Bangs for bucks and Arielís dream
by Noel Rooney
[ politics - february 06 ]
It may just transpire that the last significant political act of Ariel Sharon was not to effect the pullout from Gaza, and temporarily disarticulate Israeli party politics (or turn Gaza into a free-fire zone, and juggle a corrupt polity to suit his own ends, depending on oneís point of view). It may have been to persuade the US administration that Iran, now, was the right time and place for a nuclear first strike. There is no doubt that the administration chickenhawks were actively contemplating the prospect already; but Sharonís imprimatur - and his willingness to act as a partner in the aggression - may well have been the tipping point in the specific momentum.
While the actions and motives of Israel and the US are inextricably intertwined, and with them the fate of the entire middle east, their reasons for taking part in this attack are rather different. For the US, they are primarily economic, in specific terms, and part of a broader pattern of geo-political manoeuvring which uses military muscle to protect economic weakness. For Israel, a mixture of revenge and teleological violence informs their participation.
The 'threat' to the US
Naturally, the war on Iran has nothing very much to do with Iran's own ambitions in nuclear weaponry; these are largely fictional. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and is pursuing a perfectly legal programme of civil nuclear energy production. The leadership of any Muslim state with nuclear capacity is de facto under suspicion; Iranís status as international pariah is only grist for the predatory mill. The truth is unnecessary to the trajectory; and the facts are to be avoided at all costs.
This will be made explicit when John Bolton, a walrus among the chickenhawks, and interim appointee to the UN ambassadorship, starts his term as president of the Security Council. He will concentrate solely on Iran, and on building a case for war against Iran. His attitude to the UN is a matter of public record, so consensus building is unlikely to be integral to his efforts; in any case, the coalition is assembled, and the Europeans have kow-towed out of the diplomatic way - so the case is effectively made.
A curious subplot to this process of demonising is manifest in comments attributed by various media outlets to highly-placed US officials, to the effect that if there were to be a significant terrorist attack on a US target, Iran would clearly come under suspicion as the perpetrator. Obviously, no sane government would wish such a tragedy on its own people, let alone condone or even plan it, so the comments are meant to be warnings, evidence of inside knowledge that the US is under direct threat. The source of the threat is undoubtedly arguable, especially in advance, and nominating oneís terrorist attackers in this way raises disturbing questions about the role of security services in the war on terror. It seems conspiracy theory works both ways.
There are some facts. Iran has recently signed a 30-year trade agreement with China, and the two countries have carried out joint military exercises. This suggests a new player in the Middle East at an unwelcome time. For the US, this may have increased the urgency of making a foray into Iran, before Iran is too safely nestled under the wing of a nuclear superpower. But, while sacrificing some hapless Iranians to make a defiant gesture to China may be a by-product of the adventure, it is not the central focus of it.
Iranís real crime is economic, and the perpetrator has not properly started sinning yet. Perhaps this is why the mainstream media find it so difficult to talk about. In April, a new oil bourse will open in Iran (it has run experimentally for some time); it will trade oil in euros, and exclude petro-dollars. Some very large and influential customers are likely to see the advantages in that trade; and the petro-dollar is liable to suffer as a consequence. China, for instance, has recently announced its intention to diversify its holdings, and this has been interpreted as a move away from dollars (see eg Washington Post, January 31).
Russia might see advantages in a euro bourse too. Strengthening its own military links with China recently, Russia has perhaps decided that the wind is blowing from the East now, whatever the US thinks. Some other large producers, such as Venezuela, which has also enjoyed improved economic links with China, are almost certainly candidates for a rival petro-currency.
The current US attitude toward Chavez, and a whole new generation of left-leaning governments in Latin America, reflects the traditional admixture of contempt and concern. Contempt for indigenous wishes, and concern for native resources and their exploitation. With China looming larger as an inward investor, and a rival petro-currency to the dollar, some of those governments may be persuaded that they are capable of breaking the US monopoly on America.
Europe might conceivably find itself in the ironic position of refusing to trade oil in its own currency, at least temporarily, to placate its ailing ally. Such tenuous funambulism is unlikely to last long, though; the logic of the situation would dictate that most of Europe would eventually trade oil in euros. No US administration could contemplate this situation with equanimity; current economic fragility, and particularly the role of the petro-dollar in shoring up an astounding debt, make it unthinkable.
