Friday, July 30, 2010

Rumors of war(s)


The possibility of new wars breaking in the Middle East isn't exactly unusual news, unfortunately. But the particular news about particular wars is always new, even when it's history repeating itself.

A war with Iran, either by ourselves or by Israel, is definitely not in the interest of the United States. On the contrary, it would damage our interests badly. Among other things, it would almost certainly turn what is already a too-slow exit from Iraq into a new nightmare.

The invaluable Gareth Porter, writing in FireDogLake The Seminal, The Real Aim of Israel’s Bomb Iran Campaign 07/29/2010, discusses a new pro-Iran-War piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht, Should Israel Bomb Iran? Weekly Standard 07/26/2010. The subtitle of Gerecht's article is "Better safe than sorry", with the "safe" referring to idea of initiating war with Iran. Even if one considers a war with Iran necessary, it's entirely reckless for anyone to think of it as "safe." But reckless is part of the modus operandi of the neocons at the Weekly Standard when it comes to advocating wars of choice.

Jim Lobe reported last week in Israel's Next War Could Be Lebanon: Analyst Inter Press Service 07/19/2010 on a paper done by former US Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer for the Council of Foreign Relations on the prospects of a new war between Israel and Lebanon/Hizbullah, A Third Lebanon War: CPA Contingency Planning July 2010, in which he says:

As happened in 2006, even small-scale military engagements with limited objectives can escalate into a major conflict. Whatever the precipitating reasons, a new conflict over Lebanon would have significant implications for U.S. policy and interests in the region.
Kurtzer doesn't rule out the initiation of hostilities by Hizbullah, but observes there are no indications at present that they are likely to do so. The initiation of hostilities by Israel would likely be closely connected to their Iran policy:

Second, Israel could attack Hezbollah or lure it into a war to destroy capabilities that threaten Israel's security. Israel could also decide to degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities in order to deny Iran a "second-strike" capability should Israel decide to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel could also use a conflict with Hezbollah as the catalyst and cover for an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. Any of these circumstances could persuade Israel that a preventive military strike against Hezbollah is in its interest.

Of the two scenarios, the second is the more likely.
Supporting Israel's ability to defend its existence is something entirely different from making US policy hostage tot he whims of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightwing government. An attack by Israel on Iran would be devastating for US interests. The Obama administration and Congress should both straightforwardly oppose such a thing, and make clear to Netanyahu's government that if they initiate war with Iran, the United States is not going to support it. As Kurtzer puts it with particular reference to US policy toward Hisbullah, "If the administration decides on one or more of these policy options, the United States needs to send a clear message to Israel. History shows that Israel will read U.S. ambiguity as supporting its own views." (my emphasis)

It's worth noting that Congress can also create ambiguity, since they do have a real voice in foreign policy on those increasingly rare occasions when they choose to exercise it.

Israel has by far the best conventional military forces in the Middle East. They have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East. Neither Iran nor anyone else can threaten their existence as a nation by military means. The United States has no legitimate reason to support a war against Iran that is against US interests. Kurtzer describes those interests as follows in discussing a war limited to Israel vs. Hizbullah:

Hezbollah is near the top of America’s list of most dangerous terrorist organizations. If the next Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation were to result in a sharp decline in Hezbollah’s military capabilities and was not accompanied by substantial civilian casualties or destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, the result would be beneficial for U.S. interests. However, [the possibility of] such an outcome is slim. The more likely unfolding of an Israeli-Hezbollah war would hold almost no positive consequences for the United States, which is focused on three Middle East priorities: trying to slow or stop Iran's nuclear program, withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, and helping Middle East peace talks succeed. Although the United States has essentially backed Israeli claims of Scud deliveries to Hezbollah, an Israeli attack, however efficient or successful, would arouse the Arab "street" and complicate the efforts of moderate Arab governments to support U.S. objectives in the region.

While Syria is unlikely to respond militarily to an Israeli attack against Hezbollah, it could resume its support for Iraqi insurgents to attack U.S. forces in Iraq. Syria would likely calculate that the United States would not retaliate against its support of Iraqi insurgents, but rather blame Israel for the increased danger to U.S. forces in the region.

The Middle East peace negotiations likely would enter another deep freeze. As in past military confrontations in Lebanon, Palestinians would find it impossible to keep negotiating as Arabs are fighting Israel in Lebanon. [my emphasis]
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