This is the pronouncement made by Mohammad Seyyed Selim, political scientist and professor at the universities of Cairo and Kuweit.
Prof. Selim delivered his forecast on February 13, in a
program on Nile TV’s “Cairo Watch,” in which I also participated. The
moderator, Mohamed Abdel-Rahim, started off by asking what crisis situations
in the region were most acute; Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict were the
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the Syrian government that if it were to intervene in an Israeli-Lebanese conflict, it would disintegrate. As if that were not sufficient, the Israeli Mossad had staged a Hollywood-style extravaganza to murder Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 20.
Four days later, Netanyahu declared that Israel would maintain control over parts of the West Bank for all eternity.
He followed up with the announcement that Israel would designate three sites on the West Bank as part of Israel’s national heritage. These were all deliberately crafted provocations, aimed solely at eliciting a violent response from the other side: perhaps that Hezbollah would kidnap an Israeli soldier, or that Hamas would lob a few rockets across the border to Israel.
Fortunately, to date, their response has been
As a preparation for a hit against the Islamic Republic in both cases, Tel Aviv was attempting to remove from the scene, or at least weaken, those factors in the region which could respond militarily and politically. Israel lost both wars, albeit at a heavy price for the civilians of the targeted populations.
Now it is gearing up for renewed attacks, in tandem with an
artfully orchestrated international campaign around Iran’s alleged nuclear
They are preparing for the worst case scenario: a direct Israeli attack.(1)
The Casus Belli: Nuclear Energy
There followed the ritual exclamations of
condemnation on the part of the major powers, especially those in the 5+1
group (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council
plus Germany who have been engaged in negotiations around the issue).
A worldwide mobilization unfolded, spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and flanked by the French and Germans.
Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in with her vow that tougher sanctions would be imposed on Iran. Either such sanctions would be voted up in the U.N. Security Council, or, in the likely event that China refused, they would be imposed outside the U.N. framework. Merkel went out of her way to say that the Europeans should declare independent sanctions (for reasons we will see below). (2)
As for Israel, its leaders turned up
the volume in their demands for “crippling sanctions, or else,” meaning: if
the international community were not disposed to take effective action
against Iran, then Israel would go it alone with a military strike.
The new IAEA report, which the international press blew utterly out of proportion, nowhere stated that Iran had violated NPT guidelines.
It said that,
Iran, it said, had declined to discuss certain issues with the Agency or to provide related information and access,
The IAEA was accusing Iran of having committed a sin of omission, i.e. withholding information which the agency would otherwise have required.
The report recorded that,
Again, to repeat the point: there is nothing in the NPT that forbids a signatory nation to enrich uranium or to build enrichment facilities.
issued an official rebuttal on March 2. (See “Iran’s Nuclear Program:
Tehran’s Reply to the IAEA on the ‘Implementation of Safeguards in Iran,’ by
the Permanent Mission of Iran to the IAEA".)
Several versions of
this proposal appeared during late 2009/early 2010, among them, one that
foresees the establishment of an international uranium enrichment bank with
Iranian participation; this might be located in Russia or Kazakhstan, both
leaders in nuclear fuel production. Turkey has voiced its willingness to be
the site for the transfer of Iranian uranium to be further enriched and
shipped home. France and Japan were other options.
It agreed in principle to enrichment abroad, but insisted on guarantees for orderly and prompt delivery. It then demanded that the transfer of such uranium be made on Iranian soil.
Tehran’s apparently contradictory stance reflects deep mistrust, based on past history: France reneged on a nuclear deal with Iran in the past, and Russia, which completed the Bushehr plant, postponed delivery of nuclear fuel for years, and even to the present day continues rescheduling the final start-up date.
In early March, Iran again expressed willingness to cooperate in a plan to have its uranium enriched abroad. This time, Japan was in discussion. On March 17, Iran announced its readiness to exchange 1200 kilograms of low enriched uranium for 120 kilograms of high grade uranium.
Iranian sources say they don’t want more
proposals, but a concrete Memorandum of Understanding.
