New Middle East for Old

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With financial troubles in many countries, an armed conflict between Iran and the West would be inopportune. President Barack Obama, who seeks re-election this year, hopes for an agreement with Iran. At present, Obama is bending over backward to accommodate the Iranians. He knows what a war in the Middle East might do to gasoline prices, and he knows what gasoline prices might do to his hopes for re-election. Besides Iran, there is also a crisis in Syria where up to 20,000 have been killed in the course of a bloody civil war. The West would like to facilitate an end to the Assad regime, over the objections of Russia and Iran.

As everyone knows, the Iranians are refusing to give up their nuclear program. From all appearances, the six power talks, to be held in Moscow (June 18-19), will probably not achieve much. Iranian officials say their nuclear program is peaceful, and they insist that everyone accept and believe in this peacefulness. Those that know the regime best, like former Revolutionary Guardsman Reza Kahlili, say the regime in Tehran is the opposite of peaceful. According to Kahlili, Iran’s leaders want to ignite a nuclear war in order to facilitate an Islamic apocalypse. “The only true avenue to lasting peace in the Middle East,” says Kahlili, is to “help bring about a free and democratic Iran.” Of course, this is not going to happen. The West isn’t positioned for such a gamble. The Iranian government knows this, and that’s why they are becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. Last April the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, which is under the direct supervision of the Office of the Supreme Leader threatened: “If the U.S. strikes Iran with nuclear weapons, there are elements which will respond with nuclear blasts in the centers of America’s main cities.”

Tehran’s threat implies an Iranian nuclear capability. It also implies the possibility of nuclear terrorism, relying on Islamic terror networks. Of course, the statement is defensive in nature, and must be understood as such. Yet it acknowledges a nuclear capability. This is exactly the kind of capability the West would not like Iran to have. The Israeli’s, especially, are growing desperate about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. Many are frightened by the prospect.

In a recent interview, Israeli vice premier and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon said during an interview with Haaretz, “Let me say one thing to you in English, because it is very important for English speakers to understand it: We are not bluffing. If the political-economic pressure is played out … and Iran continues to hurtle toward a bomb, decisions will have to be made.” Ya’alon is under no illusion about Iran’s readiness to retaliate, especially against Isreal: “If anyone, no matter who, decides to take military action against Iran’s nuclear project, there is a high probability that Iran will react against us, too, and will fire missiles at Israel.” And those missiles might be armed with chemical or biological warheads. If Israel and Iran begin exchanging missiles, nobody knows how it would end – but we can guess. According to Jane’s Information Group, Israel has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads. Some of these can be mounted on cruise missiles carried by Dolphin-class submarines. Israel’s land-based delivery system, the Jericho 3 missile, has a range of nearly 8,000 kilometers. If Iran started a biological/chemical missile war with Israel, the retaliation would be withering. One may doubt, indeed, the clerics’ readiness for martyrdom. Yet there is a crisis more immediate, which may soon eclipse the Iran crisis.

According to a June 16 DEBKAfile report, U.S. military intervention in the Syrian Civil War may be inevitable. The Americans want President Bashar al-Assad to step down. That happens to be a big problem for President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Putin favors the Assad government, a longtime client of Moscow and ally of Iran. As the chief arms supplier to Syria, the Russians have recently sent attack helicopters to the Assad regime. The United States strongly objected with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issuing a statement. “We have confronted the Russians about stopping their arms shipments to Syria,” said Clinton, who thinks the conflict could escalate “dramatically.”

Perhaps the most alarming report comes from Aaron Klein, who reports that the Russians are warning the Assad regime that if “the coming counterinsurgency … is not successful in the next 4-6 weeks, Syria should be prepared for war.” Although Klein admits confusion regarding the meaning of Russia’s warning, the language is clear enough. The DEBKAfile report (above) provides the answer: “The intervention [by Americans] will happen. It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’” Market watchers should take note. Intervention in Syria may be coming, and it isn’t likely to be a picnic. It has long been suspected that Syria manufactures Sarin, Tabun, VX and mustard gas. According to businessinsider.com, Syria is “loaded up on all kinds of missiles, weapons of mass destruction, a solid air force, and enough Cold War relics to fill a dozen Air-and-Space museums.” Then there is the question of what kind of support the Iranians or Russians might provide Syria.

It is surprising to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on Moscow to cut ties with Assad. Clinton probably does not sympathize with Russia’s loyalty to a longtime ally. After all, Obama ditched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Why shouldn’t Putin ditch Assad? It should be obvious by now that the Kremlin does not pick allies on the basis of their human rights records. Russia plays a strategic game, and if it suits Russia to defend Assad then Assad will be defended. In all probability, however, Assad is not important enough for Russia to risk a war on unfavorable terms. Russia’s game is a long game, requiring patience. Let the Americans squander their political capital and military resources on an Arab Spring that may bring radical Islamic regimes to power across the Middle East. If the Russians simply wait, together with their Chinese and Iranian friends, the regimes that come to power in Syria, Egypt and Libya might be more anti-Western than the regimes they replaced.

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About JR Nyquist

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