.: Asia

Date: 22 Dec 2011



Is Iran the next US target?

By: Tariq Fatemi

With the kind of experience that the United States has gone through in Afghanistan and Iraq, one would have thought that another military adventure would be the last thing on the minds of its leadership. But old habits die hard, especially when motivated by a messianic zeal to set all wrongs right.

President Barack Obama's campaign speeches had signalled a nuanced approach, indicating a desire to 'engage' with Iran's leadership. However, as with other promises, Obama's policy on Iran, too, became a hostage to the dictates of the virulently anti-Iran lobbies.

Past weeks have seen rumours floating afresh that Israel is contemplating a military strike on Iran, ostensibly because of fresh advances in its nuclear programme. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has signalled his resolve to "end the era of Iranian ambiguousness", which reminded people of his claim as far back as 1992 that Iran would have weapons in three to five years. Sadly, some European powers have echoed these provocative sentiments. The US Republican presidential candidates, too, have been tripping over one another to prove their loyalty to the Zionist state, blithely ignoring the advice of well-established national security personalities, that "a military strike against Iran, whether by land or air, would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the US national security". Even the recently retired chief of Israeli Mossad, Meir Dagan, has stressed that attacking Iran "would mean a regional war", characterising it as "the stupidest thing I have ever heard".

Most observers are, however, of the view that while Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would be highly destabilising, the way to go about deterring Iran is not by launching a military attack, but by using political and economic levers to enhance pressure, while offering strong incentives that would resonate favourably with its leadership. As it is, US-Israeli covert operations have disabled some of Iran's centrifuges, sabotaged its military facilities and assassinated nuclear scientists, all of which have impacted severely on its ambitions, while enhancing its siege mentality. The downing of a US drone may have been a propaganda boon for Iran, enabling her to claim that it represents the dominance of military-intelligence hawks in Washington. That said, it must have added to its worries about US intentions. Moreover, the unveiling of America's post-withdrawal scenario for Afghanistan, would have further exacerbated Iran's fears.

The military option, therefore, appears not only risk-fraught, but dangerous for all parties, as well as for the entire region. Lessons of history, as well as recent events, have proven the folly of military adventures, even against weaker but determined people, fired by the zeal to defend their national sovereignty. While turmoil in Syria is causing Iran great anxiety, the US departure from Iraq is likely to enhance Tehran's influence in a key Arab country. Further, external aggression will help the regime consolidate itself domestically, while strengthening its resolve to retaliate against external foes, including engaging in asymmetric warfare that could hurt American interests, while destabilising the region. Moreover, heightened American belligerence appears to be reinforcing Iranian incentive to move towards the nuclear option, especially after recent events in its neighbourhood have demonstrated the futility of leaving destinies to the goodness of your enemies. Maintaining the sanctions, while engaging in serious dialogue, including meaningful incentives for the Islamic regime may, therefore, appear a far more effective option than threatening war.

Pakistan, which has critically important ties to both the US and Iran, must demonstrate initiative and interest in promoting peace in the region, as any hostility between them would place it in a most unenviable situation. It is, therefore, incumbent on our policymakers to use whatever influence they have to nudge belligerents away from their current policy which appears to be leading them inexorably towards an armed conflict.

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