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'Attack on Iran Strengthens Its Regime'
Iranian scholars comment on possible U.S. military action
Ali Cimen (alicimen)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-21 16:08 (KST)   
As a result of its highly suspect nuclear program, Iran -- which has had turbulent relations with the West since Ahmadinejad was chosen as president in June 2005 -- has now become the main item on the agenda of the world's superpowers.

Though Iranian officials constantly give assurances that they only hope to benefit from nuclear energy -- the U.S., Israel and others share the fear that Iran might misuse the rods, part of the nuclear energy production process, and use them to build nuclear weapons in the future.

Along the corridors of the brain storming centers of the world's most powerful countries the most prominent question of recent days has been "Will America attack Iran?"

We asked the very same question of Iranian-born scholars and experts who live in the West.

Meir Javedanfar, a leading international relations expert and strategist, is extremely well-known for his insightful analysis of the Middle East. He studied in England and currently lives in London and Tel Aviv as the president of Meepas, the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company.

Professor Mehdi Noorbaksh is an assistant professor at the Center for International Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. His areas of specialization are comparative politics and international relations with an emphasis on globalization, oil and energy, conflict and conflict resolution, and Middle-Eastern politics.

In addition Professor R. K. Ramazani also commented briefly. Professor Ramazani is the Edward Stettinius Chair at the University of Virginia, and former chairman of the university's Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs.

Ramazani has penned 10 books on the Middle East, contributed numerous chapters and journal articles, and has been a consultant to the White House, the Department of State, the Defense Department and the Treasury Department; as well as to many private foundations and companies.

What do you think the Iranian presidency is trying to do with these tension-escalating-statements coming one after another?

Javedanfar: I believe that President Ahmadinejad's statements are not made due to sheer ignorance. They are well planned and well timed to meet the following goals:

1. One of the main reasons is internal. Ahmadinejad recently suffered internal defeats in the Majlis [Iranian parliament]; where three of his candidates for the position of oil minister were rejected one after another in front of him. Although his fourth candidate has recently been accepted, after the rejection of his second candidate, Ahmadinejad found the defeat so painful that he got up on the Majlis podium and angrily declared.

"This has never been done to another President of the Islamic Republic. No other president has ever been subject to such negative propaganda and treatment."

Such statements are hardly made by a president who feels confident about his position. Therefore in a bid to stamp his authority, Ahmadinejad has decided to pick on the easiest victim, Israel, with whom Iran has no economic or political relations. The fact that the Islamic Republic's leader Ayatollah Khamenei came out to support him after he attacked Israel is testament that this method works favorably for Ahmadinejad.

Now that he has the backing of the ultimate source of power in Iran, Ahmadinejad intends to use it to implement his policy with more authority and confidence. This also means that every time Ahmadinejad has internal problems he will attack Israel again, using it as a tool. This is forecast to happen again in the next month, as Ahmadinejad's budget, which has been presented to the Majlis, is expected to be rejected by Majlis members due to its unsuitability.

This will be a major defeat for him which will leave him looking weak. This will prompt him to create another foreign crisis.

2. The second major reason behind Ahmadinejad's attacks against Israel is related to the nuclear talks between Iran and the E.U.-3 countries (Germany, U.K and France).

Since his election, Ahmadinejad has taken an uncompromising stance in the nuclear talks with the E.U. His unwillingness to change Iran's nuclear position was confirmed again during the same, "The Holocaust is a myth" speech, when he declared that he will not "cede one inch of Iran's nuclear rights to foreign powers".

In other words, Iran will continue to insist on carrying out conversion and enrichment of uranium on its soil. The E.U. can't and won't continue to go to the negotiation table to be told the same thing by Tehran. Therefore, in the face of Ahmadinejad's unwillingness to compromise, it is very possible that there will be a breakdown in the talks with the E.U., and we can see this today as Iran finds itself on the verge of being referred to the U.N Security Council.

