An extraordinary paradox of the current international scene is that the most powerful countries in the world are also the most afraid – and fear has caused them to lose their senses.
Globally, the United States has no immediate military rival; certainly no other state has the power to strike anywhere on our planet – and far beyond it into space – at very short notice. American strategists call this the doctrine of Global Strike.
Similarly, in terms of military power, both conventional and non-conventional, Israel has no challenger in a vast region from Central Asia, across the Arab world, to north, east and central Africa. At a conservative estimate, it has a nuclear arsenal of between 200 and 300 warheads, as well as highly effective long-range delivery systems. As Ariel Sharon, its stricken leader, used to be fond of saying, Israel’s sphere of influence extends as far as an F16 can fly.
And yet the U.S. and Israel behave as if they are about to be attacked by a formidable enemy. They scold and threaten, huff and puff, flex their muscles and brandish their weapons as if facing an imminent danger to their very existence.
Instead of putting their formidable power to work reducing tensions and resolving conflicts – as they should be doing – they go about stoking the fires of anger and hate, apparently unaware that the destabilisation they cause must in due course engulf them too.
‘Destabilisation’ is, in fact, too mild a term to describe the profound disturbance to the regional and global order which the United States and Israel are creating by their violently hostile approach to the Islamic Republic of Iran and to the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, which the Palestinians democratically elected as their government.
Demonisation and vilification, international isolation, sanctions, boycotts and military strikes, these are just some of the policies and threats directed at both Iran and Hamas. In the United States, pro-Israeli groups, such as the powerful Jewish lobby AIPAC, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the influential think-tank AIPAC created, are beating the drums of war against Iran, while Israel has led the world-wide campaign to boycott Hamas. Shimon Peres, Israel’s wolf in sheep’s clothing, even travelled to the Vatican to persuade the Pope to join the boycott!
In the past week or so, as Palestinian groups continue their pinpricks of Israel with a few harmless home-made rockets, Israel launched repeated air strikes and fired more than one thousand artillery shells at the northern Gaza strip, killing at least sixteen Palestinians, including several children. It has killed about 50 Palestinians and wounded many more since the Palestinian elections last January. Last Tuesday, the Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that ‘Our operations are going to intensify!’ The real scandal is that the rich Arab Gulf states have not rushed to help the bankrupt Palestinian government.
In the case of Iran, U.S. air and sea strikes at hundreds of targets – including the use of tactical nuclear weapons – are being seriously considered in the more demented higher reaches of the U.S. government, according to Seymour Hersch, the usually well-informed American journalist writing in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine.
Not daring to stand up for its own values, the European Union has shamefully joined in the pressure on Iran and the boycott of Hamas. Reeking of hypocrisy and double standards, the chorus raised is that Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel’s right to exist and abide by past agreements.
The truth is that Hamas has honoured a truce for the past 15 months in spite of Israel’s ceaseless attacks and killings. It has declared itself ready for Quartet-sponsored peace talks with Israel which, if successful, would inevitably lead to mutual recognition. But Israel refuses to negotiate with a Hamas government, has severed all political contacts with it, has demonised it as a ‘terrorist organisation’, and has withheld some $50m a month of the Palestinians’ own money raised from taxes and customs dues. Needless to say, Israel has violated every agreement concluded with the Palestinians.
Enormously powerful and yet paranoid with fear, the U.S. and Israel act as if the possession – and indeed the use – of overwhelming force is the only guarantee of their security. Dialogue and diplomacy, mutual accommodation, the search for a balance of power, the mediation of international institutions – all these traditional instruments for conflict resolution have been discarded and, as a result, the world has become a very dangerous place.
Iran claims to have successfully enriched small quantities of uranium for research purposes, up to a low level of 3.5 per cent, appropriate for use as nuclear fuel in power stations, such as the Bushehr plant now under construction by Russia. Does this Iranian achievement constitute a threat to either the U.S. or Israel? No objective expert thinks so, and certainly not the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its chief Muhammad AlBaradei, who is this week visiting Tehran.
Should the U.S. attack Iran to put a halt to its nuclear programme? The usually sober New York Times this week denounced as ‘reckless folly’ the possibility of such an American war.
Iran has pledged that its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes. It cooperates closely with the IAEA. It has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the so-called Additional Protocol, which allows for intrusive and surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities. Under the NPT rules, Iran has every right to master the uranium fuel cycle in order to produce nuclear fuel. Even if it wished to build a nuclear weapon – which is by no means certain – this would require many more years of work.
So why the fuss? Why the hysteria? Rehashing the tired old cliche, General Dan Halutz, Israel’s chief of staff, declared this week that a nuclear Iran was a ‘threat not only to Israel but to the entire free, democratic world.’ He was thus echoing the overheated rhetoric of John Bolton, that finger-wagging neocon scare-monger, surely the worst envoy the United States has ever sent to the United Nations.
The war in Iraq, ruthlessly promoted by pro-Israeli neocons, has resulted in a strategic catastrophe for the United States – with the painful end still not in sight. A war in Iran would set the region on fire; unleash a world-wide wave of anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli terror; expose U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to devastating attack; put intolerable strain on the trans-Atlantic relationship between Europe and the U.S.; endanger the oil flow from the Gulf; and trigger a world economic recession. In the view of Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, it could put an end to America’s role in the world.
Washington should stop its senseless sabre-rattling and instead engage Tehran in wide-ranging political talks leading to diplomatic relations, security guarantees and a recognition of Iran’s important place in the Gulf. †Israel, in turn, should talk to Hamas, not seek to destroy it. Peace and integration into the region are of far greater value than a few kilometres of stolen territory on the West Bank.
Commenting on Iran’s claim to have enriched uranium, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary declared this week that ‘This is a regime that needs to be building confidence with the international community. Instead they’re moving in the wrong direction.’ With greater lucidity, he might have offered this advice to his own government and that of its Israeli ally.