US plans for Iran are the same as those it had for Iraq: break a military threat to Israel, writes Amin Howeidi*
Even in a turbulent Middle East, Iran manages to stand out for brinkmanship. But why is the Middle East simmering with one crisis after another? The answer to this question is never a straightforward one. Take Iraq, for example. Weapons of mass destruction, we were told by a confident Colin Powell before the war, had to be removed in a hurry. It turned out that the former secretary of state was lying. The reason the Americans went into Iraq was to eliminate that country's military power. And the reason Iraq was confronted by the full force of the US military was that Israel, America's main ally, wanted it this way. Now let's consider the case of Iran.
Iran admits that it succeeded in enriching uranium, which -- let's be frank -- brings it a step closer to making nuclear warheads. Iran, we all know, has long-range weapons that can reach strategic targets within Israel. Does this remind you of Iraq yet? Whenever Israel catches cold, the Americans sneeze. Evidently, the US wants to maintain Israel's status as the sole regional nuclear power, at least until a peace agreement is brokered. So regardless of what the Americans may say, they are not acting to defend themselves, but rather to defend Israel.
US aircraft carriers are now roaming the Gulf. And the US is sending shipments of arms to Israel and some Arab countries. The Pentagon keeps thinking up military plans and talking publicly about pre-emptive action. US officials say they will go after targets of military value (read: civilian targets). The rhetoric is calibrated to keep everyone on his toes. Do the Americans have enough intelligence about Iran? And if they don't, would this stop them?
Here are some of the possible options for the Americans: first, President Bush changes his mind, refrains from opening a new front in Iran, and a peaceful solution is reached. This eventuality cannot be ruled out, considering the troubles the Americans are already having in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, the US carries out aerial and rocket attacks from land bases or warships. Iran retaliates with missiles or sends the Revolutionary Guards against US land-based targets. Third, the US invades Iran.
Public opinion, resistance by the Democrats in Congress and logistical objections by the army would affect the course of US action. So would the view of its European and international allies.
As for the Iranians, they have to consider how far they can withstand a US strike and retaliate effectively. Iranian leaders may be posturing, but must be carefully weighing the facts.
A memory of the Gulf war: When Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait, an Iraqi radio presenter called me for comment. Obviously, she was overjoyed by what she considered to be a great Iraqi achievement. I disagreed. "I salute the Iraqi people and the brave Iraqi army," I said, "and I call on Iraqi officials to withdraw their troops because they have crossed serious redlines and will be faced with serious consequences." The presenter was shocked, for she had expected a different reaction. But I had to tell it as it was.
"If you cannot kill the wolf, give him some food so that he will go away," someone once told me. Iran has enriched uranium, which is quite an achievement. But nuclear experts say that the only way to ensure that a country is free from nuclear weapons is to kill all its nuclear scientists. This hasn't happened so far in Iran, and it doesn't need to happen. Peace, however, doesn't happen by itself.
* The writer is former defence minister and chief of General Intelligence.