Ahmadinejad realizes this, and in a bid to prepare the ground to shift blame when talks breakdown, Ahmadinejad is pushing the Europeans, especially Germany to defend Israel, and what better subject than the Holocaust, which Germany is still incredibly sensitive about.

And as a result, when the talks breakdown, Ahmadinejad will be in a position to blame the Europeans and their defense of the "Zionist entity" and the "Holocaust myth" as the main cause for the collapse of the negotiations.

3. Ahmadinejad is a man who likes to play to his audience. The "Holocaust is a myth" speech coincided with the visit of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to Tehran. The verbal assault was Ahmadinejad's way of showing his commitment to Hamas and its rejectionist stance. Unfortunately for Israel, such support from the president of a powerful Middle East country is likely to add to Hamas's motivations for not renewing its ceasefire.

Noorbaksh: Ahmadinejad's confrontational foreign policy emanates from two sources. First, the new president is naive and does not have a deep understanding of international politics.

Second, he comes from a background shaped mostly by his involvement in the war against Iraq in the 1980s. He saw in that war injustice, insecurity and defeat and blames the United States for support of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

He is offended by Washington's siding with Baghdad in the war and its indifference to the plight of thousands in Iran and Iraq who were exposed to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction including chemical warheads during the war.

The war mentality has been carried out by him and his group of friends who are currently accompanying him in government. Ahmadinejad's remarks against Israel are aimed at competing with al-Qaeda in the Middle East for the support from radical orientations in the region. This support, if achieved, can help the new president stabilize his power position among the hard-line conservatives within the country.

Al-Zarqawi, and his strategy of killing the Shiite in Iraq, has become a new impetus for this president to galvanize support in the Arab Middle East around anti-American slogans for the sake of controlling Muslim radical rhetoric and movements.

Taking into consideration the U.S. position and its restraints in Iraq, do you see an American military operation against Iran possible? Can it handle this on its own or with the support of the E.U and Israel? What role could Turkey play in such an operation?

Javedanfar: U.S. action against Iran is certainly a possibility, although one that is not recommendable.

The U.S. has the military might, in the air, land and sea to do this alone. The U.S. has bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Qatar which is only 500 kilometers away from the Bushehr nuclear sites.

It must also be added that the runways of the U.S. airbase in Qatar have just been extended for B-52 landings. This should ring some serious alarm bells for Iran's military planners.

Therefore, logistically, the U.S. can carry out a sustained military operation against Iran's nuclear facilities. Turkey would certainly be able to play a part in the operations. The U.S. airbase in Incirlik would be able to provide support to the attacking forces. Intelligence bases on Turkish bases on Iran's borders would also assist the U.S..

As for Israel, in my opinion Israel's first choice will be to stay well away from an attack, if it can, both militarily and politically. Iran is not Iraq. Iran, with allies such as Hamas, Islamic jihad and Hezbollah sitting on Israel's borders, Israel would prefer not to provoke them. Iran is also equipped with the Shahab-3 missile, which can reach Israel, and cause serious damage.

Also logistically speaking, Israel does not have sufficient aerial capability for a sustained aerial attack against Iran's bases.

However what will help the U.S. enormously is political support from the E.U and Turkey in the case of such an attack.

Bush's unilateral action in Iraq has left the U.S. politically isolated in the region. To attack another Middle Eastern country again, the U.S. will need a broader consensus this time.

Ultimately if the talks fail, the E.U may discreetly give the green light to Washington. However, I believe that it will be unlikely for Turkey to do that. Prime Minister Erdogan rejected a $30 billion loan from the U.S. for assistance to topple Saddam, who was literally a "dead man walking."

Therefore it will even be more unlikely that he will support actions against Turkey's much more powerful neighbor Iran, who not only has a stronger army, but also is a major energy supplier (gas) to the Turkish economy.

Noorbaksh: Attacking Iran's nuclear sites is definitely counterproductive. The West must deal with the issue of fuel cycle rights and uranium enrichment in Iran with the utmost prudence. These issues are bigger than simply Ahmadinejad's government.

