Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Washington Is Empowering Iran

Washington pundits may not understand Iran, but they are right about one issue: Tehran does pose a real challenge to the U.S.-centric global political system. Unfortunately for the U.S., Washington does not understand the nature of the challenge, and its response is just empowering Tehran. (Clues: it's not about nuclear arms or religion.)

Washington tough guys stand facing Iran with that "deer in the headlights" look. Terrified of losing World War II all over again, they frankly have no clue about what Tehran is up to. The analogy to WWII is critical: pity any state stupid enough to launch a blitzkrieg against the U.S. They would be wiped out. The U.S. today can fight and win a WWII-style war against any conceivable enemy without even getting a Congressional appropriation.

But the idea of Ahmadinejad as the new Hitler is just a Netanyahu sound bite, slyly selected because he knows Americans well enough to realize that Americans are still, after all these years, obsessed with Hitler and utterly confused about the world that actually exists today, almost a century later. Raving about blitzkriegs may be a brilliant strategy for conning Congress, but it has nothing to do with Iran's challenge, which is far more sophisticated, subtle, and enduring.  More seriously, Iran's challenge will be played out on a battlefield most Washington cold warriors (or "empire-builders," if you prefer a more current epithet) hardly know exists, where victory will require the careful and sustained use of "weapons" the tough guys either ignore or sneer at. Their ignorance is America's peril.

In a revealing critique of U.S. misunderstanding of Iran, The Race for Iran website quoted School of Oriental and African Studies academic Arshin Adib-Moghaddam as follows:
there is no over-dependency on the west that would yield a legitimacy crisis (as in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben-Ali’s Tunisia and under the shah) and there is no subservience to Israeli demands. The Iranian government’s strident emphasis on “national independence” continues to garner support within Iranian society. [Arshin Adib-Moghaddam in The Guardian 11/22/11 as quoted in Flynt and Hillary Leverett's The Race for Iran 11/28/11.]

While Adib-Moghaddam's point concerned the value of independence for Iranian stability, Iran's avoidance of "over-dependence" on the West also goes to the heart of Iran's challenge to the U.S.-centric global political system. Washington, provoked endlessly by Netanyahu and his crowd, sees the Iranian challenge as a military threat to be smashed down. Washington is correct that Iran poses a threat, but it is not military: it is ideological.

Were the Iranian ideological challenge along the lines of a "Shi'i crescent," one might be somewhat concerned or just laugh. But to the degree that the Iranian ideological challenge amounts to an invitation to every other country on earth to stand up for national independence from U.S.-centric globalization, the Iranian challenge is important because of its internal logic (why should other countries accept discriminatory rules thought up in Washington?), its attractiveness to...every other country, and the increasing ability of other countries to take assert their desire for independence.

Washington's demands for obedience fall flat in a post-Cold War world where no traditional enemy exists, where threats require reasoning together rather than the use of force, and where Washington's uncooperative attitude (undercutting efforts to protect the environment, punishing countries for wanting freedom to find their own paths, touting democracy when convenient) frequently makes it the obstacle to problem resolution rather than the leader. Iran, meanwhile, wins simply by pointing out the obvious: the U.S.-centric world is really not being managed very well. Washington unfortunately does not have the diplomatic skill to put Tehran to the test by calling its bluff and demanding that it offer constructive solutions. The more Washington discriminates against Tehran while pushing around those countries that do offer constructive solutions to problems Washington cannot solve, the better Tehran looks. The rest of the world is not faced with choosing between the U.S. and Iran but between unnecessary subservience to a U.S. leader that is faltering and the idea of independence.

Washington's treatment of this challenge as a threat rather than an opportunity to reform its outdated "Cold-War superpower" behavior is what makes Iran a significant player. Washington is only undermining U.S. national security by allowing Tehran to portray it as the global opponent of national aspirations for what might be called "state democracy." It is ironic and self-defeating for Washington to pose as the champion of democracy for individuals while acting as the self-imposed leader--by force as needed--of an increasingly centralized global political order based on rules written not by democratic consensus but in Washington: Washington touts democracy for individuals but harshly punishes states that aspire to inter-state equality. The blatant discrimination of Washington's nuclear rules for Israel and Tehran or its denial of democratic rights for Palestinians only play into Tehran's hands. The more rigid Washington's self-centered behavior, the more Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, and everyone else will start thinking that system challenger Iran has a point.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The American Nightmare

When the American Dream becomes defined in terms of money and force rather than values, then it will fade into "The American Nightmare."

