The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
Trump and Netanyahu Could Fall Into a War with Iran
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

Iran has an exaggerated reputation in the Middle East for Machiavellian cunning and an ability to outmanoeuvre its enemies. Britain used to be regarded in the same light in the region: its most ill-considered actions were admired as devilishly clever plots when all it was doing was taking advantage of the blunders of its opponents.

The Islamic Republic is similarly seen as the sinister hidden hand behind many developments with which it has little to do. It is accused of creating a corridor of pro-Iranian states from Tehran to the Mediterranean, posing an existential threat to Israel and the Gulf monarchies. The Iran nuclear deal of 2015 is to be dropped by Donald Trump because it has supposedly done nothing to avert these dangers, possibly leaving military action as the only option.

Iranian influence has certainly expanded but only thanks a series of disastrous US-led military interventions since the start of the millennium. In early 2001 Iran was isolated with Afghanistan to the east under the rule of the Taliban, whose Sunni sectarianism inspired them with hatred of Shia Iran whose diplomats they casually murdered. Iran’s neighbour to the west was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, with whom it had fought a ferocious eight-year war.

All this was to change in two years: in 2001 the US overthrew the Taliban, though it was never able to defeat them permanently or stabilise the rule of its local Afghan allies. In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq, bringing to power the first Shia government in the Arab world since the days of Saladin and one which inevitably looked to their fellow Shia in Iran.

Western debacles in the Middle East since 9/11 have not produced a learning curve; or there is such a curve, it points down rather than up. In the wake of the popular uprising in Syria in 2011, the US and its regional allies – Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar – backed the armed opposition to president Bashar al-Assad. Whatever they supposed they were doing, they ensured that for Assad to survive he needed maximum engagement of Russia and Iran in Syria.

Are we about to see Iranian influence expand once again as the US and Israel gear up for a confrontation – and quite possibly a war – with Iran? Trump is likely to reimpose sanctions on Iran on 12 May, thereby sinking the nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama. It is a self-harming decision, pillorying Iran for being a great and threatening power while oddly weak enough to be brought to heel by economic sanctions and possible airstrikes.

Sanctions will not work any better against Iran than they did against Iraq in the 1990s or against Syria today. If they do not, then the only alternative is military action by the US or by the US “green-lighting” an Israeli attack. But what happens then? This is the question that was never properly answered when the US intervened directly or indirectly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Supporters of these ventures had no clear vision of what a US victory would look like and, in so far as they did have a strategy, it rested on wishful thinking.

In reporting these three wars I was always struck by the degree to which the US and its allies were hobbled by an unhealthy belief in their own propaganda. They claimed to be replacing evil rulers who were without popular support, but they were really plugging into complex ethnic and sectarian civil wars in which all sides had supporters who would fight to the death. Instead of facing this reality, they would take refuge in fantasies such as David Cameron’s 70,000 moderate rebel fighters in Syria whom nobody else could find.

It is not yet clear if Trump and the Israeli prime minister do want a war with Iran, but they may blunder into one all the same. Alternatively, they may imagine they will get their way by means of a short successful war and find, as so many leaders have done down the centuries, that they are mired in a long and unsuccessful conflict. Israel had plenty of experience of this in Lebanon, which it invaded in 1982 in a war from which it spent years trying to extricate itself.

But political leaders are never quite as foolish as they might appear when exaggerating foreign threats. Governments everywhere want to present themselves as the sole defenders of their citizens against some hideous menace from abroad. Iran fulfils this role for the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni rulers of the Gulf and acts as a useful glue for national solidarity and a diversion from domestic grievances. Belief in an all-embracing Iranian conspiracy fuels paranoia: in Bahrain in 2011, the authorities tortured Shia hospital doctors who were accused of using a piece of medical equipment to receive orders from their masters in Tehran.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always played up the Iranian threat. Since the early 1990s, he has warned that Iran is about to acquire a nuclear arsenal unless it is stopped forthwith. As prime minister, he has long been speaking of launching an Israeli strike against Iran, but he has been very cautious about actually doing so. Diplomats wonder if this is still the case.

