The week-old Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is likely
to boost the chances of U.S. military action against Iran, according to a number
of regional experts who see a broad consensus among the U.S. political elite
that the ongoing hostilities are part of a broader offensive being waged by
Tehran against Washington across the region.
While Israel-centered neoconservatives have been the most aggressive in arguing
that Hezbollah's July 12 cross-border attack could only have been carried out
with Iran's approval, if not encouragement, that view has been largely accepted
and echoed by the mainstream media, as well as other key political factions,
including liberal internationalists identified with the Democratic Party.
"In my reading, this is the beginning of what was a very similar process
in the period, between [the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York
and the Pentagon] and the Iraq war," according to Gregory Gause, who teaches
Middle East politics at the University of Vermont.
"While neocons took the lead in opinion formation then, eventually there
was something approaching consensus in the American political class that war
with Iraq was a necessary part of remaking the Middle East to prevent future
9/11s," he said.
"That strong majority opinion was bipartisan [and] crossed ideological
lines neocons supported the war, but so did lots of prominent liberal
intellectuals," he went on. "I think it is very possible that a similar
consensus could develop over the next few years, if not the next few months,
about the necessity to confront Iran."
Indeed, almost as if to prove the point, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously
Tuesday to approve a resolution that not only endorsed Israel's military actions
in Gaza and Lebanon without calling on it to exercise any restraint, but also
urged U.S. President George W. Bush to impose across-the-board diplomatic and
economic sanctions on Tehran and Damascus. The House of Representatives was
expected to pass a similar resolution Wednesday.
To Gause and other analysts, Tehran, even before the current crisis, offered
a tempting target of blame for Washington's many frustrations in the region.
In addition to its long-standing support for Hezbollah, whose political power
has, in Washington's view, stalled last year's so-called "Cedar Revolution,"
Iran has backed both Hamas, including the Damascus-based military wing that
last month precipitated the current round of violence by abducting an Israeli
soldier outside Gaza, and Shia militias that have helped push Iraq to the brink
of a sectarian civil war.
"The world needs to understand what is going on here," wrote the
influential liberal New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman last week
as Israel launched its military counteroffensive against Hezbollah.
"The little flowers of democracy that were planted in Lebanon, Iraq, and
the Palestinian territories are being crushed by the boots of Syrian-backed
Islamist militias who are desperate to keep real democracy from taking hold
in this region and Iranian-backed Islamist militias desperate to keep modernism
from taking hold."
But Iran can be blamed for other ills, as well. By allegedly promoting instability
throughout the region, as well as fears of an eventual military confrontation
with Washington, Iran can also be blamed for the rise of oil prices, from which
it is profiting handsomely, to record levels.
And its repeated rejection of U.S. demands that it respond to the pending proposal
for a deal on its nuclear program adds to the thesis that Iran is engaged in
its own form of asymmetric warfare against Washington. Indeed, it has become
accepted wisdom here that Iran encouraged Hezbollah's July 12 raid as a way
to divert attention from growing international concern over its nuclear program
"There has been a lot of connecting of the dots back to Iran," according
to ret. Col. August Richard Norton, who teaches international relations at Boston
University. "This goes well beyond the [neoconservative] Weekly Standard
crowd; we've seen the major newspapers all accept the premise that what happened
July 12 was engineered in some way by Iran as a way of undermining efforts to
impede its nuclear program"
"[There has been a] buildup of domestic forces that now see Iran as inexorably
at the center of the entire regional spider web," noted Graham Fuller,
a former top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and RAND Corporation Middle East
expert. "The mainstream is unfortunately grasping for coherent explanations,
[and] the neocon/hard right offers a fairly simple, self-serving vision on the
cause of the problems, and their solution."
In much the same way that Saddam Hussein was depicted, particularly by neoconservatives,
as the strategic domino whose fall would unleash a process of democratization,
de-radicalization, moderation, and modernization throughout the Middle East,
so now Iran is portrayed as the "Gordian Knot" whose cutting would
not only redress many of Washington's recent setbacks, but also renew prospects
for regional "transformation" in the way that it was originally intended.
The notion that, as the puppet master behind Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Shia
militias in Iraq, an aggressive and emboldened Iran is the source of Washington's
many problems has the added virtue of relieving the policy establishment here
of responsibility for the predicament in which Washington finds itself or of
the necessity for "painful self-examination, or serious policy revision,"
according to Fuller.
"Full speed ahead no revision of fundamental premises is required.
And, even though we revel in being the sole global superpower, God forbid that
anything the U.S. has done in the region might have at least contributed to
the present disaster scene," he said.
As was the case with Iraq, the only dissenters among the policy elite are the
foreign policy "realists," who argue that this administration, in
particular, has made a series of disastrous policy errors in the Middle East
especially by providing virtually unconditional support for Israel and invading
They also include regional specialists like Norton, who maintain that the depiction
of Hezbollah, for example, as a mere proxy for Iran let alone the notion
that Tehran was behind the July 12 attack is a dangerous misreading of
a much more complex reality.
These forces have been arguing for some time that Washington should engage
Iran directly on the full range of issues from Tehran's nuclear program
to regional security that divide. But the current crisis, and Israel's
and the neoconservatives' success in blaming Iran for it, is likely to make
this argument a more difficult sell.
(Inter Press Service)