I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the balance of power in the Middle East. But I do read, and I can think.
And what I read lately has convinced me that, in the current Middle East crisis--which has so far stopped short of full war but might lead to one--all roads lead to Iran, even those that seem to begin in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.
See what Omar at Iraq the Model has to say on the matter. Not only is he convinced that Iran is a main mover and shaker behind instability in Iraq (and who isn't convinced of this? I think it's one of the few points on which the right and left tend to agree), but he wonders whether the recent abduction of the Israeli soldiers was planned by Iran as a tactic to distract attention from Iranian nuclear ambitions and the fallout (pun intended) from that.
Omar also writes:
Those extremists do not understand the language of compromise and they do not believe in negotiating even if they declare the opposite. They want a war and I think they're going to get one.
And Michael Ledeen--not surprisingly, since his bête noire has long been the Iranian government--agrees:
The important thing to keep in mind is that both the Gaza and northern Israel attacks were planned for quite a while, which means that Iran wanted this war, this way. It isn’t just a target of opportunity or a sudden impulse; it’s part of a strategic decision to expand the war.
For quite some time Ledeen's conclusion has been that there is no way to escape a showdown with Iran, and he predicts in this article that, the longer the delay, the more likely it becomes that the confrontation will be a military one--with, as he puts it, "terrible consequences."
Ledeen's solution? To bring down the regimes in Iran and Syria; he sees that as the task of the United States. But missing in his article is the answer to the question, "how is that to be accomplished, without a military confrontation and its 'terrible consequences?'"
Austin Bay sees some possible ways the Iranian mullahs could end up weakened and discredited as a result of recent events (though not without some military escalation), if the following scenario plays out:
The relative lack of western criticism of Israel is an indicator. Apparently Israel has an opportunity to hammer Iranian and Syrian proxies. Israel may also escalate by striking Syrian intelligence targets throughout the region–sending the message that supporting proxies can cost the supporter. Israeli escalation past a certain point escalation puts Tehran in a bind: if Tehran’s mullahs fail to react militarily they begin to look impotent. Promises of future bombs won’t suffice....
In the context of an on-going war with Iranian proxies in Lebanon, if Tehran’s mullahs threaten mass annihilation one too many times the Israelis could strike several Iranian nuclear facilities. This would not be a “pre-emptive strike” but a “deep strike” on Hezbollah’s deep pockets ally and supplier.
The diplomatic component of this scenario: the Israelis make the case that in the post-Saddam, post-Beirut Spring Middle East, proxy wars are no longer tolerated. The Iranians will not be able to respond to Israeli strikes in kind. They will be exposed as weak hotheads and they will have lost at least part of their nuclear investment.
As Bay points out, it's a risky game. Tigerhawk offers his views on just what that game might be about (read the comments section as well). His main thesis is that Iran wants to be seen as the hand behind this, wants to be seen as the locus of anti-Israel anti-Zionist power, and is gambling that Israel and the US are too weak to oppose its moves. Tigerhawk believes that Iran may have underestimated how much it has alienated Europe recently, and has miscalculated.
I'm not pleased with today's violence, and the possibility of worse to come. But a while back I came to the sorrowful conclusion that something of the sort may just be inevitable. Those of you who know my history can guess that I used to believe that negotiation alone could work to defuse the Israel/Palestine situation. But I see today's events as part of a long chain of failed negotiations and dashed hope; one that began with Oslo, led through the 90s to the collapse of Camp David, and then to the horrors of the Second Intifada, and ultimately to where we stand today.
Those (such as myself) who used to believe in the power of negotiations and "giving peace a chance" in the region remind me a bit of my relatives who were Soviet sympathizers back in the early days of the 20s and 30s, before all the wretched excesses of Soviet power became known, back when Communism could still be thought of as an experiment that might somehow work out, and capitalism (especially during the Depression) as the failure. It was relatively easy to believe in the promise of Communism then; much harder to believe it now, at a time when only diehards keep the faith.
And the same is true for negotiations in the Middle East. With the launching of the Second Intifada, the mask of diplomacy was torn off, and the face of the conflict--in particular, the depth of the violence and hatred on the Palestinian side, and the futility of negotiations--was made clear.
With the election of Ahmadinejad in Iran, the same is true of Iran. No more masks; we know where we stand--although there are always going to be those who don't believe that Ahmadinejad believes what he so clearly says.
I still profoundly hope there's a way out of this without total war, if the regimes in Damascus and Tehran can be weakened by one of the more limited scenarios already discussed, or by some other sequence of events short of a major conflagration. But there's no way out if it without force. And there's no way out of it if we don't see clearly that Iran and Syria are not seeking peace through negotiation, and if we don't recognize their aims in the region.
And now I read (via Israellycool) that a Hezbollah missile fired at Haifa on Thursday evening was of Iranian manufacture. Israellycool asks the question, "Are we [Israel] going to go after Iran?"
I wonder what the answer to Israelly's question will be, how much time will elapse before we find out, and what form such a "going after" might ultimately take.