The plan called for the installation of 23,000 MWe by 1994,
equivalent to 40% of projected national energy consumption, through plants
purchased from France, the U.S. and Germany. The famous Bushehr plant dates
back to this era, when the German firm KWU had the contract. Iran
participated in enrichment facilities in other countries, and was to
purchase its enriched uranium abroad. (3)
Prof. Selim’s explanation is that the target of Western attacks against Iran’s program is not the physical program itself, but rather the scientific and technological know-how that it entails. Iranian scientists today possess this know-how, and that is what the Israelis, among others, object to. Israel in fact not only bombed the Iraqis’ Osirak reactor in 1981, but, more importantly, conducted a systematic campaign of targeted assassinations throughout the 1980s against leading Iraqi scientists, deploying hit squads to kill them whenever they ventured abroad for scientific conferences, etc. (4)
The program launched under the Shah would have given Iran nuclear energy, but under the tight control of his Western sponsors.
Therefore, it was no risk. Today it is a different story, a story
entitled technological apartheid.
When reading that report and reviewing the sanctimonious pronouncements by heads of state about how this bloody Persian Gulf monster must be stopped, any politically informed person or party must object and ask:
Obviously, because it already has one and everyone knows it. Israel has refused to adhere to the IAEA guidelines or to sign the NPT.
It has pursued the policy of “ambiguity:” never admitting it
has nuclear weapons, but always asserting it would never be the first to
deploy them. Current estimates hold that Israel has nuclear weapons and 250
or so warheads to deliver them.
On Nile TV, the question arose:
In reality: nothing.
Even if Iran were to test a nuclear weapon, that would not necessarily destabilize the region, Prof. Selim said. He recalled the dynamic during the Cold War, and in the later development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India; this did not lead to war, but rather to deterrence. I had heard the exact same argument from an Israeli strategic analyst during a conference in Berlin in 2006 on Iran.
He had stated the obvious: if Iran has nuclear weapons, for us Israelis that is no problem. We have a credible deterrent. Now it appears that U.S. policy-shaping circles have also begun to debate the merits of a containment policy, were Iran to achieve such a capability.
Zbigniew Brzezinski was quoted by the New York Times saying he thought containment would function because the Islamic Republic,
The same issue is featured in Foreign Affairs magazine.
This does not mean they would or could win these
wars. Were the Israeli establishment (God forbid) to attack Iranian nuclear
sites with aerial bombardments all Hell would break loose. Iran would not
roll over and die. Enough scenarios in the public realm make clear that such
an adventure would be militarily futile and politically suicidal. A recent
war games scenario conducted in the U.S. drove this point home again. (See “War
Games shows how attacking Iran could backfire”.)
To attack, Israel would need a green light from the Pentagon. The Nile TV moderator wanted to know: Would they get it?
Prof. Selim thought it was indeed possible, an answer which reflected the widespread disappointment in the Arab world with Obama’s actions - as opposed to his words in highfalutin speeches. I said, yes, anything is possible, including under an Obama regime, but not inevitable, for one simple reason: Although it is the U.S. President, as Commander in Chief, who ultimately makes the decision, there are other powers in the Washington establishment who shape policy.
Just as the world witnessed under the reign of the
psychologically labile President
George W. Bush, who was personally and
politically committed to war, other factors came into play to thwart his
worst designs. The NIE report of October 2007, which asserted that Iran no
longer had any nuclear weapons program, threw a monkey wrench into the
neocons’ war plans and postponed war.
U.S. General David Petraeus told Reuters on February 3 that a strike against Iran,
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen warned Israel against “unintended consequences” of an attack.
his early March visit to Israel, Vice President Joe Biden also told Tel Aviv
hold off on any military adventure. Whatever more radical tendencies in
Washington may exist, the military establishment, which is already
overburdened with the disastrous engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, will
maintain the hardnosed view that war against Iran, from a purely
military-strategic viewpoint, would be folly.
CFR president Richard N. Haas raised this in Newsweek in late January, arguing that,
Measures would include outspoken support for the Iranian opposition, sanctions, and new funding for documenting human rights abuses, etc.
Iranian-American Trita Parsi appears to have come over to this viewpoint as well; if not overt support, which would be counterproductive, he calls for waiting it out until things change inside Iran. (6) A number of well-known neocons like David Frum and William Kristol, are talking up regime change. (7)
If it is true that the leader of the terrorist Jundullah group in Iran has been financially and politically controlled by the U.S., this means covert operations are already well underway.
