Friday, January 13, 2006

Of Western Media Hype and Iran

Amir Taheri, Gulf News:
The United States has decided to invade Iran and change its regime. The invasion will start on March 19 with bombing raids against “sensitive targets” in Iran by the US Air Force operating from Turkey, the Mussandam Peninsula, and the island of Massirah.

This is the gist of a number of articles, news items and “strategic analyses” published in the Western media over the past two weeks.

Wow! But is this really true? Since journalists should not engage in fortune-telling, we cannot offer a definite answer. READ MORE

What we can do, however, is to recall the fact that this is not the first time that reports about an “imminent invasion” of Iran by the United States hit the Western media.

Last year the New Yorker magazine published a lengthy article detailing what it claimed was an American plan to invade Iran. Quoting the usual “senior sources speaking on condition of anonymity”, the magazine even fixed date for the invasion for June 2005. It reported that units of American Special Forces had already entered Iran from Afghanistan and were engaged in unspecified operations without being detected. Well, we know that there was no June invasion.

Thank goodness. And may be there will not be a March invasion either.

So, why did those “senior sources speaking on condition of anonymity”, let’s call them the SSSCA for short, chose June as the invasion date? The only answer is that they wanted to demonstrate their sense of humor.

On the calendar of Iran, June is the month of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution. It was in June 1963 that he organized his first uprising against the Shah. And it was also in the June of 1989 that he died.

But, why have the SSSCA now decided to shift the invasion from June to March?

The reason may be that March 19 would be the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. It will also be the eve of the Iranian New Year, Now-Ruz, which starts with the spring equinox on March 20. As you see the SSSCA are not so dumb after all.

My guess is that the SSSCA either do not exist or, if they do, are using some gullible journalists dreaming of a Pulitzer-securing scoop, to exert psychological pressure on the Iranian leadership.

But what if the SSSCA do exist and the New Yorker and other media that frequently publish their “leaks” know something that we don’t? What if the invasion starts on March 19 ? Would we not end up with egg on our face? Well, we will have to wait and see.

In the meantime the best we can do is to review the causes of a putative clash between Iran and the United States.

The immediate cause cited by the SSSCA is Tehran’s alleged plan for building an arsenal of nuclear weapons in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which it signed 35 years ago.

It is an established fact that Iran did violate the NPT for almost 18 years before admitting it and promising not to do so again. The International Atomic Energy Agency took note of that promise and agreed not to punish Tehran for its past misdeeds. In exchange Tehran offered to suspend its program of uranium enrichment and was promised economic “goodies” by the European Union.

Now, however, Tehran has decided to end its voluntary suspension of at least part of its enrichment program. This in no way violates the NPT and is no proof that Tehran does have a nuclear military agenda.

Here then is the interesting part: When Tehran actually admitted having violated the NPT it suffered no sanctions. Now that it says it is not violating the NPT, and there is no evidence that it is, it would be rich to talk of sanctions let alone invasion and regime change.

In any case Tehran can always walk out of the NPT and tell its members where to get off. Developing nuclear weapons is a legal right for any nation that has not signed that right away by joining the NPT.

The problem with Iran, therefore, is not its alleged plan to develop nuclear weapons. Seven NPT members are confirmed nuclear powers and at least five other nations outside the NPT are suspected of having such weapons.

Iran’s regional ambitions, of course, are in contradiction with the American ambition to reshape the Middle East on the basis of the Bush doctrine.

Paradoxically, a nuclear-armed Iran could be far more dangerous to the countries of the region, including Russia, India and China, than to the United States. Further afield a nuclear-powered Iran could also emerge as a strategic threat to the European Union.

In the short to medium-terms, however, Tehran is unlikely to develop the kind of nuclear arsenal that could pose an imminent and present danger to the US itself. In fact, by going nuclear Iran may play into the American hands. As a non-nuclear state, Iran cannot be attacked by a nuclear state. By becoming a nuclear state, Iran would lose that immunity, enabling the US to use its nuclear superiority in any final showdown.

As far as the US is concerned Tehran cannot become anything more than an irritant. Tehran could do mischief in Iraq and Afghanistan while funding and arming the Hezbollah and some Palestinian groups. But it does not have the wherewithal to impose its design on the Middle East.

So, if the SSSCA are right and the US is going to invade Iran it would be doing so in the interests of the regional countries that will be threatened by a nuclear-powered Iran.

If I were one of the SSSCA I would wonder why I should do the dirty work of others who would then march to demonize rather than thank me. If the Gulf Cooperation Council, the League of Arab States, the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States, Turkey, the European Union, China, India and Pakistan are happy with a nuclear-powered Iran why should the SSSCA in Washington behave in a holier-than-thou manner?

The SSSCA may be clever enough to manipulate some Pulitzer-seeking reporters and use them to spread rumors and misinformation to confuse the adversary.

But when it comes to the broader task of developing a strategy they are certainly not as naïve as the New Yorker makes them sound. At least, I hope they are not!