The debate continues about Israel’s intent and readiness to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities and what Iran would do if that was to occur. The narrative covering this debate has revolved around if Israel will hit Iran before the US November election. Recent coverage was more concentrated on the difference of opinion between President Netanyahu and President Obama over establishing clear-cut red lines for Iran. There are also doubts about if the military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities can completely destroy them. Reports indicate that even if the US and Israeli acted jointly, the program will likely be set back only by a couple of years.
In short, prior to the recent events in Libya, US remained reluctant to pursue an all-out military solution towards Iran’s nuclear program. However, since the killing of Chris Stevens, the optimistic view of the trajectory of Arab Spring in the US is giving way to the narrative Israel has promoted all along. Early signs indicate a change of US posture may be in the offing.
Military Or Political Solution
Deciphering this ongoing deliberation reveals that Iran is not going to back down under the pressure of economic sanctions. Therefore, to Israel, it is obvious that there is no alternative to a military strike and covert operations that are already underway. Especially, when there is an alarm that Iran is fast approaching the point of no return in acquiring nuclear capability.
On the other hand, the US is not so sure that the military option is the only one available. Like in Iraq and Afghanistan, US likes to work on the political and military solutions in tandem. This approach has not worked out very well in both places. Nonetheless, the US has relied on economic sanctions, covert operations and diplomacy for the time being.
There is obviously the dynamics of Arab Spring to consider that has worked in the favor of US up to this point. With the spreading Arab revolt the balance of power in the Middle East is being altered to such an extent that ultimately, in combination with economic sanctions, Iran will be left without allies and depleted exchequer. And, this change in itself may convince the Iranians about the futility of its nuclear ambition. The parallel here is not much different than the example of Pakistan. The spreading war against extremists and its worsening economic woes have persuaded the country its time to change the nation’s security policies and ties with India.
However, recent events in North Africa, Middle East, including Afghanistan, are now pushing the US towards a rethink of its strategy. The protests that erupted in the aftermath of the anti-Islam video and the killing of the American ambassador in Libya have revealed alarming levels of anti-Americanism. On the other hand, the spreading green on blue attacks in Afghanistan presents a stark reflection of the collapse of approach there.
War On Terror And Arab Spring
For all intents and purposes, this year’s 9/11 anniversary marked the beginning of the next phase of the war on terror and Arab Spring, the two interconnected phenomena. It is worth mentioning that the recent protests around the Islamic world, and the reasons behind them, are not without historical precedence. During the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 in the subcontinent, the underpinnings also involved cultural and religious miscalculations. The present mishandlings are already producing dire consequences in Afghanistan and more serious consequences are likely to follow. In a statement regarding the events of Libya, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was already making these connections with history when it praised ‘Omar al-Mukhtar’s descendants’ for the killing of the American ambassador.
The harsh tactics adopted in the first phase of the war against terror have gradually eaten up the credibility and space the despotic leaders of the region needed to remain in power. At the same time, moderate Islamist and nationalist are resurgent while the secular and liberal space have consistently shrunk. On the other hand, the US is in need of allies that retain some level of public support to implement the counterterrorism strategy. The challenge being, in the second phase of the campaign against extremists, in many places, such allies no longer exist or have no political space to operate.
The killing of the American ambassador and the initial ambivalence of the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities to control the protests have given credence to the Israeli claim that moderate Islamists, that came to power as a result of the Arab awakening, have a soft corner for the radical Islamists. Moreover, the extremists will eventually take over the moderates. If this really is the case, then that means extremist groups are indeed benefiting by the present flux and chaos in the region and by exploiting the direction of the uprisings.
The American Elections
The Republican Party is leading the charge to counter this and has blamed Obama for not fully supporting Israel. In an interview with Fox News Newt Gingrich commented, “I think we should have a total reassessment of our entire strategy for the region.”
Representing the threat perception of Israel, Gingrich went on to state the Middle East is heading for serious turmoil, “As these dictatorships collapse, you’re seeing more and more weapons get in the hands of extremists. The Israelis have a real fear… they may suddenly see Syrian chemical weapons being fired at them by Hezbollah in very substantial quantities.”
In a fund raising event in May, Mitt Romney had this to say about the two-state solution:
“So the only answer is to show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we’re trying to force peace on them. Then it’s worth having the discussion. So until then, it’s just wistful thinking.”
A statement like these caused Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to state last week that the Palestinian leadership is considering canceling the 1993 Oslo Accords all together.
The politicking of American elections and events in the Middle East appear to be moving US policy closer to the Israeli position, even with all the risks. There is a very real chance that Israel will act independently and the US will be dragged into the conflict, even when it does not want to.
On Saturday, US Senate cleared a non-binding resolution on Iran by a vote of 90 to 1. The resolution emphasizes the US must do all it can to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Some observers think the bill clears the US moving towards war. Senator Rand Paul, the only one dissenting, argued, “This means that right now before anything happens, you’ve decided that you will preemptively go to war,” Paul commented.