Israel Palestine Middle East
IF YOU want to understand the policy of a country, look at the map - as Napoleon
Anyone who wants to guess whether Israel
and/or the United States are
going to attack Iran should
look at the map of the Strait of Hormuz between Iran
and the Arabian Peninsula.
Through this narrow waterway, only 34 km wide, pass the ships that carry between a
fifth and a third of the world's oil, including that from Iran, Iraq,
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar
MOST OF the commentators who talk about the inevitable American and
Israeli attack on Iran
do not take account of this map.
There is talk about a "sterile", a "surgical" air
strike. The mighty air fleet of the United States
will take off from the aircraft carriers already stationed in the Persian Gulf
and the American air bases dispersed throughout the region and bomb all the
nuclear sites of Iran
- and on this happy occasion also bomb government institutions, army
installations, industrial centers and anything else they might fancy. They will
use bombs that can penetrate deep into the ground.
Simple, quick and elegant - one blow and bye-bye Iran, bye-bye ayatollahs,
attacks alone, the blow will be more modest. The most the attackers can hope
for is the destruction of the main nuclear sites and a safe return.
I have a modest request: before you start, please look at the map once
more, at the Strait named (probably) after the god of Zarathustra.
THE INEVITABLE reaction to the bombing of Iran will be the blocking of this
Strait. That should have been self-evident even without the explicit declaration
by one of Iran's
highest ranking generals a few days ago.
Iran dominates the whole
length of the Strait. They can seal it hermetically with their missiles and
artillery, both land based and naval.
If that happens, the price of oil will skyrocket - far beyond the 200
dollars-per-barrel that pessimists dread now. That will cause a chain reaction:
a world-wide depression, the collapse of whole industries and a catastrophic
rise in unemployment in America,
Europe and Japan.
In order to avert this danger, the Americans would need to conquer parts
- perhaps the whole of this large country. The US does not have at its disposal even
a small part of the forces they would need. Practically all their land forces
are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The mighty American navy is menacing Iran - but the moment the Strait is
closed, it will itself resemble those model ships in bottles. Perhaps it is this
danger that made the navy chiefs extricate the nuclear-powered
aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln from the Persian Gulf this week, ostensibly because
of the situation in Pakistan.
This leaves the possibility that the US will act by proxy. Israel will attack, and this will not officially
involve the US,
which will deny any responsibility.
Indeed? Iran has
already announced that it would consider an Israeli attack as an American
operation, and act as if it had been directly attacked by the US. That is
NO ISRAELI government would ever consider the possibility of starting such
an operation without the explicit and unreserved agreement of the US. Such a confirmation
will not be forthcoming.
So what are all these exercises, which generate such dramatic headlines in
the international media?
The Israeli Air Force has held exercises at a distance of 1500 km from our shores.
The Iranians have responded with test firings of their Shihab
missiles, which have a similar range. Once, such activities were called
"saber rattling", nowadays the preferred term is "psychological
warfare". They are good for failed politicians with domestic needs, to
divert attention, to scare citizens. They also make excellent television. But
simple common sense tells us that whoever plans a surprise strike does not proclaim
this from the rooftops. Menachem Begin did not stage
public exercises before sending the bombers to destroy the Iraqi reactor, and
even Ehud Olmert did not make a speech about his
intention to bomb a mysterious building in Syria.
SINCE KING Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire some 2500
years ago, who allowed the Israelite exiles in Babylon
to return to Jerusalem
and build a temple there, Israeli-Persian relations have their ups and downs.
Until the Khomeini revolution, there was a close alliance between them. Israel trained
the Shah's dreaded secret police ("Savak").
The Shah was a partner in the Eilat-Ashkelon oil
pipeline which was designed to bypass the Suez Canal.
is still trying to enforce payment for the oil it supplied then.)
The Shah helped to infiltrate Israeli army officers into the Kurdish part
where they assisted Mustafa Barzani's revolt against
Saddam Hussein. That operation came to an end when the Shah betrayed the Iraqi
Kurds and made a deal with Saddam. But Israeli-Iranian cooperation was almost
restored after Saddam attacked Iran.