Most Iranians think that it is the legal right of Iran as a signatory of the N.P.T. to develop scientific projects in this area, regardless of how critical they are of the current government.

Any contemplation of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities will have dire consequences for Iran, the reform movement inside this country, and the whole region. Any attack by Israel would also be considered an attack by the United States, because both nations are security partners in the Middle East.

Overall, the nations of this region do not separate between Israel and the United States when it comes to political, security and military issues in this part of the world.

The "carrot and stick" strategy and serious negotiations with Iran through a third party, such as the Russians and Chinese, provide a very useful approach. Extreme measures against Iran would further destabilize the Middle East region and would have the potential to disrupt the flow of oil from different parts of the Persian Gulf area at this critical juncture in the history of energy supply.

There are conservative hard-line members of parliament in Iran who have suggested confrontation with the United States in the Strait of Hormuz.

If we put the military option aside, what could be the best strategy that should be followed against Iran? Do you think an economic embargo works?

Javedanfar: The best strategy would be to offer better economic incentives to Iran. The E.U's economic promises to Iran turned out to be not very substantial, as many of the items requested by Iran contained U.S. technology, which due to the embargo, the E.U was not able to supply.

I don't believe that sanctions will work. Iran has just had a bumper financial year; it earned $40 billion from oil alone. Iran also has porous borders, which means that smuggling from places such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Shiite areas of Iraq are very possible.

Sanctions against Iran will also hurt western economies, as they rely heavily on Iranian oil (Iran is OPEC's second biggest oil producer). Putting economic factors aside, culturally speaking, any sanctions against Iran will make the Iranian people more determined to support the nuclear program.

History has shown time and time again that despite internal political differences, in times of foreign hostility, Iranian people unite. This was shown during the British embargo on Iran during the rule of Mosadeq in the 1950s.

The economic sanctions imposed by the British and the U.S. did not break the Iranian people, despite all expectations of the West. The only way the West managed to change the situation was by financing a coup against Mosadeq.

Economic sanctions against Iran will be a mistake, by punishing the Iranian people; the West will also become their victimizer. If punishments are needed, the best form of sanctions would be one which targets the business interests of the leadership.

It is well known that Ayatollah Rafsanjani deals with conglomerates such as Daewoo, Hyundai, Statoil of Norway, Airbus and numerous other investments stretching all the way to Canada.

Other sections of the regime, such as the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) have huge business interests in the Emirates. If those are targeted by sanctions, they will have a much better chance of convincing the regime, as the leadership will pay from its own pocket, and not from the pocket of Iran's innocent citizens.

Noorbaksh: The best sanction on Iran is the sanction on Iranian oil exports. The Iranian non-oil export revenue is close to eight billion dollars a year. This amount is very small compared to the revenue of the oil export from the country.

The Iranian economy is absolutely dependent on oil revenue. Without oil money, the Iranian government's ventures will be hard hit. The middle class and intelligentsia are the engines of change and opposition to the government in Iran today.

Punishing this group, as poorly-devised sanctions will inevitably do, is not in the interest of change and democratization in the country. Cutting off Iranian oil from the global market is also not a wise thing to do. Both the industrial and developing nations need 2.5 million barrels of oil, five percent of the world's needs, which is exported from Iran daily. One million of this amount may be compensated, but the intense global oil market will suffer the consequences of this shortfall.

There is doubt that Saudi Arabia would pick up this one million barrel deficit, because the royal family might not want to jeopardize its relations with Iran especially after siding with the rest of the world in opposition to Iran's nuclear program.

Standard & Poor's sees dire consequences if sanctions are imposed on the Iranian oil exports; sending prices, near record level, and even higher. Consequently, that will badly damage global economic growth.

Israel is believed to have at least 200 nuclear weapons or capacity to be able to produce this amount, and has not yet signed the NPT. Israeli statesmen, too, sometimes use the same threatening jargon as Iranians. But we see the international pressure focused only on Iran that tries hard to persuade the world that its nuclear agenda is bound only to energy production and nothing more. Could you view this approach as a double standard as seen by the majority of Muslim World?