The American Dream, as every American knows, is a gem whose facets are values. We Americans actually don't spend a lot of time thinking about the American Dream, which is a great misfortune in times like these when it is under direct attack. If we do think about it, the thoughts are typically superficial, with jokes about "American as apple pie," crass visions of a big suburban house with a greedy SUV out front, or just the brain-dead assumption that we can take the American Dream for granted. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the concerted neo-con attack on the Constitution's guarantees and the judicial system's protections for those yet to be convicted reveals. Deep down, though, when you slap an American awake, he can see that it is not about money: it is about values. So for Americans, the elephant in the room this election season as we hurl the thunderbolts of sound bites at each other, is the degree to which American behavior is destroying our values...cracking the translucent, shimmering but oh so delicate facets of that gem called "the American Dream."

The latest canary in the moral mine of American society is the recent trend among the most irresponsible and unpatriotic of our astoundingly pathetic crop of current power-seekers to spout the pop soundbite about trying to justify torture as "just part of war." This blatant return to the morality of a Grade B movie about the Dark Ages is ominous enough for those who want to live the American Dream, and these chickens will surely come home to roost, if indeed they are not already doing so in the form of increasingly brutal political and police suppression of democratic activism (not just against the Occupy protesters but also against the teachers and firemen...and, in street clothing, police[!] who protested the right wing attack on union rights and the sanctity of contracts in Madison last winter). It is a lot easier to cheat and brutalize citizens after you have accepted that torturing enemies is suddenly to be considered an "American value."

Far more ominous is the nasty little twist of the term "all options" into a codeword for A) ignoring all the myriad positive, win-win, cautious, moderate, sympathetic options while B) focusing on the most insane of the zero-sum (and indeed in this case negative-sum, i.e., "lose-lose") barbarisms at our disposal, namely unprovoked nuclear aggression. I will not further belabor this, or the ultimate affront to American values of a supposed American ally trying to push us into launching such a war. This case is so extreme that it should be obvious to anyone who thinks. Unfortunately, today it seems difficult for a person who thinks to get access to the mass media, but there are a few Congressmen, believe it or not, who are concerned about this ultimate attack on American values. You will not hear their speeches on the evening news, but reading their websites is well worth the few minutes it takes.

Making excuses for torture and nuclear war are egregious examples of the attack by Americans and others on the American values that form the core of the American Dream, but other examples, albeit less obvious, may be almost as serious...and more dangerous to the degree that they go unnoticed. Goldman Sachs provides an example from the central issue of financial policy writ large, i.e., the rules by which the super-rich and the government itself are allowed to employ wealth to manipulate the rest of us.

In the history of Goldman Sachs Money and Power, William  D. Cohan describes how the company evolved over 150 years from a firm dedicated to providing funds to companies needing liquidity to produce into a company that appears to exist only to maximize its own wealth, with no regard either for its clients (against whom it bets) or society. This picture, in other words, shows Goldman evolving from part of the productive economy into a predator destroying the very system from which it profits: from an institution with a long-term view to an institution with a suicidally short-term view.

Whether or not one agrees with the above image of Goldman, it is all too reminiscent of the winner-take-all attitude that exemplifies the whole course of the corruption bubble that created the 2008 Financial Crisis, the winner-take-all wave of empire-building since 9/11, and the broader winner-take-all addiction that has in recent decades infected all of American society to be easily dismissed. Cohan's book carries the subtitle "How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World." He might have subtitled his expose "How Goldman Sachs Symbolized the Attack on American Values." But don't blame Goldman Sachs too much. What Goldman did was just on a larger scale from but morally no different than the Congressman passing a law to make financial fraud legal, the regulator looking the other way, the politician waving the bloody shirt of nuclear war to get elected, or the individual lying about his salary to buy a house on which he knows he cannot make the mortgage payments.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thinking Through the "Peace" After an Israeli Attack on Iran

Asking whether or not military victory is worth achieving strikes most people as totally counter-intuitive. How can being better off possibly be worse than not being better off? The devil is in the dynamics, and the causal dynamics underlying relations between an isolated victorious military power and a host of less powerful but larger, insecure, and angry neighbors challenge the ability of any decision-maker.

