Friday, February 17, 2012

We've seen the threats against Iran before

Although political brinkmanship with Iran is nothing new, escalating tensions do not bode well for the region.

By Phyllis Bennis

"Here we go again with the Iran hysteria. It is tempting to think this time will be just like previous periods of sabre rattling against Iran. But there are significant new dangers. The Arab Spring, Israel's position, changes in the regional and global balance of forces, and national election campaigns, all point to this round of anti-Iranian hysteria posing potentially graver risks than five or six years ago....

Israel at the centre

One of the main differences from the propaganda run-up to the Iraq war is the consistent centrality of Israel and its supporters, particularly AIPAC in the US, in this push for war against Iran. Israel certainly jumped aboard the attack-Iraq bandwagon when it was clear that war was indeed inevitable, but US strategic concerns regarding oil and the expansion of US military power were first and primary. Even back then,Israel recognised Iran as a far greater threat than Iraq. And now, Israelis using that alleged threat to pressure US policymakers and shape US policy - in dangerous ways. During this campaign cycle, Obama is under the greatest pressure he has ever faced, and likely ever will face, to defend the Israeli position unequivocally, and to pledge US military support for any Israeli action, however illegal, dangerous, and threatening to US interests.....

Syria moves to the centre - two struggles in one

The calamity underway in Syria is also directly linked to the Iran crisis. There are two struggles going on in Syria - and unfortunately one may destroy the potential of the other. First was Syria's home-grown popular uprising against a brutal government, inspired by and organically tied to the other risings of the Arab Spring, and like them calling first for massive reform and soon for the overthrow of the regime....

The further complication in Syria, and its link to Iran, is that it has simultaneously become a regional and global struggle. Syria is Iran's most significant partner in the Middle East, so key countries that support Israel's anti-Iran mobilisation have turned against Syria, looking to weaken Iran by undermining its closest ally. (Perhaps because the Assad regimes have kept the occupied Golan Heights and the Israeli-Syrian border relatively quiet, Israel itself has not been the major public face in the regionalisation of the Syrian crisis.) But clearly Saudi Arabia is fighting with Iran in Syria for influence in the region. The Arab League, whose Syria decision-making remains dominated by the Saudis and their allied Gulf petro-states (such as Qatar and the UAE), is using the Syria crisis to challenge Iran's rising influence in Arab countries from Iraq to Lebanon. And of course the US, France and other Western powers have jumped on the very real human rights crisis in Syria to try to further weaken the regime there - in the interest again of undermining Iran's key ally far more than out of concern for the Syrian people.

(Anyone uncertain about the hypocrisy of Washington's claimed human rights concerns, as well as its willingness to embrace the Assad regime in the wake of 9/11, need only look to the case of Maher Arar. A Canadian engineer arrested at JFK airport, Arar was accused of "links to terrorism" and subjected to extraordinary rendition by US security agencies that sent him to Syria for almost a full year of interrogation and torture. A two-year Canadian investigation found him innocent of any terror links, and paid him $10 million in compensation for Canada's role; but for the US, Arar remains a suspect prohibited from entering the country.)

Diminishing US power

Facing economic crisis, military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the loss or weakening of key client states in the Arab world, the US is weaker and less influential in the Middle East. But maintaining control of oil markets and US strategic capacity are still key regional goals for the US, which means that military power remains central. The nature of that military engagement is changing - away from large-scale deployments of ground troops in favour of rapidly expanding fleets of armed drones, Special Forces, and growing reliance on naval forces, navy bases and sea-based weapons. Thus the US backs Saudi intervention in Bahrain to insure the US Fifth Fleet maintains its Bahraini base; Washington's escalating sanctions give the West greater leverage in control of oil markets; the Iranian rhetorical threat to close the Strait of Hormuz (only in desperation since it would prevent Iran from exporting its own oil) is used to justify expansion of the US naval presence in the region. Along with the possibility of losing Syria as a major military purchaser and regional ally, concerns about those US strategic moves played a large part of Russia's veto of the UN resolution on Syria......"

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