Wednesday, February 15, 2006

US-baiting - a dangerous game

by pv vivekanand

FROM the word go, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's provocative statements calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, denying the Holocaust, and thumping his chest about his country's determination to pursue a nuclear programme were perplexing. It was as if he was offering, wittingly or otherwise, the perfect pretext that Israel and the US were waiting for in order to launch their plans for military action against Iraq.
That perception was further strengthened when Iran postponed "indefinitey" Feb.16 talks with Russia on a compromise offer over the nuclear crisis and then hastily rescheduled it for Feb.20 amid conflicting hints and "clarifications" from Tehran over Iran's basic commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The country has already suspended certain aspects of its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and resumed small-scale enrichment of uranium after the IAEA board decided to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
In the ongoing war of words, Iranian leaders and spokesman are hitting back with strength at every point as if there is an implicit agreement among them not to back no matter what.
Well, if Tehran is baiting the US, then the immediate question is why should Ahmadinejad might be doing it, knowing perfectly well that he could be inviting military action against his country.
Given that "regime change" in Tehran is listed among the agenda of the second-term Bush administration, US-led military action against Iran would not be limited to preventing Tehran from pursuing its nuclear plans: It would be all-out action aimed at bringing about a complete change in Iranian politics through toppling the theocratic regime and installing an "American-friendly" government in Tehran.
Indeed, the US is unlikely to opt for an Iraq-style invasion and occupation of Iran since such a course of events is not tenable and would only drag the Americans into a never-win situation. Iran has four times the size of Iraq and has three times the population of Iraq.
The obvious conclusion is that any US action for "regime change" would primarily hinge on Washington's reliance on internal unrest in Iran that would bring out Iranian dissidents to the fore who would work in tandem with the Americans in order to topple the theocrats from power.
In the short term, it is speculated that the US and/or Israel might strike at Iran's nuclear plants in order to cripple them and set back Tehran's nuclear programmes by years as Israel did to Iraq when it bombed the Osirak plant near Baghdad in 1981.

'Not an option'

However, a London-based think tank which specialises in arms control and non-proliferation issues has warned that a US/Israeli air assault on Iranian nuclear and military facilities would likely kill thousands of people, spark a long-lasting war and push Iran to speed up its nuclear programme.
According to the Oxford Research Group, military action against Iran, "either by the United States or Israel, is not an option that should be considered under any circumstances."
A report prepared by the group said a US attack would likely consist of simultaneous air strikes on more than 20 key nuclear and military facilities, designed to disable Iran's nuclear and air-defence capabilities.
Such strikes would probably kill several thousand people, including troops, nuclear programme staff and "many hundreds" of civilians.
The report said a military attack would spur Iran to withdraw from the NPT, accelerate its nuclear programmes and step up support to insurgents in Iraq and Hizbollah in Lebanon, and would fuel anti-American sentiment around the world.
Escalating military confrontation would draw in other states in the region, it warned, making "a protracted and highly unstable conflict virtually certain."
"A state of war stretching over years would be in prospect," the group warned.
It said an attack by Israeli forces, while on a smaller scale than a US strike, also would have negative consequences.
"Alternative ways must be found of defusing current tensions and avoiding an exceptionally dangerous confrontation, however difficult it might be," said the group's director, John Sloboda.
The risk of nuclear radiation is an equally strong possibility, according to experts. Apart from provoking a war, they say, any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could also unleash clouds of radiation far beyond the targets and the borders of Iran.
Some believe that Iran would try to retaliate by hitting Israel’s Dimona nuclear complex, although military experts discount this possiblity.
At the same time, writes columnist Eric Margolis in the Toronto Sun, Europeans “are fretting over the risk of radiation releases from Dimona and, more likely, Iran’s bombed nuclear plants."
Philip Giraldi, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, believes that the US might arrange an "act of terrorism" that could somehow be linked to Iran and then using that to justify military action against that country.
Giraldi says: “The response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior air force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing — that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack — but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.”

Two explanations

Obviously, Ahmadinejad and Iranian strategists and intelligence chiefs could not but be aware of these facts.
Therefore, there could only be two explanations to Ahmadinejad's posture: Either he is convinced that the US, bogged down as it is in Iraq and Afghanistan and being mindful of the chaos in the international oil market that would result from any military strike against Iran, would not undertake an immediate military adventure against the Iranians. By extension, the US would also dissuade Israel from launching any unilateral action.
The second explanation that the Iranian leader is simply goading the US, backed by its protégé Israel, into attacking his country. Iran would then fight a defensive war that could mess up the international oil market, bring down the Bush administration, and create a new regional and international situation where the US would lose its status as the leader of the "modern world."
Weighed against geopolitical equations, the balance would tilt in favour of the second explanation.
Obviously, the Iranians are convinced that they would never be able to have a friendly working relationship with the US in the foreseeable future — unless Washington has (an almost impossible) dramatic change of mind and adopts a 180-degree turn in the Middle East and its overall approach to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Therefore, it would seem, Ahmadinejad is counting on the US to allow itself to be baited into using military force against Iran and the Iranian hitting back in their own way that would be so damaging to the US in so many ways, both domestically and externally, that it would be deprived of its self-assumed status as the sole unchallenged world power.
This hypothesis also means Israel would be deprived of its guardian angel and left vulnerable to pressure from the Muslim and Arab worlds and the international community at large into abandoning its ambitions for dominance of the Middle East region and impose its will on the Arabs and Muslims. However, handling Israel could wait, since the US has to be taken care of first, under the perceived Iranian mindset.