More is at work here than the normal threat inflation to be expected from politicians wishing to stand tall in defence of the homeland or portray their opponents as unpatriotic weaklings. This is a common feature in the politics of every country, but Israel has always been particularly keen to have an enemy in common with the US. It was, in fact, surprisingly relaxed about the Iranian threat when Iran was at its most revolutionary in the years after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

ORDER IT NOW

It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that this changed, when Iran found itself promoted to the first rank of demons. Scott Peterson explains this in his perceptive history of Iran, Let the Swords Encircle Me, saying: “Anxious that its own strategic utility as a ‘bulwark’ against Soviet-allied Arab states was losing its shine after the Cold War, Israel launched a campaign in 1992 to convince the US that a new and more dangerous threat had emerged from Iran and the Islamic extremism that the revolution inspired.”

Such threat manipulation is still effective. But, ironically, it is the US and its allies that have opened the door to Iran by destroying or weakening the state structure in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In any confrontation with the US and Israel, Iran will have every incentive to reinforce its position in the region. If the US really wants to reduce Iranian influence and that of its allies in the region, there is a much better and more effective way doing so: this is to end the wars which have enabled Iran and many other players to spread their influence.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump, Iran, Israel 
Hide 15 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. Randal says:

    It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that this changed, when Iran found itself promoted to the first rank of demons. Scott Peterson explains this in his perceptive history of Iran, Let the Swords Encircle Me, saying: “Anxious that its own strategic utility as a ‘bulwark’ against Soviet-allied Arab states was losing its shine after the Cold War, Israel launched a campaign in 1992 to convince the US that a new and more dangerous threat had emerged from Iran and the Islamic extremism that the revolution inspired.”

    More likely surely that an Israeli policy change to demonising Iran in 1992 was consequent on the fact that its primary major regional rival Iraq had just been effectively destroyed as a force by the US, and Iran was simply the next rival and suitable demon in line?

    I mean there hadn’t been any meaningful threat from “Soviet-allied” Arab states since Sadat switched in the 1970s.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Thirdeye
    I think Iran came up on Israel's agenda when Hezbollah forced them to retreat from Beirut in the mid-1980s - an unprecedented defeat for the Israeli army. But Iran's bogey status was mitigated by their being locked in a war with Iraq and, as you stated, Iraq emerging as the most powerful Arab state not in thrall to the US.

    The war propaganda against Iraq started soon after the first Gulf War ended, well before their invasion of Kuwait. The exchanges between Iraq and the US prior to that invasion put the US in a very suspicious light as a provocateur.

    US-Israeli relations in the aftermath of Desert Storm were unlike anything in that realm before or since. Israel came across as more of a liability than an asset and the US made its only meaningful move ever on the Palestinian issue, dragging Israel into the Oslo process. But of course that was rendered meaningless a few years later by Clinton, who was completely in thrall to the Israel lobby.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
    AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
    These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
    Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
    More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  2. If they do not, then the only alternative is military action by the US or by the US “green-lighting” an Israeli attack.

    Actually there is an alternative. Withdraw. Do you ever read your own shit?

    Read More
    • Replies: @byrresheim
    In all fairness, Mr Cockburn ends on:


    If the US really wants to reduce Iranian influence and that of its allies in the region, there is a much better and more effective way doing so: this is to end the wars which have enabled Iran and many other players to spread their influence.
     
    , @Eileen Kuch
    I agree 100%, Working Class, there definitely IS an alternative to war with Iran, it's a total withdrawal of all US troops from the Middle East. Then, and only then, will there ever be peace in the Middle East.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  3. @WorkingClass

    If they do not, then the only alternative is military action by the US or by the US “green-lighting” an Israeli attack.
     
    Actually there is an alternative. Withdraw. Do you ever read your own shit?

    In all fairness, Mr Cockburn ends on:

    If the US really wants to reduce Iranian influence and that of its allies in the region, there is a much better and more effective way doing so: this is to end the wars which have enabled Iran and many other players to spread their influence.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  4. Roberto says:

    But, there is a very real possibility that another 911 event is in the making, and soon.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Miro23
    Agree that they can't start this war "cold", and they once again need to mobilize their stupid giant (the US) - and the only way they can do it, is a new piece of 9/11 style fakery, this time implicating Iran.

    IMO it's only a question of "how and when", not "if". No doubt that it's already prepared, along with the instant fake story and 24/7 media outrage.

