid an escalation of the situation, it should also lament the missed opportunity of the Obama administration’s initial policy revolving around reaching out and settling the differences, which for all intent and purposes has been rejected by Iran, by refusing to reach an agreement and continuing to advance its nuclear plan. It is clear that whichever way Iran chooses to take at this juncture would be harder than before and would require clever tactics as well as an element of risk taking.

    For the sake of the Iranian people it might be the lesser evil of two to have the Security Council impose tougher sanctions, as it might force the regime to do a complete policy change in regards to its nuclear program and make this whole episode go away until the conditions are in Iran’s favour again.

    Only time will tell whether Israel is serious regarding its intention to attack the Iranian nuclear sites, or whether Iran is willing to let this conflict escalate. Currently the most critical factor standing between a physical attack or not is the Russian and Chinese vote in the Security Council in the next few weeks. Hopefully the media will find the sense to dedicate enough attention to this event and therefore hold the entire Security Council and in particular China and Russia accountable for their vote and its direct and indirect consequences.

 

 

*I normally, do not include my own opinion in my blogs, however, it is worth mentioning that while I fully believe that timing is not a coincidence and governments are known to sit on bits of information until the right time to release them, I find it too farfetched that Israel and the USA would have this level of cooperation or that the US would fake an incident on this scale only to aide Israel, especially when Netanyahu’s government has not exactly been playing ball with the Obama administration.

Attack on Iran


    Every single person in the Western world should be somewhat concerned about the latest exchanges between Israel and Iran, as it might change things as we know them.  Now that military action in Libya is finished and the Arab League has managed to engage in some level of dialogue with Syria, the world attention is back to Iran and its nuclear program.  The timing or the decision of turning back to Iran is not a coincidence, rather, after every big change (i.e. change of government in Egypt, Libya, Syria) a vacuum is created and if the big players are not managed, they could move to fill this vacuum, in this case the fear is that Iran would advance on the newly formed regimes.

    What is surprising about the timing of the pressure being applied is that while one would expect more diplomatic pressure, it seems unusual to opt for a military strike, unless there is new information about the imminence of a threat. So far no new information has been provided or leaked to the public domain about Iran making a breakthrough in its nuclear capabilities, in fact reports suggest otherwise. It is assumed that the computer virus attack damaging the centrifuges, as well as the recent assassinations of key scientists and the economic sanctions are all slowing down Iran’s nuclear program.   

However, one must accept that not everything is in the public domain and not everything gets leaked. For example, the Western nations’ intelligence were sitting on information of Iran’s secret nuclear plan for months and it wasn’t until Iran realized that they have been found out that they “volunteered” that information. Another example is the bombing of the Syrian nuclear plant by Israel in 2007. There was no warning before, outside of the intelligence community, and it took time until the reports came through of what has actually taken place and why. So following that logic, it could be that Iran has decided to accelerate their nuclear plan. Perhaps it decided to make the nuclear breakthrough, in which Uranium is enriched to higher levels needed for a nuclear bomb in a relatively short amount of time. Possibly develop appropriate war heads to be able to mount a nuclear bomb on missiles. Or even just buy key components from other countries, which would provide immediate capabilities.

    Whatever is happening in the background, there are already symptoms showing on the ground. There have been reports of Israeli planes practicing manoeuvres in Italy, in which they bomb a distant location. As well as that air practice, Israel has launched a test missile today and has stepped up its drills to deal with the consequences of a massive missile attack to the heart of Israel.  It has also been reported that the US and British military are preparing for a possible attack by moving their navy vessels to strategic positions. On the other side, Iran has been quite defiant in its statements to the West, threatening a retaliation for any attack. The difference noted about these statements is that they were made by the head of the army, who has a direct reporting line to the superior leader. The controversial exposed plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat and carry out a terror attack, are also signs of Iran stepping up the pressure.

    It is possible that once again this is just a show of strength of both sides, which in reality would not be allowed to spill over. In fact, since this is already in the media, suggests that it is not genuine, as such an attack would undoubtedly benefit from the element of surprise. However, no reasonable person could look at the facts and claim that the threat of a conflict is not on the cards.

    If a strike does take place, there could be different outcomes. Due to Wikileaks, it is a known fact that some Arab countries around Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai are in favour of an attack. It is also known that the West has stepped up the pressure and no doubt that Israel is very much in favour of ridding Iran of nuclear power. Therefore, it is almost of little difference, who actually launches the attack as it is supported by most and the result would undoubtedly be the same, regardless of who pulls the trigger.