One critical and unavoidable danger resulting from a quick military strike is that it concentrates the minds of everyone at the same time. The aggressor state is thus suddenly faced with a flood of reactions from every counterpart: other states, non-state adversaries, domestic adversaries. Immediately following even a successful military strike on Iran, Tel Aviv will be faced with a predictable information overload and lack of time for thoughtful response to the reactions of all its opponents and friends. Under such conditions, mistakes are predictable, and those mistakes can easily lose far more than the military victory achieved. The international political chess game will suddenly have been transformed into a hockey match in which the victorious aggressor goalie stands alone, all his teammates in the penalty box, facing a torrent of shots on goal from the opposing team.

Launching a war is easy: the aggressor has the benefit of controlling the timing. Post-attack, this advantage shifts unpredictably but almost certainly to one or more of the other actors, immediately weakening the aggressor's strategic position at precisely the moment when the aggressor is under the most severe time pressure to respond to the reactions from every other actor that its attack has provoked. The aggressor's situation becomes all the more difficult since the other actors will surely not make coordinated or mutually consistent responses.

Suppose that Netanyahu surprised the world by having planned an historically conciliatory response the day after launching an attack on Iran, consisting of:

  • an apology to the people of Iran and offer of medical assistance for civilian casualties;
  • the immediate recognition in principle of a Palestinian state;
  • an announcement that Israel accepts the U.N.-recognized 1967 borders and orders to all settlers outside those borders to begin a one-year process of moving back into Israel;
  • formal admission that it is a nuclear state, acceptance of the principle of nuclear transparency, and an offer to adhere to whatever nuclear rules Iran adheres to;
  • apology to Lebanon for its past aerial violations of the Lebanese border and a promise to cease such violations;
  • announcement that it will immediately return the Golan Heights to Syria.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Netanyahu could conceivably aspire to such statesmanship or bring his hardline faction along with him, imagine the opportunities others would have for spoiling the plan. Any group, marginalized al Qua'ida militants being one obvious set of candidates, looking for opportunities to provoke regional conflict would have a field day launching random attacks on Israeli targets to inflame popular opinion. Tel Aviv would not only have to deal calmly with such attacks, persuading the Israeli people that they did not come from Iran, but maintain that stance for weeks or months while an almost inevitable shaking out occurred within the highly fractured Iranian ruling elite, which even in peacetime exists in a vicious environment where political losers are regularly jailed and sometimes killed for losing political battles. Worse, some of the anti-Israeli provocations surely would come from one element or another of the fractured Iranian regime, which is infamous for its semi-independent power centers.

Netanyahu repeatedly claims that Iran's nuclear program stands in the way of peace with Palestine, even though logically if Israel is threatened by its far enemy, it should make quick peace with its near enemy. If, nonetheless, we assume that there is at least some chance that Netanyahu is sincere in making this linkage, the likelihood that he can win the day domestically and somehow get the half million illegal settlers back inside Israel's legal borders when Israel is aflame with hubris as the result of their victory over Iran, nevertheless seems miniscule. If such a miracle were to occur, the challenge of persuading Iran to forgo revenge and also to forgo the acquisition of a self-defense capacity sufficient to prevent a second Israeli attack seems almost beyond credence. Just for one example, consider that the minimum price Tehran would probably demand for a conciliatory response would include the delivery of Netanyahu, Barak, and Lieberman to the International Court of Justice for trial as war criminals. And all of this line of reasoning is based on the assumption that Tehran can in fact get its own act together in the aftermath of defeat, that the regime will even be able to function, and that it will exercise a degree of restraint almost unknown in human history.

If the conclusion that a sincere, sustained, and effective Israeli conciliatory stance after victory is highly unlikely, we are left with the likelihood of an arrogant and self-satisfied Israel, flush with victory. Under such conditions, regardless of what anyone else on earth does, the illegal settlers, already engaging in an intensifying terrorist campaign against Palestinians, can be expected to launch their own war to settle their "Indian problem" once and for all. Internationally, Israel can be expected to intensify its reliance on its long-standing policy of security through strength. After all, in the aftermath of an unprovoked attack on Iran, what other leg will it have to stand on?

