War clouds gather in the Middle East

By Victor Kotsev, ASIA TIMES

An all-out war in the Middle East is hardly in anybody’s interest, yet it may happen, either as an escalation of a lower-intensity conflict, or because one of the sides miscalculates or is pushed into a corner.

A more localized outbreak, for example in Gaza or in parts of Syria, is considerably more likely, given the incredible buildup of arms and words in the region; in the mid-term, an American-backed or led attack on Iran is not inconceivable, as the wheels of both bureaucracy and rhetoric are clearly rolling in that direction.

Outward “signs” coming from the region are clearly not peaceful. Syria is becoming ever less stable, Hezbollah is restive, and the Gaza Strip has accumulated more weapons than ever before (and an all-but-open rivalry has developed between the ruling Hamas and the more tightly aligned with Iran second-largest militant organization there, Islamic Jihad).

Iran is seething – some of the latest developments include an attack on the British Embassy, a reported downing of an American stealth drone, and a couple of major explosions that reportedly obliterated a key Iranian missile testing base and damaged nuclear installations near the city of Isfahan. [1]

Israel is rapidly expanding its capacity to mitigate the impact of its enemies’ most formidable offensive weapons – missiles. A couple of weeks ago, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported, Israel received additional Patriot anti-missile systems from “a friendly country”. [2]

If confirmed, this acquisition would suggest an extraordinary step taken by the Israeli government in the face of an imminent threat (one memory it brings up is of the Gulf War, when the United States stationed Patriot missiles in Israel to counter the threat of Saddam Hussein’s Scuds).

Meanwhile, a third Iron Dome battery (against short-range missiles) has also reportedly been deployed by the Israeli Defense Forces in the past month or so. [3] During the last significant flare-up in October, Israel only had two functioning batteries, one of which failed to deploy immediately.

The Israelis have turned their anti-Iran rhetoric up to what seems a maximum in the past weeks. Given that past Israeli military operations relied on surprise, this circumstance likely suggests that an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear program is not imminent, but also that Israel is building up its case before the international community, justifying an attack in the future.

“We can’t wait and say – we’ll see if they have a bomb, and then we’ll act,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak commented recently, responding to American pressure to hold off from an attack. “What if by then we will not be able to act?” [4] In the past few days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also directed a new round of veiled threats at Iran. [5]

Despite all the threats, Israel is understandably reluctant to engage in an operation on its own – especially right now, while it is still taking delivery of new anti-missile technology. A fourth Iron Dome battery, critical against the formidable short-range missile arsenal of pro-Iranian militants in Lebanon and Gaza, is expected early next year, to be followed several months later by a fifth (Israel needs around 15 for near-complete protection on all fronts, so every installation counts).

Some time in 2012, moreover, the new Arrow 3 exo-atmospheric anti-ballistic missile system, one of the most advanced in the world, is scheduled to be unveiled. It is as good an answer to Iran’s ballistic missile threat as any, and if that is forthcoming, it may be worth waiting for.

This timeline seems consistent, moreover, with the time frame for an Israeli attack by the second half of next year circulated by Israeli media and critics of such an attack, such as the influential former Mossad (Israeli spy service) director Meir Dagan, and attributed to Barak. [6]

In the meantime, while arming itself (and basking in the warmth of American generosity), Israel can sit back and allow a kind of war of attrition to go on. Sanctions wear down the Iranian economy, civil unrest wears down the Iranian allies in the region (specifically Syria, and indirectly Hezbollah), and sabotage and missteps wear down the Iranian nuclear and missile program. The much-rumored Israeli cyber-warfare program may yet offer new surprises, and set the Iranian military programs further back. [7]

A war in Gaza, however, is considerably more likely in the next months. It could be provoked (like several other recent violent episodes near Gaza) by Islamic Jihad, a militant organization considered Iran’s pawn and the major rival of Hamas in the Strip. There are increasing recent reports of tensions between Iran and Hamas, with the latter reportedly planning to pull out of Syria. [8]

As Israeli journalist Amir Oren suggests, Israel may also have a motivation to expedite a war in Gaza that it may see as inevitable, in light of the Egyptian elections and the likelihood that the next Egyptian government would be hostile to any Israeli military operation in the Strip. [9]

The United States, on the other hand, is coming under ever greater pressure to do something about the Iranian nuclear program. Its diplomatic initiatives are in disarray, new rounds of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council were rejected by Russia and China, and the American allies in the Middle East are showing increasing signs of impatience.

The military option is increasingly looking like the only way to resolve the crisis while maintaining a measure of control over the situation. A number of top American officials now publicly acknowledge that they are not sure if Israel will not surprise them with an air strike that could bring disastrous consequences. Saudi Arabia, moreover, is now all but publicly threatening to join the nuclear arms race if nothing is done against Iran. [10]

Though it can be difficult to gain detailed insight into American administrations – the current one included – it is a big and cumbersome bureaucracy that in many aspects functions according to broad policies that are hard to change and to resist, even by top officials.

