الرئيسية » هاني المصري »   23 أيار 2019

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هاني المصري

 "Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu has twice before tried to wage war on Iran," notes Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian www.masarat.ps. 

The first time (2010-2012) he was stopped by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who learned of the plan from the occupation army's chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. U.S. President Barack Obama stopped him the second time (2015), and Netanyahu only abided by that decision because he was aware that Israel cannot fight Iran on its own and emerge victorious. 

Israel needs the U.S. if it is to wage a war against Iran, for several reasons:

First, it needs U.S. missiles capable of underground penetration to bomb Iranian missile launchers and military installations.

Second, Israeli warplanes need U.S. aircraft to supply them with in-flight refueling while traveling long distances, which is beyond the Israeli Air Force's capacities. 

Third, Israel would need U.S. support to launch a second strike if Iran's response to the first strike were to be powerful and difficult to manage.

Fourth, Iran has allies that would fight in its war against Israel, especially Lebanese Hezbollah, which poses a great threat to Israel. 

For these reasons, along with the Iran nuclear deal signed near the end of President Barack Obama's term and the Israeli army command's lack of enthusiasm for launching a unilateral strike due to its inability to ensure the outcome and prevent matters from expanding into a regional and perhaps even a semi-global war, Netanyahu put his plans for war against Iran on hold. When Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, and especially after he appointed John Bolton, a known advocate for war against Iran, as National Security Advisor, Netanyahu believed he had found his opportunity. 

Netanyahu is likely disappointed to hear Trump declaring that there will be no war, and that he would keep his electoral promise not to wage any new wars, although he may need to hint at doing so from time to time so as to achieve his objective of renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal and limiting Tehran's influence. 

U.S. policy can be explained by noting that it seeks to alter the policies of the Iranian regime, not do away with it entirely. Trump hopes to achieve this by imposing an economic blockade and sanctions, and needs to brandish the possibility of war so as to extort monies from the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia. 

This is confirmed by the fact that a war has not broken out, although the climate is primed for it following [Yemeni Houthi] drone strikes on oil pumps in Saudi Arabia, an attack on oil tankers off the UAE Port of Fujairah, and various bits of (Israeli-sourced) information about Iranian allies' intention to strike U.S. forces and allies in the region. Trump's attempt to cool down the heated climate went so far as to show a willingness to negotiate with Iran. He asked Switzerland to transmit a private phone number directly to the Iranian president, asserting that the decision lies in the latter's hands, while intimating that he rejects Bolton's calls to war. 

A war would adversely affect the U.S.'s key regional move, Trump's [Israel/Palestine] 'deal of the century', and would raise oil prices, which would play into Russia's hands, while damaging the interests of U.S. allies, namely Europe, Japan, and South Korea. 

The million-dollar question is this: Will there be a war, especially since the tension persists despite easing a little after Trump's no-war announcement and Iranian supreme leader Khamenei's statement that there would be neither war nor negotiations with the Americans? 

A number of signs suggest that Iran is prepared for the possibility of war, whether initiated by Tehran itself if the blockade continues and intensifies, or by the U.S. and Israel.

Since Iran's Houthi allies are responsible for the drone attacks, and since Iran and its allies are the number one suspect in the Fujairah operation, Tehran may have intended to send a message while taking care not to cause significant damage or cause casualties, meaning that it does not want to go to war unless forced to.

There are several other indications that Iran has no interest in igniting a war. Most notably, it has not responded to repeated Israeli strikes targeting its presence in Syria, as Israel claims. However, it will not stand idly by and allow oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb to pass if it is blocked from exporting its own oil and if the U.S. maintains the economic blockade and proceeds to intensify it, as announced.

On the other hand, assuming that Israel or the other parties thirsting for war do not embark on an attack that calls for an Iranian response that would drag the situation towards an all-out conflict, Iran will only instigate a war if it is unable to market its oil and break the blockade – which it might be able to do since a number of countries are not compliant with U.S. sanctions. 

Furthermore, there is the critical factor that the U.S. is unable to form a global or even Western coalition against Iran, because Europe, China, Russia, India, and Turkey oppose the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the blockade imposed on Iran. 

The chances of war are low due to an Iranian policy that is wise and shrewd enough that Tehran's steps are measured rather than reactive, and it reflects carefully before taking any action, while making sure not to provide any pretext to the war advocates. 

War is not the most likely possibility precisely because Iran is equipped for it militarily, which makes an Iraqi-type scenario (swift occupation with little cost) unlikely. Iran has ample nuclear and military facilities spread over thousands of underground locations, making it impossible to detect and destroy them all in one sudden blow that would incapacitate an Iranian response. Moreover, its reach across several locations in the region increases Iran's abilities to respond to a strike. Bombing oil sites in Saudi Arabia and Fujairah may have been a demonstration of this, as well as reports of the PMU [Iran-sponsored Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Units], a force of 150 thousand fighters armed with various weapons, preparing to attack U.S. troops in Iraq.

The era of flash wars has come to an end. Wars can no longer begin and end quickly and achieve their objectives without affecting Israel or the U.S. bases and targets widely deployed in the region and its environs. 

Even if the U.S., Israel, and their regional allies manage to hit Iran, either by itself or along with its allies, in a sudden blow, it will be costly for them too. It will not end after the cessation of state-to-state hostilities, but will instigate another conflict exactly like what happened in Iraq. The U.S. and allied forces occupied Iraq with negligible losses, but then a fierce resistance arose causing the Americans enormous losses, including thousands of dead, wounded and disabled, not to mention the trillions of dollars spent that cannot be recovered. Most importantly, Iraq is no longer under U.S. occupation or even its influence and control. If anything, Iran is competing with the U.S. in that regard, if it does not already have more influence.

Based on the above, the race is on between war and peace, but the situation is still likely to arrive at a tahdi'a [lull or calming down] that paves the way for new negotiations, without ruling out skirmishes and military strikes here and there that heat up the climate, but not to the point of a war whose results nobody can control. 

Do the Arabs who are wagering on the U.S. going to war with Iran out of sheer blind faith understand that this is pure delusion? They must work on developing an Arab project and a unified leadership that preserves Arab rights and interests, at the heart of which is the Palestinian cause. Preparations are underway for a U.S.-Israeli plan to liquidate this cause under Trump's deal in light of the changing Arab priorities and under cover of the war against Iran. 

The Arabs must begin negotiations with Iran to resolve their differences, as neighbors do. Despite its designs and mistakes, Iran is not the Arabs' enemy. Its growing role (and Turkey's as well) helps to thwart Israel's plans to make itself a central state that dominates the region on its own. Iran cannot be replaced with Israel, which is the main enemy and threat to security, peace, and stability not only in the region but in the whole world as well. 

"Can you imagine what fate would befall the Palestinian cause and other Arab causes if Israel were to achieve its aims of dominating the region free from all competition?" concludes Masri.