Washington’s pressure over Iran’s nuclear program is setting the stage for a major confrontation, including a possible military attack–either by Israel or U.S. forces directly. Already a charter member of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” Iran is in the crosshairs today because it has greatly complicated the U.S. occupation in neighboring Iraq.
Because of its large economy and the influence it has among Shia Muslims–who are the majority of the population in Iraq–Iran’s Islamist government is a major factor, especially in southern Iraq, where the Shia population is concentrated. “With the election in Iraq four months away, the administration has grown increasingly alarmed about the resources Tehran is pouring into Iraq’s already well-organized Shiite religious parties, which give them an edge over struggling moderate and nonsectarian parties,” the Washington Post reported September 25.
This is the context for Washington’s campaign to force Iran to accept additional inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice stated that the U.S. and its allies “cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon,” adding later, “Iran has to be isolated in its bad behavior, not engaged.”
While Iran has maintained that the program is intended to produce electricity for civilian needs, the technology could also be used to produce weapons-grade uranium. This has led to widespread speculation in the Israeli press about an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The model for such an attack is Israel’s 1981 air raid on Iraq that destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility. Israel is also rushing to upgrade defenses against a new generation of Iranian missiles that can now hit much of Israel–and Iran has vowed to launch them in case of an Israeli attack. And Iran is negotiating to purchase advanced radar from India that would enhance its own defenses against Israeli warplanes.
Israel’s focus on Iran was highlighted when a Pentagon official was accused of passing top-secret information about the Iranian nuclear program to Israel. But Israel’s campaign against Iran goes far beyond nuclear weapons, which Israeli experts believe couldn’t be developed until 2007 at the earliest.
Iran supports the Lebanese Shiite Islam party Hezbollah, whose fighters forced Israel to end its occupation of southern Lebanon and which has influence in the Palestinian resistance. Iran is also aligned with Syria, which has seen rising tensions over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
For Israel, a confrontational approach to Iran is the international element of its aim of crushing Palestinian resistance in Gaza prior to a pullout and virtually annexing Palestinian land on the occupied West Bank with its “security wall.” Syria, moreover, is also the target of repeated accusations by the U.S. that it’s aiding the resistance in Iraq. For these reasons, an Israeli attack on Iran could lead to a confrontation with what Israeli military analyst Ze’ev Schiff calls the “Iran-Syria-Hezbollah array”–and lead to an “all-out war.”
In any case, the question of whether Israeli or U.S. planes carry out an attack on Iran is purely secondary. Given U.S. control of Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace, there’s no way for Israeli jets to attack Iran without Washington’s approval.
Moreover, in the coming weeks, the U.S. will provide Israel with 5,000 laser-guided “smart bombs,” including 500 “bunker-busters” that have no use against Palestinians but would be ideal for attacking fortified Iranian–or Syrian–military installations. Financing for the deal will come from $319 million in U.S. aid to Israel. For now, Washington is following the same script it used to try to obtain United Nations (UN) backing for the invasion of Iraq.
The U.S. initially pushed the IAEA to impose an October 31 deadline on Iran to allow inspections of the processing facilities–or see the matter referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions. But the other main parties in the IAEA negotiation–Britain, France and Germany–refused to go along. Instead, the IAEA set a “soft” deadline of November 25–by which Iran must present additional information about its nuclear program and ratify the so-called Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows for a more aggressive IAEA inspection regime.
The split between the U.S. and Europe on Iran’s nukes is a reflection of their divergent–and at times, conflicting–interests in the Middle East. Even Britain, the main player in the “coalition of the willing” in the invasion of Iraq, has a very different relationship with Iran as British Petroleum angles to become the key player Iran’s natural gas industry.
France and Germany have even greater economic interests in Iran, where recent privatization and joint ventures have created further opportunities for investment. With a population of 69 million–nearly three times that of Iraq’s–and an economy that’s grown by 7 percent in each of the last two years, Iran has the greatest economic potential in the Persian Gulf. But Washington’s policy has forced U.S. multinational corporations to the sidelines.
Bush administration hard-liners argue that additional pressure on Iran–including a possible military confrontation–is key to breaking the impasse in Iraq. By contrast, U.S. State Department officials–and John Kerry’s campaign–argue that a policy of engagement is the best solution, reflecting a desire to keep the U.S. from being boxed out of Iran altogether.
The differences shouldn’t be exaggerated, however. Kerry’s camp has stated that if he’s elected, the U.S. wouldn’t tolerate Iran’s continued nuclear program–another indication that Kerry, like Bush, is willing to launch new wars to perpetuate Washington’s control of the Middle East. All this highlights the need to rebuild the movement to demand an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq–and to challenge U.S. imperialism everywhere.