At that point, the ball will be in Tehran's court, with its two basic options being a military response and a legal response. The last scenario, a function of the degree of collateral damage, is that of a destroyed and chaotic Iran characterized by insurgency, civil war, global petroleum shortages, massive refugee flows, and years of regional instability. While that scenario may virtually defy serious analysis in advance, the two basic options facing a coherent regime--military or legal--are more straightforward and demand the most careful thought by Israeli strategic thinkers contemplating the implications of a war of choice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Force Is the Answer

The Washington-Tel Aviv Axis determined by the start of the new century that violence was the answer, regardless of the question. That determination constituted the foundation of U.S. post-9/11 foreign policy. Having "worked" in the sense that it maintained the elites in power and magnificently enriched them, it is only predictable that those same elites would apply their foreign policy answer to domestic policy questions as well. This dynamic I discussed theoretically in September, by which time it was obvious that Washington had no intention of punishing financial crime by the uber-rich but remained very unclear whether or not any Americans had sufficient spine to protest. And now in the last couple days, we have seen the clearest substantive implementation of "force is the answer" to domestic political questions, with a brutal nationwide crackdown characterized by the egregious, virtually celebratory use of force to send a clear message to the rest of the population that government is for the 1% and that democracy will not be tolerated. We elected and reelected politicians who advocated and implemented the policy of force toward foreigners, and now we are getting exactly what we deserve: the pointed end of the spear right in the face. How does it feel, America?

The Day After Victory

Almost anything could happen were Israel to take the enormous gamble of launching an unprovoked war against Iran. Even assuming Israel were to win the instant military victory of Likudniks' dreams, the day after that victory Israel would face a new situation replete with instability. How the new dynamics provoking that instability might interact would spell the difference between survival and destruction.

One fundamental shift that is easily predictable is that the mostly disinterested attitude toward Israel of Iranians would be transformed into long-term hatred and fear. Although Iranian politicians currently find it useful to run a propaganda war against Israel to enable them to prance the regional political stage, Iranians have, even under the Islamic Republic, mostly viewed Israel as rather removed from their core concerns: Saddam's Iraq, the Sunni fundamentalism of the Taliban, regional Kurdish political activism, Baluchi instability along the Iranian-Pakistani border, and of course the expanding ring of U.S. military bases surrounding them. Beyond attracting desired attention to Iran's pretensions (logical pretensions over the long run, considering its size) to regional preeminence, tension with Israel is most accurately viewed as a leadership tool for regime consolidation (a temptation hardly unknown to Netanyahu, who has played this card throughout his career). It is the extreme nature of Iranian rhetoric (in other words, the eagerness with which Tehran politicians played the game) plus the equally extreme nature of the super-sensitive Israeli response that has transformed this convenient little self-serving political game into what increasingly appears to be a deadly serious game of chicken: the testosterone is flowing.

Long War
Israeli Defense Ministry Analyst's View

He [Dr. Moshe Vered] rules out ideas that a quick missile war would put an end to a conflict because neither side would score a “knock-out,” and Iran does not have the capability of successfully attacking Israel with hundreds of long-range missiles.
He predicts it is more likely that if Israel initiates a pre-emptive strike, Iran will play the role of the victim and let the international community condemn Israel. At the same time, Tehran would secretly ferry troops into Syria and Lebanon, possibly through Shi’ite communities in Iraq and with the silent approval of Turkey.
The next stage in the war would be massive rocket attacks by Hamas from the south and Hizbullah from the north. Israeli military intelligence officials estimate that both terrorist organizations possess advanced missiles far beyond what were used in the 34-day-old Second Lebanon War in 2006.
With long-range weapons that could be fired from deep in Lebanon, Israel would be forced into capturing most of the country, and face a deadly and costly guerilla war. At the same time, a massive military threat from Syrian territory to the Golan Heights would require large numbers of reservists to defend the region. [Israel National News.]
However, the testosterone is flowing mostly among members of the elite with careers at stake. The most easily predictable transformation that would result from an Israeli attack is that the Iranian people would become committed enemies of Israel for the first time...and surely remain so for at least a generation. This would fundamentally alter Israel's long-term strategic calculus, to the point that it is hard to see how Israel could avoid permanent weakening of its security without shifts in domestic policy so revolutionary that they would erase the whole Zionist enterprise and turn Israel into a secular, bi-ethnic "Lesser Israel".

Looking out over a somewhat shorter time frame, the question is how this highly probable transformation of Iranian society into a genuine opponent of Israel and one searching actively for revenge would interact with other dynamics that an Israeli attack would set in motion. One such dynamic would play out inside of Iraq, where, conveniently for Iran, government is already in the hands of the Shi'a. Shi'a, like every other social group, of course entertain a range of political opinions and tend, all else being equal, to prefer independence to subordination. This range of opinion is likely to shift under the impact of a groundswell of pro-Iranian opinion that can be expected to weaken those Shi'i politicians tempted to cooperate with Big Oil and Washington while strengthening those politicians comfortable working with Iran. Given an Israeli attack on Iran, in other words, everything else will not be equal. Who, in Iraq, is more likely to benefit in career terms from such a shift than the already powerful Moqtada al Sadr, perhaps the most articulate voice in opposition to the U.S.?

