Israel should sit back and allow the Iranian threat to continue to build. In the end, faced with the prospect of losing control of the strategic Middle East and Arab oil the United States will be forced to attack. The alternative would be to lose credibility as the last remaining world superpower. And the cost of that failure would be incalculable and irreversible.

 

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George W. Bush launched the war to topple Sadam Hussein on 20 March, 2003 and famously declared victory aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln stationed in the Persian Gulf three months later. According to the president, "our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein''s support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people." In the end there were no Iraqi WMD,  and the administration was also forced to admit that Sadam had no connection to September 11 or al-Qaeda.


Shortly before his execution, Sadam was asked about the missing WMD. His interviewer reports:

        The threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq''s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq."

With the withdrawal of US fighting forces on 19 August, 2010, the only observable American achievement after eight years of war - costing more than four thousand American lives, untold Iraqi deaths and more - that $1 trillion is regime change for Iraq, and superpower America dependent on the tolerance of the Iranian mouse that roared.

Iraq went to the polls on 7 March 2010, and the result was deadlock. Five months later, as the dust of the last withdrawing US combat vehicle settled on the Kuwaiti border, Iraq still had no functioning government. And by all accounts the country is today closer to a bloodier civil war than it experienced in 2003 - 2007.

In an analysis of US options in post-withdrawal Iraq, George Friedman, director of Stratfor writes:

    There are many who are baffled by Iranian confidence and defiance in the face of American pressure on the nuclear issue. This is the reason for that confidence: Should the United States attack Iran''s nuclear facilities, or even if the United States does not attack, Iran holds the key to the success of the American strategy in Iraq."

In fact Dr. Friedman understates the problem for the US. American troops stationed in Iraq, the Gulf Arab states and Afghanistan are all at risk from Iranian supported proxies throughout the region. In Iraq the Islamic Republic arms, trains and provides guidance and leadership to anti-American Shiite militias. In Afghanistan Iran has the same relationship with the Taliban. The US is a virtual hostage to Iranian influence. And the United States is solely responsible for this situation, having toppled the Sunni Ba''ath regime of Sadam Hussein in Iraq.

The 1980 - 1988 Iran-Iraq War cost Iran more than one million lives. The lesson was clear: Iraq under Sadam Hussein was to be avoided. When George Bush replaced the minority Sunni Baath regime with one controlled by the Shiite majority he threw wide the invitation to Iranian influence.

A Sh''ia (Iran)-controlled Iraq allowed Ahmadinejad not only to threaten US forces in Iraq, but to project Iranian influence and threat throughout the region. Iraq was the military buffer between the oil-rich, Sunni-majority Arabian Peninsula and Shiite Iran''s Revolutionary Guards.

Another consequence of invading Iraq, was that Bush made the fundamentalist Iranian regime the equal of the United States in regional affairs - directly in Iraq - through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas in the Levant and Egypt. Even in Saudi Arabia, Iranian-influenced Sh''ia are in the majority in the kingdom''s richest oil fields.

To return to the Friedman analysis:

    The United States cannot withdraw completely without some arrangement... Iran would dominate the Persian Gulf region after the withdrawal. Thus, the United States... can stay in perpetuity and remain vulnerable to violence. It can withdraw and hand the region over to Iran. It can go to war with yet another Islamic country. Or it can negotiate with a government that it despises - and which despises it right back."

Debka, Israel''s equivalent of Stratfor, draws a much starker vision for Iraq''s future:

    According to US intelligence, [the Shiites] are preparing to capture large parts of Baghdad as well as Habaniya, Ramadi, Tikrit, Falluja and sections of Anbar Province, in order to... [force the Sunnis] to accept their loss of political influence and... the loss of more territory in the cities... The second [goal] is to crush the power bases the Saudis are building in [Sunni sectors of] Iraq at great expense. While the Saudis and the Syrians are spending money to buy off Maliki''s supporters, he plans to physically destroy the Sunni power centers in which they are investing."

And while the Sunnis and Shiites fight their own civil war, Debka continues, "the Kurds of the north... plan to exploit the anticipated armed Sunni-Shiite feud to drive south and grab parts of central Iraq up to a line some 250 kilometers north of Baghdad."

And where does Debka see Iran in all of this? "Tehran is also eying rich spoils in Iraq''s post-American era... the southern oilfields centering on the city of Basra, which account for about 60 percent of the country''s oil output."

So here we are, 19 August, 2010, witness to the last of American combat forces having left Iraq. What are America''s options? Having destroyed Iraqi deterrence to Iran; having allowed Iran to project threat and influence from Saudi Arabia to Egypt; having provided through accommodation Iranian progress towards nuclear status; how will President Obama respond?

