From the January 22, 2008 Insight
January 24, 2008
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
The great chess match in Iran seems to be moving towards the endgame, and this may prove the most momentous world event of 2008. To everyone's surprise, the United States has been reduced to a passive observer, while the remaining players are Iran, Israel and Russia.
A dazzling act of sabotage directed against the Republican Administration by Democratic sympathizers within the intelligence agencies (see: "NIE report is folly or treason," Dec.18, 2007) has almost totally paralyzed American policy towards Iran.
What matters is less that an American preventive strike against Iran's nuclear sites has been ruled out (it was never very likely), but that even hard-hitting economic sanctions which might have forced Iran to halt its nuclear program, and which the countries of Europe and even China were beginning to favor, are out of the question. After publication of the NIE, Bush would make himself a laughing stock if he called for them now. In short, the U.S. is out of the game, leaving Israel alone to confront an Iran which, in full view of the rest of the world, is acquiring uranium enrichment technology.
Moscow's supplying of the TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran made any attempt at a preventive strike by Israel highly problematical, but it retained the capacity to launch an effective missile strike at least against the key centrifuge complex in Natantz. Until 5 December (NIE publication), Israel could also hope for support from the far more daunting technological capacity of its American elder brother.
On December 26, just 3 weeks after the scandalous publication of the NIE and a week after the fourth meeting of the Russo-Iranian intergovernmental commission on military technology cooperation, Iranian Defense Minister M. Madzhar made an announcement that radically changed the strategic situation in the region. Russia was to deliver C-300 ground-to-air missile systems to Iran.
It makes no difference now whether Moscow changes its mind about this tomorrow. Israel will have to base its military planning on the presumption that C-300 systems may be delivered to Iran at any moment. After these are deployed in Iran, Israel will have lost the opportunity of carrying out an efficient preventive strike. This leaves it with two options. It can either resign itself to Iran's obtaining nuclear weapons in the near future, or carry out a preventive strike before the new sophisticated air-defense systems deployment. The first option for Israel is impossible and unthinkable. It will choose the second one in spite of all its far-reaching negative consequences: not only a fairly painful retaliatory strike by Iran, but also the unleashing of a wave of terror by Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and kindred organizations throughout the world.
Why are Moscow and Tehran so intent on pushing events in this direction? What is the Putin Plan? What is the Ahmadinejad Plan? In fact the second, unavoidable option for Israel will yield immense strategic, political and economic dividends for Moscow.
It will in the first place resolve for the foreseeable future the issue of Iran's nuclear bomb. Russia doesn't need this bomb at all. In the second place it will direct indignation of the Arab and Islamic world against Israel, the U.S., and the West as a whole: the very jackals who, as we are constantly told by our propaganda, strive ceaselessly to weaken and dismember Russia. That is also to the good.
In the third place, any conflict will eventually need to be brought to an end, and here Moscow will be the natural peace-maker in snow-white raiment, rising once more to her full stature in the Middle East. The award to Putin of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, following on from Time magazine's title of Man of the Year, 2007 Time, would be most welcome.
And finally, in the fourth place, most pleasing of all is that the price of oil will sky-rocket. Two-hundred dollars a barrel? Three-hundred dollars? Everything in the Kremlin rulers' life - the state of the economy, the political stability of the regime, their prestige on the international arena, and the last but not the least their personal wealth - depends on that hallowed number. The Ahmadinejad Plan, from someone who daily calls for the expunging of the Jewish state, is no less simple and straightforward. His beloved World Islamic Revolution has ceased to appeal to the young people of Iran, just as the order which al Qaeda attempted to impose in Iraq lost its appeal for the Sunni tribes there. Women are fed up with walking around in sacks. They would prefer to wear jeans and mini-skirts.
In next year's elections Ahmadinejad might well be defeated. The position of the conservative mullahs behind him is no less under threat. But a military conflict with Israel would revive the fortunes of the Islamic Revolution and prop up the declining theocratic regime.
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.
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