    They have to portray the US attack on Iran as righteous defense.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  5. Miro23 says:
    @Roberto
    But, there is a very real possibility that another 911 event is in the making, and soon.

    Agree that they can’t start this war “cold”, and they once again need to mobilize their stupid giant (the US) – and the only way they can do it, is a new piece of 9/11 style fakery, this time implicating Iran.

    IMO it’s only a question of “how and when”, not “if”. No doubt that it’s already prepared, along with the instant fake story and 24/7 media outrage.

    They have to portray the US attack on Iran as righteous defense.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  6. I think they’re going to cool it with Iran, keep the deal for a bit longer so they can con North Korea into notions there can be peace. They can always invent reasons in a year or two to revisit the Iranian Deal. Key for Israel to me is I see Israel carving off slices of Syria that I’d wager will be land under new Israeli settlements, all under the guise of security zones. The blocks they have already cleared out are 20 miles square, looks like, perfect for new settlements for burgeoning Orthodox Jewish settlements. Those folks breed 5 and 6 to a family there, they always need more land. Kill ratio vs. Palistinians and their immigration and refugee policies and increased Jewish birthing rates can keep Israel’s Jewish population on top if they can annex bits of Syrian territory that Assad is in no position to defend in any case. Israel loves the chaos in Syria for this reason and was eager for Assad to fall. And if all that land was in effect ‘stateless”, Israeli could break off any size part they wanted and dare anyone to stop them. They need, need, need land and now.

    Or am I just too stoned for the room?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Thirdeye
    I don't see Israel in any position to move further into Syria. The "stateless" areas along the Israeli border are occupied by Jihadist insurgents. Israel would be forced to either move against the Jihadists, and lose the advantage they gain from them, or make their support of the terrorists more overt. They would be inviting a forceful response from Syria's allies including Russia and Hezbollah. Fighting Hezbollah and Syrian forces for marginal gains under a Russian-imposed no fly zone is not where Israel would want to be.

    Dude, you're no worse off than a lot of commenters.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  7. Having reversed every achievement of President Obama, the nixing of the Iran nuclear deal is the last one in the row. But what is more troublesome is the enormous influence Netanyahu practices over Donald Trump. Building American foreign policy on the advice of the Zionist regime can only lead to disaster as the attack on Iraq and Syria, to name just a few, has shown. Netanyahu’s latest stagy anti-Iranian rant was as comical as his ridiculous cartoon presentation at the United Nations. With his most recent reality TV performance, he could only impress another reality TV celebrity, Donald Trump. It’s no wonder that fiction can prevail under the Trump administration that could lead to war.

    http://betweenthelines-ludwigwatzal.com/2018/05/01/netanyahus-stagy-performance/

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  8. Thirdeye says:
    @Randal

    It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that this changed, when Iran found itself promoted to the first rank of demons. Scott Peterson explains this in his perceptive history of Iran, Let the Swords Encircle Me, saying: “Anxious that its own strategic utility as a ‘bulwark’ against Soviet-allied Arab states was losing its shine after the Cold War, Israel launched a campaign in 1992 to convince the US that a new and more dangerous threat had emerged from Iran and the Islamic extremism that the revolution inspired.”
     
    More likely surely that an Israeli policy change to demonising Iran in 1992 was consequent on the fact that its primary major regional rival Iraq had just been effectively destroyed as a force by the US, and Iran was simply the next rival and suitable demon in line?

    I mean there hadn't been any meaningful threat from "Soviet-allied" Arab states since Sadat switched in the 1970s.

    I think Iran came up on Israel’s agenda when Hezbollah forced them to retreat from Beirut in the mid-1980s – an unprecedented defeat for the Israeli army. But Iran’s bogey status was mitigated by their being locked in a war with Iraq and, as you stated, Iraq emerging as the most powerful Arab state not in thrall to the US.

    The war propaganda against Iraq started soon after the first Gulf War ended, well before their invasion of Kuwait. The exchanges between Iraq and the US prior to that invasion put the US in a very suspicious light as a provocateur.