A year or two after an attack on Iran, Israel should anticipate the strong possibility that al Sadr would be ruling Iraq with an Iraqi-Iranian alliance in place that would dwarf the Iranian relationship with Syria. Saudis would be troubled by the rise of a militantly destabilizing Shi'i entente but at the same time have trouble opposing the unambiguous victims of Israeli aggression, thus weakening their efforts to oppose such a rise in Iranian influence.

A reenforcing loop of mutual encouragement toward increasingly extreme behavior between Iraqis and Iranians should come as no surprise. This development would shove Israel's security predicament to a new level. Israel began with domestic Palestinians as the enemy, then added Iraq in the middle distance, and after the removal of Iraq as an enemy as the (surely intended) result of the U.S. invasion now considers distant Iran its main enemy. Each selection of a new prime adversary entailed not only greater distance but tackling a vastly stronger opponent, but an Israeli attack would do something unique: it would very possibly unify Iran and Iraq in an anti-Israeli posture.

If that were not enough, this would occur in the context of four other developments that are likely to interact significantly with the rise of a united Shi'i opposition:

  • the domestic preeminence in Lebanon of Hezbollah;
  • Arab Spring;
  • the Islamic bomb sitting in a Pakistan estranged from the U.S. by Washington's hardline posture;
  • and a good supply of Sunni radicals looking desperately for a way to regain prominence.

While one may smirk that it would be impossible to predict anything, that is really not true. For starters, one can safely predict the occurrence of an unholy mess filled with violence. Many, many chickens would return to Israel to roost. It is not easy to imagine scenarios leading to electoral victory in an Arab country after an Israeli attack by Arab politicians counseling friendship toward Israel. Of course, Iran might make the mistake of striking out against Saudi Arabia, but baring a major Iranian error, Iran seems likely to enjoy sympathy that will lead to the regional rise of politicians who either are genuinely militant or feel they must adopt a militant position to win elections.

Add to this situation the likely situation in Israel, where an aggressive garrison state with a highly influential illegal settler faction eager to retain its ill-gotten gains now genuinely sees that "everyone is against us." Settler terrorism to further cleanse the native population from desired areas will provoke desperate Palestinian self-defense, open the door to unemployed regional al-Qua'ida types, and push Tel Aviv further down the slippery slope of mindless reliance on force. Post-war hubris can be expected to make Israel a provocative, not conciliatory neighbor, further exacerbating whatever militant tendencies arise in Muslim societies as a direct consequence of an Israeli attack.

Thus, an Israeli attack on Iran that works can be expected to provoke rather than eliminate security concerns, in a political if not military firestorm of mutually reinforcing feedback loops in Iran, in Shi'i areas, and region-wide. Each dynamic would not only individually intensify the strategic threat to Israel but inhibit the resolution of the other threats. In other words, the reality would be far worse for Israel than a laundry list of threats would indicate. Iranian regime militancy will intensify Iranian popular militancy while both intensify Iraqi militancy. All three will intensify Palestinian militancy (compromise now probably utterly discredited). Israeli hubris will further exacerbate all the rest. Even an overwhelming Israeli military success will leave Israel facing a strategic situation both severely impaired and engulfed in a vicious cycle of rising threat.

Analytic Rigor
Several more analytically rigorous approaches to thinking about the above-addressed question of how the situation after a militarily successful Israeli attack on Iran might play out exist, including conducting a scenario analysis, drawing causal loop diagrams, building a system dynamics model, thinking through the implications from the perspective of complexity theory, and game theory. A game theoretic analysis could start with the simple question, "Was Israel's attack successful?" Here, we are assuming it was. Then, things get complicated fast, e.g., who makes the next move? Is it realistic to imagine that at the moment of victory Tel Aviv would immediately take the initiative by implementing some new policy? If so, options could be categorized into aggressive or conciliatory policies. If aggressive, a selected array of other actors have a turn, etc. Drawn in a tree structure, this approach organizes thinking about the exponential rise in possible outcomes, with the critical deficiency that it obscures interactions among the various underlying dynamics. Whatever the next step, it should now be clear that the article represents only the tip of the analytical iceberg facing Israeli national security strategists trying to assess the utility of going to war.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thinking About an Israeli War on Iran

"All options" in U.S.-Iranian relations have in fact never really been on the table. Compromise has not been an option. That would entail the end of the regional nuclear double standard as well as the recognition of Iran as a coming regional power. So Iranian-Israeli war continues to threaten. Does the Tel Aviv war party have a logical case? What, from that perspective, is the "best" that could happen?

