Was war always on the cards for Iran?

An attack on Iran is a very distant possibility, as the costs attached with a war are much too high.

Saqib Tanveer March 20, 2012
Iran has always played the role of the odd one out in the international arena. Its stand-out stance from the rest of the world has distinguished it from others and as a result, it is left isolated.

There has been a lot of conjecture about an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, whether from Israel or the US. Iran has always been cooperative with the IAEA over the years but somehow they have been portrayed as an uncooperative, rogue state. Just a week ago, Iran agreed to allow UN inspectors to inspect its notorious nuclear facility against the odds.

However, the dust of an attack has settled very much. The recent meeting between Netanyahu and Obama was followed by a barrage of meetings between officials of the two states. The final showdown between the Israeli prime minister and US president is the real dust settler as Obama communicated his intention of not allowing any attack on Iranian soil to Israel. The US, in particular the Obama administration, has been of the view that Iran should be dealt with through diplomatic channels and sanctions should be the harshest punishment.

That raises a question.

Israel always knew about the intentions of the US, but then why are Israel and the European nations pressing for surgical strikes on Iran? Were they serious in carrying out an attack? Was war always on the cards?

The interaction between states, including war, has become a very complex web whereby the interests of the states are dependent on each other.

To judge the current episode, one must study the interests of major players in this charade. The United States, being the overseer of everything happening around the globe, is the one that has the most stakes involved.

The international media has always portrayed Iran and the United States as being at loggerheads. But, careful scrutiny of the relations between the two suggests otherwise. Iran has always played the role of pain for others, but it has never threatened the United States’ interest in the region, whether it is the Strait of Hormuz, Afghanistan or Iraq. Moreover, Iran has always helped in preserving the interests of the US in the region.

In turn, the United States has always used Iran as a threatening tool for Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The US used Iran to make them wary of the Iranian threat to establish its bases on their soil. A rogue Iranian posture has helped the US just fine in reaching this objective.

Iran has been the silent neighbour of Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries where the US spent much of the 21st century. It paved the way for the US in making the environment conducive in both the countries, especially in the regime establishment. Both, Afghanistan and Iraq, have a government that is Shiite and Iran has been the biggest proponent of Shiite Islam. Iran always had good relations with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and it has helped the US conjure up and provide stability to the flailing government.

The same goes for the Maliki government in Iraq. The bottom line is that Iran is indispensable for the United States at the moment and its importance has increased more than ever considering the withdrawal of US forces from both war-torn countries.

Another question mark is the role of the US in Syria. Syria has been known for its allegiance to Iran and the recent reluctance of the US to take military action against Assad’s regime speaks volumes.

The next question (and a dubious one at that) is that of Israel’s scepticism over Iran. Recent events show that Israel does not give the same importance to Iran as has been given by the US. Nonetheless, Israel has somewhat exaggerated the threat of Iran to itself and has gone to the extent of calling Iran an ‘existential’ threat to Israel. However, this claim of theirs was discredited by their ex-Mossad Chief at the start of February 2012. Even a couple of days ago, he was on record saying that anyone thinking about an attack from Israel on Iran is nuts.

One thing we may be forgetting is the Israel – Hezbollah war and the influence of Iran on Hezbollah. Hezbollah virtually tore the image of invincibility of Israel apart - something Israel has never been able to digest or forget. The inability of Israel to take Lebanon down draws many questions. If Israel was unable to brush aside a small militia then how would they be able to tackle Iran, which is supported by a full-fledged army and state machinery including the tools of propaganda?

If all these things are a factor of not going to war, then why has there been so much fuss about an attack on Iran?

To answer this question, we have to consider a few basic things. The United States is going to have elections this year. Contesting for a second-term is the time when a regime is the most weak. Israel and the EU understand that fragility of Obama and are trying to cash in on it. Obama cannot afford to lose Jewish votes and that is why he is walking on a tight rope. European countries are themselves fighting their own war of survival in the EU and though the European Countries don’t say it, their economic problems have been triggered by the acts of the US.

To sum up and put everything in a nutshell, it can be concluded that an attack on Iran is a very distant possibility, as the costs attached with the attack are much higher than stopping it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, a weapon, that Iran claims, it is not trying to acquire. Things have started to settle and Obama administration has almost handled Israel but it remains to be seen how the next administration will cope with the desires of Israel to take Iran down.
Saqib Tanveer The author is a student of International Relations in Islamabad and is currently working with Planning Commission of Pakistan. He tweets @saqibtanveer (twitter.com/saqibtanveer)
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