In the course of that long and cruel war (1980-1988), Israel secretly supported the Iran of the
ayatollahs. The Irangate affair was only a small part
of that story.
That did not prevent Ariel Sharon from planning to conquer Iran, as I have
already disclosed in the past. When I was writing an in-depth article about him
in 1981, after his appointment as Minister of Defense, he told me in confidence
about this daring idea: after the death of Khomeini,
Israel would forestall the
Soviet Union in the race to Iran.
The Israeli army would occupy Iran
in a few days and turn the country over to the much slower Americans, who would
have supplied Israel
well in advance with large quantities of sophisticated arms for this express purpose.
He also showed me the maps he intended to take with him to the annual
strategic consultations in Washington.
They looked very impressive. It seems, however, that the Americans were not so impressed.
All this indicates that by itself, the idea of an Israeli military
intervention in Iran
is not so revolutionary. But a prior condition is close cooperation with the US. This will
not be forthcoming, because the US
would be the primary victim of the consequences.
IRAN IS now a regional
power. It makes no sense to deny that.
The irony of the matter is that for this they must thank their foremost
benefactor in recent times: George W. Bush. If they had even a modicum of gratitude,
they would erect a statue to him in Tehran's
For many generations, Iraq
was the gatekeeper of the Arab region. It was the wall of the Arab world
against the Persian Shiites. It should be remembered that during the
Iraqi-Iranian war, Arab Shiite Iraqis fought with great enthusiasm against
Persian Shiite Iranians.
When President Bush invaded Iraq
and destroyed it, he opened the whole region to the growing might of Iran. In future
generations, historians will wonder about this action, which deserves a chapter
to itself in "The March of Folly".
Today it is already clear that the real American aim (as I have asserted
in this column right from the beginning) was to take possession of the Caspian
Sea/Persian Gulf oil region and station a permanent American garrison at its
center. This aim was indeed achieved - the Americans are now talking about their
forces remaining in Iraq "for
a hundred years", and they are now busily engaged in dividing Iraq's huge oil
reserves among the four or five giant American oil companies.
But this war was started without wider strategic thinking and without
looking at the geopolitical map. It was not decided who is the main enemy of
in the region, neither was it clear where the main effort should be. The advantage
of dominating Iraq may well
be outweighed by the rise of Iran
as a nuclear, military and political power that will overshadow America's
allies in the Arab world.
WHERE DO we Israelis stand in this game?
For years now, we have been bombarded by a propaganda campaign that
depicts the Iranian nuclear effort as an existential threat to Israel. Forget
the Palestinians, forget Hamas and Hizbullah, forget Syria - the
sole danger that threatens the very existence of the State of Israel is the
Iranian nuclear bomb.
I repeat what I have said before: I am not prey to this existential
Angst. True, life is more pleasant without an Iranian nuclear bomb, and Ahmadinejad is not very nice either. But if the worst comes
to the worst, we will have a "balance of terror" between the two
nations, much like the American-Soviet balance of terror that saved mankind
from World War III, or the Indian-Pakistani balance of terror that provides a
framework for a rapprochement between those two countries that hate each other's
ON THE basis of all these considerations, I dare to predict that there will be no military
attack on Iran
this year - not by the Americans, not by the Israelis.
As I write these lines, a little red light turns on in my head. It is
related to a memory: in my youth I was an avid reader of Vladimir Jabotinsky's
weekly articles, which impressed me with their cold logic and clear style. In
August 1939, Jabotinsky wrote an article in which he
asserted categorically that no war would break out, in spite of all the rumors
to the contrary. His reasoning: modern weapons are so terrible, that no country
would dare to start a war.
A few days later Germany
invaded Poland, starting the
most terrible war in human history (until now), which ended with the Americans
dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, for
63 years, nobody has used nuclear weapons in a war.
President Bush is about to end his career in disgrace. The same fate is
waiting impatiently for Ehud Olmert. For politicians
of this kind, it is easy to be tempted by a last adventure, a last chance for a
decent place in history after all.
All the same, I stick to my prognosis: it will not happen.