Whatever might have been the motivation for the Barack Obama administration to do grandstanding on Iran, the speech at the Brookings by the National Security Advisor Tom Donilon in late November was a disaster. It set the tempo for the sharp deterioration in US-Iran standoff through last month, which has lately cascaded. Time is overdue to cool tempers.
The Donilon speech was part of a stream of things to deliberately ratchet up tensions. First there was the bizarre, utterly laughable story mouthed by Obama himself about an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in US. Then followed the IAEA report, which was so obviously a concoction put together for political purposes by a weak-kneed director-general in Vienna who owes his job to the US.
Then came the strange ruling by a New York court that Iran might have had a hand in the 9/11 attacks on US. The latest provocation is the 30-billion dollar deal to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia on the pretext of an Iranian threat. Indeed, aside all this, a series of covert operations — killing Iranian scientists, instigating minorities, etc — have been undertaken by the US and Israel in the recent months.
The hawkish opinion-makers also took the cue from Donilon and the US rhetoric sharply escalated. A particularly provocative piece written by Matthew Kroenig appears in the current issue of the Foreign Affairs magazine, titled “Time to attack Iran: Why a Strike is the Least Bad Option”.
Of course, these American hawks live in a cage of their own fed largely on kosher foods. The rhetoric is getting all mixed with the US domestic politics and John Yoo confirms it in his nasty opinion piece in the National Review, “Our [US's] political calendar and one of our nation’s greatest threats have synchronized.”
But the rhetoric has gone too far and Tehran’s suspicions have been aroused — although they gave it a wide berth initially. Put simply, Tehran has been left with no alternative but to respond.
Remember that Iran, too, is already gripped with an election fever. The battle lines which used to be between the so-called ‘reformists’ and the establishment following the presidential election in 2009 are getting dramatically redrawn.
The haze surrounding Iranian politics doesn’t easily allow the outsider to comprehend the intensity of the passions playing out. Within the establishment itself, the religious and the not-so-religious have been jostling for space. Mock battles and shadow plays have begun, which may well end up in a night of the long knives at some point.
And the US and Israeli hawks make more succulent meat than fat partridge on the dining tables of the seasoned Iranian politicians. Mind you, the upcoming election to the Majlis is going to be of historic importance.
On the other hand, Iran also needs to be vigilant about military adventurism by the Obama administration in the heat of the presidential campaign in the US. Again, the Iranian theatre applauds the tough guy who can stand up to the US bully. All in all, therefore, a dangerous period lies ahead with both sides having to constantly jog their memory about where the ‘red lines’ lie, which should not be crossed.
One such ‘red line’ concerns Iran’s oil exports. The chairman of the Majlis national security and foreign policy commission Ala’eddin Broujerdi (who is also a gifted diplomat with vast experience and is an influential statesman within the regime) is spot on warning that the west may be about to commit a “strategic blunder” if oil sanctions are imposed on Iran.
Obama should keep a Red Book on Iran in the Oval Office. Dip into it now and then, and run the fingers ever so gently on the ‘red lines’. The US-Iran standoff has a consistent history of Tehran outwitting Washington.
– January 4, 2012