Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Victory to al Qua'ida:" Part IV of Iranian-Israeli Confrontation

"Victory to al Qua’ida," the third scenario for the future of the current Iranian-Israeli confrontation envisioned in this study, addresses one of many ways in which mismanagement of Iranian-Israeli relations could aggravate and be aggravated by other Mideast issues to produce a regional crisis.

Victory for al Qua'ida

Iran continues striving to escape from Israeli nuclear blackmail and remains frozen out of regional affairs led by Israel while Israel remains frozen out of regional affairs led by Iran - leaving both feeling deprived, anxious, and insulted. In the zero-sum context of each side trying to marginalize the other, no leader proves sufficiently statesman-like to agree to unconditional bilateral talks. This leaves each issue separating the two sides festering, which further strengthens extremists. The division of Palestine becomes more absolute, leading to ever rising Iranian involvement that in turn pulls Saudi Arabia in on Israel’s side. A similar proxy struggle intensifies in Lebanon. The competition spreads to Jordan, collapsing under the weight of an Iraqi refugee population exceed one-quarter of Jordan’s own population, and these refugees become increasingly radical, supporting a rise in Palestinian radicalism. The Moslem Brotherhood overthrows the Jordanian monarchy, offers citizenship to the refugees, and—on the basis of ex-refugee and Palestinian support--easily wins a free, democratic election. That immediately energizes both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Moqtada al Sadr in Iraq. Hezbollah walks out of a shaky Lebanese government of national unity that had been able to accomplish little because the West had withdrawn its support after Siniora’s fall from power. Hezbollah wins power in a free election. On the nuclear front, Israel refuses even to discuss the principle of a nuclear-free Mideast, leaving Iran with no incentive to compromise on that issue and feeling confident as its influence spreads rapidly in Jordan and Lebanon. Iran intensifies a policy of nuclear catch-up that is part fear-driven and part negotiating tactic but which is seen in Tel Aviv completely as indicating offensive intent. Simultaneous, in response to Israeli provocations, both Lebanon and Jordan ask Iran for military aid. Iran responds. Netanyahu rides panic among Israelis to victory as the region remains haunted by a double threat: Israel threatens to commit the ultimate crime of nuclear war against a non-nuclear power while Iran searches for some comparable or asymmetric counterthreat. Al Qua’ida sees its chance, blows up an Israeli embassy in a way that gets the attack pinned on the new Jordanian regime, and Israel invades. Israel’s tactics of collective punishment against the whole population causes a wave of resentment sparking regional war.

Comment: This scenario is the most unstable and dangerous of the five. It teaches all non-nuclear states the lesson that they must have WMD both for self-defense to be treated by world powers with respect. The inequality pervading Victory for al Qua’ida will breed contempt by the strong and resentment by the weak. The longer Israel retains overwhelming strength, the more its leaders become tempted to achieve "final solutions." The longer Iran remains grossly subordinate, the more its leaders become tempted to engage in desperate schemes to achieve parity or their own "final solution."

As time passes, the Israeli population may increasingly "do the math" and conclude that for 5 million Israelis to aspire to dominate 70 million Iranians is an irrational long-term policy. In this way. inequality may breed not only insecurity of the weak but also, incongruously, insecurity of the strong!
Israelis may come to view their situation as unstable because Israel’s power is artificial and one-sided. Israel’s huge military superstructure (built on massive U.S. aid) rests on a foundation of sand: small economy, tiny territory, tiny population, apartheid society, and a Palestinian colony that only further weakens the state. Israel’s destructive ability is clear, but the broader utility of its military for providing the Israeli people with security is increasingly questionable.

Israelis may therefore begin to believe that their very dominance causes their insecurity. Their dominance breeds insecurity because it is so extreme and its manifestations so barbaric (Palestinian people subjugated, colonized, and subjected to apartheid; Lebanese people repeatedly brutalized by collective punishment; Israeli Arabs discriminated against). Their recognition of this insecurity that exists despite Israel's militarization and emphasis on violence as the solution may make them feel still less secure and thus aggravate their militaristic tendencies.

Israelis may also come to the conclusion that their extreme, in-your-face dominance out of all proportion to threats also fundamentally, perhaps fatally, injures Israeli democracy because it stimulates the metastasizing of the emerging garrison state (a state that views itself as besieged and having defense as its raison d'etre). To the degree that politics focuses on security, civil rights and democracy take second place to an imperial military-industrial-intelligence complex that both holds the real power and demands the status of being "above the law." That is, the garrison state psychology facilitates the rise to power of extremists who will demand such unhealthy privileges. All behavior can be justified as "required for national security" and keeping such behavior secret from the state's own citizens can be justified in the same way.

Analogous rusting away of the girders supporting the political system may occur in Iran. Iran's relative weakness will open wide the doors to extremists who will insist that an "existential threat" requires maximum sacrifice and all manner of risk-taking. From that, extremists will accuse anyone counseling moderation, thinking before acting, or compromise of being a "traitor." Iranian extremists will have little trouble making this case regardless of Israel's actual behavior because it will be obvious to all that 1) Israel has the capability (if not the intent) to pose an existential threat and 2) that Israel has far greater military superiority than can reasonably be justified under any condition except that it intends to commit aggression. Moreover, the Israeli garrison state will repeatedly produce extremists who will make outrageous accusations, such as accusing some Iranian leader of being "the new Hitler," which will be read as an Israeli effort to make excuses in advance for planned unprovoked aggression (or is the phrase du jour "preventive" aggression?) and thus as evidence of Israel's aggressive intent.

In sum, "Victory for al Qua’ida," over time, undermines the security of both Israel and Iran by provoking mutual hostility. Similarly, it weakens democratic tendencies in both countries by opening the door to abuse on the part of politicians willing to exploit tensions for personal gain and by enhancing the reputation of the military. For these reasons, Victory for al Qua’ida ironically turns out to have long-term pernicious implications not just for the weak side but also for the strong. Iran and Israel will both lose; the only winner will be al Qua'ida.

A few of the many milestones that might warn that this scenario was in the process of coming true...
  • Nuclear threats by Israel officials
  • Hamas, completely marginalized by a Palestinian regime under Israeli control, denounces the "democratic" process
  • Palestinian civil war
  • Iraqi refugee unrest in Jordan
  • Jordanian radicals take power
  • Israel invades Lebanon again
  • Islamists in Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, or Lebanon win democratic election but prevented from taking power
  • Lebanese civil war
  • Lebanese war of resistance vs Israel
  • Lebanese request Iranian troops to fight Israel
  • Syria intervenes in Lebanese fighting
  • Iran attacked by Israel or U.S.
  • Iranian civil war
  • Iraqi Shi’ites support Iran vs U.S.
  • Proposal to discuss nuclear-free Mideast is rejected
  • Pakistan provides nuclear bombs to Iran.

Perusing the above list, which is clearly far from complete, suffices to indicate the many routes by which a regional Mideast crisis could erupt and to suggest the need for careful consideration of how such routes might be foreseen and prepared for. Indeed, developing a good methodology for using milestones as a planning tool should be a research priority. I may return to this topic in the future, but the next post on the Iranian-Israeli confrontation will provide the final scenario, offering a dramatically different future for the Mideast from the "Victory of al Qua’ida."

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