Dangerous games in the Gulf

Dangerous games in the Gulf

The United States and Iran are playing an increasingly dangerous game of chicken in the Gulf. War could be only a ship collision or aircraft intrusion away. 

Nations often blunder into war due to miscalculation, arrogance or wrong intelligence. One need only recall August 1914 when joyous throngs of French or Germans cried out, “On to Berlin!” and “On to Paris!” and “Home for Christmas!” The current confrontation between the U.S.-Israel and Iran is about more than Tehran’s nuclear program. With Iraq defanged and Syria in turmoil, Iran is the last major Middle Eastern state that refuses to be part of the U.S. sphere of influence – what I call the American Raj. 

As Iran’s noisy defiance grows, Washington fears its influence and prestige will suffer unless it brings the annoying mullahs to heel. The so-called “Arab spring” has a confused Washington ready to lash out, as Libya showed. 

Iran’s fiery nationalism is anchored to its nuclear program. Ayatollah Ali Khamanei insists the West is determined to keep the Muslim world technologically backwards. Iran’s nuclear program, which he insists is peaceful, is a great technological leap forward for all Muslims. 
Two recent U.S. national intelligence estimates so far support the ayatollah’s assertions. 

Meanwhile, Israel is straining every muscle to push the U.S. into war against Iran, as it did with Iraq, thus sparing itself the difficult task. The recent string of murders of Iranian scientists appears designed to provoke Iran into a retaliation that would set off full-scale war. 

The powerful U.S. Israel lobby and its Christian fundamentalist allies (now 44 percent of all Republican voters) have bribed or intimidated the U.S. Congress into pressing for war against Iran – a war like Afghanistan and Iraq the U.S. government will finance through borrowed money, not taxes. 

U.S. media is baying for Iran’s blood. We just saw Republican presidential candidates – the admirable Ron Paul and Jon Huntsmen excepted – vying to sound the most bloodthirsty over Iran. Candidate Newt Gingrich got $5 million in indirect support from an American casino mogul, who is a major financial backer of Israel’s West Bank settlers and expansionist Likud Party. My visits to the Pentagon left me with the view that America’s military does not want war with Iran. Muscle-flexing “yes” to back up muscular diplomacy, but not a full-scale conflict involving repeated air and naval strikes against a minimum of 3,200 Iranian military and civilian targets, according to U.S. Navy senior sources. 

U.S. warplanes are aging or nearly worn out after Afghanistan and Iraq. Falling military budgets will make aircraft, missiles, bombs and ships harder and harder to replace. 

All wars are unpredictable; all carefully laid plans break down after the first shot is fired. The Pentagon fears it will get sucked into a wider war against Iran – including ground operations in which Iran could effectively fight back against U.S. forces. 

For its part, Iran seems to be foolishly going out of its way to goad and challenge the U.S. and its allies. Last week, Tehran trumpeted that it was producing more 20 percent-enriched uranium at a new underground plant at Fordow. Few Westerners understand anything about nuclear technology, never mind making weapons. To them, the Iranian announcement translated into “Iranian Nuclear Weapons!” Iran’s foes were delighted. Iranian hardliners have told me they welcome war with the U.S. “The Americans will break their teeth on Iran!”

Brave words, but we heard similar foolhardy boasts from Iraqis in 2003. 

Hot air, posturing and national egos can lead to disastrous real war, one that neither side wants, excepting Israel.

*Eric Margolis is a veteran U.S. journalist. This piece originally appeared on Khaleej Times online.

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