Trial round

Print edition : December 14, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama.The sanctions on Iran are viewed as another form of warfare-HENG SINITH/AP

The latest military strike at Gaza is widely seen in the U.S. and Israel as a dress rehearsal for the next war on Lebanon and a military assault on Iran.

AFTER months of sabre-rattling against Iran, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) finally targeted the hapless Gaza Strip. The ability of the Hamas fighters to retaliate and fire rockets into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, piercing the much-vaunted Iron Dome anti-missile system put in place with American help, has rattled the Israeli military establishment. It has attributed Hamas improved prowess in missile technology to help from Iran. The Israeli authorities claim that many of the missiles that reached their capital city were Fajr-5 rockets supplied by Iran to Hamas. A few weeks before the latest Israeli military assault on Gaza, the Israeli military and political establishment got another shock when a drone launched from Lebanon successfully penetrated Israeli airspace and flew over the facility that houses the high-security Dimona nuclear reactor.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hizbollah, subsequently claimed that it was his group that had launched the reconnaissance drone into Israel. The drone was shot down in the vicinity of the Dimona reactor by Israel after it flew hundreds of kilometres into Israeli territory. Nasrallah said that the drone had captured footage of sensitive Israeli security facilities, including the Dimona facility. The Lebanese resistance group admitted that the drones it deployed had originated from Iran and that it had the ability to deploy many more drones, including armed ones, at short notice. The West and Israel are busy trying to effect a regime change in Syria, which, along with Iran, is the strongest backer of the Hizbollah. The group, it appears, wants to make a point that it can confront Israel on its own now.

A rally against Israel in Tehran on November 16.-AFP

Only Israel and the United States had used the drone technology for military purposes in the region until recently. Their monopoly over the technology has been broken now. Similarly, the U.S. and Israel used the malicious Stuxnet computer worm to wreak havoc on Irans nuclear enrichment activity at the Natanz reactor facility in 2010. Stuxnet was part of a U.S.-Israeli covert programme to wage sophisticated attacks on Irans industrial and scientific infrastructure. According to reports in the Western media, hackers whose origins are unclear have retaliated by severely damaging computers in Saudi and Qatari oil facilities, disrupting energy production. These two countries are close allies of the U.S. American Defence Secretary Leon Panetta admitted that the attack on the Saudi computer systems was a sophisticated one, though he took care to not blame Tehran directly.

The presence of a few Iranian-made rockets and drones in Israels immediate neighbourhood has prompted senior Israeli officials and politicians to once again demand a big bang military strike against Iran. Israeli officials said the Hamas militia had developed its own weapons industry with Iranian help. David Rothkopf, a former U.S. National Security official under President Bill Clinton who has close connections with the Obama administration, in an article in the influential website foreignpolicy.com, claimed that Israel and the U.S. were actively considering a joint surgical strike against Irans uranium enrichment facilities. Reports in the U.S. and Israeli media described the latest military assault on Gaza as a dress rehearsal for the next war against Lebanon and a military assault on Iran.

Israel blamed Iran and Hizbollah for the terror attacks targeting Israeli civilians and diplomats in Sofia, Tbilisi, Bangkok and Delhi this year and said that it was contemplating military action against Tehran. Despite the repeated assertions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there is rock solid evidence implicating Hizbollah and Iran in the terror attacks, the Israeli authorities have so far not been able to provide any proof to the international investigating agencies.

A Hizbollah demonstration against the Israeli offensive, near the U.N. headquarters in Beirut.-BILAL HUSSEIN/AP

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said he was confident that before the year end, a resolution could be passed in the U.S. Congress to give President Barack Obama broad authority to take military action if Iran did not compromise on its nuclear programme.

Attack on Iran

Leon Panettas predecessor, Robert Gates, warned that any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences. Speaking in the first week of October, he said that neither of the countries had the capability to wipe out Irans nuclear capability. He warned that an attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable. Gates also emphasised that the U.S. should make it clear to Israels leaders that it does not have a blank cheque to take action that could do grave harm to Americas vital interests.

However, as the cyber attacks illustrate, secret forms of warfare are already going on between U.S./Israel and Iran and its allies in the region. The draconian economic sanctions imposed by the West on Iran can also be viewed as another form of warfare. On October 15, the European Union agreed to implement another set of sanctions aimed at further crippling the Iranian economy. The current sanctions on Iran have been described as the harshest against any country imposed since the creation of the United Nations. The Iranian media have reported that the country is facing severe shortages of essential medicines, which have to be imported.

Fatemeh Hashemi, the head of Irans Charity Institute for Special Diseases, has said that six million Iranians suffering from serious ailments are finding it difficult to get their daily medicines. He said the shortage affected mainly patients suffering from diseases such as cancer and thalassaemia and those needing dialysis. Runaway inflation coupled with the devaluation of the Iranian currency has affected mainly the poor. Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Stenitz recently boasted that the sanctions were driving the Iranian economy towards collapse. The outgoing U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, endorsed this view but said that the situation could be rectified if the Iranian government worked with the international community in a sincere manner.

TRAILS OF SMOKE in the sky as Israel's "Iron Dome" missile system intercepts a rocket launched from Gaza near the southern town of Sderot on November 15.-RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The Iranian leadership has been crying from the rooftops that it is not interested in acquiring a nuclear weapon. In a recent speech, Leon Panetta admitted on the basis of U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran had not finalised a decision to produce a nuclear weapon. Irans Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described the economic sanctions on Iran as barbaric and as akin to a war against his country. The West is angry and they have used Irans nuclear energy programme as a pretext [to impose sanctions]. They claim that they will lift the sanctions if Iran backs down on its right to nuclear energy. They are lying. Out of spite and revenge, they decide to impose illogical sanctions against Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei said in a recent speech.

Alongside the sanctions, the West is also trying to prop up small separatist groups in areas in Iran dominated by ethnic non-Persian minorities. Kurds, Azeris and the Arab populations in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan are being targeted for subversion. Senior Israeli officials, such as the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, have been saying that one way of confronting Iran is to stir up ethnic strife and smash the concept of a collective Iranian identity. The Baluchi terrorist group Jundallah had, until recently, used Pakistan as a base to launch terrorist attacks in Iran. The U.S. media reported that Israeli agents posed as officers of the Central Intelligence Agency in order to recruit ethnic Baluchis affiliated to the Jundallah in the Iranian provinces of Balochistan and Sistan.

A recent report filed by the Federation of American Scientists, a bipartisan body, predicted that in case the U.S. escalated its confrontation with Iran, the world economy would lose up to $6.4 trillion in the first three months of 2013. Senior officials in the Obama administration have predicted many situations they may have in store for Iran. These include a military blockade of the Persian Gulf to bar the export of Iranian oil. President Obama has never ruled out the military option against Iran. Most oil industry experts are of the view that if open military hostilities break out in the Gulf, the price of oil will shoot up to $200 a barrel.

THE ISRAELI MILITARY launches a missile into Gaza from the Iron Dome in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva on November 15.-MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

With the presidential election over, better sense seems to be prevailing in Washington. The U.S. media have reported that Washington and Tehran have agreed in principle for the first time to open direct negotiations. Both sides have not yet openly confirmed the news. Iran has insisted for many years that it wants direct talks with the U.S. Tehran has also indicated that it is willing to make compromises if the West recognises the countrys fundamental right to nuclear enrichment. Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

All NPT members have a right to nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes.

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