Consider the demographic of the US elite, and one can see that oil trumps both blood and water as a currency. Add to this the chagrin of the neo-cons in the US administration over the fact that Iran is patently the main beneficiary of GW2, and its crimes are beyond redemption. The only problem has been how to sell another episode of blatant adventurism to a public tired of war, or at least bored with the current one; here, once again, the chimerical threat of a non-existent nuclear enemy is the brand of choice, in another war of choice. And here, once again, Israel has lent a quiet hand.
The propaganda campaign has been a complete success with the mainstream media; all the current babble has been about the nuclear threat from Iran, despite an embarrassing lack of evidence. To this point, the only documented attempt to make plans for an Iranian nuclear weapon has come from the CIA (for a full account see State of War, by James Risen, published by Free Press; although the story actually made the mainstream media, belatedly, eg the UK Guardian, January 5, 2006).
The rhetoric of the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is - to judge by the westís reporting of it - an open threat to us all, but especially to the very existence of Israel. Apparently the idea, common in the West, that a politician will say one thing for a domestic audience, and another for an international one, is unknown in the Middle East. Ahmadinejad, for all that he sounds from a distance like a paid US provocateur, is talking tough for the home crowd, in language neither new nor unusual, and understood by all concerned, including those people who have dragged it out of its context and feigned shock and outrage.
An apt analogy for this type of rhetoric is Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez; and no one has yet arraigned Mr Robertson for conspiracy to murder. Ahmadinejad has nonetheless been a blessing for the Western media, and the Israeli press too; he is another barrier between the public and the embarrassing facts. This is not the fault of Ahmadinejad, since he is doing nothing out of the ordinary; but he is an interpretative convenience for speciously biased punditry.
More importantly, he provides an expedient entry point for Israel. AIPAC and JINSA can export the demonisation/justification to the US, where it can bolster the administrationís equally spurious arguments for war. US concerns over the danger posed by a small man in a cheap suit saying boo to an eagle can be re-imported to bolster domestic Israeli fear-mongering.
Dealing with the Ďthreatí
Persistent press coverage in the US, Israel, Germany, Turkey and Japan (rather less in the UK) has been devoted to the prospect of a US/Israeli bombing raid on Iran, like the "shock and awe" curtain-raiser for GW2. There is a lot of speculation about the possible use of small tactical nuclear weapons as part of the attack. Leaked comments from senior military sources have gone so far as to suggest that these teensy-weensy nukes (some only one-third the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, with a cost of 140,000 lives) pose no significant threat to civilians.
Bombs with apparently magical properties have become a stock-in-trade of Western war propaganda recently. The specific claim is unimportant (it is after all patently untrue). The general tone is a grim inversion of "the wounded surgeon plies the steel", and seems to work as a temporary anaesthetic on media critical faculties. It is a request to the media (in the sense of a sequestration) not to see too many dead people; and usually a signal of impending use - after all, who could resist using a magic weapon for long?
The risks involved in bombing Iran are somewhat greater than in the case of Iraq. Iran has a functioning military, including anti-missile defences, and some efficient long-range offensive missiles. It also has an open door into Iraq, where the US is already having trouble coping with an insurgency by the Sunni minority; if the largest ethnic group in the country joins in, the situation will deteriorate quickly.
There is also the likelihood of greatly increased terrorist activities in Western countries; this does not, to date, seem to count as a negative factor in the war on terror, except for those opposed to it. The prospect of a mutually dependent and supportive terrorist/security industry on a global scale ought to chill the international community, and probably does, if that benighted term were ever used to mean more than a cabal of fossilised interests vested in a select band of messianic nincompoops.
A jaundiced observer could be forgiven for thinking that the war on terror is in fact a burgeoning terror industry; less the knee-jerk reaction of zealots to humanitarian intervention, and more the privatisation of war. From this perspective, the war on Iran is a species of entrepreneurial activity, diversification through adventurism. Armageddon may be an awesome event via Revelations, but in the post-modern melee itís a market process.
Other than similarly beleaguered Arab nations, Iran has few real friends in the region. Any broader risk to the US may depend on how far China wants to push its "world power in waiting" status. Post-tsunami interventions by the US have in many instances resulted in military installations appearing relatively close to China and its sphere of interest; China has held provocative military exercises focusing on Taiwan. There has been no open confrontation yet, but if China decides it needs a stable foothold in a region vital for its energy needs, Iran may be a gesture too far.
