YOU may not have noticed it, but America’s war with Iran started some days ago and may not be going too well for the world’s mightiest power. This is not a war that president Trump, as commander in chief, is enthusiastic about. The eager beavers, the trigger-happy foursome lurching towards war are what Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif describes as Trump’s ‘B’ team — Bibi Netanyahu, John Bolton, bin Salman and bin Zayed.
The chief of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards thumps the table and declares in Iran’s majlis, ‘Of course, oil tankers of all the countries will pass through the straits of Hormuz if Iranian tankers pass, but if Iranian tankers cannot pass then no tankers will sail through the water way.’ Clearly, David is daring Goliath. There has been no response from the would-be belligerents. Two of the Arab ‘Bs’ have fingers on their lips. There is a simple disincentive for Trump, always keeping a hawk eye on US economic interest, not to go for the final war with Iran. With the Iranian threat removed, who in the region will buy US arms?
If all of this turns into a major conflagration, the message to the world will be loud and clear: the US has been dragged into a conflict which Israel and Israel alone really wanted.
In fact, there are military strategists who fear that Israel too may at this moment be in a chastened mood. It may be nursing wounds recently inflicted by the missile barrage from Hamas on the first day of Ramadan. Of course, Israelis retaliated fiercely but why did this exchange not develop into a major pummelling of Gaza? It appears the Gazans, with help from Hezbullah and Iran, have assembled ingenious devices which can penetrate what was advertised as an invincible missile defence system. The, system, Iron Dome, has been manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Israel aerospace Industries.
For Israeli military elite, the Iron Dome’s vulnerability is as unnerving as the destruction of the ‘world’s most invincible Merkava tank’ by Hezbullah in an earlier engagement inspiring the New York Times to a memorable headline: ‘Israel is powerful, Yes. But not so invincible.’
Iron Dome’s alleged vulnerability must inspire caution. It may well be seen as a restraining factor, one that would cause the belligerents to hold back their horses. And horses have been pulled back by the Arab B team. After all, two Saudi tankers were hit off the coast of Fujairah. And what was the B team’s response? Silence. If this were not sufficient provocation, the embattled Houthis in Yemen shocked the Saudis by hitting and disabling their oil facility in Saudi Arabia not by a missile but a drone which dodged the radar and struck key Saudi oil installations. Saudi’s have taken revenge by bombing the Yemeni capital, the ancient city of Sanaa. Diplomatic grapevine is abuzz that Riyadh has communicated to their US interlocutors that the latest bombing was part of their ongoing war with Yemen. Iran was not in the bargain.
Meanwhile, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo turned up in Brussels expecting to be kissed on both his cheeks by European leaders for having set up a showdown with Tehran. He had probably forgotten that just last week he had ditched Angela Merkel after having set up a meeting in Berlin, his first with the German leadership. Germans don’t like being stood up. Negative German vibrations must have reached Brussels. But this was not the only reason for the cold reception Pompeo received. Of course, there were no takers for tightening the screws on Iran. There was on the other hand, great concern that president Hassan Rouhani had, on the anniversary of Trump backing away from their commitment to the nuclear deal, indicated that Iran would begin to dismantle the agreement too if Europeans did not hold their nerve in the face of US bullying.
It hurts the US most when its cousins across the Atlantic begin to chastise it. UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt echoed the mood in Brussels. ‘We are very worried about the risks of a conflict by accident.’ The international community is on edge because it has a sense of history. The First World War was accidentally triggered when Archduke Ferdinand was shot dead in Sarajevo by a Serbian militant.
Conversation veers around to anxieties on these lines after US intelligence spotted missiles on small boats placed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The difficulty in reading the Iranians at this point is twofold: is this escalation by Iran or a defensive move on its part. Even more worrying is a huge question mark on the reliability of the Deep State: what intelligence does it have and what is its agenda?
Time was when CIA had a reputation for well processed intelligence data, but the record all along has been mixed. How many times has the CIA misled the administration? Did not the US intelligence say with great authority during the Korean War that China will not cross the Yalu River? It did. Neither the Soviets no the Chinese will help Vietnam. They did. Assad will go. Has he? Maduro will go. Has he gone?… the list is inexhaustible.
Trump should feel a little humbled by president Jimmy Carter’s description of the US ‘as the most warlike nation in the history of the world’, Carter revealed in the course of a talk in his Church in Plains, Georgia, a recent exchange with Trump. President Trump expressed his anxiety to Carter about ‘China’s growing economy’. He was anxious: ‘China is getting ahead of us.’ Carter replied, ‘Since 1979 China has been at war with nobody, and we have stayed at war.’ In Carter’s words, there may be something for New Delhi to ponder too. Also, a sensible power would balance its relations with others and not give any nation the right to veto relations with Iran which all prime ministers, including the BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee, have consistently considered India’s natural ally.
Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
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