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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The US-Iran Conflict: Spiralling into Another War?

The US Iran confrontation is building up and can go out of hand at any time. Illegal US sanctions on Iran will force most countries to take sides.

Iran has already threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, and will certainly do so if any war breaks out. Threats and counter threats with naval manoeuvres can spiral out of control, even if this is not the intent of either of the parties. Israel has successfully manipulated Obama and the US into this course through a mixture of bluff, bluster and use of the Zionist lobby in the US.

Manmohan Singh Government needs to show some spine Рby opposing the Iran sanctions and rallying world opinion around it. Asking the US meekly for a waiver on Iran sanctions cannot be India's response to these patently illegal US actions. More than 70% of India's oil comes from Straits of Hormuz. A war will affect India the most. Even if India does not want to play a global leadership role and thinks non-alignment is pass̩, its national self-interest demands a much tougher role on Iran.

Step by step, under pressure from Israel and its own domestic constituency that wants a war with Iran, Obama has set the US on a slippery path where the only outcome is another war in West Asia. Except this time, it will be a much bigger war – Iran is much larger than Iraq and is militarily much more powerful.

Let us look at the US is already doing in Iran. Along with Israel, it has started an open assassination campaign of Iran's scientists. It has started a cyber war, using the Stuxnet virus on the systems controlling Iran's fuel enrichment centrifuges. As the Iranian action in bringing down a CIA drone showed, the US is also invading Iranian airspace. The economic sanctions against Iran are now being ratcheted up to a level where it becomes outright economic war.

The latest economic sanctions that the US and UK are introducing – and indications are that EU may follow suit – are all unilateral measures without the sanction of the UN. Iran's central bank is being sanctioned meaning that countries like India and Turkey will find it increasingly difficult to pay for Iranian oil. Already India had problems when its banks were threatened by the US for having business with Iran, forcing it to arrange its payment through Turkey’s Halkbank. Halkbank has indicated that with the new US sanctions, it may not be able to handle India's payments. India has now sought a waiver from the US for buying oil from Iran for which it should need no permission of any third country.

All these are hostile acts. It also seems farcical that the US which already involved in assassination campaigns in Iran, should cry foul over Iran's so-called conspiracy for assassination of Saudi diplomats in the US. In any case, most serious analysts consider that the conspiracy of which the US administration accused Iran of being either a deliberate fabrication by the FBI and CIA or a an attempt by an interested third party to increase tensions between Iran and the US. No prizes in guessing this third party to be Israel.

Make no mistake. The US is already in war with Iran. It may be a low-grade war and not a full-blown shooting war. But war nevertheless. If Iran had done any of the acts that the US and Israel has done, it would have been construed as an act of war. And lead to an immediate shooting response.

Iran can retaliate – closing the straits of Hormuz through which 40% of world's tanker traffic passes being an example. The recent naval manoeuvres of the Iranian navy in the Gulf of Oman was clearly a signal of its intent in case hostilities break out. While Iran may not take this ultimate measure unless their nuclear installations are bombed, if their sale of oil is stopped, what are their other options?

For the US and its cheerleaders, international law is only for others; they operate on a “higher” plane – where only the national interests of the US counts as “law”. In Iran's case, the US has been arguing that Iran developing nuclear capability is itself enough cause for sanctions and even war. Despite the fact that developing nuclear capability including fuel enrichment is a right retained by any country even after it signs the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). And is something that about 40 countries in the world already have.

Despite an international media blitz, all that Iran is accused of continuing is developing nuclear capability. Both the US intelligence agencies and IAEA agree that Iran has not taken any physical steps towards building nuclear weapons. The charge is that they are developing “break-out” capability, and even that – according to Israel and the US -- would change the balance of power in West Asia and is therefore unacceptable.

Even after the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin and starting of the Vietnam War on that pretext, the mirage of WMD's in Iraq and now various visions of a nuclear Iran being conjured up without any evidence, the US media is playing completely to the US security establishment's gallery. The IAEA report, which found no new evidence but only regurgitated pre-2003 evidence is paraded as Iran becoming nuclear. Never mind that all that it says – after you read the actual report and not the one that US media pretends it has read – is that Iran could be developing nuclear capability. If we read the US media, it is Iran which is not fully sane in its foreign policy. Commentators after commentator in the west talks about Iran as if it is the one acting irrationally. What they neglect to analyse is how rational are the US policies and what rational options Iran has?

Why is the US marching towards another and even more disastrous war in West Asia? Particularly as it is in the process of trying to get out of its two current wars. What sense does it make for the US to get into a military conflict with Iran, which is certainly much bigger and stronger than Iraq?

To understand this, we have to look at the way the US foreign policy is enmeshed with Israel and its domestic policies. Given this is an election year, it is even more important.

We have already covered how Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are planning an air strike on Iran. If they execute such a strike, this will automatically draw in the US. They are bargaining with the US that they may forego such a strike if the US agrees to their demand for much stronger economic sanctions. Either way, it is a win-win for Israel– or at least that is the way Netanyahu and Barak see it.

The US elections provide Israel with much greater leverage. This is election year and every presidential candidate must offer full-throated support to Israel. No wonder, each Republican candidate has been outdoing the other in demanding military action against Iran. Obama and Netanyahu may not like each other. The reality of the election year is that Obama is under pressure to win votes and forget the rest.

If we look at the Iranian side, is there any action they can take that will satisfy the US short of regime change? Yes, if they say that we were making the bomb and have all these secret facilities for doing so and now we are dismantling them, please come and witness it. If they say that we are not building the bomb and all we are doing is building nuclear capability permitted under NPT, it will be considered as lying and further proof of Iran's bad intentions. And no, this is not some fantasy I am manufacturing. This is exactly the way Iraq's WMD debate went – the demand was always that show us your WMD's – otherwise you are hiding them. All Iraq's statements that they did not have a single WMD was treated as hogwash.

The problem for the world is that once the US gets locked on to this course, the rest seems to get dragged in the US wake, either willingly or unwillingly. Every country is now negotiating with the US what they will do in response to the sanctions. The UK is one step ahead in imposing sanctions of its own; that is its way of showing “independence” from the US. The EU is following suit. India and Turkey will have to show either significant lower imports from Iran to get an exemption or have their financial institutions come under US sanctions. Only China and Russia can ignore the US. Despite the sanctions not being accepted in the UN, the US sanctions can therefore become de facto global sanctions.

Apart from the uncertainty of taking a route that can cause another war in West Asia, the US sanctions can intensify the already precarious global economy. If Iran cannot sell its oil, it means a drop in oil production and oil prices going through the roof. Already, oil prices have started to go up again. Iraqi oil fields have yet to recover, Saudis are pumping out as much as they can and the rest of the world does not have the capacity to compensate for the second largest oil producer in OPEC going out of the market. Why Obama should be willing to play Russian roulette with Iran with a teetering economy is difficult to understand, his domestic electoral compulsions notwithstanding.

What the world needs is for the rest of the world – the Russia, China, India, Brazil Turkey and other intermediate powers, the non-aligned block to come out opposing the western sanctions. The west is not just imposing sanctions on Iran, it is also threatening the economy of each and every country in the world today. And purely on Israel's security demand of being the pre-eminent military power in West Asia.

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