Engaging Iran

Dec 7, 2011 by

Engaging Iran

Quite on trend, Western tensions with Iran have been escalating. Israeli politicians- buoyed by recent IAEA reports- have increasingly derided the effectiveness of sanctions, whilst aggression directed toward the British embassy in Tehran has inevitably led to a media fixation regarding to prospects of eventual military conflict. With American presidential elections next year, and leading candidate Newt Gingrich having already paid lip-service to the prospect of regime change, we in the West ought to be extremely concerned. Conflict with Iran is beyond undesirable. The justifications are steeped in hypocrisy, the objective is extremely short-sighted, and the consequences will stretch beyond our generation.

Setting aside the inevitable link between Western prejudice and base philosophical questions- such as how we could ever justify preventing a sovereign state from following our own nuclear example- the argument that we are entitled or obliged to hinder Iran’s nuclear ambitions by force is incredibly short-sighted. Not only is the concept of pre-emption a recipe for perpetual war, but it also lends credence to Israel’s false sense of insecurity, which in turn has proven a momentous obstacle to regional peace, particularly with the Palestinians.

Firstly, we ought not to assume that Iran’s leadership is fundamentally irrational. The propagated myth that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, seeks to wipe Israel from the face of the map has proven to be little more than a mistranslation. Moreover, Iranian elites will harbour no doubts regarding Israel and the United State’s ability to annihilate the country should it ever contemplate striking an ally. Indeed, Western military supremacy is beyond question, as are the consequences should Iran break from tradition and cast the first stone. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum put it to CNN- “What can Iran do with a nuclear weapon? Will they hit Israel? How many Palestinians will die? And if you think Iran hits Israel, their cities will be safe? They will be gone the next day.”

Despite this, and presuming sincerity underpins the Western rationale, any strike on Iran would have the ultimate objective of preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now, just for a moment, let’s assume Iranians are in fact rational individuals. Let’s imagine how they would perceive a comprehensive attack on their infrastructure. Let’s consider how large numbers of civilian casualties inflicted by a foreign military campaign would affect their sense victimhood and their desire to obtain some form of substantial military deterrent. It’s not requiring of an over-active imagination to see that it would certainly solidify their resolve whilst driving their nuclear research and projects deeper underground. Indeed, without a full-scale ground invasion- an operation Western forces can ill-afford in the present economic climate- Iran’s accumulated knowledge regarding progress toward a nuclear arsenal would remain intact. Conclusion: a military strike would postpone and not prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The consequences of a military strike on Iran would be prolonged and multi-faceted; it would affect both our security and our economic stability. Firstly, and most trivially, the price of oil would skyrocket. Iran has an even greater amount of proven oil reserves than Iraq, and the escalation of oil prices triggered by the Iraq invasion is well-documented. Once again, in times of economic austerity when the global economy remains so precariously balanced, the last thing Western nations need now is further price hikes at the pumps. Secondly, any act of aggression toward Iran would endanger the lives of Western troops throughout the region, and almost certainly become a further source of friction between Israel and its neighbours. Allies of Iran such as Hezbollah and Hamas would make the Jewish state the subject of retaliation, which in turn would provoke counter-retaliation and heavy losses of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.

However, the financial and short-term impact of a pre-emptive conflict with Iran ought to be the least of our concerns. Of considerably greater importance is how an attack on Iran would be detrimental to our long-term security and the way in which Western intervention is perceived. Indeed, Obama’s Cairo speech would seem but a distant memory; and the changes we hoped would be made to Western foreign policy- where diplomacy and engagement were to replace threats of force- would be remembered throughout the Middle East as hollow rhetoric. Even so, and regardless of the sincerity underpinning Western intervention, we ought not to underestimate how Iran’s oil reserves would prove a valuable propaganda tool for those seeking to discredit our motives. Indeed, anti-Western sentiment has already been flourishing in the Middle East for quite some time, and as the doctrine of a preventative war has already been widely discredited outside of Israel and the US, any semblance of history repeating itself would be seized upon by nationalist and Islamic movements hostile to Western influence.

As a supposed bastion of neutrality, the West would find it impossible to justify such an attack on Iran in the minds of many Muslims. Equally so, it would also find it impossible to contain the fallout. In consideration of the West’s reluctance to intervene in Syria, for example, where there continues to be an existential threat to civilian life and regional stability, launching such a costly offensive in the name of Israel’s questionable security needs would prove deeply unpopular throughout the region. Iranians would eventually rebuild, but the strikes on their nuclear facilities would not be without legacy; a new generation of Middle East inhabitants hostile to perceived Western values will be born, and history will remember the bombing of Iran as a grave exercise in political short-termism.

Image: © GYI NSEA/ istockphoto

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