Such operations would tend to
backfire, and merely exacerbate tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Iranian
history warns against attempted regime changes from abroad.
Significantly, it was Germany that the Israeli elite chose for its full court press in Europe. On January 19, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Berlin, together with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eleizer, Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, and National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau.
The group met with the German cabinet in a joint session which both termed “historic.”
In their press conference,
Netanyahu and Merkel confirmed that the focus of their talks had been
Tehran’s nuclear program, and Germany’s “historic responsibility” to
guarantee Israel’s security. Israeli President Simon Peres (father of the
Israeli nuclear weapons program), followed on January 26, and was granted
the special honor of addressing the Bundestag,
Asked what would happen if Iran had the bomb, Peres answered,
Ergo, the need for action.
And Germany is obligated to agree:
Assuming they were addressing a sympathetic audience, the Israelis pressed for tough sanctions, if not more.
But all did not go quite according to the script. Not only did demonstrators protest the joint cabinet meeting, but the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war appeared in a complete German translation just as the Israelis arrived. In his interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Peres betrayed deep insecurity regarding the deterioration of Israel’s image in Germany and the world.
Asked for his views of the younger generation, he referred to polls,
He said Germany and Israel were bound to fight anti-Semitism, racism, etc., worldwide, but that they should not forget that,
Asked outright if his country were losing respect worldwide (outside the U.S.), Peres retorted,
He also stated,
When interviewers Frankenberger and Roessler insisted that Israel had lost sympathies in Europe, Peres admitted there “might” be problems with some countries,
Then, confronted on the Gaza war, Peres lashed out,
The Gaza war, he concluded, was a highly complicated affair.
Are Sanctions Possible, and Effective?
Netanyahu went to Moscow, while Barak went with
Moshe Yaalon and Stanley Fischer to Beijing. Clinton took off for a parallel
tour through the Persian Gulf and then to Latin America.
The Jordan Times quoted a Saudi foreign policy official on February 17 to the effect that the Kingdom did not see the value of sanctions, and ruled out any military action.
Instead, Riyadh urged the U.S. to regain credibility by finally doing something on the Palestinian-Israeli front.
In Brazil, she
received a cold shoulder when she proposed that President Lula de Silva join
in punitive actions against Iran. The Brazilian president insisted Iran had
the same right as his country to nuclear energy technology.
A draft prepared by the UK, France, the US, and Germany, then shared with Russia and China in early March considered toothless financial sanctions: the Iranian Central Bank would remain immune, but any new banks set up abroad would be affected. Russia ruled out any restrictions of military sales (such as the S-300 missiles it is to deliver) and China maintained its opposition.
China, whose political leadership was not amused by Obama’s plans for weapons sales to Taiwan or his gracious hospitality towards the Dalai Lama, could wield its veto right, and that would be the end of that. Aside from China’s principled stance against interference into the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, it has other good reasons to reject sanctions: Iran is a major supplier of its oil and gas, and China is Iran’s number one foreign trade partner, accounting for 14% of its imports and exports in 2008.
China and Iran are
the two external poles of the land-bridge rail corridors across Eurasia,
which are creating the transportation infrastructural networks for
integrating the economies of the vast land mass.
also a rotating member, finds itself on Israel’s hit list alongside Iran.
To be sure, Iran has suffered under economic embargo conditions over the past 30 years since the Islamic Revolution. The all-too-frequent airplane crashes reported in Iran are often the result of outmoded, decrepit aircraft and the lack of adequate spare parts for repair.
Now talk of new measures spread in the climate of a possible new war has encouraged some economic players to opt out. Several important firms, among them the German Siemens, have recently pulled out of Iran out of fear of a new conflict and/or concern about the economic/political fallout of increased regional tensions. Siemens chief executive Peter Löscher, made the announcement while Peres was in Berlin.