Almost anything could happen were Israel to start an unprovoked war against Iran. Let us assume, for the purposes of argument, that it all goes just as the Israeli war party dreams. [Israel's high-tech war of choice.]With Defense Minister Barak, let us assume that almost no Israelis will die. Let us assume that Israeli planes and missiles hit their targets and that those targets are perfectly selected from among the possible 300 or more Iranian nuclear sites. Let us assume that the bombing sets the Iranian nuclear research program back by an optimistic five years, more than former Mossad chief Meir Dagan  and U.S. intelligence circles seem to think likely. OK, Netanyahu becomes the West's Cowboy #1 and remains in office. The Palestinians realize they have no hope of justice in our time. Now what?

All Iranians, indeed all Muslims, will have all the justification in the world for using violence anywhere, anytime, in any way they may choose against Israel, and some will. After all, if Israel can start a war and slaughter civilians in the thousands just because it prefers that its adversaries not develop weapons that it has itself possessed for decades in abundance, then exactly what moral constraints can be said to exist on the anti-Israeli actions of others?

More to the point, what political constraints can then be said to exist? What Muslim leader could justify cooperating with or trusting Israel after an Israeli attack on an Iran that has conducted rhetorical war but, in comparison with Israeli attacks on Palestinians and Lebanese, behaved cautiously? Will Ankara submissively shelve its effort to occupy a moderate middle position in regional affairs or start looking for military allies to protect itself from the now unrestrained regional superpower? Would such an attack tip Egypt into an actively anti-Israeli position for the first time in decades? Is Israel prepared to deal with the implications of the termination of Egyptian support for the continued imprisonment of Gazans in their ghetto?

What would be the implications for the U.S. of a collapse of Iraqi government cooperation? Renewed anti-American violence in Iraq, attacks on the Green Zone, Baghdad breaking diplomatic relations on the eve of the U.S. presidential campaign: has Israel considered the degree to which Americans might begin to take seriously the question of whether or not the U.S. can continue to pay the national security price of an alliance with such a violence-prone state?

Will the Iranian quest for national security become such an obsession that all domestic factions unite in the search for a solution, transforming Iran into a far more determined, effective adversary? Israeli politicians seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the Osirak precedent; perhaps they should stop. When Israel bombed Iraq in 1981, no Islamic bomb existed. How many Pakistanis, in today's vastly different atmosphere, will have sympathy for an Iran under attack for something it does not even yet possess? What bargaining chips might the concentrated thought of Iranian national security thinkers manage to identify for cutting a nuclear deal with Pakistan? Has Tel Aviv thought through the various bilateral Iranian-Pakistani issues (refugees, terrorism, Baluchi independence movement, joint resentment at American treatment, oil pipeline, strategic security advantages of cooperation) that Tehran, its attention focused by the horror and humiliation of an Israeli attack, might use to entice Pakistani cooperation?

In return for all those uncertainties, Israel will have managed to put the Iranian nuclear program back where it was in...2007?!? In 2007, it was believed by some that an Iranian nuclear bomb "could be possible" as soon as 2009. The war scare was so extreme in Israel that Israeli media sources were calling an Israeli attack "inevitable" and predicting that it would occur "in 2007." Or maybe the Israeli attack will be so successful that, against expectations, it knocks the Iranian program all the way back to 2004, a time of such tension that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was threatening Iran with "all options," codeword for a nuclear strike. Or maybe the Israelis would be so lucky as to knock the Iranian program a full 15 years back - to 1997, when Netanyahu was accusing Russia of "endangering the very future of Israel" by providing Iran with missile technology. Setting back the Iranian program by a few years may be crucial to a politician's career but is of little significance for the long-term security of a state.