    If Iranian targets are attacked, it is assumed that it would rely on its proxies around the Middle East to launch an attack on American and Israeli targets. It is almost a given that Hezbollah and militant groups in Gaza would launch missiles into central cities in Israel (following the recent rift between Hamas and Iran, it would be interesting to see whether Hamas would launch missiles itself, look the other way, while the Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups do so, or distance itself from Iran and ensure the rocket fire is merely symbolic). Syria, which is Iran’s biggest ally in the region, normally does its military work via Hezbollah in Lebanon, however, it is not unlikely that due to the dire condition the government is in, would try to gain political power by positioning itself as a Muslim opposition to the attacks by the West and engage in the conflict in some capacity.

    Israel will clearly be impacted the most by this situation, however, this is a risk it is willing to take, as it knows that once Iran achieves nuclear weapon capabilities, it would be much worse off. Also, with the right level of cooperation of the attack, Israel would be able to take steps to protect itself from the proxies’ attacks and reduce the loss of life and property.

    The risks to this type of operation are plenty. The first risk is that the intelligence is not reliable enough. The Iraq war has taught the West that they do get it wrong sometimes and it is enough to underestimate Iran’s current capabilities or even to miss an important element of the program, which would be used following an attack to undermine the whole effort. The second risk could be a failure to execute the mission, from human error to uncalculated risks, if an attack is launched, but is not successful, this would carry a very heavy price. Another risk would be the conflict escalating. Although, no doubt that there will be a massive diplomatic effort along with the strike, it is not impossible that support for Iran would gather momentum in other Arab countries as well as perhaps inside European countries. The West would hope that at most only Shia Muslims may identify with Iran, which would reduce the risk to part of Iraq, which is already in turmoil or Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which do not really pose a threat. However, experience has shown that this could be seen as an East Vs. West or Christian/Jewish Vs. Muslim conflict and draw into it new stakeholders. Such a development might land another Iraq or Afghanistan, whereby the military battle is won, but constant insurgency is taking place (this time potentially on Western soil).

    It should be fair to say that the West is wary of war. The political agenda in most European countries is anti war. In all countries including the US there is a very strong leftist movement, which includes in its ranks high profile academics, artists, politicians and human rights activists, who continuously campaign against interference in the Middle East. Therefore any military action would include a political backlash. The timing is problematic also in the sense that the Western world and Europe, in particular, are going through an economic crisis. The current voter is a tough crowd to convince to invest what little money is available into a potential military conflict, when the threat is not so obvious and visible, especially, when the case put forward for Iraq in 2003 is still fresh and has a big negative impact.    

    Whether this attack will take place or not is still to be seen. Whether this attack is the right answer would become apparent, although possibly not immediately and possibly not conclusively. What is almost absolute is that this is not going to be a walk in the park. Even if executed perfectly, it is likely that the planning takes into consideration an attack on Israel as well as a backlash in the West. There is also no doubt that many in the West will criticize this action and offer many sinister interpretations as to why it has taken place. On the other hand, if the attack is to take place, it would potentially change the rules of the game. It is not unlikely that Iran would lose clout or even have a regime change. Also without Iran financing terror in the Middle East, Hamas might fall back to its less radical allies (Muslim Brotherhood), or that Syria and Hezbollah would become insignificant players. Or perhaps a new player would rise up to fill the void in the axis of evil. The West will no doubt go through some troubling economic times, as the oil price and availability would destabilize the markets.

      However, unless concrete foul motives behind the attack are revealed with time, one can safely assume that the people elected to lead, know more than they are telling and have decided that there is a threat great enough, which justifies an attack, in order to guarantee our security and way of life.

Abdullah’s dilemma


The images of watching another tyrant being toppled last week are probably still fresh in any news following person in the world. The images shown were very graphic of a leader who was once carrying himself arrogantly and confidently being pulled out of an underground hole like an animal, only to be at the mercy of the people he once ruled over with an iron fist. Gaddafi in the footage didn’t look very different to Saddam Hussain, although Saddam had the benefit of being captured by the American soldiers and therefore stood trial before being executed.

    These clips shown over and over on the different websites as well as news channels must be especially alarming to the leaders of the Arab world, who know that the wind can blow the other way at any moment. While Iran has quite a resilient ruling system, which would be hard to topple (as seen after the previous botched elections), it knows that if the US pushes tougher economic sanctions, this could be the catalyst that would undermine their control. Bashar El-Asad knows that he is probably the next in line, as his country is already engulfed in mayhem and even if he manages to work a miracle, his rule would most probably never again be as absolute as it was.

