Why is a war with Iran beginning to feel like a foregone conclusion?
It has been a mere matter of weeks since America’s ostensible military “withdrawal” from Iraq, and yet talk of a new middle-eastern war seems to be growing in intensity. The ominous spectre of 2003 lingers, and the benefit of hindsight is overlooked.
The latest event of note involves the EU’s decision to adopt sanctions against Iran’s oil industry – a move that, according to an Iranian government spokesperson, will “definitely” result in the closure of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated one-fifth of the world’s oil flows.
The trouble with this scenario is that if Iran does carry out its response (and you can never be quite sure), it crosses a “red line” publicly demarcated by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. This dramatically increases the prospect of military action by the US – with subsequent Iranian retaliation – and open warfare.
While the threat of Iran’s nuclear capacity is being talked up, the possibility, or even legality, of constructive diplomatic American discourse may be strangled by an unhelpful proposed legislation that has already been passed by the House of Representatives. The “Iran Threat Reduction Act” would effectively criminalise negotiations with Iran by any member of the American government, except in highly restricted circumstances. Many commentators see this as an alarming move of intent, despite it not yet having passed the senate.
Elsewhere, establishment journals feature articles extolling the virtues of regime change, whilst the Republican party Presidential frontrunners, influential Washington think tank figures, and the conservative press evince a keen appetite for war.
With such a severe stance issuing from familiar quarters, it may be salutary to review the nature of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. The centrepiece of the emerging casus belli is the mentioned International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] report, released in November last year; it concluded that Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability – but stopped short of stating that this is Tehran’s goal.
That may sound concerning, but even the IAEA report itself is suspect according to Robert Kelley, former Director of the agency. Quoted in The Guardian this week, and by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker last year, Kelley described the report’s findings as “old news,” which led him to speculate, “why [is] this same stuff now considered ‘new information’ by the same reporters” who covered such conclusions during his tenure?
Kelley added that a very significant amount of the material referenced in the IAEA paper was drawn from “a single source: a laptop… allegedly supplied to the IAEA by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established.”
As Hersh also reported, a change in tone from the IAEA over Iran’s nuclear program appears to have coincided with a change at the top of the organisation. The new head, Yukiya Amano, who replaced the cautious Muhammad ElBaradei, was described in a Wikileaks released US diplomatic memo as being “solidly in the U.S. court on every strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.” With this in mind, Hersh’s public conclusion that the IAEA report was a “political document” is hardly a radical conclusion.
With military action, the benefits of even the most clinical strikes on Iran are not convincing. Assuming it were a given that Iran was intent on acquiring a nuclear device, an attack would probably only delay its development and dramatically increase hostility, as Defence Secretary Panetta himself conceded last year.
With the stakes being so high and so much doubt in so many key areas – as well as eight terrible years of Iraq as testament to the folly of unnecessary recourse to preventative war – why does a conflict with Tehran still appear so inevitable?
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