US, Britain and Israel - Harassing Syria and Iran
By George S. Hishmeh
The US, Britain and Israel are on record saying they are not planning any military action against Iran because of its ambitious nuclear programme, which may ultimately yield a nuclear weapon, probably not on the same scale as Israel, Pakistan and India.
But these public assurances have not quieted the anxiety that has been evident everywhere and for good reason.
Although the US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates declared recently that “we are not planning for a war with Iran”, he did say that military action against the Iranian regime was an absolute last resort.
Another qualifier was uttered by Mark Kimmitt, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, at the national conference in Washington of the World Affairs Councils of America. He declared: “We remain convinced that diplomacy is the best way at this point to deal with the Iranian nuclear problem.”
Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, described in the British press as the American “poodle”, has said “nobody is talking about or planning military intervention” against Iran, but in the same breath he added that no option was “off the table”.
Although two Israeli leaders, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, have denied that Israel intends to use military force against Iran, American presidential hopefuls have just toured Israel “competing to see who could be strongest in defence of the Jewish state”. According to published reports, they called for the United States “to step up sanctions on Iran and leave the possibility of a military attack ‘on the table’”.
The Washington Times said the visit to Israel “provides an opportunity to float policy positions and reach out to Jewish voters in the United States”.
The security situation inside Iraq has meanwhile become more serious. But what has been more worrisome has been sharpness of the administration’s anti-Iranian line and the measures it has adopted, particularly the projected dispatch of 21,000 troops to the strife-torn country.
Also, a new strategy has been announced that allowed US troops to target alleged Iranian agents said to be operating inside Iraq. A second aircraft carrier was dispatched to the region and Patriot anti-missile batteries are being deployed there.
Adding oil to the fire was the reported “abduction” last Sunday of an Iranian diplomat, Jalal Sharafi. Iran laid the blame on the US forces in Iraq. Last month, Iran protested the detention by the US of five Iranians in northern Iraq following a pre-dawn helicopter raid.
Considering the shoddy intelligence that preceded the American invasion of Iraq and the increased complaints by President George W. Bush of Iranian support for Iraqi militants, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator John Rockefeller, was quoted as saying: “To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again.”
The senator’s published criticism was typical of the charges voiced daily in the US, especially by legislators, against the country’s policy in Iraq which seems to run counter to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group which called for initiating diplomatic overtures to both Iran and Syria.
Furthermore, the long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq did not seem very hopeful; in fact, it painted, according to one assessment, “an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration”.
The growing state of anxiety is likely to affect the price of oil, which could be disastrous to importing countries such as the US which imports more than 60 per cent of its petroleum needs.
Regardless of what happens the US will continue to import oil from Saudi Arabia. The fear in the US is that Bush, finding himself in a corner, may be enticed to fight his way out or encourage others to undertake a risky step.
This is one good reason for the US to get off its beaten track and stop harassing Iran and Syria. Saudi Arabia has already taken a commendable step in mediating among the Palestinians and opening channels with Iran over Lebanon.
But if the US hopes to rely totally on the Saudis for a way out of Iraq, without any initiative of its own, it will only be jeopardising this Arab government’s standing in the region.
(George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist)