By Ramtanu Maitra
Since November, the United States and its allies, Britain and France in particular, have been mounting political and military pressure on Iran. Not a day goes by without a leader of these Western countries issuing a fresh threat against Tehran. On a daily basis, harsh statements are broadcast from Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv asserting the need for an immediate military strike, ostensibly to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Both the United States and the EU have imposed crippling sanctions. There are reports that the Pentagon has assigned nearly 15,000 troops to Kuwait and ordered to two aircraft carriers to stay in the region, to be joined soon by a third. On Jan. 10 Britain’s Ministry of Defence announced that the Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring, which employs a “stealth” design to help avoid detection, is to join the British presence in the region.
Whether, or when, the West will eventually decide to strike is moot, though some observers point out that, in fact, the West has already unleashed a covert war against Iran, and there is little doubt that the sanctions are tantamount to the imposition of war-time conditions.
Meanwhile, leaders in some countries, Russia in particular, have on more than one occasion warned that an actual war or slipping inadvertently into a military confrontation, with Iran would be catastrophic. By contrast, India — a nation with almost 1.2 billion people that is adjacent to Iran, has a strong historic relationship with that country, and is currently involved in several significant economic projects there — has remained silent. It is actually astonishing that New Delhi hasn’t made a peep; much less suggested that the Westerners ought to back off. Why?
Is it because the Indian leaders, guided by their bureaucrats on all strategic matters that do not involve Pakistan, are incapable of grasping the gravity of the situation? Or are they just plain unwilling to criticize the Western powers to whom they have hitched their wagon in the expectation that it would fetch the Manmohan Singh government oodles of foreign exchange reserves, military hardware and help secure a permanent seat in the much-overrated UN Security Council? Especially in light of the fact that the India-Iran relationship goes back thousands of years, the current situation shows how incapable India has become of considering itself even a regional power.
If New Delhi does not grasp the gravity of the situation, it could be that the stodgy, and dodgy, Manmohan Singh government is either sitting on the fence, afraid to issue statements that might make Washington and London angry, or it has its head buried in earth, ostrich-fashion. Therefore, it is necessary to give a nudge to Manmohan Singh, now trudging the last few miles of his dull-as-grey political career, and see which side of the fence he lands on. Hence, it is time to point out to the unwieldy Indian government that if a war breaks out, it would be yet one more war in the region involving the old colonial forces. The 10 years of war that is ongoing in Afghanistan has already worsened the security situation in Eurasia, a part of the world where India has a lot at stake.
A military conflict that involves Iran will have many more consequences. It would not only choke the oil that is extracted there and passes through Gulf waters to buyers, but it could also unleash sectarian warfare within the Muslim community, causing increased security threats to the region — and India’s past record does not evoke confidence that it would be able to handle sectarian disturbances without further dividing the nation. Those are, perhaps, some of the important reasons why both Russia and China, two real powers in the region where India is located, oppose any military attack on Iran.
Economic Destruction of Iran
The mood in Iran is now both defiant and fearful. The economic pressure brought on Tehran by the Western forces is crippling the nation’s oil-based economy. Just recently, US President Barack Obama signed a new defense appropriations bill into law, in which congressional conservatives inserted draconian sanctions prohibiting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran or with anyone doing business with the CBI. Prohibiting transactions with Iran’s Central Bank would preclude long-term oil sales contracts. If most countries bow to these sanctions, Iran will be forced to sell its oil either only to those countries with the courage to defy Washington or rely solely on spot market sales for cash. If it comes to that, some analysts claim that Iran’s oil revenues will be reduced by as much as one-third, fundamentally jeopardizing the Iranian economy. Sanctions cannot overthrow the government — and both London and Washington know that — but they cause immense suffering to the people, of which the war-parties care less.
Speaking at a Jewish Community Center in New York on Jan. 18, President Obama gloated that he had mobilized the world and built an “unprecedented” sanctions regime targeting Iran to state “unequivocally that we’re not going to tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of this Iranian regime.” Obama continued: “We’ve been able to organize folks like China and Russia that previously would have never gone along with something like this,” referring to the support for sanctions from fellow UN Security Council permanent members. “And it’s been so effective that even the Iranians have had to acknowledge that their economy is in a shambles,” Obama stated. “When I came into office, Iran was united and the world was divided. And now what we have is a united international community that is saying to Iran, you’ve got to change your ways.”
Recently, the British colonials trotted out their defence secretary, Philip Hammond, who may know a few things about medical equipment manufacture, where he worked earlier in his boosted career. But he neither knows, nor seems to care what the consequences for a vast section of Asia would be if a war is launched against Iran. At the Atlantic Council in Washington, Hammond told the audience that Britain will not tolerate an enforced closure of the 34-mile Strait of Hormuz, where 20 percent of the world’s oil passes through: “We are an integrated part of the naval task force in the Gulf, and one of the missions of that task force is to ensure that those shipping lanes remain open. Any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz would be illegal and we need to send a very clear message to Iran that we are determined that the Strait remains open.”
