By Ben Cohen: International conflicts are difficult to understand without an intricate knowledge of history. While the media would have everyone believe that the emergence of volatile conflicts appear due to bad guys vying for power, the reality is often far more complicated.
The Bush administration managed to convince the American public that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, had Weapons of Mass Destruction, and was an immediate threat to global security. Anyone with any understanding of Iraq and its history knew that every major argument leveled against the country was deeply flawed at best, and and outright lie at worst. Saddam Hussein was a monstrous dictator and guilty of multiple crimes against his own people and others - but he posed no threat to the US or his immediate neighbors, did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction and had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. The invasion of Iraq turned out to be not only an international crime, but one of the greatest strategic military disasters in modern history.
We now face an equally disastrous prospect - a war with Iran over its proposed nuclear energy capabilities.
The extreme Right Wing government in Israel is beating the drum for war with its neighbor, citing its desire to have the ability to produce nuclear energy as a direct threat to its existence. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressuring the Obama Administration to unequivocally support an Israeli assault, knowing full well Israel cannot go it alone. The Israeli government and key US politicians have been building a case for war, demonizing the Iranian government and leveling accusations that it simply cannot substantiate. As far as anyone knows (including the UN, US and other major military intelligence units), Iran has no intentions of building nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are two different things, and the US and Israel is hoping everyone ignores the difference. The truth is that Iran is the major political power in the Middle East, and Israel is attempting to smash it before its influence gets any stronger. Despite it's political influence in the region, Iran poses no serious military threat to the highly militarized (and nuclear) Israel, and most certainly not the United States. It has not attacked anyone in over 100 years, and wouldn't dream of attacking two of the most lethal nations in history. Iran's political leaders are a nasty bunch, but they are not insane.
The pattern of threatening behavior is familiar and depressing. Israel is deeply unpopular in the region (as it always has been) and follows the 'mad dog' diplomacy strategy of threatening any Arab country that rears its head and refusing to negotiate in good faith. There are of course some benefits to this particular method - no country in the Middle East would dare attack Israel directly because it knows Israel will follow through on its actions. Israel's awesome military has crushed every threat since its inception in 1948, and its brutal treatment of Palestinians leaves no doubt about its ability to fight.
On the flip side, it has built up a staggering amount of resentment in the region, with every neighboring country looking for ways to undermine its power. The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan provided Iran with that opportunity. With Israel's only serious ally overstretched and on the verge of bankruptcy, Iran is making its play for power.
Iran's quest for nuclear energy capability, is, in the world of power politics, a challenge to Israel's supremacy. It is not a direct threat, but it lets the region and the world know that they are a serious player and have the ability to build nuclear weapons. Iran knows that in the long term, it is extremely vulnerable without that capability. Iraq and Afghanistan were largely defenseless nations and were smashed to pieces in a matter of weeks. On the other hand, North Korea, labeled an 'Enemy State' and part of the 'Axis of Evil' by the Bush Administration, was left completely alone. The difference? North Korea had nuclear weapons.
If Iran does attain nuclear energy capabilities, the balance of power will certainly shift in the region. It is a reality that the US and Israel do not want to accept. The US has already led the efforts to strangle Iran economically, with Israel literally begging to be allowed to go to war with them.
But what would a war with Iran mean?
In short, it would spell complete and utter disaster for all parties involved. The long term consequences of another assault on a Middle Eastern country cannot be quantified, but resentment on the Arab street would reach boiling point and that could result in far more nationalistic governments sweeping into power to fill the void left by the Arab spring. If Israel believes it is surrounded by enemies now, after a war with Iran, today's political climate would look relatively friendly.
'Blowback' is the espionage term used to describe the unintended consequences of a covert operation. Ultra right wing politicians like Netanyahu and George W. Bush are largely unaware of the consequences of their actions because of an inability to understand their motivations and psychology of their adversaries. Much as the Apartheid government in South Africa believed blacks were incapable of civilized behavior, Netanyahu believes Arabs are inherently backwards and cannot be not negotiated with. And just as the Apartheid government used violence to quell civil unrest in the Bantustans to ultimately self defeating ends, the Israeli government is following the same course of action with potentially far more serious consequences for its own survival. The blowback from war with Iran would come in all shapes and sizes - increased terrorist attacks from Palestinians, the collapse of trade with allies like Egypt should its fragile government fall, further isolation from the international community, not to mention a very serious counter assault from Iran. While Iran cannot challenge Israel's military directly, should Israel enter its territory, a guerrilla war would ensue with incalculable costs.
The US involvement in any war started by Israel would spell the end of America's influence in the region. Already incredibly unpopular, further aggression would ensure the collapse of Arab-American relations and a gigantic economic crisis sparked by spiraling fuel prices. We could expect more terrorism, more money poured into another military quagmire and an almost impossible exit strategy.
In short, a war with Iran would be about the most stupid thing the US and Israel could do.
I have argued that Obama has no intention of attacking Iran and is stalling for time to prevent Netanyahu from gaining momentum. But the Israeli prime minister is a tricky customer with a rolodex of allies within the US political system. His aggression and anti-Arab virulence is appealing to the Right in America, and they will attempt to box Obama in in order to make him look weak and get what they want.
One diplomatic crisis could escalate and set off a chain of events with disastrous consequences. With players like Benjamin Netanyahu pushing the agenda, the risk is multiplied.
Let us hope then that cooler heads prevail and diplomacy is given a chance, because the alternative is too awful to contemplate.