    US-Israeli relations in the aftermath of Desert Storm were unlike anything in that realm before or since. Israel came across as more of a liability than an asset and the US made its only meaningful move ever on the Palestinian issue, dragging Israel into the Oslo process. But of course that was rendered meaningless a few years later by Clinton, who was completely in thrall to the Israel lobby.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  9. Thirdeye says:
    @Jim Christian
    I think they're going to cool it with Iran, keep the deal for a bit longer so they can con North Korea into notions there can be peace. They can always invent reasons in a year or two to revisit the Iranian Deal. Key for Israel to me is I see Israel carving off slices of Syria that I'd wager will be land under new Israeli settlements, all under the guise of security zones. The blocks they have already cleared out are 20 miles square, looks like, perfect for new settlements for burgeoning Orthodox Jewish settlements. Those folks breed 5 and 6 to a family there, they always need more land. Kill ratio vs. Palistinians and their immigration and refugee policies and increased Jewish birthing rates can keep Israel's Jewish population on top if they can annex bits of Syrian territory that Assad is in no position to defend in any case. Israel loves the chaos in Syria for this reason and was eager for Assad to fall. And if all that land was in effect 'stateless", Israeli could break off any size part they wanted and dare anyone to stop them. They need, need, need land and now.

    Or am I just too stoned for the room?

    I don’t see Israel in any position to move further into Syria. The “stateless” areas along the Israeli border are occupied by Jihadist insurgents. Israel would be forced to either move against the Jihadists, and lose the advantage they gain from them, or make their support of the terrorists more overt. They would be inviting a forceful response from Syria’s allies including Russia and Hezbollah. Fighting Hezbollah and Syrian forces for marginal gains under a Russian-imposed no fly zone is not where Israel would want to be.

    Dude, you’re no worse off than a lot of commenters.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Jim Christian

    Dude, you’re no worse off than a lot of commenters.
     
    I have my moments and detractors. Saker and others mention Israel's ground forces suck and are ill-equipped to take land. But easy-pieces that are empty territory look like easy meat. Unless my eyes deceive, Google Earth shows hundred-square mile patches of empty land bordering the North of Israel. Full-on war with Russia or even Iran OUGHT to be considered unthinkable to rational Israelis, but also to Russia and Iran. War with North Korea, unthinkable. All of it insane. But with this one, all the players own nukes of one sort or another.

    Such the world the US and its Israeli partners have wrought over there.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  10. @Thirdeye
    I don't see Israel in any position to move further into Syria. The "stateless" areas along the Israeli border are occupied by Jihadist insurgents. Israel would be forced to either move against the Jihadists, and lose the advantage they gain from them, or make their support of the terrorists more overt. They would be inviting a forceful response from Syria's allies including Russia and Hezbollah. Fighting Hezbollah and Syrian forces for marginal gains under a Russian-imposed no fly zone is not where Israel would want to be.

    Dude, you're no worse off than a lot of commenters.

    Dude, you’re no worse off than a lot of commenters.

    I have my moments and detractors. Saker and others mention Israel’s ground forces suck and are ill-equipped to take land. But easy-pieces that are empty territory look like easy meat. Unless my eyes deceive, Google Earth shows hundred-square mile patches of empty land bordering the North of Israel. Full-on war with Russia or even Iran OUGHT to be considered unthinkable to rational Israelis, but also to Russia and Iran. War with North Korea, unthinkable. All of it insane. But with this one, all the players own nukes of one sort or another.

    Such the world the US and its Israeli partners have wrought over there.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  11. Tiny Duck says:

    lots of anti-Semitism in the comments

    How do you “people” sleep at night?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  12. wes says:

    I have not seen any anti semetism. unless you think critisizing a countries policy is anti semitism.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  13. C’mon now …. really …. FALL into? Or PLUNGE into? As far as I can tell, all this is just a concerted stage play put on for the Israeli and American public.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  14. @WorkingClass

    If they do not, then the only alternative is military action by the US or by the US “green-lighting” an Israeli attack.
     
    Actually there is an alternative. Withdraw. Do you ever read your own shit?

    I agree 100%, Working Class, there definitely IS an alternative to war with Iran, it’s a total withdrawal of all US troops from the Middle East. Then, and only then, will there ever be peace in the Middle East.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  15. Fred787 says:

    WorkingClass, do you really think anyone of significance in Washington considers that alternative for even one minute?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
Current Commenter says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr