A Perfect Geopolitical Storm Taking
The ingredients: Iraq, Iran, Hamas,
and blasphemous cartoons
by Leon Hadar
www.antiwar.com/, Feb 17, 2006
The best thing you can say about Vice
President Dick Cheney's recent "hunting incident" is
that, to the relief of members of his family, Cheney didn't shoot
himself in the foot.
Unfortunately, you cannot say the same
thing about the policies that officials in Washington and Jerusalem
seem to be devising these days as part of their common strategy
to deal with Iran's nuclear program and the electoral victory
of Hamas in Palestine.
According to news reports, Americans and
Israelis are working on a plan to "starve out" the Hamas-controlled
Palestinian Authority (PA). The idea is that denying economic
resources to the PA would force Hamas to give up terrorism and
recognize Israel, and that if the ruling Islamic movement elected
by a landslide in a free and open election refuses to submit to
the outside pressure, it would be forced to do so by the Palestinian
At the same time, as it's becoming clear
that the Iranians are not willing to reach a compromise with the
U.S. and its European allies on taking steps to end its nuclear
program and that the United Nations will probably not be able
to force Tehran to do so, experts are suggesting that the Americans
and Israelis will have no other option but to use military force
and bomb some of the Iranian nuclear facilities in order to slow
down Iran's drive to acquire nuclear capability.
But if they take such action, the Americans
and the Israelis will end up transforming problems they had helped
to create in the first place into dangerous international diplomatic
and military crises bound to intertwine with Clash of Civilizations
incidents such as the recent "cartoon war" and produce
a geopolitical perfect storm.
It was the Israeli strategy, backed by
the Bush administration, aimed at isolating and weakening the
late Yasser Arafat and his secular and more moderate Fatah movement,
which had recognized Israel's right to exist, that created the
conditions for the Hamas victory in an election that was promoted
by Washington as another step in the U.S.-led "March to Freedom"
in the Middle East.
If anyone had to draw in 2000 an outline
of a plan to ensure that Hamas would come to power, he or she
would have had only to propose the same kind of policies that
were advanced by the Israelis and the Americans and that helped
radicalize the Palestinians and encourage them to turn to Hamas
as their political saviors.
Similarly, much of the U.S. policy in
the Middle East and specifically toward Iran has helped produce
a regional and international environment in which Tehran finds
itself now with more diplomatic and military cards to help it
resist American pressure. First, Washington has rejected the proposals
by realist strategic thinkers to engage Iran and attempt to conclude
a "grand bargain" with it that would have included not
only the nuclear issue but would have dealt with the common interests
the two governments share in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Instead, the Americans "contracted"
the Western diplomatic services of the European governments to
press Iran to make concessions. Ironically, while doing their
best to isolate Iran, the Americans also took steps to enhance
Iran's power. Indeed, the ouster by the U.S. of the Taliban in
Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq benefited Iran's national
interests and led to the election in Iraq - again, promoted as
part of America's efforts to spread democracy - that brought to
power in Baghdad a Shi'ite clerical political bloc with ties to
The Iranians have decided that nuclear
military power could provide them with the ability to deter the
Americans (and the Israelis) from challenging their influence
in the Persian Gulf. And they are aware that the combination of
Iranian petro-power and an overstretched U.S. military would make
it very difficult for Washington to threaten Tehran with economic
and diplomatic sanctions or invade the country.
But the Americans know that a failure
to prevent the Iranians from asserting their power in the Persian
Gulf would be a major blow to the hegemonic U.S. strategy in the
Middle East and encourage regional players like Saudi Arabia to
make deals with Tehran, which seems to be now in a position to
emerge as the leader of a "Shi'ite Crescent" that could
include the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shi'ite minorities in the Arab
Gulf states, and - thanks to U.S. policies - a Shi'ite-led government
The Israelis view the Hamas electoral
victory as a major blow to their long-term strategic interests,
since it could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian entity
committed to the elimination of the Jewish state and will complicate
their plans to keep Israeli control over parts of the Palestinian
territories after a unilateral withdrawal from other parts of
the West Bank.
To put all this in context: In the Persian
Gulf and in Israel/Palestine, radical forces opposed to the American-Israeli
axis are on the march. Indeed, from the perspectives of both Washington
and Jerusalem, Iran is poised to achieve nuclear capability and
head a "Shi'ite Crescent," and a resurgent anti-Israeli
Hamas is serving as a model to Muslim Brotherhood groups in Egypt
and other Arab-Sunni countries. A radical "Sunni Crescent"
would be regarded as a strategic threat to common U.S. and Israeli
interests in having a dominant U.S. in the region.
It is this complex regional reality that
explains why both the Americans and the Israelis have concluded
that they need to "do something" ASAP to prevent the
war in Iraq and the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza from
turning out to be the first stages in a losing strategic game
But the policies that are now being discussed
in Washington and Jerusalem are only bound to aggravate the situation
and end up achieving what could amount to scoring own-goals in
a soccer game. Trying to isolate and punish the Palestinians with
economic sanctions will probably only help enhance Hamas' popularity
in Palestine and the Arab world, in addition to proving an ineffective
It's not difficult to conceive of how
the images of starving Palestinian kids being broadcast on al-Jazeera
could ignite anti-American demonstrations in Tehran, Damascus,
and elsewhere, and make it even more likely that the Iranians
and the Arab oil-producing states, as well as many Western NGOs,
would end up channeling economic assistance to the West Bank and
Gaza to replace the canceled aid from the European Union and the
And while U.S. and/or Israeli bombing
of Iranian nuclear sites could in theory slow down Iran's nuclear
program, it could also help President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and
the militant clerics rally the Iranian people, including secular
and liberal Iranians, against the U.S. and help mobilize support
for Iran's cause among Arabs and other Muslims.
Anti-U.S. Oil Embargo
It won't be surprising if governments
in the pro-American oil-producing states in the Arab Persian Gulf,
notwithstanding their antipathy toward Iran, come under pressure
from their people to join in some form of an oil embargo against
One can also imagine how a confrontation
between Iran and the U.S./Israel could radicalize the Hezbollah
in Lebanon and play into the hands of an angry and isolated Syria.
American officials and pundits are hoping
that, unlike the Iraq War, when the EU refused to join the U.S.
in the military adventure, many of the European governments will
back an American drive to punish Iran and isolate Hamas. But while
the EU will probably be ready to continue raising the diplomatic
pressure on the Iranians, it's not clear that it will side with
Washington if and when the U.S. or Israel decides to attack Iran's
And when it comes to Hamas, it's quite
likely that European governments, including France, will refuse
to join an all-out effort to "starve out" the PA and
will be more inclined to "engage" a Hamas-led PA even
if refuses to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel.
The Russians and the Chinese, whose policies
are driven by the need to shore up their economic interests in
the Middle East, are certainly not on the American team when it
comes to Iran and Palestine.
But with the Bush administration unwilling
to consider other, more pragmatic policy options to deal with
these two issues - and with pro-Israeli Democratic figures, including
Hillary Clinton, sounding even more hawkish than the leading neocons
- Washington's approach will probably become more confrontational
in the coming weeks and could generate that geopolitical storm.
Some observers would dismiss such forecasts
as gloom-and-doom worst-case scenarios. But the recent violent
demonstrations by Muslims around the world who were angry at the
publication of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper reflect the
kind of powerful anti-Western sentiments in the Middle East and
the Muslim world that could be mobilized by governments and movements
that are interested in turning Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations
from an academic exercise in theory formation into a real conflict
between the U.S. and governments in the Middle East.
Middle East watch