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Iran vs Israel

Now that the world is once again riveted to the Mid-East, it is time to examine the drums of a more sinister conflict that has been beating there for some time now. I am talking of course about the escalating talks about a possible nuclear showdown between Iran and Israel. Let us start with some relatively open facts:

First, despite the hysteria whipped up by Israel to the contrary, Iran does not yet possess a nuclear weapon. However, this does not mean that the international community is too naïve to understand that Iran is actively pursuing that goal even though they have strenuously denied any intention of doing so.

Secondly, even though Israel is officially not counted or recognized as a nuclear state, anyone would be foolhardy to believe they do not have nuclear capability.  Decades long military, economic and intelligence co-operation between Israel and the United States guarantees that the Jewish state is properly spoken for when the subject is nukes. Remember, US tax-payers give foreign aid to Israel to the tune of $3 billion every year. That is enough to help significantly boost her military—in fact Israel and Pakistan are the only countries in the region that ostensibly possess nuclear deterrence.

Lastly, in the mad jostle for military superiority in the Mideast, it is useful to remember that the majority of the Sunni Arab countries in the region harbor deep resentment and suspicion for both Israel and Iran. One is seen as an illegal occupier of Muslim lands and a front for Western imperialists; the other is viewed as a rising over-ambitious regional power (bully) and a possible military threat.

It is against this backdrop that one must carefully weigh these escalating calls for war from both sides of the aisle. If we go down memory lane, we realize that in June 1981 Israel unilaterally acted in attacking and destroying the Iraqi Osirak reactor believed at the time to have been put in place to aid Iraq get nuclear weapons. At the time, Israel was roundly rebuked by the UN Security Council, but that surprise attack critically damaged Iraq’s nuclear program and I do not think that they recovered from that blow ever again. When one sees how empty Saddam Hussein’s military boasts turned out to be during the second US-led invasion of Iraq, it would seem that the verdict of history has been that the Israel’s bold preventive strike was not altogether without great merit.

Now, we are entering the season of saber-rattling again. The leaders of both countries have openly entertained the prospect of war, and from their hard stances it is evident that each side believes that not only would their side emerge victorious in any possible military confrontation,  a confrontation so specified may very well be nigh inevitable!

Each side has reasons to be super-confident I suppose:

i)Iran in recent years has increased her economic trade relations with Russia and China to the tune of over $3 billion every year. Since Iran is a strategic business and trade partner of these two countries, we have seen that Russia and China as permanent members of the UN Security Council have repeatedly come to the aid and defense of Iran against US-led acts of containment at the UN. It is even possible to imagine that were the US to carelessly wade into an armed conflict against Iran, the US would have to expect Russia and China to get into it. So, we have seen and heard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cockily dismiss Israeli threats. This however does not mean that Russia and China are not carefully weighing their stance on the whole contentious issue of a nuclear-armed Iran and the possible nuclear race it could spark off in the Middle East.

ii)Israel, rightly or wrongly, believes that her continued existence depends upon Iran never getting a nuclear weapon. Many of the hardline clerics in Iran have openly stated that Israel has no right to exist in the Middle East, and I am sure the Israelis are taking their threats seriously. If we can extrapolate from the sentiments prevalent in Tehran, one might be led to conclude that a nuclear attack against Israel is indubitably in the works whenever Iran finally manages to join the nuclear club.

So, we find ourselves at a nervous impasse. The US does not have formal relations with Iran even though it is determined to see to it that Iran does not enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons. However, the US has been severely weakened militarily from two unfunded and perhaps needless wars in the region; as a matter of fact, she can scarcely afford a third war in the region against Iran in the midst of these current bleak and crippling economic downturns. However, it is easy to imagine that the US can easily wage a proxy war using Israel as her tool. The unfortunate thing for fanatically pro-Israel and neoconservative types who would doubtlessly wish to see that scenario come to pass is that the one man who could easily help to orchestrate this (his name is Obama)  is firmly against it. Inasmuch as the Obama administration wants to be seen as friendly to the Jewish state, sources inside the White House have readily confirmed that the relationship between Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is far from gratuitously warm and cordial. It is perhaps because of Obama’s restraining influence on his Israeli partner, and his administration’s emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy, that the soaring rhetoric of war has not reached a deafening crescendo.

At this time, it would seem that Bibi Netanyahu and his counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are simply bidding their time as they wait to see the result of the oncoming US elections. I’d hate to say this, but my impression is that this is far from over. If Romney wins the election, the prospect of a US direct or proxy war against Iran exponentially increases; if Obama wins, the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran exponentially increases.

How best should this issue be handled? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Egypt On The Precipice

For the past few days, the mass media has been awash with reports of the current civil unrest going on in Egypt. Despite the undemocratic actions of Hosni Mubarak’s government in shutting down the internet as well as the telecommunications sector, Egyptians have found ways, and are still finding ways to convey the scenes and events going on in Egypt to a captivated global audience. The clip above is just one of the videos filtering out of Cairo showing what appears to be a massive populist uprising against Mubarak and his government.

When Obama gave his speech, in Cairo, to the Arab world, shortly after assuming office, there were many people who underestimated the power and import of that speech. I remember that when I saw the passionate, rousing and warm welcome he received from the youths gathered in that auditorium, that Obama may have unwittingly ignited fires that would soon capture the hearts and minds of the Arab world. It was just the perfect message to the Arab world—tired and discontented as they were with Bush’s unilateralist interventionism. The skeptical wing of American punditocracy mocked Obama’s speech and his efforts. How indeed could he hope to reverse decades of misrule, governmental non-transparency, and a generalized distrust of the US with one overly-optimistic speech? Well, the chicken has come home to roost.