If there is a jack in this box, it concerns the actions and motives of Israel, the junior partner in military terms, but a larger, looser cannon in the region. Why is Israel keen to get involved in a US attack on Iran, when the entire region is reaching new peaks of volatility?
The view from Zion
Israel has a score to settle with Iran. Iran funds and supports Hizbollah, and Hizbollah is the only Muslim organisation that can claim with some legitimacy to have defeated Israel militarily. Bombing Iran, under the wing of its superpower ally, will also allow Israel to send a very clear message to the rest of the Arab and Middle East Muslim world. The tone of that message was Sharonís crucial contribution to the US decision to attack.
For decades, it has been the avowed policy of successive Israeli governments to make it clear to their neighbours that they would stop at nothing, no matter how brutal or crazy, to retain their advantage in the region. This "crazier than thou" attitude is a rational reading of neo-con, and increasingly US administration, rhetoric addressed to the war on terror, both domestically and internationally. It may also inform their attitude to China, at least in part.
Ominously, it may be that Israel has also chosen this moment for another purpose; to come out as a nuclear power. There is good reason to suppose that Israel has the nuclear technology to take a full part in the attack (the conventional component was recently supplied by the US; bunker busters, authorised in April 2005 and delivered in November that year). Whether the US is in a position to absolutely dictate the target limits to Israel is arguable
The press speculation includes the possibility of a simultaneous incursion by Israel into northern Lebanon (the Israeli bombing campaign has been ramped up in recent days [see eg English Al-Jazeera for 4, 5, 6 February 2006]). While this is entirely characteristic of the Israeli governmentís policies and actions in relation to Lebanon, it will partly be justified in this case by reference to a ludicrous piece of misinformation carried with straight (if flushed) faces by many mainstream media outlets.
It was recently reported that Al Qaeda operatives, masterminded by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, had fired missiles into Israel from northern Lebanon (see eg cnn.com, 30 December 2005). This story immediately strains credibility on a number of levels, any of which ought to have been enough for at least a minority of journalists to smell fish. Even CNN spotted the incongruity of Al Qaeda operating in a Shia territory . The reference will survive the absurdity, however, and be used as justification for spreading the war on terror into Lebanon.
Syria will take the two hints, and maybe get a third, if US troops mass on the Iraqi border (ostensibly to stop fleeing Hizbollah fighters teaming up with Al Zarqawi, no doubt). Since the farcical UN investigation into the Hariri assassination, the US has increased the pressure on Syria, driving it into the arms of other pariah states for solidarity, if not protection. But they were already busy in Syria, funding protests and civil disobedience among religious and ethnic minorities. No doubt some sleek Syrian 'dissidents' are beginning to feel the pangs of stage fright about now, from the safe distance of their comfortable homes in the US.
There are other players hovering around the confrontation with Iran, waiting to see what happens before taking sides. India may prove as powerful an influence as Russia or China; none have the interests of Iran at heart, but all could usefully do with a buffer to US interests around the Caspian Sea and the central Asian oil belt, and at least some alternative to US-controlled pipelines governing supplies to these superheating economies.
Some countries have taken sides already. The EU appear to have acquiesced to US demands that Iran be attacked for its defiance. The UK, given its involvement in Basra province, is inevitably going to be involved, if it is not involved already (remember the fuss over two SAS personnel getting arrested? And the conspicuous lack of fuss over the alleged contents of the car they were driving?).
Turkey has taken part in joint military exercises with both Israel and the US, where the object of the exercise was to bomb targets in Iran. If this was a dry run for the real aggression, it implies Turkish support for the real thing; how will other countries in the region react to Turkeyís involvement, however peripheral or menial? A lot of governments seem to be apprehensively banking on the Sunni/Shia schism being strong enough to dissipate Muslim resentment at an act of industrial barbarism.
No one in the mainstream media seems to have spent much time contemplating the escalation implied by this putative attack (if you want to read a thorough analysis of the developing situation, in its historical context, you will find that Michel Chossudovskyís work (among many honourable others) for globalresearch.ca, is comprehensive). But the move to first use of nuclear weapons, against non-nuclear-armed states, is a powerful shift in warfare. It is hard to see how current conventions on warfare are adequate to this shift.
