Tuesday, April 15, 2008

War of Words

Today's editorial in the usually dovish Haaretz evidences the deep fear in Israel regarding Iran. In effect, the editorial implores George Bush to order US air and missile strikes -- "shock and awe" redux -- on Iranian sites where Israel believes nuclear weapons are being developed. The occasion for the editorial was the Iranian deputy chief of staff's response yesterday to last week's warning by Israel cabinet minister Ben Eliezer. Mr. Ben Eliezer said Israel would destroy Iranian society, if Iran attacked Israel. The Iranian said that if Israel tried, it would be destroyed. The editorial writers at Ha'aretz point to the many Iranian activities that undermine Israel's security to argue that these words should be taken seriously, whereas Ben Eliezer's can be ignored as empty rhetoric.

The editorial fears that nations in Europe and elsewhere, for their own reasons, will avoid sanctions on Iran for failing to open its nuclear program to inspection. They will excuse their inaction by citing the US National Intelligence Estimate that judged Iran stopped its weapons program in 2002 -- a conclusion that Israel vehemently rejected. In Israeli eyes, George Bush, while not a perfect policeman, is apparently the only one willing and able to stop Iran. True, the American army in running on fumes, but the US air force with its abundance of planes and missiles is enough to get the job done.

The editorial reflects the fears of Washington neo-cons, as well as many Israelis, that time is running out to remake the Middle East in Israel's and the US's favor. Hawkish Shmuel Rosner, the paper's Washington correspondent and a willing trumpet for the neo-cons, may have had a heavy hand in its writing. In any case. its proposal is insane, according to the popular definition that insanity is repeating an action with the expectation that the outcome will be different. The neo-cons failed to learn from Israel's experiences in the territories and Lebanon that invading a country is much easier than bringing it under control. Now Israelis, as represented by Haaretz, seem unable to learn from the US failures in Iraq that "shock and awe" bombing would not make Iran comply with US or Israeli wishes. It will just increase instability in the region. To be sure, most Israelis do not especially care about stability in the future. They have lived with instability and prefer their current anxieties be relieved by the destruction of the the suspected nuclear installations.

The editorial also signals the widening gulf between Israel's interests and US interests, at least as the American public perceives the latter. That public has no desire to extend the Bush crusade in the Middle East to Iran. It knows such action would be costly, bloody and fail. If Bush ordered an attack on Iran, Congress would likely start impeachment proceedings against him. Haaretz's ignorance and indifference to these conditions amount to a miserable failure on its part.

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Blogger Phill H-B said...

The problem with bombing Iran is that unlike Serbia or Iraq, the Iranians have ample opportunities to respond.

During the last tanker war Iran closed the straits using small manned craft. Since then they have built up a rather large supply of Chinese designed missiles.

Leaving aside for a moment the possibility that China has succeeded in their objective of developing missiles capable of sinking the Nimitz class supercarriers, it is hard to see how they could miss a tanker.

How could the Bush administration convince supertanker owners to risk their ships? The owners are not going to enter a war zone unless they are at a minimum offered a cast iron guarantee that all their losses will be covered. And even then their crews may not agree.

How does the administration offer such a guarantee without recourse to Congress? Why would Congress support an unauthorized and unprovoked attack?

The straits are not Iran's only option for retaliation. Unlike in Bosnia, the US has 150,000 troops within range of Iran's missiles. Most of those are concentrated at a small number of superbases.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Iran mounted an offensive and captured Basra. It would probably follow the same strategy again, this time aided by the fact that Sadr's anti-US forces effectively control the city (and the oil). Up until now Iran has backed the Maliki side against Sadr (giving the lie to claims that Iran is the issue here). If the US were to attack Iran the Maliki government would fall and Iran would have no choice but to transfer support to Sadr.

The situation is dangerous because the war party in both Iran and the US think that they would win a war. Given the political position of the Bush administration and their previous displays of abject incompetence it is hard to see how they could fail to turn a potential disaster into a catastrophe.

The most likely outcome of bombing Iran is the emergence of a Shi'ia super-state whose influence and quite likely border extends across Syria, Iraq and half of Afghanistan.

6:08 AM  

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