Nov. 14 -- As concerns mounted over a possible military confrontation between Israel and Iran, several leading Arab commentators argued that such worries were overblown.
This was so even as the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded last week that Iran appeared to have worked on developing a nuclear bomb and as media in Israel reported that the country's leaders may be nearing a decision to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Wrote columnist Rachid Hassan, in the Amman-based Ad-Dustour daily: "We are certain this war will not take place in the near future.”
Why? The primary reason, Hassan asserted, was that the Israelis, in his view, would not act without the U.S., and the U.S. would not act. He wrote: “America is not capable of waging a new war following its defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq and in light of its economic and financial situation.”
In addition, he argued, the loud statements by Israeli leaders about “the imminence of war” contradict the principle of secrecy governing preparations for conflict. Assuming, as a number of Arab commentators did, that the U.S. and Israeli governments were acting in concert, Hassan wrote that Israel's saber-rattling “confirms that what is happening is just a form of psychological warfare, an attempt to pressure Iran into succumbing to U.S. conditions and to blackmail the Arab Gulf regimes into purchasing weapons.”
Similarly, Sateh Noureddine, a columnist for the leftist, Beirut-based As-Safir, saw the U.S. behind the threatening posture of some of Israeli's leaders. And if the U.S. intent was to wage psychological warfare against Iran, he suggested, it was doing a poor job. Pulling the IAEA into the mix, Noureddine said the report by the group, an independent organization that reports to the United Nations General Assembly, was "superficial" and contorted. So, too, was the U.S. allegation that the Iranians plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in Washington. Noureddine wrote sarcastically, "It's hard to believe America is waging a psychological war against Iran. Such a war would require more serious methods. Otherwise, it could have the reverse results,” meaning skepticism among U.S. policymakers and the public that would impede a march toward war.
Noureddine argued that the Obama administration's "quiet" response to the IAEA report, focused on pressing for increased sanctions against Iran, was evidence the U.S. knows it is on fragile ground when it comes to convincing the world that military action is valid and necessary.
Writing in the Beirut-based daily Al-Anwar, columnist Ra’uf Shuhuri wrote that “the people of the West and the world realize” that any attack on Iran would entail “disastrous results” for the world economy, given the likely impact on energy prices.
The results of such a crazy war would be catastrophic for everybody. International leaders have not yet reached the level of insanity.
Writing in the Beirut-based An-Nahar, columnist Randa Haydar focused on the actual theater, arguing that armed conflict was unlikely because of the forces playing on the Israelis. Although his paper is critical of the Iranian government, Haydar conceded a point made by its allies: that Iran has achieved a balance of fear with Israel that prevents Israel from easily contemplating the kind of preemptive strikes it has carried out against other adversaries.
“Reactions over the past few days showed a great deal of confusion in Israel," Haydar wrote, referring to disagreements within the Israeli government over how to respond to Iran's nuclear ambitions. “It is pretty hard for the ruling party in Israel to take the risk of attacking Iran alone.”
None of these analyses, however, took into account the possibility Shuhuri raised in the headline of his column but did not discuss: “One crazy man can trigger nuclear war.”
Writing in the London-based, Saudi-owned Al-Hayat, columnist Salim Nassar took up the challenge. Although his piece was headlined, “The Scenario of an Iranian-Israeli War that Will not Take Place,” Nassar warned that the Iranians might overestimate the West’s desire to avoid war. At some point, he wrote, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may push Israeli or Western powers into preemptively striking the country's nuclear sites. “Will Ahmadinejad risk falsely reading America?” Nassar asked.
The Iranian president should realize, he said, that the Gulf states' fears will rise quickly should Iran move forward with a nuclear weapons program. And Obama administration hawks will press more successfully for strong action against Iran. This would have additional benefits, Nassar argued, in that it would “eliminate from the American public’s mind the image of a weak state after the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan” and “improve the president’s status in the next election."
Of course, some figures in the regional media, especially those long opposed to the Iranian government, did predict war in the immediate term. Saudi-based papers, in particular, argued that a conflict presented economic opportunities for the U.S. and Europe.
Writing in the daily Al-Riyadh, columnist Youssef al-Kuweilit wrote:
Any destruction affecting Iran and its neighbors will be beneficial to America and Europe, which will carry out the reconstruction. They are destroying in order to exploit the resources of those countries and rebuild their facilities.
Avoiding any discussion of the heavy short-term costs of such a conflagration to Western powers, Kuweilit concluded that conflict in Iran “might constitute the solution for the economic crisis."
Amid the theorizing about whether a conflict with Iran suited the U.S. economically and politically, and whether Israel would act alone, the discussion generally left out the chief reason for U.S. and Israeli concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions: that the Iranians' avowed goal is destruction of Israel, to whose security the U.S. -- and of course the Israeli government -- is committed.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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