Written by: Patrick Seale
Source: Middle East Online
It is now widely accepted -- and lamented -- that US President Barack Obama failed dismally in attempting to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Defeated by Israel’s hard-line Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, and by Israel’s friends in the United States -- lobbyists, Congressmen and women, neo-conservatives, Christian Zionists, and assorted Arab-haters both inside and outside the Administration -- the President threw in the towel.
What is less well understood is that Obama was also defeated in another major area of foreign policy -- relations with Iran. When he came to office he vowed to ‘engage’ with the Islamic Republic, but this admirable objective was soon supplanted by a policy of threats, sanctions and intimidation aimed at isolating Iran, subverting its economy and overthrowing its regime.
Israel and its friends led the campaign against Iran, demonizing it as a threat to all mankind, and forcing the United States to follow suit. Israel has repeatedly, and very publicly, threatened to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, and has done its best to drag the United States into war against it, in much the same way as pro-Israeli neo-conservatives -- such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon -- manipulated intelligence to push America into war against Iraq in 2003, with catastrophic consequences for the United States.
Why did Wolfowitz and his friends do it? Because they feared that, having survived the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq might just possibly pose a threat to Israel. It had to be destroyed. Tony Blair, Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, himself something of a Christian Zionist, was foolish enough to tag along. The war totally discredited him.
The neo-con’s strategic fantasy was not just to use American power to smash Iraq. Once Saddam had been dealt with, they planned to use the US military again and again to ‘reform’ Syria, Hizbullah, Iran, the Palestinians and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia so as to make the whole region safe for Israel. Such demented folly is hard to comprehend.
Having brushed the Iraqi fiasco under the carpet, Israel and its friends are now doing it again. In recent weeks there has been a flurry of reports that Israel was planning to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities this September -- a bluff clearly intended to pressure the United States into taking ever tougher measures against Iran so as to make it unnecessary for Israel to attack.
In addition to such a transparent propaganda ploy, Israel has in the past two years murdered a number of Iranian nuclear scientists -- two were killed and one was seriously injured last year and a fourth was killed last month. Israel’s Mossad has made murdering its enemies something of a speciality. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s it carried out several assassinations, or attempted assassinations, of scientists working for Egypt and Iraq, not to mention the many Palestinian activists it has killed around the world over the past half century.
Apparently with American help, Israel has also sought to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme by introducing a virus, Stuxnet, and possibly other viruses, into its nuclear facilities. Not surprisingly, Tehran now views the United States and its aggressive Israeli ally as one and the same enemy.
Assassinations and other acts of state terrorism are short-term expedients which usually end up being paid for dearly. Countries have long memories. Hate is not easily expunged. The United States, and to a lesser extent Britain, are still paying for their clandestine overthrow in 1953 of Muhammad Mosaddeq, Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister, whose ‘crime’ was to seek to protect Iran’s oil from imperialist predators.
Why has Netanyahu chosen to portray Iran’s nuclear programme as the gravest threat to the survival of the Jewish people since Hitler? He must know that this is pure fantasy. Ehud Barack, his defence minister, has himself admitted that Iran poses no ‘existential threat’ to Israel. With its own vast nuclear arsenal, Israel has ample means to deter any attack.
But a nuclear Iran -- if it ever came to that -- would indeed pose a different sort of challenge to Israel: It would not threaten its existence but it would curtail its freedom to strike its neighbours at will. Israel has always sought to prevent any of its neighbours acquiring a deterrent capability. It wants to be the uncontested military power from Tehran to Casablanca. Hence the hysteria it has sought to generate over Iran’s nuclear programme and over Hizbullah’s rockets. How dare Israel’s neighbours seek to defend themselves!
In recent weeks, the troubles in Syria have encouraged Israel and its friends to seek to disrupt, and if possible destroy, the Tehran-Damascus-Hizbullah axis which has challenged the regional hegemony of Israel and the United States The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), part of the Israeli lobby in the United States, has been particularly active in rousing opinion against all three members of the axis. To quote a single example among many, in an overheated article in Foreign Policy on 27 July, Matthew Levitt, one of WINEP’s propagandists, described Hizbullah as “one of the largest and most sophisticated criminal operations in the world.” The ‘crime’ of this Lebanese resistance movement was to have forced Israel out of South Lebanon after an 18-year occupation (1982-2000) and to have built up a minimal capability to deter future Israeli aggressions, such as its invasion in 2006 which killed 1,600 Lebanese.
The United States has already paid dearly -- in men, treasure, and reputation -- for its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It remains trapped in the AfPak theatre of war. It must surely know that there can be no settlement in Afghanistan without Iran’s support. A glance at a map is enough to confirm it.
But the relentless demonising of Iran goes on. Last week, David S. Cohen, undersecretary for Terrorism at the U.S. Treasury -- a job which seems reserved for pro-Israeli neo-cons to wage economic warfare against Tehran -- made the excitable accusation that “Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today.” Without advancing a scrap of evidence, Cohen alleged that Tehran had a “secret deal” with al-Qaida to use Iranian territory to transport money and men to the war in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This fabrication is eerily like the one the neo-cons made against Saddam Hussein to justify the 2003 invasion.
Instead of such mendacious propaganda, the United States would be better advised to listen to Turkey and Brazil. Having approached Iran with respect and understanding, these two powers concluded a deal in May last year whereby most of Iran’s low-enriched uranium would have been swapped for fuel for Tehran’s research reactor. Had the United States conceded Iran’s right to develop a peaceful nuclear programme, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the deal could have provided the basis for a global settlement.
Obama rashly dismissed this highly promising approach. Instead, yielding to his ill-intentioned advisers, he pressed for a new round of Security Council sanctions against Iran. But by making an enemy of Iran, he has simply increased the bill the United States will eventually have to pay – in Afghanistan, and no doubt in Iraq and elsewhere as well.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press).