Thus, whether we believe that former US president George W Bush was behind the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 (which claimed that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003) [11] or not, it more or less tied his hands.

Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran last month, which showed that estimate wrong, is bound to put pressure on current President Barack Obama to attack, whatever his personal inclinations are.

1. Report: Blast at Isfahan damaged nuclear facility, Ynet, November 30, 2011.
2. Iran’s Khamenei presents war scenarios, Ynet, November 25, 2011.
3. US may buy Iron Dome to defend ME bases, Jerusalem Post, December 1, 2011.
4. Barak: We can’t wait until Iran has nuclear bomb, Ha’aretz, December 3,2011.
5. Netanyahu’s history lesson hints at Israeli strike on Iran, Ha’aretz, December 4, 2011.
6. Former Mossad chief briefed comptroller about Iran strike plans, Ha’aretz, December 2, 2011.
7. Insight: Did Conficker help sabotage Iran’s nuke program?, Reuters, December 2, 2011.
8. Iran threatening to cut Hamas funds, arms supply if it flees Syria, Ha’aretz, December 5 2011.
9. Egypt turmoil may prompt Israel to strike Gaza, , Ha’aretz, December 27, 2011.
10. ‘Saudi Arabia may join nuclear arms race’, Ynet, December 5 2011.
11. Commentary: Was Bush Behind the Iran Report?, Time, December 4, 2007.

December 8, 2011 | 8 Comments »

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8 Comments / 8 Comments

  1. The article misses or over looks key points in the situation. It discusses endlessly how America might attack Iran, blah, blah. The real risk is an Iranian attack on American interests in the Middle East or on the American mainland itself. Given how thoroughly the media has beaten the anti-war drum regarding Iran for the last few years, a preemptive military action by America against Iran is all but impossible for America.

    In such an action, the strait of Hormuz would be closed, the price of oil would almost double over night, the US military would suffer huge losses in men, ships, planes, and othe equipment, the American mainland would be attacked resulting in the death of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Americans and maybe millions of Americans, anti-Americanism would increase exponentially around the world, there’d be no support for this axtion among the American people, the Europeans would not support it, allies whose assistnace we would need to carry this out would abandon us because the “street” would be set against this thus forcing these governments to side with Iran, the attack would cause greater enemity with Russia and China, and Russia and China would assist Iran militarily leading to even more devestating attacks on the US mainland.

    This list of what would happen is harldy exhaustive but it does convey what would hapen. On top of all of this, a US led attack on Iran only has about 50/50 chance, at best, of doing any damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Suffice it to say an American attack on Iran would all but hand the up coming Presidential election to whomever Mr. Obama’s challenger is. That is assuming America survives the attack.

    The thing that is most likely to happen is an Iranian attack on America, not the other way around. This is what we need to perpare for.

    For any attack on Iran to succeed, the best approach would be for Israel to lead it. Israel has the technology and its pilots have the flying skills to be able to defeat the Iranian air defense system. The Americans do not. Also, it is not known at this time what effect the capture of the US drone by Iran will have. Also, Israeli and Saudi intellegence agencies have the expertise to be able to identify the Iranian nuclear sites and to be able to take them out. On the other hand the CIA is largely staffed by incompetent boobs. Given all of this, the less involvement by America the more likely a military operation against Iran is to succeed. We should stay out of the way. Hopefully our leadership is smart enough to realize this.

    I agree that Americans are largely ignorant of foreign policy. Having been fed a steady diet of anti-war messages and appeasement messages over many years has put them in this situation. Also, the standard narrative on the Iranian conflict in America and around the world is it goes back to the early 1950s whn America and Britain sponsered a coup against Iran’s democratically elected government for the purpose of stealing their oil. As such, America “has it coming” and Iran is fully justified in its enemity toward America.

    Is this narrative correct? The truth is very likely much more complicated than the narrative given, however, this is the narrative recognized by most Americans and virtually all of the world. If an American attack on Iran was to happen, the narrative on the conflict will need to be altered for it to have any chance of success.

  2. POTUS will “attack” Iran in a make believe, smoke a mirros fashion causing a lot of flashes photo ops but small damage. And the Obama fellowship just gave the Iranians a downpayment for the minor damages. The RQ-170 amply pays them for the false war.
    Then the gangs under Soetoro will shrilly demand from Israel not to attack Iran since they will claim that did attack themselves.

  3. Sam,

    I don’t think Obama is in terrible danger of losing the 2012 election. Americans, on the whole, are marvellously ignorant of foreign affairs. Even the spy drone incident has gotten relatively scant coverage. They won’t hear about the war with Iran until Israel attacks and Iran retalliates by hitting US ships in the Persian Gulf. Then the Dems will blame the Jews (code-named, “Israelis” or “Zionists”). It’s the price Jews pay for fame (which they actually don’t want, but fame nonetheless). Meanwhile, Obama still holds an electoral majority in the polls. The pivotal state of Colorado is still pro-Obama, against any Republican candidate.

