Monday, November 28, 2005

US-Iran move: More than meets the eye

More than meets the eye


PRESIDENT George W. Bush's move to establish direct contacts with Iran and seek Tehran's help in containing the insurgency in Iraq is indeed an acknowledgement of the reality that regional stability and security depends to a large extent on Iranian behaviour.
However, given the imcompabilities in the ideological, political and military postures maintained by the US and Iran, any assessment of the move has to go beyond conventional wisdom.
Answers to questions like whether the US sees it as a strategic imperative to make friends with Iran or whether it is short-term ploy would give an insight to the moves, but not the real answer.
The real answer, or the key if you will, rests with Israel, and it would be the Israelis and their powerful friends in Washington's corridors of power who would decide when and where to draw a line in American moves to enlist Iran's help.

High-level contact

US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad confirmed on Sunday that the president had assigned him to reach out to Iran in the first high-level US contact with Tehran in decades.
No doubt, the Bush administration is feeling the heat over the war in Iraq, given the surge in pressure even from the Republican camp to check the negativism surrounding the party itself as a result of the growing crisis in that country.
It would have been unthinkable a few months for Washington even to establish direct contact with Tehran, let alone seek Iranian help to check the insurgency in Iraq. The reality has always been there on the ground: Iran is a regional player and it could not be waived away in whatever regional equation the US seeks to cook up in the Middle East.
Iran has its own interests in Iraq. The Iranians are uneasy over the US presence in their neighbour since they are aware that they have been targeted for "regime change" in the second Bush term at the White House.
Theorists assert that Iran could not be expected to be an enthusiastic partner in any move to contain the insurgency in Iraq as long as the US military maintains presence in that country. For the Iranians, the US military presence in Iraq is a constant reminder that they could find themselves in American gunsights when the US military digs its feet deep into Iraq and firms up its foothold.
The US military presence in Afghanistan, justified in the name of the continuing hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar and their Al Qaeda and Taliban followers, fuels the Iranian uneasiness.
Add to that persistent reports that the US and Israel are one tick away from launching military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, but are holding back only because the operation has to be well-planned and all-embracing to be successful.
Another account says that the US might indeed stage a "false-flag" operation that would justify full-fledged military action against Iran.
In July of this year, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, Philip Giraldi, commented on the American Conservative:
"The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice-President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons."
This assertion sounds credible because a short spurt of action against some of Iran's nuclear facilities could result in deeper trouble for the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tehran has clearly stated that it would hold the US responsible even if Israelis attacked its nuclear facilities. Holding the US responsible translates into Iranian retaliation against the American forces present in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as US installations elsewhere in the region. Whether the Iranians would retaliate in such a manner is subject to debate and speculation, but the seriousness of that possibility could not be underplayed.
Therefore, any American military action against Iraq has to be full-fledged and no punches could be pulled, according to expert thinking.
Jorge Hirsch, a respected professor whose authoritative comments on nuclear issues have drawn international acclaim, says that Washington has put together all the elements it needs to justify military action against Iran.
"Unlike in the case of Iraq, it will happen without warning, and most of the justifications will be issued after the fact," he says. "We will wake up one day to learn that facilities in Iran have been bombed in a joint US-Israeli attack. It may even take another couple of days for the revelation that some of the US bombs were nuclear."
If this assertion is accurate, then how could the American decision to establish direct contacts with Iran be analysed?
The obvious answer is that given the imbroglio the US faces in Iraq and the mounting criticism at home, the Bush administration appeared to have reached the decision that making friends with Iran is the most desirable course of action in its efforts to contain the Iraq insurgency.
At the same time, it could only be seen as a short-term strategy even in the hypothesis that Tehran extends its full co-operation to the US to put out the guerrilla war in Iraq. The reason is simple: Israel, the only nuclear-armed country in the region, would not rest until Iran is deprived of all means and abilities to produce a nuclear weapon in the foreseeable future.
By its own words and deeds, Washington has clearly established that it could not be expected to work against what Israel considers as its own strategic interests. We have seen and are continuing to see that concept at work in Iraq and Washington's steady moves to trap Syria in an international deadlock as the prelude to regime change in Damascus.
Clearly there is something more than that meets the eye in the American move towards Iran. Hopefully, the days ahead would reveal what it is, even if in fragments.