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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Iran, Israel & the U.S.: The Slide To War

Iran, Israel & the U.S.: The Slide To War

Friday 24 February 2012, by siawi3

by Conn Hallinan

- Source: Dispatches From The Edge, February 22, 2012

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their
interests to fight them. World War I was not started over
the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered
by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for
war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good
idea. The Great War started because the countries involved
decided they would profit by it, delusional as that
conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure
out if there will be a war with Iran. In short, what are the
interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough
for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of

First off, because oil and gas are involved, a war would
have global ramifications. Iran supplies China with about 15
percent of its oil, and India with 10 percent. It is a major
supplier to Europe, Turkey, Japan and South Korea, and it
has the third largest oil reserves and the second largest
natural gas reserves in the world. Some 17 million barrels
per day pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a
significant part of the globe’s energy supply.

In short, the actors in this drama are widespread and their
interests as diverse as their nationalities.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran
is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential”
threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this,
including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence
communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz
said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to
Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb
and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United
Nations inspection regime.

But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East
a fragmented place, riven by sectarian divisions and
dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal
monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from
its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.”
Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in
Egypt and Tunisia, and it now finds itself on the same page
as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab
Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a
political problem, because Tel Aviv sees Teheran’s fierce
nationalism and independence from the U.S. and Europe as a
wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional
enemy, Syria—with which it is still officially at war— and
the Shiite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and
the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran
would weaken Israel’s local enemies and at little cost. Tel
Aviv’s scenario features a shock and awe attack, followed by
a United Nations mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500
Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to
strike back, and, if they did attack Israeli civilian
centers or tried to close the Hormutz Strait, it would bring
in the Americans.

Of course that rose-colored scenario is little more than
wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a
ceasefire—it fought for eight long years against Iraq—and
war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. In real
life it will be long and bloody and might well spread to the
entire region.

Iran’s leaders use a lot of bombast about punishing Israel
if it attacks, but in the short run, there is not a lot they
could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has
drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis
have the technology to blank out most of Teheran’s radar and
anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s
mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and
Jericho ballistic missiles.

For all its talk about “everything being on the table.” The
Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war,
but with the 2012 elections looming, would Washington remain
on the sidelines? On the “yes” side are polls indicating
that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle
East war. But on the “no” side are a united front of
Republicans, neo-conservatives, and the American Israeli
Political Action Committee pressing for a confrontation with

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that in
the run-up to the 2012 American elections, an Israeli attack
might force the Obama Administration to back a war and/or
damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that
there is no love lost between the two leaders.

But the U.S. also has a dog in this fight, and one not all
that different than Israel’s. American hostility to Iran
dates back to Teheran’s seizure of its oil assets from
Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically
elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the
dictatorial Shah. The U.S. also backed Saddam Hussein’s war
on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship
with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel
Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies.

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary
purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East.
Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged
Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and
Syria, and blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its
own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a
lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed
the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the
U.S. and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful
not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the
same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon and

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although
France and Germany have explicitly rejected the use of
force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to
reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to
keep its finger on the energy jugular vein. In brief, it
isn’t all about oil and gas but a whole lot of it is, and,
as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil
companies would like to see production cut and prices rise.
A war would accomplish both.

Iran will be the victim here, but there will be some who
would take advantage of a war. An attack would unify the
country around what is now a rather unpopular government,
allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition, and
give cover to the current drive by the Ahmadinejad
government to cut subsidies for transportation, housing and
food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary
elements of the current regime.

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India,
Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom support a
war—but whether they can influence events is an open
question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its
interests are served by starting a war, and that the U.S.
will go along because it is much of the same mind.

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?

The sobering thought is that the three most powerful actors
in this drama—Israel, the U.S. and its European allies, and
the Gulf Cooperation Council—have many of the same
interests, and share the belief that force is an effective
way to achieve one’s goals.

On such illusions are tragedies built.

[Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In
Focus, “A Think Tank Without Walls,” and an independent
journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the
University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the
journalism program at the University of California at Santa
Cruz for 23 years, and won the UCSC Alumni Association’s
Distinguished Teaching Award, as well as UCSC’s Innovations
in Teaching Award, and Excellence in Teaching Award. He was
also a college provost at UCSC, and retired in 2004. He is a
winner of a Project Censored “Real News Award,” and lives in
Berkeley, California

- Conn Hallinan can be read at
- dispatchesedgeblog
- and
- middleempireseries ]