  4. In case anyone was confused about Turkey’s alignment in the coming war, Turkey is in NATO and allied with the US. Like the US, it is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood:

    Turkey sets terms for backing Free Syrian Army: Bow to Muslim Brotherhood group

    Special to WorldTribune.com

    WASHINGTON — Turkey, aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood, has cracked
    down on the rebel army in Syria.

    Opposition sources said the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan
    has frozen Free Syrian Army bank accounts in an effort to pressure
    the rebels to recognize the authority of the Brotherhood-aligned Syrian
    National Council.

    Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. /Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

    “The popularity of the Free Syrian Army inside Syria is a sore issue with Erdogan and the MB,” the Reform Party of Syria said. “From a strategic point of view, control of the Free Syrian Army by the MB is an essential component for which it must not fail.”


  5. 30 NATO oil tankers torched in rocket attack in SW Pakistan
    English.news.cn 2011-12-09 00:47:19 FeedbackPrintRSS

    ISLAMABAD, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) — At least 30 NATO oil tankers and containers were torched following a rocket attack on a container terminal near Quetta of southwestern Pakistan on Thursday night, reported PTV, a government-run television in Pakistan.

    According to the local media reports, some unknown people attacked a private container terminal with rockets at the Kharot Abad area, a place close to the west of Quetta, capital of Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan.

    More than 35 NATO oil tankers and containers were parked at the terminal when the attack occurred, said local media reports, adding that firing also followed the rocket attack.


    This used to be called a casus belli; but with Obama, it’s a casus wimpi.

    Israel should attack Iran while Obama’s head is still safely hidden in the sand.

  6. It amuses me, that Ted spends so much time posting about the “Palestinian” issue. Israel is about to go to war with Iran, if God is indeed showing His favor toward her. All hell is about to break loose, and Ted is posting about the “Palestinians”! Ted, do you know where all this posturing on the “Peace Process” will be in a few months? Israel and Abbas have been sparring — right foot, left, jab, feint, etc. After the Iran War, the Pals will be flat on their back, and it won’t make a dime’s worth of difference, what their latest “posture” was before the war. Ditto for Israel.

    If Israel decides not to attack Iran within the coming weeks, of course, they might as well pack their bags and move to Venezuela.

    If Israel DOES attack in a timely manner, here is the scenario:

    (1) The reconnaissance debacle: This can be worse politically for Obama than the hostage crisis and failed rescue was for Carter — IF the Republicans are smart enough to capitalize on it, which I’m not all that sure of.

    (2) Israel attacks. If they don’t want to wait until the Iranians and Russians have cracked all the targeting codes in the drone, they’d better act quickly. Otherwise, they’d better do some re-programming.

    (3) The US is in a heap of trouble, no matter what they do. The Iranians know how to hijack their drones. What else are they capable of electronically? Washington stands to suffer major reversals in ANY conflict ANYWHERE, unless they can plug the massive intelligence leak that led to the Iranian takeover. Obama ought to be in deep doo-doo; but I’m sure idiot Jews everywhere will come to his rescue.

    (4) The Iranians call the shots. Israel has just attacked them. What should they do? Activate HAMAS and Hizbullah? Of course they will — even if they’re NOT attacked. They didn’t supply their surrogates with all that advanced weaponry for them to have work accidents with.

    (5) Where will the Iranians attack. Hmm… let me guess. Will they lob a few missiles from Iran to Israel? No need, really; Israel will get plenty of incoming from its neighbors. Will they attack the USS Stennis? No, they wouldn’t do THAT! That would be NAUGHTY! Especially when they have such an advantage, knowing how to electronically hijack US aircraft. That wouldn’t be FAIR!

    (6) What will the US do then? Retalliate? Or run away with its tail between its legs? With Obama in charge, this is a real toss-up!

    I would put away the “Pal” stuff for a while. The rules are about to change so dramatically, any action on the issue right now would be very misinformed.

  7. Analyzing the Newest Middle East:

    Everything is being driven by shiite Iran going nuclear. Shiite Iran’s true targets are Mecca, Medina, and the sunni arabs. Jewish Israel is a sideshow. Thus, in response, Egypt will go militant sunni. Syria will go militant sunni with the weapons and money given the Syrian sunnis by the rich Gulf sunni arabs. Hamas will take over the West Bank and Jordan and turn it into a militant sunni state. A sunni arab alliance against shiite Iran will result, consisting of Syria, Jordan, the Saudis and Gulf states, and Egypt. Sunni Turkey will probably ally with the sunni arabs.

    Sunni Pakistan is dirt poor and has nukes. The sunni Saudis are filthy rich and want nukes. They have probably already bought some from Pakistan, and will declare them openly when shiite Iran declares theirs.

    Jewish Israel is finishing a fence along its border with Egypt in the Sinai. This will place Gaza completely on the Egyptian side of the fence, and allow Jewish Israel to finally seal off Gaza from Israel, so that Gaza will effectively be annexed by Egypt.

    Obama is an unpredictable wild card. He may sit by and allow all this to happen. Or, if it benefits his chances for re-election a year for now, he may attack Iran himself.