Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iran, Israel, and the 2012 Elections: Be Very Afraid

Holiday travels (and extremely limited internet access) have kept me from blogging over the last few weeks (anybody miss me?), and the impending start of a new semester (and a new graduate colloquium) is likely to limit blogging time even more.  Too bad, because there's SO much to reflect upon, and to be concerned about: Iraq's possible fragmentation, Syria's lurch toward sectarian civil war, Egypt's halting progress toward democracy (and personally, I'm not holding my breath waiting for that one - but might consider holding my nose, because the situation there, quite frankly, stinks, what with SCAF's obvious determination to keep a choke-hold on the governing of that ancient land).

But it's Iran that seems to be grabbing the headlines, inciting the usual suspects in the US and Israel to bang the war-drums and providing lots of fodder for GOP campaigners eager to flap their cheeks about America's power and its God-given imperative to lead the world, and to protect Israel from those nefarious, mad Persian mullahs.  Meanwhile, the US promotes sanctions that are pounding Iran's long-suffering people and sends warships to intimidate them.  In effect, we're pushing Iran's leaders into a corner, and as Paul Pillar recently noted, making it extremely difficult for them to even meet us halfway.

The United States has made it almost impossible for Iran to say yes to whatever it is the United States is supposedly demanding of Iran. . . .   A peaceful Iranian nuclear program—as Tehran contends that its program is—has broad and strong support among Iranians. Any feasible change in Iranian policies that could be the basis of a new understanding with the United States and the West would include a continuing Iranian nuclear program, very likely including the enrichment of uranium by Iran. The substance of any such understanding would involve technical details about inspections and safeguards. Such details would need to be negotiated. Feasible arrangements that would provide the minimum assurances to both sides could be negotiated, but they are unexplored. They remain unexplored because the United States has abandoned negotiations and has made its policy toward Iran solely one of pressure and sanctions.

Iranian leaders respond with bluster, including threats to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipping and warnings to the US to not send any more aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf.  Such defiance is, of course, music to the ears of GOP candidates eager to grab hold of a voodoo doll into which they can jam verbal spikes.  Would that they might read and heed the comments of Geneive Abdo (at CNN), where she cites insider reports from Iran to the effect that Iranian bluster is essentially an attempt to save face in an increasingly precarious and highly charged situation.

Iran is not begging for a military confrontation. Its recent aggression is due, in fact, to its fear of a pending military attack. My sources inside the country say the circle of regime insiders around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei truly believes an attack is inevitable, perhaps even before the U.S. presidential election. Therefore, to save face at home and in the region, Iran’s saber-rattling has reached a fever pitch.

In order not to appear weak in light of the pressure coming from the United States, Iran is determined to show it maintains the upper hand, which it tries to demonstrate through its military exercises, threats and hostile rhetoric. But such behavior, which Iran believes demonstrates its strength and some in the United States view as aggression, should not be misunderstood as Iran provoking the United States to launch a military attack.

The more candidates running for election in the United States publicly endorse a military attack, and the more the Obama administration is forced to appear hawkish, the more the Iranian regime works to prepare for what insiders believe will be a hit on the country’s nuclear facilities if not the population.

Yet come summer, as the campaign speeches and debates heat up and the GOP accuses Mr. Obama of trembling before the Iranians and leaving the door ajar for a second Holocaust, the bomb-Iran rhetoric will become even more fevered, as will the responses from Obama.

And, mark my word, Mr. Netanyahu will jump on this.  He will reach out to his amen chorus in Congress, zap Barack whenever and however he can, and likely impose on Obama the necessity of taking some politically expedient, but strategically damaging, action against Iran.

And don't be surprised to see, in the months ahead, Netanyahu brazenly grab more of East Jerusalem and announce new settlement construction in the West Bank.  Obama won't do a thing to stop him.

Frustrated and humiliated, Iranians and Palestinians will be pushed even deeper into their respective corners.  Their options will be to cower under the barrage . . . or to lash out in desperation.

Be very afraid.

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