Monday, 6 February 2012


On 3 February 2012, Russia denied that it was considering a US deal to permit an American-sponsored hit on Iran in exchange for non-Western intervention in Syria. Moscow insisted that it would not engage in backroom deals to back stab its Middle Eastern allies. This announcement came one day after Russia called the UN Security Council resolution to condemn Syria for its long-standing internal violence an act of hasty diplomacy. Along with China, Russia did not vote for the UN resolution that the US wanted passed on the grounds that it constituted a blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty.

Needless to say, that Syria has a very serious political problem, but it is an internal one. Russia and China held the same view as they do about Syria about when US-UK-French intervention in Libya began. While China does not wish to alienate any of the Arab countries with which it does business, it has been reluctant to go along with the pro-US Arab League that demands peacekeeping troops on the ground; essentially one step before full Western military intervention to overthrow Assad. At the same time, China does not wish to be blamed for social unrest spreading from Syria to Lebanon and Jordan, as the US will accuse Beijing that tries to avoid the difficult decision impacting Syria and by extension Iran.

The Syrian situation is complicated by the persistent reports of Western intelligence interference in the Syrian opposition, as well as al-Qaeda support for the rebels. That the US has found itself on the same side as al-Qaeda in Syria, as it did in Libya has raised a great deal of discussion around the world, especially by conspiracy theorists who charge that al-Qaeda has become a very convenient foreign policy for the US. Now that there has been some confirmation that Israel has been working with a terrorist organization to assassinate Iranian scientists, the question is the degree to which the US has been involved as well with 'Islamic' terrorists trying to destabilize Islamic countries.

Both Beijing and Moscow were interested in regime change in Libya where a post-Gaddhafi government could offer better terms and greater cooperation to them, even if it were already known that French and Italian companies would demand their share of the market. Libya was not in Russia's or China's sphere of influence, thus open for Western intervention and backroom deals. Neither China nor Russia could go along with the US-backed proposal for Western intervention in Syria, or in Iran, for the two go together and they are not Western or 'open' spheres of influence.

If the Assad regime is to collapse, as it most certainly will unless  there is a very radical change from within the current government, then it must do so not as the result of NATO bombs delivered by drone aircraft, at least as far as China and Russia are concerned. Russia has a long-standing relationship with Syria and Iran and it is not about to yield its traditional spheres of influence to the US. Even more significant, China needs Iran's oil more than any other country, and Chinese economic growth, which is expected to slow at around 8% in 2012, will slow even more if energy prices rise because of US intervention either in Syria or Iran. 

In mid-January 2012, the US tried to convince both Moscow and Beijing to back a new round of sanctions on Iran and to go along with anti-Assad measures to replace him with what will most certainly be a pro-US regime, given that the CIA has been active with Syrian opposition groups for a long time. The best that Russia and China could do for the US is to pressure Iran to accept the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has never found any evidence of nuclear weapons now or in the pipeline.

Nevertheless, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who warned Israel not to act alone against Iran and to keep the rhetoric at low tones, insisted that Iran may not have weapons now, but it will in a year or so, thus it poses a threat to the US which holds the world's largest nuclear arsenal! Israel, which possesses nuclear weapons now, came out and called Iran a security threat, although the brief history of Israel is one of perpetual militaristic aggression toward its neighbors and permanent occupation of Palestinian lands.

By contrast, Iran responded that it will only act militarily to defend itself against aggressors and countries providing military bases and support to the aggressors- US and Israel, possibly France and UK - if a strike emanates against Iranian sovereign land. Iran has implied in the past and it did so again this month, that it will strike regional Western allies if they provide military support for US and Israel intended to hit Iran, a threat intended for Turkey and America's Arab allies in the Gulf.

On 5 February 2012, President Obama finally stated that his administration had decided against a military solution in Iran and in favor of a political/diplomatic one. He stated that the risks for a military solution were too great, something the US knew last month, last year, and all along when Washington was issuing military threats, partly so that it could force Iran to accept US terms for economic integration with the West - force Iran's markets to open to Western capital, products and services, so that it would be reduced to the kind of dependency it was under the Shah.

That the Obama team decided against a military strike in Iran is largely because of resistance from Moscow and Beijing to go along with the US to remain neutral in the process of the ongoing aggression. To appease Israel and the American right wingers for proposing a 'political solution', Obama has proposed even more sanctions against Iran.

By far more significant in Obama's decision is the absence of a deal between the US, China and Russia on their respective influence in Iran after a possible strike by the Israelis. It may very well be that Iran has agreed with China and Russia to negotiate with the US for gradual opening of its national economy to the West, in addition to playing a lesser role in the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan where Iran has been active and stands to benefit longer term once the US is no longer a major factor.

Meanwhile, Turkey that would not mind having Assad removed, thereby strengthening its position even more in the region, was also a factor in the US decision. Given that Ankara and Israel have not enjoyed cordial relations in the last three years, it would be very difficult for Ankara to justify allowing US military operations from their soil against Iran, to say nothing of the risks of Iranian military retaliation that would put an end to Turkey's ambitions of becoming the second most powerful Islamic nation after Iran.

There are many facets to Obama's decision to ameliorate relations with Iran, from the volatility to the EU economy to the fact that Iran is very powerful and not at all like Iraq, to the reality that the US achieved absolutely nothing but debt in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I could continue on explaining the roles of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan as essential factors in the US decision for a diplomatic solution, but I would rather focus on one salient factor in the US that has to do with the presidential election that Obama has almost locked up and does not really need to fear the Jewish lobby as he has in the past.

Prominent Jewish Americans are already contributing heavily to Obama's Republican opponents, including to Tea Party movement candidates that seem to have retreated into the background for now. Obama will secure the Liberal-Democrat Jewish vote and campaign contributions, largely because most experts expect him to win; and who does not want to be on the side of the winner? Therefore, the diplomatic solution he is now putting on the table will not cost him politically with the right-wing that will not back him any more than it will cost him with the Jewish vote and money. From a domestic political perspective as well as a foreign policy one, the risks for the Obama team are too great if he did not place a diplomatic solution on the table.

The only caveat is that the diplomatic solution is a bluff, namely, Obama may have done so with preconditions that are too rigid for Iran to accept, and to buy time until Israel prepares to hit Iran nuclear energy program installations. Even if as a diplomatic approach is on the table, the cat-and-mouse game over the Straits of Hormuz where the US and Iran both demand to maintain control. Nor does a diplomatic solution mean that at any time there may not be an issue that may give the US and Israel the pretext to bomb Iran.

If this is indeed a genuine proposal, a diplomatic resolution to the long-standing US-Iran cold war may be a first step toward a reexamination of the 'war on terror', the inane equivalent to the 'war on drugs'. Furthermore, it may be a first step toward a solution to the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Above all, amelioration of US-Iranian relations may actually result in Iranian reformers actually having a real chance to be heard and to make a difference on significant human rights, including women's issues.

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