Under U.S. pressure, German credit guarantees for Iran have been steadily dwindling over past years, though some smaller firms have remained. Germany is still Iran’s foremost trading partner in Europe. Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of the Italian energy firm ENI, announced on February 4 that it would leave Iran, after completion of current contracts to develop gas fields. (8)
Sanctions would likely end up hurting the population, not the
Right now, in lieu of a policy, it is running a
three-ring circus: in one ring is the giant America, flexing its muscles to
hold back mad dog Israel on a leash with a muzzle; in the next ring are a
trio of monkeys clipping the tail of peacock Iran, while Russian bears and
Chinese pandas taunt them; and in the third ring is a dog-and-pony show
featuring a Palestinian and an Israeli, endlessly going through the motions
of the peace process dance. Meanwhile U.S. and allied military patrol the
circus grounds to ensure that no one interrupt the performances.
Removing Iran’s pariah status requires settling the nuclear issue in a mutually satisfactory fashion. In addition to the nuclear program, Iran is under attack for its support of rejectionist Palestinian forces and their allies (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria).
Were a comprehensive, just peace to be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, that could change. There was a time when official Iranian policy was that Tehran would accept whatever the Palestinians agreed upon.
Rhetoric notwithstanding, that could become the case again.
Syria is also ready for peace, on condition the Golan Heights are returned, and so on.
Vice President Biden’s sharp rebuke, followed by Clinton’s telephone blast at Netanyahu, was an important signal; it communicated to the Israelis that there are limits to how they can treat their leading ally and a superpower.
To shift Israeli policy, however, the U.S. must
move beyond rebukes. According to the March 17 New York Times, this crisis
between Israel and the U.S., characterized by many as the worst in decades,
is prompting Washington to consider an independent approach. The idea is
that such a new American plan would catalyze a shift inside Israel,
leading to the formation of a new ruling coalition.
Economic pressure, in the form of a total freeze on all U.S. aid to Israel, combined with a suspension of E.U. privileges to Israel, would have an effect. Whatever the elements of the new approach being mulled in Washington, clearly a complete stop of all settlement activity is a prerequisite. Instead of sabotaging the Hamas, the U.S. should facilitate the Fatah-Hamas rapprochement (which Prof. Selim believes could succeed) to allow for a united Palestinian front including democratically elected forces, to represent their people.
The criminal blockade of Gaza must be
lifted. Without such actions, there can be no illusion of credibility on the
part of a “new” U.S. approach. Such gestures are indicative of what the
Arabs require to redefine the relationship of forces. If the two-state
solution is policy, that means an end to the occupation. Reportedly, the
Quartet meeting in Moscow on March 18 touched on these issues.
Washington does have the power,
if it wants to use it.
As reported in the March 15 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Israeli
government has launched a desperate public relations campaign, through a
website for “Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora,” aimed at preparing Israelis
to project a positive image of their country while traveling abroad. If
citizens have to study government-issued brochures handed out at the
airport, to learn how to defend the reputation of Israel, then the moral
crisis the country has entered is quicksand.
The United Nations General Assembly voted on February 26 (98 to 7, with 31 abstentions, 56 not voting) to extend the call to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, by 5 months, to carry on investigations into the report’s findings. The E.U. declared on March 10 it would endorse the Goldstone Report.
Tel Aviv’s pathetic attempt to quash it by furnishing pro forma responses instead of conducting an honest inquiry into the allegations has faltered utterly.
Then, after reports of the Mossad’s spectacular show in
the Dubai assassination grabbed headlines throughout Europe, governments in
Berlin, Paris, London, and so forth had to make an ostentatious display of
protest. (Whether or not the intelligence services of these countries had
actually played along with the Mossad, making passports and identities
available to their friendly Israeli secret services, the fallout in the
public realm has been such as to totally blacken the already tarnished image
of the Mossad and Israel itself.)
To date, those forces inside Israel, no matter how outspoken or militant, have not yet managed to unite in a single, national political movement capable of challenging and eventually replacing the status quo. As German journalist and Middle East expert Peter Scholl-Latour has often remarked, the tragedy is that there is no one political party inside Israel which is really for peace.
That remains to be created.
As I argue in my book (8), the Israeli elite and popular mindset must face these facts and must change.
Israel needs such a healthy crisis, a crisis of moral, political, military, and cultural dimensions, which casts into doubt the historical justification of the Zionist experience, and thus the raison d’etre of Israel.
That process of profound critical rethinking among some Israeli intellectuals (like Ilan Pappe and Avraham Burg) is underway.
Now is the time for international political action to move the