Arab World
Arabs and the Iranian Dilemma 3 Jul 2008
by Ahmad Youssef Ahmad

If the analysis that the present state of relative calm in the Middle East is a sign of growing US' and its allies' intent to launch military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, then it implies there is little time left for a military showdown with Iran. The attack could be initiated either by the US or Israel, or by both.

In fact, many analysts have been weighing the probability of a military strike against Iran on the basis of several factors including the growing US and Israeli unease over the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Additionally, some believe any decision to launch military strike against Iran would be completely untenable, given the disastrous consequences of such an act. However, the track record of the present US administration shows that it has a penchant for disregarding the voice of reason, and that it could be tempted into thinking that if a military adventure is successful, it would right all past failures and restore its pride both at home and abroad. Moreover, the Zionist lobby within the US has been indefatigably pushing the US administration to attack Iran because the reality of Iranian 'nukes' continues to upset its strategic calculations. Finally, clear indications of an imminent strike are evident in the diplomatic statements issued by the US, which do not exclude the military option. Other signs that point in this direction are the US military troop build-up in the Gulf and reports of a recent Israeli Air Force exercise conducted to rehearse possible air strikes on Iranian nuclear installations.

However, some analysts are not convinced about the possibility of an imminent military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, and do not consider that a military attack is inevitable. They think the US administration is currently not in a good strategic position to launch a military campaign, given the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also contend that the US would be aware of the consequences of a failed air strike, or even a strong Iranian response to any kind of attack. This scenario could then have disastrous consequences for the Bush administration as well as the Republican Party in forthcoming presidential elections. Moreover, predictions of an imminent US military strike have been made several times in the past. The most recent prediction came in the form of a Russian intelligence report that stated that the US would launch a military attack on Iran in May this year.

In fact, American and Israeli statements over an impending military strike can be interpreted as psychological warfare. In another words, these declarations can be seen as an attempt to threaten Iran into submission. They seek to instill fear in Iran that if it does not stop its nuclear enrichment activities it would suffer dire consequences. This is a technique that is known to be helpful in managing international crises and conflicts. It was recently employed by Israelis when information about a supposed Air Force exercise to prepare for a strike on Iran was released. The statement was attributed to some high-level Israeli officials. Any political observer can assess that Israel does not currently enjoy the right strategic position to withstand the consequences of a risky military adventure, despite committed US support. Iran, though comparatively weak, can open new fronts in a prospective war¿that too very close to Israel's borders, thus exposing it to catastrophic consequences. We must not forget that those who launch a military strike usually do not give prior notice about their attack. They benefit from the element of surprise, which is precisely what Israel had done when it had struck an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 or even when it had struck a Syrian facility that allegedly was a nuclear site built in collaboration with North Korea.

If the prospect of a military strike against Iran is not inevitable it would naturally allow the door for negotiations to be open. This scenario has been discounted by some analysts, as they claim that both contending sides have deeply entrenched positions that are at complete variance with the other's policies, and that both sides are averse to following a pragmatic approach. However, it can be argued that US foreign policy is not entirely averse to pragmatism, with the most recent manifestation being its readiness to hold dialogue with Iran over the future of Iraq. It would also be wrong to assume that Iran does not have a pragmatic approach. Iran has remained largely silent over the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it would not have intervened in the Iraqi political game had it not been for a pragmatic approach. If Iranian policy was only ideology driven it would have already declared a holy war against the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It would be interesting to note here what would the features of any prospective agreement between the US and Iran. It can be deduced that Iran would probably demand its sphere of influence in the Gulf region, particularly in Iraq, and would provide effective guarantees for US interests in this region. Additionally, Iran would also be asked to play a significant role in defusing the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This means that the consequences of any US-Iran deal would have far-reaching consequences for Arab interests, even for their sovereignty. Therefore, it would be important for them to devise a policy that influences the outcome of any agreement against its interests. Although it would be wise to follow a course that prevents any possible military strike against Iran as Arab countries, particularly Gulf states, would be the first to bear the brunt of any conflict, an agreement to avert a military showdown may also prove detrimental for Arab interests as it could be reached at their expense. This might be the worst-case scenario in the medium and long terms for Arab states, and could be even more undesirable than the consequences of a military strike.

So, what can be done if both potential outcomes of the Iranian crisis,  military attacks or an agreement, do not bode well for Arabs?

Undoubtedly, Arabs would have to become more involved on these issues to begin with. The Arab side is currently playing a nominal and ineffectual role, although they have all the right and the prerequisites to engage meaningfully. All that is needed is a bold vision that does not necessarily sets them up against either Iran or the US. Moreover, Arabs need to seriously coordinate and close their ranks to enable themselves wield greater influence to preclude the consequences of a military strike and broker an agreement that protects the interests of GCC countries and the other Arab states.

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