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West Cautioned Against Anti-Iran Campaign

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Credit: Wikimedia CommonsBy Johannes Ramphal
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) - A military attack on Iran would damage crucial Western interests, says a new report analysing the shape of things to come in the freshly baked 2012. It also cautions against Washington's "anti-Iranian" campaign and tacit support of Sunni-Islamist blocs in the Middle East and South Asia.

"The US encouragement of an all-out 'anti-Iranian' campaign is filled with great danger. Any military attack on Iran would result in a region-wide conflagration which would include Israel. This would play into the Mahdivists' hands," experts at the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) warn.

'Mahdivist' is a cult of Shia Islam, to which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly subscribes.

"Irrespective of the extent of the Arab military defeat, the real winners would be the Islamists-jihadists who would rise to power in the name of redeeming Arab-Islamic honor from the failed and now defeated Arab nationalism and statehood," argues the report published by oilprice.com.

"The US penchant to encourage and exploit the ascent of Sunni-Islamist blocs in the Middle East (Turkey-Saudi Arabia-Egypt) and South Asia (Pakistan-Afghanistan) in order to stifle Iran might pressure Tehran but would also result in the radicalization of Central Asia and the soft underbelly of Russia to the detriment of vital Western interests such as what remains of its access to the region's energy resources," says the report.

Its authors are: Gregory R. Copley, Editor, and Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor of the prestigious 'Defense & Foreign Affairs' special analyses, published by ISSA's Global Information System (GIS).

In an exhaustive analysis, the report says, Iran is desperately fighting the formation of a Sunni Turkish-Saudi Arabian bloc which, if successful, would reverse and contain the historic ascent of Shi'ite Iran and its consolidation of hold over Iraq, Lebanon and parts of Syria; that is, consolidating a Shi'ite land-bridge to the shores of the Mediterranean.

The authors of the report point out: "As the tectonic shifts in the Greater Middle East were becoming more pronounced in recent months Tehran has repeatedly used the specter of US-Iranian rapprochement and Iranian tacit facilitation of the safe withdrawal of US troops from neighboring Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan as inducement for the US to not side with the Sunni bloc led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia."

Because of these higher priorities, the report adds, "Tehran elected to lick its wounds and refrained from escalating the Shi'ite insurrection in Bahrain even though Tehran definitely has the capacity to do so at will."

Confounded

The report predicts: In 2012, Tehran will remain confounded by the contradictory US policy toward Iran and the Middle East. On the one hand, the Obama White House continues to project great interest in rapprochement with Tehran over Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf, as well as willingness to compromise over Iranian influence in post-Mubarak Egypt and post-Gaddafi Libya.

The report avers: "The Obama White House is also the primary supporter of tiny Qatar's ascent as a regional interventionist Islamist power which seeks to enshrine regional stability by assisting the formation of jihadist types of government with which Iran can co-exist, first in Libya and now in Syria.

"On the other hand, the Obama White House remains committed to the political ascent of the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) and the Turkish Islamists who are anti-Shi'ite. Moreover, the US supports the Syrian opposition and urges Turkey to topple the Assad Government in the name of demography-based-democracy: that is, the ascent of a Sunni-Islamist government in Damascus."

Against this backdrop, the study finds that the Turkish political leadership is bidding to rebuild the neo-Ottoman status of Turkey in the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean, the Greater Black Sea Basin and Balkans, and Eastward into the Caspian Basin and Central Asia.

The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the historic area of Greater Syria. The Levant has been described as the "crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa".

The ISSA analysis further finds that Turkey has also strongly promoted itself as a patron of the Arab states, on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as of Egypt. "But memories of the Ottoman domination of the region are not merely reposited in Turkish minds; they are also, with negative connotations, embedded in the minds of their former subject peoples."

For this reason, the report expects Turkey’s bid for major regional power status to come to a head in 2012, possibly through forced attempts to change the leadership of Syria on Turkey's terms, or through confrontations with Israel and Cyprus (and possibly Greece) over Eastern Mediterranean energy deposits and maritime boundary claims.

While China and Russia lack the capability to enforce any outcomes in the region, says the report, Iran has an influence by virtue of being such an overwhelming presence in the Persian Gulf. "Indeed, what happens in Syria is also of profound concern for Iran and its rise or fall as a major regional power. This, and some of the other disputes, highlights the competition which runs parallel to the cooperation between Iran and Turkey."

The report highlights the fact that 2011 drew to a close with Iran, the US, and Israel posturing themselves confrontationally over the question of Iran's pursuit of an indigenous nuclear weapons production capability.

Diplomatic bluster

"All parties to the disagreement have postured themselves badly, through diplomatic bluster, and find the search for face-saving difficult. Equally, there is a distinct lack of understanding of each of the players by each other. The reality, however, is that military solutions to the crisis are not feasible given the lack of sufficient military and economic resources available to any of the parties, including the US," notes the report.

It adds: By withdrawing unconditionally from Iraq and turning against Bahrain at the height of the Iran-sponsored turmoil, the US effectively demonstrated to friends and foes alike that, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, that Washington was no longer committed to the Greater Middle East as a zone of vital interests.

This may mean that any "military confrontation" between any of the players would – ideally for all parties – be limited to a short, sharp jab or series of jabs, without getting into major strikes against significant land targets.

The report predicts: "Symbolism in engagement would be the order of the day, allowing honour to be satisfied on all sides. Indeed, a US naval confrontation with an Iranian naval element in or near the Straits of Hormuz might even obviate any need for an Iranian-Israeli spat. Iran has been careful to ensure that any provocation of Israel in direct terms up to this point has been via Hezbollah elements in Lebanon, and even this option is less secure for Iran in the opening months of 2012 given the instability of Iran’s major conduit to Hezbollah, Syria."

The report warns, any engagement of forces between any of these players is high-risk, however, given the prospect of a misstep, or over-reach, by a politician for whatever reason.

Taking a realistic view of the situation, the report says, the matter is further dampened by the knowledge in US policy circles – tangentially confirmed by the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) at the beginning of 2011 — that Iran already had a number of nuclear weapons acquired since about 1991 from a number of international sources.

Given that the US and Israel have "pledged" never to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, any open acknowledgement of the reality of Iranian nuclear weapons possession either invites the US or Israeli governments to take decisive military action against Iran, or look foolish.

The answer has been – as it was with the US denial of North Korean nuclear weapons possession for so many years – to pretend the evidence does not exist, but to act cautiously nonetheless, argues the ISSA report. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 9, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Iranian President Ahmadinejad | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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