Working out the plan

Now, how would Ahmadinejad expect to work this out?
While Iran cannot wage a successful offensive war against the US (or Israel), it is highly capable of mounting a defensive posture that could not only inflict heavy casualties among American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also create havoc in the international oil market and lead to a collapse of the world economy as we know it today. It would also have serious regional repercussions.
Iran could use its naval force, which include at least two submarines, that could deal a severe blow to shipping in the Gulf and the US Navy.
The Iranian navy might not be worth much when a comparison is made with the US might on the seas (as anywhere else indeed). However, it could wreak havoc for the US before being decimated.
Imagine a few, well co-ordinated and simultaneous USS Cole-style attacks.
The tens of thousands of Iranians who have enlisted themselves as suicide squads could be let loose against the American forces present in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to that the human resources that Iran could muster through pro-Iranian Shiite groups in southern Iraq, including organisations such as the (nominally disbanded) Badr Brigade, whose members dominate Iraqi security forces working with the Americans and allied forces in Iraq, and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr (remember Sadr's repeated pledges that his forces would "defend" Iran under any circumstances?)
Gary Sick, professor of Middle East studies at Columbia University and former National Security Council adviser in the Jimmy Carter administration, told a congressional committee in February 2005 that if the US and Israel attack Iran, US troops in Iraq "will have hell to pay, especially in the Shiite south of the country."
Iranian retaliation “would surely start with attempts to mobilise Shiite partisans in Iraq to try to turn the Iraqi south into an extension of the insurgency in the Sunni triangle” in central Iraq.
Iran could also close the Strait of Hormuz and block the flow of Gulf oil to the outside world and that would mean cutting off nearly 25 per cent of the international supply.
According to a report prepared by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies,, within “minutes of any attack, Iran’s air and sea forces could threaten oil shipments in the Gulf as well as the Gulf of Oman. Iran controls the northern coast of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway through which oil tankers must navigate, and could sink ships, mine sea routes or bomb oil platforms.”
Iran could also employ its "suicide volunteers" against American and allied interests around the world, including American oil installations in the US heartland and cripple the availability of domestic oil to Americans themselves.
The combined effect of such an approach would shoot up international prices of oil by three or four times.
While Iranian officals assert that oil prices could hit even $400 a barrel, others are more conservative.
According to global investor George Soros, “Iran is on a collision course and I have a difficulty seeing how such a collision can be avoided” and this collision might jack oil prices up to $262 per barrel.
This would mean oil importers having to dig into their foreign exchange reserves in American dollars to pay for the difference. If the high prices could be sustained, it would in turn erode the worth of the American currency to a level below that of the paper it is printed.
How would the world community react to that eventuality?
How would the American people react to it?

American opinion

A recent opinion poll showed that Americans are deeply worried about the possibility that Iran will develop nuclear weapons and use them against the US, but they also fear that the Bush administration will be too quick to order military action.
The fear of Iranian nuclear weapons being used against the US is largely unfounded, experts say. They point out that Iran is years away from even conducting a nuclear weapon-grade test if indeed Tehran's plans including developing nuclear bombs.
Beyond that, however, is the impact of the repeated statements by senior US officials, widely carried in the media, that have created an impression among many that Iran is simply marking time before staging attacks against the US.
In more ways than one, the American domestic scenario is being played out along the same lines as the build-up to the Iraq war.
Iran has not threatened the US with military attacks, and it is no position to do so either. Secondly, Iran continues to insist that it has no plan to develop nuclear weapons and that it is only asserting its right, as enshrined in the NPT and other relevant conventions, to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
Therefore, on the surface, there is no obvious and immediate reason for the American people to fear an Iranian attack against them. However, that is not the way things are working out.
According to the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, seven of 10 of those surveyed over the weekend said they feared Iranian attacks against them and their government might not do enough to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
An equal number were concerned that the Bush administration would move prematurely to use force.
"People see no easy answers ... and the limits of our power," USA Today quoted Richard Eichenberg, a political scientist at Tufts University, as saying. "The Muslim World is in an uproar over the Danish cartoons, Iran is quite vocal in challenging us, and Iraq continues to be a drip-drip-drip of daily violence."
Among those polled, 55 per cent said they lacked confidence in the administration's ability to handle the situation in Iran.
Bush's approval rating has dipped to 39 per cent, the first time below 40 per cent since November, according to the poll.


Commentators point out that a majority of Americans react with force only when they feel that their way of life is something threatened; like losing jobs, prices shooting up, natural or manmade disasters and crippling of basic services.
In the event of an Iranian-engineered shortage of oil in the market that would shoot up prices, including the US domestic market, and facing the domino effect of such an increase, commentators say, the Americans would definitely react violently.
There would be riots that would jeopardise the security of the US, leaving the administration with the option of shooting down its own people, as some commentators lay out the eventualities.
The scenario described here might sound like exaggeration, since, as many tend to believe, Ahmadinejad could not be plotting his moves based on the conviction that these would be the outcome.
However, then one has to consider that the Iranian that he is indeed, Ahmadinejad might be willing to stake not only his future but also that of his country and people in a world that is dominated by a power which shares little in common with him and his people.
Where does that leave the US?
Washington strategists would definitely take into consideration the reality that the situation could get out of hand the moment the first US missile or bomb lands in Iran. They would also know that the US would lose control if the Iranians were allowed to retaliate. That means essentially eliminating all Iranian military capabilities to strike back in any manner at American targets and US-friendly countries in the region. The only means to ensure that is to "nuke" Iran and leave the country in a situation similar to that of Japan after the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is the relevancy of reports that US Vice-President Dick Cheney has ordered the United States Strategic Command to prepare up a “contingency plan” that “includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.”
Is that the scenario that is about to unfold?