    In the article https://middleeastinterpreter.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/arab-spring-or-western-winter it was discussed that the countries most likely to undergo a successful Arab Spring revolt were not the monarchies, rather the countries that are being ruled by the aftermath of a military coup (Egypt, Libya, Syria and to some extent Turkey). Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait…etc. have so far all been spared a genuine overthrow threat and it seems that they might be see it safely to the other side this time around.

    However despite being also being a monarchy, Jordan is a special case and it has reasons to worry.

    Jordan is currently ruled by King Abdullah, who took the reins from his father, King Hussain.  Hussain ruled the country from the 1950s to 1999. Under the last two kings many political reforms were made and the country enjoyed relative advancement as it has always “played ball” with the US and UN, especially noticeable in 1994, when it signed a peace agreement with Israel.

    Despite the relative stability and the fact that Jordan does not fit the mold of a country vulnerable to the Arab Spring, Jordan has always had strong undercurrents of revolution. Jordan’s ethnic groups include more than 50% people of Palestinian decent. Out of the population of roughly 6 million, this is more Palestinian than currently in the Palestinian territories taken by Israel in1967. Moreover, had Jordan not returned the West Bank to Israel, there would have been more Palestinians than Jordanian’s in the land, which would have led to a minority rule (similar to the Alouwaites ruling over Sunnis in Syria).

    Throughout Jordan’s history the Palestinian Liberation Front, which resided in its borders grew stronger with time and apart from dragging the fighting with the Israeli Defense Force into Jordanian land, it also challenged the rule of King Hussain. The Palestinians almost created a state within a state and there are also reports of failed assassination attempts of King Hussain. All these events led to establishing a couple of agreements between the PLO and the Monarchy, in an attempt to reach a workable system. However, when those failed to maintain order, King Hussain launched an operation known as Black September (in 1970), in which the Palestinian militants were crushed, killing thousands and driving the PLO out of Jordan.

    During the years of 1970 and 1971, King Hussain’s throne was at a genuine threat as the Palestinians leaders called for a revolt against the ruler. While Hussain managed to successfully destroy the mutiny (at the price of estimated thousands of dead), the potential for a resurrection of the conflict was never completely obliterated.

    King Abdullah has followed his father’s way by keeping the peace with Israel and avoiding getting stuck in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However due to the strong historical connection between the Palestinians and Jordan, while keeping out, he has a vested interest to keep the Palestinian attention away from his country.

    So unlike some of the country heads in the Middle East, who are quietly joining the Western opposition to global Jihad, which may one day undermine their rule, as it attempts to achieve one Caliphate rule across the Middle East, Jordan has a much more imminent threat of its rule being undermined by Palestinians.

    The best possible outcome for Jordan would be a long lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, in which most Palestinians’ demands would be met, in order to satiate their appetite for more land but also to restrict their right to arm themselves, in order to avoid them becoming a regional threat.

    The worst case scenario would be a weak position against Israel, which may turn the Palestinians’ efforts to Jordan or make Jordan on the receiving end of more fallout, i.e. more displaced Palestinians settling in its borders. While not imminent, both scenarios are not impossible and at a time when the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, paranoia is not an irrelevant consideration in determining foreign policy.

    Another possible gloom scenario for Jordan would be the ethnic awakening of Palestinians in Jordan, wishing to do away with the monarchy and go to democratic elections. It is apparent to every ruler these days that technology can provide a platform to revolt and organize, while the violent methods employed in the past could no longer be hidden or tolerated for a length of time due to that same technology.

    It is no surprise, therefore, that the message coming from Jordan is criticizing the Israeli government for not wanting real peace and demanding that they make more concessions. King Abdullah has recently stepped up the pressure in the media, calling for more leniency from the Israeli government, openly doubting Netanyahu’s genuine interest to compromise for peace as well as questioning the stability of Israel’s peace agreements with its neighbors. All in an effort to make sure things are moving in the right direction to serve Jordan’s interests with no sudden turns. There are also indications that Jordan is giving the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, more maneuvering room by allowing him into Jordan (although officially for humanitarian reasons), this perhaps could indicate that there is a level of communication and influence happening between Jordan and Hamas away from the eye of the media.

    As for Jordan coping with the internal upheaval, so far the protests have been around corruption and mainly the poor economic situation, prompting King Abudllah to dismiss the cabinet and replace the PM. There has, so far, not been a real threat to the monarchy and none of the usual worrying symptoms, such high ranking generals defecting, have been on the cards.

    King Abdullah probably wasn’t lying when he said in his CNN interview “what keeps me up at night… is actually poverty and unemployment and the economic crisis.” But he didn’t go into detail about what this situation may bring to Jordan and his rule.  If King Abdullah is not successful in maintaining the peace in his country, we could expect a ripple effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he takes action to keep the plague away from his country.