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April 12, 2007 Edition 14

Iran at threat?
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Anyone with some knowledge about the recent history of Western and Central Asia will be aware that the United States and Israel have been involved in more inter-state wars and intra-state conflicts in the area than any other stakeholder. Israel continues to be embroiled in a conflict over Palestinian territories and has had to mobilize its military forces and civilian population in seven major wars with its neighbors. The United States has launched three invasions in the area in the past 17 years and continues to be engaged in two civil wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus both countries have become, implicitly and explicitly, the primary military actors in the region.

Articles in this edition
Not at the risk of regime stability - Ehud Yaari
A path fraught with danger - Wayne White
Iran at threat? - Arshin Adib-Moghaddam
Hizballah: Unfinished business - Ed Blanche
Against that background, any attack on Iran would seriously deteriorate, even globalize, the Greater West Asian crisis. Iran, by virtue of its transnational outreach--into the Persian Gulf area, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan--would have multiple opportunities to retaliate asymmetrically against US and Israeli interests. The effects of a military attack would not only reverberate militarily, of course. Economists have forecast that any attack on Iran would quadruple the price of oil and gas on the international markets. In other words, any military conflict with Iran would not only reify existing wars in the region, it would intensify them exponentially both in economic and military terms.

We may add a third dimension. If you pit a global military superpower with limited ideological access to the Muslim world together with a regional military power with no ideological access to the Muslim world in a war against one of the constitutive agents of the Muslim world, you are bound to be left with a conflict that is not only determined by military means, but is rigorously fought within an excessively destructive ideological framework. In other words, the agents who consider themselves engaged in a "global war on terror" (Israel and the United States) would be pitted against the agent who considers itself to be fighting a transcendental battle for the emancipation of the "oppressed masses" (the Islamic Republic of Iran).

Any war within such globally charged narratives is bound to produce a conflict with equally global consequences. To think otherwise is to think that nation-states such as Israel, the United States and Iran, which are constituted of transnational ideologies, would retract from their fundamental norms and innermost institutions in a conflict situation. That would negate their very existence. Would any peoples or individuals accept such a nihilistic fate? Did the Vietnamese, Cubans, Palestinians, Chechens, Iraqis or Afghans?

Together, the United States, Israel and Iran at present stand at the edge of a strategic precipice. None of these countries is blessed with a rational leadership that has strategic vision and diplomatic courage. But Israel perhaps faces the greatest challenge from an attack against Iran--not necessarily militarily: Iran's military expenditure is a fraction of Israel's--but in ideological terms, because it is the only country in the area that is still fighting for its very legitimacy.

A military attack against Iran, however engineered and within whatever international constellation, would make it impossible for Israel to live productively and as an equal partner in a region that is primarily Muslim. In the case of a military attack against Iran, Israel would not only be considered an enemy state by the Iranian government, it would enter the historical consciousness of Iranian society as the enemy par excellence. From there it is a long and arduous way back, as the Americans and the British can testify. Is this really what Israeli society wants? Does it really want to add yet another West Asian people to its enemy portfolio?

Ultimately, these are questions that have to be answered in Israel itself. They are questions that will determine the country's relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds as a whole, and the fate of its presence within a region that had a history without it for several millennia. Eventually, Israel will have to carve out a presence for itself within that history that is not considered singularly disruptive. This is the real modus vivendi that we need in West Asia, a regional consciousness that is symbiotic, rather than exclusionary. In the meantime, we are obliged to fight off the destructive forces that have been too readily unleashed in opposition to such a consciousness.- Published 12/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is author of "A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations" (Hurst & Columbia U. Press).

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