Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The United States and Iran: No War before the Elections | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Deputy Commander of the navy affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stated that Iran is capable of defending itself in the case of an attack incoming from the Persian Gulf by using Basij forces to carry out suicide attacks.

This statement was made last Monday, 29 October, four days after the US decision to impose new sanctions targeting the IRGC, particularly Iran’s al Quds Force. Sanctions have also been imposed on companies that are run by the IRGC and three state-owned banks Melli and Mellat and Bank Saderat.

Iran is currently witnessing a period in which decisions on how to deal with the US are being made. The issues under discussion are Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program and its missile activity. But Iran is left with little options; either to engage in serious negotiations with Washington, or to insist upon its intransigent positions and “depend” upon Russian assistance to provide guarantees over the short term.

The contradictory stances adopted by Washington only add to Iran’s confusion. Perhaps the threatening tactic that Iran could adopt is to threaten to embroil the neighboring Arab states in the case of a US attack on it.

However, it is not only Iran alone that is confused; the US also displays disconcertion when it comes to Tehran. The international consensus and backing that the US aspires to obtain with regards to the sanctions it imposes on Iran is not available. As for war, neither of the states in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is willing to take part in it. Russia and China have made their positions known and Germany does not want to ruin its close relationship with Hashemi Rafsanjani [former president and current speaker of the Assembly of Experts], which it anticipates will reassume the presidency and as such, seeks to protect its economic investments.

In his criticism against the statement issued by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed al Baradei, French Defense Minister Herve Morin stated that Iran is not building nuclear weapons and added that, “The prospect of a war is a prospect which does not exist for France.”

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stated that his country is considering imposing additional sanctions on Iran but he has not referred to the word “war” in any context.

In a telephone interview, an informed American source disclosed, “Washington is presently satisfied with the boycott and there will be no war in the near future. This is because President George W. Bush wants to avoid taking any step that could harm the prospects of the Republicans remaining in power in Washington. Another war will kill all hopes for Republicans.”

He elaborated, “Any war with Iran could impede Rudy Giuliani progress to the presidential post. President Bush cannot launch a new war in the proximity of the unstable Iraq. Besides, the public no longer believes reports issued by the US intelligence agencies.”

However, the source was quick to add, “This does not mean that the war option has been completely eliminated because of the presidential elections. There is a period between November 2008; the month in which the US elections will take place, and January 2009, the month in which the new present will assume his/her post. During this period, if the situation continues to deteriorate then going to war would be an inevitable choice. However; prior to the elections there will be no war.”

According to another American source who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, the US is currently betting on a clash of objectives between Iran and Syria over Lebanon.

“Washington is now sure that Damascus does not want the presidential elections to take place in Lebanon. Rather, it prefers that Lebanon becomes embroiled in a new civil war so that it may hinder the progress of the International Tribunal. This is why Washington will not take any steps towards Iran but will continue to pressure Syria until the tribunal commences. If the court finds Syria guilty, it will be difficult for Europe to continue its contact and cooperation with Damascus,” the same source disclosed.

He also added, “Iran has different views. It does not want a civil war in Lebanon. It does not regard Hezbollah as a means, but rather as an extension of itself that is important to it. It cannot abandon Hezbollah to a civil war in Lebanon. In Iran’s view, Hezbollah means the dissemination of the Shiaa throughout over the Arab world. Shiism is already present in various Arab states, including Syria and Jordan. It is a new revolution that is being exported. For this reason it [Iran] does not want a civil war in Lebanon; besides, Iraq is already caught in the grips of a civil war.”

According to the US source, Iran has a clear agenda to access the Arab world. As for Syria, its status is quite different. The tribunal is a threat to the Syrian regime, which is why Damascus wants a civil war in Lebanon. This is what makes it different from Iran; both parties have different agendas in Lebanon.

Previously, the US, the West and the Arab world had thought about detaching Syria from Iran. Perhaps Lebanon could be the factor that drives a wedge between the two parties. Iran wants an Islamic state in the long run and Syria is contemplating civil war.

What remains striking is that Secretary-General of Hezbollah, al Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah makes no mention of an Islamic state. In its long-term plan, like that of Iran, Hezbollah wants Lebanon to continue to exist. Still, Syria wants to see a civil war erupt so it can protect its own regime. However, Damascus does not count on Hezbollah’s support in the case of deciding to ignite a civil war in Lebanon.

This analysis would have sufficed if it only examined the conflict between the US and Iran. When American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the new sanctions adopted against Tehran, she admitted the existence of disagreements with Moscow, but said that maintaining a non-nuclear Iran was an “American-Russian goal”.

Has Iran become the bargaining card in the new Russian-American competition?

But the American-Russian meeting last 12 October in Moscow, which discussed the US anti-missile shield system that American intends to set up in Bologna with a radar station in the Czech Republic, did not succeed. In Prague, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that the US had informed Russia that it is willing to not activate the missile defense system if Moscow and Washington could agree that Iran poses a threat. Chief advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed this new development [Gates’ words] and believed it to contain positive signals and “new elements”.

As such, a new factor has emerged that will draw the two countries together with the intention of negotiating over the missile shield. This means putting an end to Iran’s military and political programs. However; conversely, there is also a power struggle in Iran between the hard-liners and conservatives and a heated debate as to the extent by which Tehran can trust the Russians who would be willing to abandon Iran if they can strike an agreement with the Americans.

Among the conflicts and subjects of debate in Iran today is the preservation of Iran’s interests in Iraq, given the presence of a strong player such as the US there. Presently, Iran monitors America’s every move that signals towards an increased presence on [Iraq’s] western borders with the intention of destabilizing the Iranian National Security (The US base in Iraq lies a mere 10 kilometers from the Iranian border).

Thus the Iranians will have to either opt for serious negotiations with the US, General David Petraeus has suggested a new meeting should be held, or take a risk and depend on the Russians.

Russian President Putin has announced that several security guarantees will be available if Iran was subjected to a US attack. However, the price of such protection will be stopping Iran’s nuclear program, in which case will mean a consensus between Moscow and Washington.

An American-Russian pact would isolate Iran, whereas an American-Iranian deal would push Russia aside, and a Russian-Iranian deal could paralyze the United States.

The power struggle in Tehran has become aggravated due to the US threat that it could wage a war. After Iran found itself embroiled in the US-Iranian bazaar, it soon realized that it had also entered into the US-Russian bazaar to avoid a war that it says it was capable of confronting with 11,000 rockets and the Basij forces suicide attacks.