By Abdulai Mansaray, CEN Political Commentator, UK
|Abdulai Mansaray, Author
No country has the right, be it divine, Sharia, gospel or fatwa to condemn or expose another country to permanent threat of extinction. That has been the perennial mantra coming from Iran; “to wipe Israel from the face of the earth”. The seeds for such a remark were sown as far back as 1948, when the UN brought in the quantity surveyors to demarcate and reconstruct the Israeli-Palestinian landscape. The outcome of that geological exercise has remained etched on the world’s conscience; with a heavy price to pay. Iran-Israel relations have shifted from close ties between Iran and Israel during the era of Pahlavi Dynasty to hostility since the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
With no diplomatic ties between the two, Iran refers to Israel as “Occupied territories” ,”enemy of Islam”, “ The Little Satan” and its government a “Zionist regime”. There is no love lost between these two. Since the election of the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the rhetoric between these two countries have been ratcheted to different notches; all centred on the development of nuclear technology and the funding of Hamas and Hezbollah in the region. Meanwhile, the Palestinian question has remained central to defining their relationship, with religion used as a bargaining chip to drum up support on both sides.
It is an open secret that the Palestinian issue has seen regimes come and go from all sides. The world has seen foreign policies, diplomatic manoeuvres, change of leaders all come and go but with no end in sight for a solution. The Palestinian question has become so perennial that the region has become a diplomatic and political cesspit. Top White House adviser on the Middle East Dennis Ross is to step down next month. The speculation is that his decision is precipitated by policy disagreements and the diminishing chances for a breakthrough in either Iran or the Arab-Israeli peace process through next year’s American presidential elections. This is not the official line anyway.
When Obama took power in 2008, he extended the hand of peace and negotiation to Iran. He stated the United States’ readiness to sit at the table, hold talks, negotiate and even have tea with Iran. This was a far cry from the George Bush mentality; “that you are either with us, or against us. It looked like “keeping your friends close and your enemies closer” approach. The world breathed a sigh of relief and “the audacity of hope” for a breakthrough in the Middle East problems could not have been more glaring. But like night follows day, hope fizzled into despair with each passing day. That loss of hope has gone 360 and the world is now faced with the prospect of a face-off between Israel and Iran; especially after Israel reportedly alluded to taking a unilateral decision to bomb Iran’s nuclear facility.
The latest UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) reports on Iran’s nuclear capability have not dampened Israel’s suspicions one bit. Amidst all this cacophony Russia, a staunch ally of Iran said on Thursday that it might help Iran construct more atomic plants. It is easy to see this as provocative but in reality, Russia might be dangling a carrot in front of Iran, amid taut diplomatic gymnastics over its nuclear programme. Conventional wisdom has it that as a bargain, Iran would return all spent fuel rods that could, otherwise be used for nuclear weapons. In return, Russia will pursue a step by step easing of UN sanctions against Iran. But as you may know, weapons are like money; no one knows the meaning of enough.
Now that we’ve had a quick rummage through the state of play, it is the prospect of Israel bombing Iran that seems to send shock waves through the spine of the international community. The outcome of such a scenario does not need any telling, but it is the deafening silence or uproar from the international community that seems to catch the eye. The rights and wrongs of such a proposal is not for me to comment, but lets us attempt to sieve through the political rubble. The potential outcome of such unilateral action is frightening, and so is the temptation to condemn it as irresponsible.
I am sure that Israel would want the moral brigades and political commentators to walk a mile in their shoes, and then judge them. Israel has the unenviable “luxury” of being surrounded by states that generate friendly fire. Imagine leaving next door to someone who has continually threatened to burn down your house. As time goes by, you see them stockpiling all manner and sorts of incendiaries. Just like the real world, Israel has been the subject of Iranian threat “to wipe it off the map”. Notwithstanding such threats, Iran has been involved in nuclear activities, which it says is “purely” for civilian purposes. The Israeli partnership is not convinced. The international community, through the UN appears to have exhausted its array of sanctions; in the eyes of Israel
History shows that sanctions don’t work, and the irony is that sanctions only strengthen the state and weaken the people. It is plausible that with the growing threat from Iran, Israel has become frustrated with the lack of insulation from this threat. Army General David Petraeus once said “the Israeli government may ultimately see itself so threatened by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon that it would take pre-emptive military action to derail or delay it. It is therefore no wonder that Israel may want to enrol for a crash course at the George Bush institute of pre-emptive strike. Some people see a pre-emptive strike as a legitimate use of violence that is required in self-defence; nature’s eldest law.
On the other hand, Israel is one of the few nuclear powers in the world, which was revealed to the British press in 1986, by Israel’s former nuclear technician Mordechi Vanunu. As an independent or sovereign state, Iran may wonder why it should not have such a toy in its arsenal; just like Israel. With the ongoing impasse between the two, Iran will be inclined to think that “to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace”. It may see the possession of nuclear weapons as a way to maintain a balance of power; a euphemism that is commonly used to promote an argument for war.
