Speculation is once again rife on whether Israel or the US will launch air strikes on Iran. The Middle East could be on the brink of horrifying events in the next period triggered by such action. The prospect of this is ringing alarm bells and even panic across the region and worldwide, as the repercussions would be immense. It could lead to a wider war in the region, severe effects on the world oil supply and the world economy and major upheavals in many countries. The Syrian president warned: “When one starts such action in the Middle East, one cannot manage the reactions that can spread out over years or even decades”.
The Israeli air force conducted major manoeuvres involving 100 jets over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece last month, covering exactly the same distance they would need to cover to attack Iran. Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli deputy prime minister, has declared: “If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons … attacking …will be unavoidable”. The US navy is also conducting its own exercises in the Gulf.
Iran has responded by conducting missile tests to be ready “for a quick and crushing response and retaliatory blows in the event of an enemy attack”, in the words of the chief commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The military threat to Iran is despite the fact that US intelligence agencies estimated last December that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. There is no evidence to suggest that it has been renewed, yet in echoes of the propaganda and lies about Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ prior to the invasion of Iraq, a number of US and Israeli politicians now declare that Iran could have a nuclear weapons capability within a couple of years.
The Israeli government is extremely weak and unpopular, led by a shaky, disunited coalition and with a prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who is undergoing serious corruption investigations. Crazy though the idea of air strikes on Iran may seem to most people, worldwide, that government could see such action as a welcome diversion from its domestic problems.
At root though, whatever the truth about Iran’s nuclear intentions and timetable, the Israeli leaders want to delay the possibility of the Iranian regime gaining a nuclear capacity, and they want to appear to be willing to take ‘tough’ action in Israel’s interests. One of the factors behind their present deliberations is the rapidly approaching November US presidential election and possible victory of Barack Obama, who is likely to be less willing than Bush to support an assault on Iran. Another timing factor is that Israel would rather act before Iran acquires new surface-to-air missiles from Russia next spring.
Logistics and divisions
An effective bombing of Iran’s nuclear sites would be hugely difficult, if not impossible, as there are many sites, they are spread out and some are deep underground. The Israeli air force destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, but that was a single site and they were able to take Iraq by surprise. Although Israel has the fourth strongest military force in the world, it is nowhere near as well equipped as the US to carry out successful hits on Iran.
However, while the US government probably has its own tentative bombing plan, it is much divided on whether to execute it and on how much encouragement to give Israel to go ahead separately. Hawks such as George Bush and vice president Dick Cheney still want to find an excuse for Iran to be hit. The Sunday Times reported on 13 July that Bush has given an “amber light” to Israel, but that Israel has not yet given the US a “convincing military proposal”.
Other leading US figures, including top military generals, urge caution or are vigorously opposed. US Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, rushed to Israel, seemingly to promote the road of ‘diplomacy’ with Iran rather than military action at this stage.
‘Diplomacy’ has been accompanied by the application of three rounds of international sanctions, in an attempt to stop Iran from enriching Uranium – which Iran says is just part of its programme to develop nuclear power for electricity generation. As this strategy has failed, the United Nations security council is now trying to bribe Iran into submission by offering an ‘incentives package’, including help with its civil nuclear programme, on imposed terms.
If the Israeli air force does eventually launch strikes, it is unlikely it would be without some level of support, intelligence and cooperation from Bush’s government. In any case, if Bush and Co said they were giving no support to an attack, few people would believe them, given their support for the Israel regime and their own view of Iran being part of an ‘axis of evil’.
Press reports suggest there is a high degree of US-Israel cooperation over propaganda on Iran. The US government has been trying to use Israel’s bombing threats to put added pressure on Iran to back down in the current international negotiations on Uranium enrichment (talks which the US does not participate in directly). But although the propaganda and threats have their uses for them, this does not necessarily mean that military action will not be taken; unfortunately it appears it is being seriously considered.
The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said that retaliation for an attack on Iran could include blocking passage of the 40% of world oil exports that pass through the Hormuz strait. This would catastrophically affect world oil supplies and the world economy. He also said that long range missiles could be fired at Israel. Israel could in addition face retaliatory missiles from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian militias in the occupied territories.
As well, US military bases and ships throughout the Middle East would be targets. The long list of possible disastrous repercussions does not end there; there would also be consequences in Iraq, including for US troops, as the Iranian regime has close links with the US puppet Iraqi government. US and UK troops in Afghanistan could also be affected if the Iranian regime were to give active support to forces opposing the occupation.
The sunni Muslim Arab elites in the Middle East do not want to see the Iranian shia elite gaining greater influence in the region, so they would secretly welcome military blows on Iran if the backlash was not going to rebound on their own interests too greatly. But the backlash would be huge; mass opinion in the Arab world would be outraged at the nuclear powers Israel and the US attacking Iran. So the Arab elites could be forced to reflect that anger, even to the extent of entering into a regional war. Countries such as Pakistan could also be thrown into turmoil.
All this, when a successful attack on Iran’s Uranium installations would not actually prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability, as new sites and expertise could be quickly created. And the repressive Iranian regime would most likely be strengthened rather than weakened, as although the Iranian people are suffering from food shortages and high inflation and unemployment, an outside attack would increase Iranian nationalism. A drive for the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb would become more likely, as many Iranians would feel that being attacked by foreign nuclear powers would make it more urgent to develop their own nuclear capacity for deterrence and defence.
It is important that socialists totally oppose nuclear weapons and also nuclear power. But at the same time we reject the hypocrisy of governments in countries like Israel, Britain and the US that have nuclear weapons, while denying the same right to Iran. The manoeuvring and hypocrisy of the US and other imperialist powers knows no bounds. While George Bush has been screaming about tighter sanctions on Iran, US exports to Iran during his presidency have actually increased. While the US leaders decry Iranian intervention in other countries of the Middle East, the US intervenes all over the world and is spending $400 million to bolster opposition forces to the Iranian regime inside and outside Iran.
However, while strongly opposing air strikes or any kind of imperialist intervention in Iran, socialists cannot support the reactionary Iranian regime headed by Ayatollah Khamenei and president Ahmadinejad. It is the urgent task of the Iranian working class to remove that regime and replace it with a government in workers’ own interests. The dire consequences of imperialist-driven ‘regime change’ can be tragically seen in Iraq and Afghanistan – although it is not on the cards that US imperialism will go into Iran with ground troops as it did in those countries, as such a task is way beyond its overstretched military forces.
The Iranian working class has immense potential strength. There have been many important strikes and struggles recently, including in the car, paper, sugar cane, brick, shipbuilding and tyre industries. A majority of the 70 million population lives in urban areas. Most are not attracted by right wing political Islamic ideas, having lived under a repressive religious regime for three decades. When this titanic working class force moves into struggle against the regime, socialist ideas could be adopted rapidly and be the basis of a ‘system change’ that would be a beacon to ordinary people throughout the Middle East and the world.