With Cameron and Sarkozy cheering, Obama’s gloating about the destruction of the Iranian economy and his simultaneous staging of troops in Kuwait shows the mindset of the old colonials seeking to eliminate yet another adversary using military power. At the same time, it is evident that Washington has not yet settled on starting a fight with Iran. Despite the fact that the bankrupt United States has little capability to wage yet another long war, some administration officials continue to state that “all options are on the table,” but invariably add that the military option is a terrible one.
How Tehran May Respond
But Kenneth M. Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and a neo-con who fully backed the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, points out why a war could still break out. He urges the braying colonialists across the Atlantic and a US president whose only agenda seems to be getting re-elected to look at the situation from Tehran’s eyes and acknowledge the realities.
In a recent article in the Washington-based magazine, New Republic, Pollack said: “…What the Iranians see is a concerted, undeclared war being waged against them by a coalition of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some European states. The fact that all of these countries are not necessarily always coordinating their actions is doubtless lost on the Iranian leadership. They are under cyber attack by the Stuxnet virus. Someone is killing their nuclear scientists in the streets of Tehran and blowing up their missile facilities. The United States and Europeans have ratcheted up their contacts with the Iranian opposition. The Iranians believe that foreign elements are also making contact with dissident groups like the Kurds, the Baluch, and the Arabs in Khuzestan. The United States has ratcheted up its efforts to broadcast into Iran to undermine the regime’s control over information. Washington is building up the military capabilities of states in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Saudis are funding proxies to fight against Iran’s proxies from Bahrain to Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen. And the Americans and Europeans are waging economic warfare in the form of increasingly crippling sanctions.”
Pollack implies that these actions may have convinced the leadership in Tehran that an all-out undeclared covert war has been launched and that Iran must take some retaliatory actions to get out of this dragnet. That is how, says Pollock, a war may start. This would not be an accidental war — the concerted moves by the US and a range of allies are leading to it.
That the process to start a war has already begun is understood in both Moscow and Beijing. Since the beginning of this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been publicly and repeatedly articulating Russia’s worries. On Jan. 18, Lavrov said an attack on Iran would be a “catastrophe” for the region and urged world powers to adopt a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East and North Africa. “It is impossible to list all the consequences [of an attack],” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an annual address. “But I have no doubt that it would pour oil on the still-smoldering fire of Sunni-Shia confrontation, which would lead to a chain reaction.” Lavrov added: “As for how likely such a catastrophe is, you need to ask those who constantly mention this as an option.” He also said that Russia would “do everything” in its power to prevent an attack on Iran.
From Beijing, we heard through a news report that in December Major General Zhang Zhaozhong of China’s National Defense University said: “China will not hesitate to protect Iran, even with a third world war.” The news report also quotes Professor Xia Ming paraphrasing Zhaozhong’s statement and clarifying: “not hesitating to fight a third world war would be entirely for domestic political needs.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters on Jan. 11: “China has noted the tough reactions made by the relevant countries over this event (imposition of crippling sanctions on Iran:ed) and is concerned over the development of the situation.”
Recently, a senior Chinese diplomat, Chen Xiaodong, also pointed out that war over the Iranian nuclear issue would bring disaster to the world economy and urged all nations involved to exercise restraint and prevent hostilities. “We urge all relevant nations to remain calm, exercise restraint, refrain from taking actions that will intensify the situation and make common efforts to prevent war,” Chen said. “Everyone knows that 40 percent of the oil shipped daily to every part of the world goes through the Strait of Hormuz, so once war starts in this region not only will the relevant nations be affected and attacked, it would also ... bring disaster to a world economy deep in crisis.”
New Delhi’s latest perfidy
Yet New Delhi remains silent, while working feverishly to keep getting Iranian oil without bucking the sanctions diktat imposed by the Americans. On Jan 11, India committed another cynical act that Tehran could not help but notice with dismay. Ignoring the hardline Netanyahu government’s central role in the gang-up on Iran — even the war party in the United States has made efforts in recent days to warn these hardliner Zionists not to act independently against Iran — External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna went to Tel Aviv to sign one of the country’s largest arms deals [ever?].
While India refuses to buck the western countries by opposing the sanctions against Iran and help prevent its economic destruction, it went merrily along to fatten the wallet of Iran’s stated adversary, Israel. The deal with Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI) for the purchase of $1.1 billion worth of missiles, anti-missile systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, intelligence and other systems was done with a bit of hush-hush. In a brief notice to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, IAI announced that it has signed a four-year $1.1 billion arms deal with an un-named Asian country. The systems that would be sold were not named, but the IAI announcement said that advances would be paid in exchange for guarantees in the same amount.
I hope Manmohan Singh received a Thank You note from Cameron and Obama.
The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review