The recent political upheaval in Libya may have just played into that mind set of self defence. In an interview with ITN, Saif Al-Islam (Gaddaffi’s son) stated that his biggest mistake was to help convince his father to give up the weapons of mass destruction. He believes that it was only after doing so that the West embarked on attacking Libya. Whether it is by design, default or coincidence, the timing of the attack will apparently lend some plausibility to his argument; and conspiracy theorists could milk it for all its worth.
But what would an attack on Iran’s nuclear facility mean for the world and the region in particular? Where do you want to start? Some believe that such an attack ill-timed. It is understandable if Israel feels politically and geographically claustrophobic; but there were more “pro-western” governments in the area until 18 months ago. People like Mubarak, King Hussein and other Middle East countries have played their various roles in nullifying threats to Israel; to some extent. The relationship between the old tyrannical leaders and the west has always been symbiotic. In exchange for oil and trade, they have enjoyed support and selective blindness from the west.
To all intents and purposes, Democracy is the most preferable; but it is the mindless pursuit of such democracy that many observers have seen as a recipe for anarchy in the region. The recent change in the political landscape in the region is too fragile. With the exception of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have only care taker institutions, with no political mandate from their people; while in Yemen, Syria and Oman, the people continue to die as they seek new conductors for their political orchestras.
The army in Egypt is grappling with the high cost of living and inflation. The army is caught between the old and the new regime. Like a chameleon, it is expected to change at utopian pace while at the same time shed any semblance with the Mubarak regime; having ironically propped it for over 30 years. Libya is enjoying a weapons bazaar for the region and beyond. With a significant whiff of euphoria in the air, the NTC is still looking for the road to Tripoli; in political terms. At best, the seismic political metamorphosis that has taken place and continue to take place is so fragile that bombing Iran’s nuclear facility is considered by many as undesirable; to say the least.
The current condition of the global economy is badly in need of resuscitation. We have seen how the volatile markets react to even the slightest political ripples. “Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction” (Warren Buffett). A millisecond delay in the resignation of Italian Prime Minister resulted in a series of hiccups in the markets. With Iran reportedly threatening that Israel is within reach of its missiles and that it would close the Strait of Hormuz, thereby cutting off two-fifths of the global oil supply, you don’t need to be an Einstein to figure out the impact on a global economy that is only kept going by financial intravenous infusion. With the Euro zone barely sleep walking itself out of one crisis into another; it is easy to see the thread. America accused Iran of plotting to bomb Israeli and Saudi Arabian embassies last month; case for a strike? With Israel as America’s step child, it’s difficult to see how the moderator can stay away, if such a strike is to materialise. It is difficult to be the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of the weapons of war.
As I mentioned earlier, the recent changes in the political landscape have left the region sitting on a politically tectonic plate, and the slightest fissure is bound to erupt into a volcanic activity that the global community can ill afford at the moment. Time may not be on the side of the Israelis if the perceived or expressed threats are to be nullified. But is military strike the only available option? This is where China and Russia need to play a pivotal role to avert such a potential catastrophe. They have the means but just need the will.
Among others, a military strike may just enhance and buttress support for the Iranian government at home and potentially across a region that is running on left- over political oxygen. With the Ennahda (described by Islamists as “God’s party) in charge in Tunisia , the NTC in Libya promising Sharia law to form the bedrock of its new found democracy, and Syria falling at the seams after recent expulsion from the brotherhood, it is easy to see how religion could be peddled as the reason for any fall out. Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way. It is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.
Ironically, the West has done Iran favours by removing some of his main rivals like Saddam Hussein; replaced by a Tehran-friendly authority. Tehran still has some significant influence in the region. The Arab League, headed by Saudi Arabia expelled Syria (Iran’s ally) for failing to open dialogue with the opposition. This is rich coming from a country that flogs women for having the audacity to drive a car. Pot calling the kettle black comes to mind. This may be seen by many political purveyors as an effort to diplomatically decapitate Iran. I hate to sound like a doomsday merchant, but can’t help envisaging.
With all these political posturing, perish the thought that fertilizer, pipes, hormones for food, cashews and marble criss-cross borders between these two states; via a third country. Love is a kind of warfare, but no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of warfare. The best way to avoid warfare is if no one shows up. In a silent prayer, you would wish that the threat of a strike against Iran is an attempt to gauge the temperature of world opinion, and that Iran would realise that warfare has never been the best method of settling differences between nations. Russia and China are best place to broker a deal here; and I don’t mean arms deal. Death to arms: may they RUST in peace.
Will the last man standing please turn the lights off?