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Hichem Karoui: Give peace a chance
January 14, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Forty-eight hours after Iran launched advanced uranium enrichment at Fordo, Prof. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, deputy director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was killed early on Wednesday, Jan.11, by a sticky bomb planted on his car. Prof. Ahmadi-Roshan was the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be mysteriously assassinated in Tehran in two years.

 Several Western officials have told Reuters that Tehran may be right and the hits on Iranian nuclear technicians could be part of a plan by US or Israeli intelligence services — or both — to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme.

The ‘hawks’ in the USA and Israel have been calling for war and/or covert action since years. They never ceased. A simple look at the positions of the Republican candidates in the current electoral debate would tell you more than books:

Mitt Romney has said that it is “unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon” and he would apply a range of measures — economic, diplomatic, and ultimately military, to deter Tehran.  He has called for imposing additional economic sanctions and working with the insurgents to encourage regime change in the country.

Newt Gingrich called for disrupting Iran’s nuclear programme through covert action, including “taking out their scientists” and cyber warfare. He advocates the use of military force as a last resort: “If we get to a point where the military believes that they are truly on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, I would be prepared to use military force.”

Gingrich has also said he would set up a fund to support dissident groups, repeal restrictions on US spies, cut off Iran’s gasoline supply, and “basically wage economic warfare against them until the regime broke.”

Rick Santorum called for a joint US-Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. While suggesting, like Romney, tougher sanctions against Iran and greater support for pro-democracy groups in the country, he also called Iran’s nuclear scientists “enemy combatants” similar to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and, therefore, potential targets for assassination.

Rick Perry has called for Washington to sanction Iran’s central bank to deter Tehran from pursuing nuclear capability.  He did not rule out a pre-emptive military strike to thwart Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. He said the United States has only bad options when dealing with Iran. Like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, Perry also urges regime change in Iran. He says the United States should be “actively involved” in removing the regime from power and recommends “diplomatic, and economic, and overt, covert, or even civic opportunities” to do so.

Jon Huntsman said sanctions “aren’t going to have much of an impact” and instead suggested that military action might be the only way to deter Iran: “I cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. If you want an example of when I would use American force, it would be that,” he said.

The only one who said something different was Ron Paul, who cautioned against warmongering on Iran. “I’m afraid what’s going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq,” he said.

As for President Obama, we recall that he entered the White House pledging to open a dialogue with Tehran without preconditions. In March 2009, he sent Iran a message saying that his administration sought “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” Following the dispute over the Iranian presidential election in the same year and the crackdown on the opposition, the US administration seemed striving to find the hard balance between its concerns for Human Rights and the discretion requirements of diplomacy. Its efforts were unsuccessful on both issues.

In 2010, new reports about a secret uranium enrichment facility near Qom hardened the Obama administration stance. Imposing new sanctions and toughening the old ones became part of the US plans.  Covert actions to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme, such as the 2010 Stuxnet cyber attack, is also reportedly part of these plans, although such reports lack evidence.

After the IAEA issued its November 2011 report accusing Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, US sanctions targeted Iran’s petrochemical sector, and the entire banking sector – including the Central Bank of Iran. It fell short of sanctioning the bank, while stressing that a military option exists.

On Dec.31, 2011, Obama signed into law significantly harsher sanctions that target the Central Bank of Iran, although he secured the power to grant 120-day waivers in cases where he believes that US national security is at stake – namely, if relations with Russia and China are at risk due to these states’ trade with Iran.

These developments made the Iranians more nervous, and put the Arabs of the Gulf on the highest level of vigilance. Military sources report a build-up in the last days of western naval forces opposite Iran in the Arabian Sea in readiness for Tehran to carry out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

Britain has dispatched the HMS Daring, a Type 45 destroyer armed with new technology for shooting down missiles, to the Sea of Oman, due to arrive at the same time as the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The giant RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, took off from the USS Stenning aircraft carrier for surveillance over the coasts of Iran. The Stennis and its strike group are cruising in the Sea of Oman at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz after Tehran announced it would not be allowed to cross through.

In the night of Jan.5, the Iranian parliament began drafting a bill prohibiting foreign warships from entering the Gulf without Tehran’s permission. The Obama administration has been warned that Iranian leaders mean what they say. Some reports say their leaders seek a military clash with the United States at a time and place of their choosing, rather than leaving the initiative to Washington. The same report the readiness of F-18 Super Hornet fighter-bombers standing on the runways of the USS Stennis aircraft carrier for taking off at any moment.

The big question concerns the five US air bases in the Gulf region – what role for them?

There is little chance the 15-nation council would impose a fifth round of UN sanctions on the Iranians anytime soon due to resistance from veto powers Russia and China. However, there is still time for finding an arrangement.

Iran has called for fresh nuclear talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, a group known as the “P5+1,” which have been stalled for a year. Why not give peace another chance instead of hurrying up to the cannons?

The author an expert in US-Middle East relations at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (Doha Institute).


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