If you can remember, it wasn’t long ago that the world witnessed another populist revolution in Tunisia. The masses revolted and overthrew their government. I’ll also invite you to cast your mind back to 2009 when there was another powerful people-backed uprising in Iran against the rule of Iran’s Shiite clerics. The seasonal clashes between Israel and the Palestinians seem to have toned down in favor of a more peaceful path towards the solution. Here and there, you read about the increasing boldness of pro-democracy opposition groups throughout most parts of the Arab world including Saudi Arabia. I’ll make bold to say, (some may well write it off as an immature or wishful analysis) that there seems to be a crystallizing narrative in the world of Arab politics: we are beginning to witness an increasing and more determined push by Arab people for transparency and accountability in government; a sustained demand for a pro-citizen government that would show by their actions a real commitment and dedication to alleviate the problems and injustices suffered by the average Arab at the hands of a corrupt and sometimes dictatorial elite class.

So, here we are, watching amazing scenes from Egypt as thousands of protesters take to the streets to demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s government. How should all peace-loving citizens of the world situate and analyze these current happenings? More importantly, what should the Obama administration be doing with regards to these events? Needless to say, Egypt is a critical force to reckon with in Arab geopolitics, and so the statements of the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, as well as that of other Western diplomats would be examined carefully. What message could the Obama administration (after full consultation with her Middle East allies) give so as to de-escalate the tensions there?

Hosni Mubarak, and his government, it must be pointed out, enjoy the support of the United States and Israel. This was because Mubarak chose to continue and maintain the peace treaty that his predecessor  President Anwar Sadat signed with the Israelis—a move that much infuriated the rest of the Arab World, and one for which Egypt was temporarily suspended from the Arab League. It should also be recalled that when the US sought allies in the Middle East for the Gulf War of 1991, Hosni’s Egypt was there.

From the foregoing, you might be led to think that since successive US presidents and their administrations have dealt favorably with Hosni Mubarak, there must be something respectable or even mildly democratic about the government of Mr. Mubarak. Think about it: Egypt receives billions of dollars in aid every year from the United States. The bilateral relation between the two countries is in such good shape that the US also routinely sells arms or military technology to Mubarak’s Egypt. Thirty years of diplomatic relations with Israel is enough to convince many Israelis of Hosni’s commitment to that treaty—so, it really cannot be overemphasized how necessary it was for the US and Israel to have Mr. Mubarak cling tenaciously to power.

Nevertheless, it has become imperative to dispassionately assess Mr. Mubarak and his government; it has become of utmost importance to read the handwriting on the wall. Egypt, contrary to what you might have expected, from its coddling by Western powers, is very far from being a democratic state. A dispassionate analysis would indict the Egyptian government of gross negligence with respect to human and civil rights; it would decry the repressive police state and its penchant for marshalling the state’s instruments of force and aggression against pro-democracy activists as well as Islamic opposition forces; it would castigate the government’s shambolic efforts at boosting the Egyptian economy despite the massive influx of US dollars in aid or the nullification of around $20 billion-worth of debt; it would excoriate the government’s unwillingness to usher in democratic reforms; and finally lambaste Mr. Mubarak for his corrupt meddling with the electoral process and his abject refusal to relinquish power. This is exactly the way the average Egyptian sees this government—an incompetent, repressive, anti-democratic lackey for foreign interests. It is therefore hardly surprising to witness the vehemence and doggedness of this nascent revolution.

At any rate, anyone can see that the US and her allies in the region, while recognizing the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people, are not too eager to call for the resignation of Mubarak. Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel Laureate and many opposition groups have clearly called for a regime change. Their wishes are unmistakable—they want a regime change by all means necessary. They want Mubarak gone and fresh elections to determine the future government of Egypt. However, the US and her friends in the region are wary of a scenario in which honoring the wishes of the masses results in an Islamic hard-line, perhaps extremist faction of Mubarak’s opposition to gain prominence or to snatch the seat of power. A delicate international situation thus begins to unfold.

It is not clear that Mubarak plans on vacating his office any time soon; also it doesn’t appear that this popular uprising is losing steam—at least, as far as I can tell, the army and the police have not yet been instructed to forcefully beat back the protestors. Washington wants a scenario where demonstrations would be non-violent; where Mubarak would conduct free and fair elections or to cosmetically brush up and change aspects of his regime. If that proves impossible, Washington wants a scenario where Mubarak could be persuaded to step aside only if the US could reasonably influence the process so as not to facilitate the ascension into power of anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and anti-American hardliners.

Will the democratic yearnings of the Egyptian people to be free of the repressive boots of Mubarak’s government eventually triumph? Will Mubarak’s 30-year rule come to an end? That remains to be seen.  It is the height of hypocrisy to sing the praises and merits of democracy to the Arab world and then turn away if there are indications that such transparent obedience to the true aspirations of sections of the Arab world would germinate leadership that is intransigently opposed to America’s self-interests. All genuine lovers of freedom and democracy should stand shoulder to shoulder with the Egyptian people at this time at this time. If the Egyptians succeed in divesting themselves of the shackles of a corrupt and repressive government, it will significantly mark the birth pangs of democracy; yes it will usher in a wave of progressive hysteria and a populist government which will be copied in other parts of the Middle East.

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