To date the signs are that the US will attempt to continue the Bush-Obama diplomacy-over-war effort at accommodation. But nothing is more likely to lead to a regional loss of confidence in the United States as regional defender than the kind of indecision and avoidance that has characterized American policy towards Iran for the past eight years. And this is the reason for the rapid deterioration of American influence in the oil-rich and strategic Middle East. Absent American willingness to eliminate the Iranian threat, the Arabs feel they have no choice but to seek accommodation with the new American-created, soon to be nuclear hegemon.

During his 6 July, 2010 interview with Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic, United Arab Emirates'' Ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba said, ''We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.'' I [Goldberg] asked him, Do you want the US to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force? And he answered, ''Absolutely, absolutely.''" According to reliable sources both the Saudis and the Egyptians delivered the same message to the administration.

Turkey, of course, has already made it absolutely clear that it not only views American as irresolute and undependable, it has confidently defied its erstwhile ally by not only voting against America''s UN sanctions resolution, but is violating those sanctions and supplying Iran with gasoline and other petroleum distillates.  And to further make the point of independence and defiance, the Turks now openly support Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran''s proxies in the Levant. And of course there was also that Turkish blockade-busting flotilla to which the United States stood quietly by as observer. Only afterwards, the damage done, did the administration, once again realize the mistake after the fact and try to repair the damage.

The Saudis recently warned that, absent decisive action by the United States to eliminate the Iranian threat, like Turkey, they would see no choice but to reach an accommodation with the Islamic Republic. Should that happen American influence in the region would plummet, and her only remaining friend in the region would be Israel.

The September 11, 2001 attacks set the stage for emotion to override common sense among US decision makers. In September of 2002 CIA Director George Tenet came to Bush with reliable information provided by Iraq''s foreign minister Naji Sabri, that Iraq had no WMD. According to Sabri it was all a bluff by Sadam to keep the Iranians at bay. But, according to Tenet, the president was not interested; the administration was already committed to invade. Whatever his true motives, Bush invaded and set the US on a course in which it found itself  immediately dependent on Iran for the security of its forces, its pursuit of the war, even its ability to end the war. It is no less dependent on Iran today.

The United States has little choice but to either confront directly what all states of the region consider a mortal threat, or to fall back on the wishful possibility that maybe just one more round of diplomacy might finally convince the Iranians to abandon the bomb and become good neighbors.

Of course the US always has a third option. Knowing full well the potential disaster to the world economy due to yet another threat to oil; knowing that attacking Iran will result in an escalation of American casualties at the hands of Iran and her proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan; rather than be directly responsible for these disasters, the better course would be to leave it to Israel.

If America waits long enough then Israel is likely to attack. If Israel attacks then most of the fallout lands on Israel. Although the United States would necessarily be drawn into the conflict to protect its troops and the oil fields, even the United States would afterwards be justified in joining the EU and the rest of the world in blaming the Jewish state the disaster that would follow.

And this is the main point. Israel would be justified, failing American resolve to protect its own regional interests, to pre-emptively attack in its own defense. But can Israel withstand the fallout from the action? If, compared to attacking Iran, such relatively minor incidents as Operation Cast Lead or the boarding of the Mavi Marmara brought such international ire, can Israel afford, even survive the international isolation the action would bring? Israel justifiably sees a nuclear Iran as an existential threat. Would not the fallout resulting from the attack also constitute an existential threat?

Israel has other options. The threat is regional and not just to Israel. The Iranians have to be stopped, but not by a single member of the regional community. The Saudis agree to "quietly" open their airspace to Israeli fighters, great; Egypt allows Israeli warships to transit Suez, wonderful. But is that the limit of their responsibility for containing the Iranian threat? Since the threat is regional the response must likewise be regional. Absent American leadership Israel should not agree to go it alone, should insist on Arab participation, a second "Coalition of the Willing."

The result of this coalition would be that Israel is but one of several, including the oil producers, and so not alone responsible for the global economic fallout. The coalition would also serve to create a new reality in the Middle East, an alliance consisting of Israel and the Arab states.

Absent the participation of the Saudis, the Gulf Arabs and Egypt as part of the armada Israel should sit back and allow the Iranian threat to continue to build. In the end, faced with the prospect of losing control of the strategic Middle East and Arab oil the United States will be forced to attack. The alternative would be to lose credibility as the last remaining world superpower. And the cost of that failure would be incalculable and irreversible.


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