Now recall that all these potential pitfalls flowing from an attack offering such modest achievements are premised on the assumption that Netanyahu's dreams of a quick, easy, 100% successful military strike are realized and, somehow, realized without Israeli recourse to nuclear arms--which would truly establish it as an international criminal enterprise of the first order--and that massive global fallout from exploded Iranian nuclear infrastructure does not result and that Iran does not in response sink a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, etc., etc.. The set of post-attack dangers enumerated in the preceding paragraphs is the situation after the best possible outcome for the Israeli war party.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Iranian-Israeli Death Dance

In 2007 a scenario analysis of Iranian-Israeli relations suggested that the two sides would harm themselves by continuing on their confrontational course. That finding is coming true, with the harm now visible in both the domestic and foreign situations of each society. Meanwhile, the bilateral death dance continues...

With Israeli militarists firmly in control of both Israeli and U.S. Mideast policy, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation remains in endless crisis. Neither side is making any effort to create new approaches to any possible resolution so it remains impossible to determine what either side wants, intends, or would settle for. Does Tehran want to dominate the region; does it intend, when able, to take an existential risk to achieve that goal; would it settle for security and inclusion? Does Tel Aviv want to retain its military dominance and permanent suppression of the Palestinian people; does it intend to take an existential risk to maintain that dominance; would it settle for a nuclear but transparent Iran and a two-state solution? Washington will neither offer Tehran a sufficiently sincere compromise nor put sufficient pressure on Tel Aviv to determine the bottom line of either side. The only aspect of the mess that is clear is that the constant tension works to the advantage of the extremists on each side, cementing their hold on power and virtually precluding rational discussion.

The above was true in 2007, when the scenario analysis Iranian-Israeli Confrontation was done; it remains true in late 2011. Yet much has changed. Ankara has staked out rhetorical leadership of a neutral position offering Tehran great potential leverage, an opportunity of which clumsy Tehran hardliners have yet to take advantage. The Arab Spring has weakened Cairos adherence to the pro-Israel camp as well. Meanwhile, Obama has allowed Tel Aviv to obstruct his efforts to turn around U.S. ties with the Muslim world even as the U.S. position in Iraq has continued its downward course. By skillfully and remorselessly undermining Washingtons freedom of movement, Netanyahu has also steadily weakened the value of U.S. support even as he has fractured Israeli society into an increasingly violence-prone and overtly racist majority and a minority increasingly concerned about the long-term survival of Israeli democracy. The result has been to strengthen Irans regional position, weaken Israels regional position, and to enhance the risk of Israeli aggression and of Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology.

Israeli Views of Israel
Ruth Dayan:
We built this country inch by inch, and we lost so many lives. We built public and social institutions, schools, factories. What’s going on today is awful. They’re ruining this country. I am a proud Israeli. I’ve lived through every war, endured every moment of suffering, but I never stopped believing in peace. I lost friends and family members. I’m a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course....

And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere—I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deteri oration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right. [Daily Beast 10/30/11.]

Retired Chief of Mossad Meir Dagan:
In his first public appearance since leaving the post in September, Dagan said earlier this month that the possibility a future Israel Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was "the stupidest thing I have ever heard."[Haaretz 6/1/11.]
We have to think about what would happen the day after. [Der Spiegel 11/8/11.]
Haaretz Commentator Gideon Levy:
The nuclear powers also ignore the fourth chapter of the treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that calls for dismantling them. They are permitted to ignore it. The world lives in peace too with the fact that 189 countries have indeed signed the treaty but that there are four, including Israel, that have not. The world has learned to live with the North Korean and Pakistani bombs even though this is a danger that is no smaller than that which Iran poses....
Israel, which has not signed the treaty, is in the same company as North Korea, Pakistan and India - that is, very dubious company. No one asks why, no one asks for what reason, not in Israel and not in the rest of the world...
There is a great deal of hypocrisy in Israel's attitude toward the world....
Like Israel, Iran will apparently not heed the words of the world. But does Israel want in any way to resemble Iran?  [Haaretz 11/10/11.]


It is time for another look at the alternative futures of the Iranian-Israeli confrontation.

The 2007 study offered four predictions:

Prediction #1: Co-Evolution. Iran and Israel will co-evolve: without either necessarily perceiving it, they will influence each other, revolve around each other like binary stars, each in its individual orbit but bound to the other by their mutual insistence on making the other a priority, and traveling an unseen path together. Most likely, all the while each will see only its own uniqueness; neither will perceive the increasingly significant points of similarity as their mutual adaptation subjects them to similar pressures. Judging from current trends, each will feed on the other’s hostility to the detriment of both.