When the first nuclear bombs were used, only one country in the world had the technology. The shock was global, and unmatched by any event to date, despite the heavy marketing of the WTC bombings. Now the list of states with nuclear weapons is both growing and uncertain, and the pale promises of the non-proliferation treaty are fading. The original nuclear powers are diversifying their arsenals to render them practical; upgrading in the face of their promises to get rid.
We are also entering an age when the doctrine of preventive war is becoming a standard paragraph in every aggressive regimeís mission statement, and it is deeply unlikely that the US will retain a monopoly on it for long. This, coupled with the inevitable avarice of US corporations, suggests that a market for teensy-weensy nukes will be far easier to establish than hitherto. So what price a bomb dropped now?
In the short term, the shock may have a stifling effect on bellicose ambitions. But it is inevitable that an arms race will develop out of first use, especially if it is perceived by the elite as successful on its first deployment. If the first use is a human disaster, escalation is still a likely outcome. But it will be prefaced by widespread urban violence of a more conventional order.
The other cautious speculation missing from the news is the possible hazard of using a small nuclear device on a nuclear target; or for that matter, destroying a nuclear facility with such massive firepower. The criterion for success for precision munitions during GW2 was that they managed to leave the launch vehicle; this seems a touch low as a benchmark for nuclear weapons. It is only too easy to imagine that news of imprecision, and the massive civilian casualties implied, might take some time to filter through the media miasma, or be acknowledged by the aggressors.
Those outsiders with interest in Iran may provide an accurate chronometer for events in March. If Russian and Chinese advisers and workers start to disappear from Iranian installations, the bombing is happening, and happening soon. While both countries are proving obstructive to US plans to steamroller the UN into war, they will not actively intervene if the US goes it alone; so they will get a warning to get their people out, and leave Iran to its fate.
Plainly, with all the red fishy dust floating in the viewfinders of the western media, nuclear installations will be attacked; they have to be, or the terminally embedded will be terminally confused. Despite being innocent civilian facilities, they will be sacrificed for smoke and mirrors. Uranium mining and yellowcake production are likely to be attacked too (Iran is particularly rich in these resources) to prevent future crimes against humanity before anyone gets to imagining them.
If the bourse is housed in a single building, it will be heavily attacked, along with parts of Iranís financial infrastructure, and probably its oil ministry. These are by definition urban targets, and will cause civilian casualties. We will hear homilies about limiting civilian casualties, so that those killed metamorphose from inevitable outcomes of criminal aggression into regrettable tragedies among the bystanders to a mission to save their country from itself.
It is arguable whether oil installations will be attacked (although one imagines that Sharon would have argued for this, as part of a "crazier than thou" tactic to put pressure on other oil producers to toe the 'new' line in the Middle East). Iranian missile facilities are an obvious target of opportunity, unless the US/Israeli coalition wants at least partial retaliation to justify the aggression.
It is entirely possible that Israel has an independent list of targets in Iran, and that Israel has had a strong influence on US choices of target in general. It is also entirely possible that some kind of excuse will be found to include some Syrian targets; or that Israel will attack Syrian positions autonomously. Lebanon will suffer inevitably, and given the recent election results in Palestine, it is hard to conceive of circumstances where no backlash will be felt there.
The ides of March
Clearly the end of March has no technical bearing on the alleged attempt by Iran to develop nuclear weaponry. The beginning of March (6 March, in fact) will see the formal reporting of Iran to the UN Security Council. The February 6 proceedings are an hors díoeuvre, largely a platform for Bolton to browbeat the IAEA, and bully a few small fry into supporting the war wagon.
The deadline is financial, and financially symbolic. The war is part of a strategy by statement, preferred by the chickenhawks to realpolitik because they are ideologues, unhampered by detail. They decide what is supposed to work and apply it everywhere. The petro-dollar is supposed to work. Overwhelming military superiority is supposed to work. Arielís last act of mischief was to persuade the blinkered enthusiasts that brinkmanship and adventurism have a dynamic synergy in international affairs. We will all live with the outcome.
1 Personally I like to think that the post-mortem exploits of the monopod Machiavelli (who when he had some basic faculties, like pulse and respiration, was not universally considered the sharpest tool in the box) will join the likes of Prester John in the annals of cavaliera inesista [Back]