Javedanfar: Israel, unlike Ahmadinejad has never called for the total elimination of Arab countries. Nor has Israel called Muslim history a "myth" and a lie, something which Dr Ahmadinejad did to Jewish people in his remarks denying the Holocaust.

Meanwhile many Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Persian Gulf Countries, back the claim that Iran's nuclear program may not be as innocent as it should be. This is why many Arab countries are not providing Iran with their full support.
However, one can certainly understand why Arab and Muslim countries view Israel's supposed nuclear capability as a double standard, as Israel is not even a signatory of the NPT. This is certainly understandable and has logic to it. I believe the best way to solve such perceptions of double standards is to free the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction.

We also need to convince countries not to call for the elimination of others; as such threats are one of the biggest motivators for the possession of doomsday weapons. We need to create motivations to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, not to acquire them.

America's probable military operation will aim only at eliminating the nuclear capacity of Iran or might there be different expectations in the minds of war strategists?

Javedanfar: I strongly believe that in the case of an attack, U.S. planners would focus on the destruction of Iran's nuclear installations and possibly an attack against some of Iran's missiles and aerial bases in order to neutralize Iran's capability to respond. Any other attack would be counter productive and a waste of U.S. resources.

I do not see the U.S. attacking political sites such as the homes of politicians, as it is a well known fact that many of Iran's top politicians are very well protected.

There are some comments that America wants to play (is playing) the ethnical group card in Iran as it did in Iraq. Do you agree with this view? If so, could Kurds have an important role in Iran, too?

Javedanfar: It is very possible that the U.S. is manipulating Iran's ethnic minorities, especially Iranian Arabs in the Khuzestan region of Iran.

The U.S. can use its influence and infrastructure in Iraq to lend political and military support to them. The Kurds will also be a candidate for this task as the U.S. forces in Iraq, and their close relations with Barzani especially (not Talabani as he has excellent relations with Iran) may allow them to support Kurdish independence aspirations in Iran.

The Kurds could have an important role to play, as there are a number of Kurdish movements with established resources in Iran. In the long run, however, any Kurdish or Arab aspirations and plans for independence in Iran may be futile, as the Iranian government and people (in Iran and abroad including myself in Israel) are united against any plans for the division of Iran.

In short I believe any foreign plans to split Iran will be one of the biggest mistakes the west could make, as it would incur the wrath of millions of Iran's citizens. The West needs Iran's citizens on its side, not against it.

Some are afraid that America's probable operation against Iran could be the trigger of World War III. Do you agree?

Javedanfar: I do not believe that a U.S. attack against Iran would lead to WW III. For that to happen we need to see many countries becoming involved in the conflict. Even if Iran is attacked, I do not see great number of countries becoming involved in attacking the West.

Iran may have the support of numerous groups, such as Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad; however, it does not have the support of countries that would be prepared to go to war on its behalf.

'U.S. Operation Cannot Destroy the Iranian Regime'

Professor R. K. Ramazani comments: From the Iranian perspective, Ahmadinejad is trying to resist Western pressures with his statements. A U.S. or Israeli military strike is not likely to succeed, nor would the E.U. go along with an invasion.

Turkey should act the same prudent way it behaved in the case of the American invasion of Iraq. When it comes to what should be done; the best strategy for the U.S. would be to bite the bullet, recognize the Iranian regime and talk to it respectfully and directly. And right now even, some Americans see the Bush administration's approach to the nuclear issue as hypocritical.

Strategy planners might hope that military action would also destroy the regime, but that is a pipe dream because it would only strengthen nationwide support for the regime. Kurds could have an important role in Iran, too?

I really don't think so, but any Kurdish uprising would surely be crushed. Some may be afraid of World War III, but I don't agree because the cost of a world war would outweigh the benefits.
Is a "preemptive strike" on Iran by the United States imminent?  (2006-04-15 ~ 2006-04-26)
I don't know
This interview was first published on March 7, 2006, at the Turkish Internet newspaper www.zaman.com.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ali Cimen

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