Prediction #2: States of Criticality.
Potential states of criticality threatening disaster will occur. They are fundamental danger zones. A wise society will avoid them. As tensions rise and groups organize to push radical agendas, thereby making tensions rise further, it is easy to slide into the unmarked state of criticality where going one step too far leads to some sort of disaster – perhaps a tremor, perhaps the "big one."
Prediction #3: Tipping Points. Positive feedback loops will bring to the fore dynamics that were previously insignificant, and tipping points will be reached, to general astonishment.

Prediction #4: Adaptation.
Adaptation will occur in unforeseen ways – sometimes at an unexpected location, sometimes after an unexpected delay. However it happens, Israel and Iran they will change, although our perceptions of them may not. The Israel still perceived in some quarters as a plucky pioneering movement of idealists adopted selective assassination of terrorists and then moved beyond that to assassination of opposing political leaders. Iran’s messianic Shi’ite spirit of the early 1980s has evolved into a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. vs. the Taleban in 2001 and support for the U.S.-sponsored regime in occupied Iraq today. Change is predictable; if unseen, the fault almost certainly lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Prediction #1, Co-Evolution, is supported by circumstantial evidence. The bilateral tension occupies an artificially important place in the politics of each state. Domestically, Tehran appears to have cracked down on dissidents with a degree of viciousness unusual even for Iran because of its defensiveness engendered by threats coming from Israel and its obedient superpower sponsor. Meanwhile, Israeli society is sliding steadily toward racist violence, a trend primarily the result of its colonization of the West Bank but one exacerbated by Netanyahus determination to play domestic policies off against policy toward Iran. The result is that Iranian-Israeli tensions are making both the Tehran and the Tel Aviv regimes more hardline than they would otherwise have been, thus exacerbating domestic political problems.

Concerning foreign policy, each state increasingly is finding its options limited by its addiction to extremist rhetoric and genuine security fears resulting from the Iranian-Israeli confrontation. Israeli freedom of thought and maneuver regarding its central predicament of how to deal with Palestinians is severely constrained by tensions with Iran. Iranian freedom of thought and maneuver regarding how to deal with the ring of U.S. military bases along its borders and the instability inherent in Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan insurgencies is similarly constrained by tensions with Israel.

In sum, Iran and Israel are co-evolving both domestically and internationally in ways that harm both of them because they have allowed themselves to become so closely linked by bilateral tensions artificially whipped up by their respective political leaders that they cannot find the freedom to focus on other arguably more fundamental and more serious problems. This evolutionary process is making each country less democratic and less secure.

Prediction #2, States of Criticality, isin early November 2011demonstrably true for a sudden state of criticality is exactly where the two states are at the moment, for no obvious reason other than the publication of yet another ambiguous IAEA report that states it cannot prove the negative (that Iran absolutely does not have any nuclear militarization plan in process). On this slim reed balances an explosion of clamor over the idea of launching the worlds first unprovoked nuclear attack.

Prediction #3, Tipping Points, has yet to be substantiated, but the occurrence of one of the predicted states of criticality suggests that the probability of a tipping point is rising.

Prediction #4, Adaptation, is more obvious on the part of the U.S. than the two primary actors. Both ruling parties in the U.S. are now firmly under Israeli influence so extreme as virtually to constitute control regarding U.S. Mideast policy. In reaction to this, however, open discussion of the long-time taboo question of whether or not the U.S.-Israeli alliance might be harming U.S. national security has now struggled into mainstream thinking, with long-term consequences yet to be discerned. In Israel, while the media discuss Israeli policy toward Iran far more profoundly and honestly than U.S. media do, groupthink has taken firm hold at the political level, leaving those Israelis concerned about Netanyahus warmongering with no political representation. Adaptation this is, albeit not in a direction likely to enhance either Israeli security or Israeli democracy. Groupthink is almost never a wise strategic course. Somewhat less visibly perhaps, from the outside, Iran too is adapting, as its domestic politics become increasingly bitter and divided. Indeed, Prediction #4 is essentially a rewording at a different level of analysis (state rather than two-state system) of Prediction #1, since the very meaning of co-evolution is that each state is not only adapting but adapting in tandem with the other.

In sum, the analysis done in 2007 made predictions that amounted to a warning that the two states would each harm themselves by failing to change course, and that warning has proven on target. The respective regimes have only themselves to blame for not heeding the warning; its accuracy supports the methodological argument that scenario analysis constitutes a useful tool for sharpening thinking about complex foreign policy dilemmas.