By Aijaz Zaka Syed
BEING based in Dubai offers you a rare, vantage point view over the Middle East. And Iran is not far from where we are.
The Bushehr nuclear power plant — at the heart of Iran’s standoff with the West — and the strategic port of Bandar Abbas are a stone’s throw away from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and many Gulf cities. We are too close to the Persian giant for comfort. We can often feel the currents and shocks of geopolitical upheavals in Iran — almost literally. Which explains why we are more than apprehensive about the shape of things to come.
Not surprisingly Iran is currently the favourite subject of small talk as well as media chatter in our part of the world. This despite the fact that UAE has always been an oasis of peace and security in the volatile region, even during the successive Gulf wars. And journalist friends from around the world breathlessly ask us: “What do you think? Is the war imminent?” Like all good, old-fashioned hacks, they are secretly hoping for bad news. After all, there’s nothing like a good war to boost your circulation figures or viewer ratings. In fact, what would we journalists do without leaders like Bush and Ahmadinejad? Life would be so dull without the shenanigans of the two gentlemen. Of course, you can’t put the two in the same league. Indeed, they live on different planets. All good journalists love bad news. And the current leaders of Iran and US generate enough of it. While Bush’s own party, American people and the US allies and friends are at their wits’ end making sense of the royal mess that he has unleashed at home and abroad, the leader of the free world himself appears to revel in it. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, wouldn’t miss any opportunity to beat the ‘Big Satan’ and the rest of his allies with the big stick of fiery rhetoric and cold reason he always carries with him.There are many like me who find it hard not to admire the Iran leader for his courage to take on the big bullies of our world. And trust me, it is not only in the Muslim world that Ahmadinejad strikes a receptive chord. In a remarkably short period, the ordinarily dressed, diminutive leader has built himself a constituency that is not limited to the Middle East or Muslim world. Okay, Ahmadinejad is unreasonable to the point of being absurd in denying the Holocaust and suffering of Jewish people. It’s not easy defending him when he talks of rubbing Israel off the map — although he is alluding to the historical injustice the creation of Israel has inflicted on Palestinians. He is of course playing to the gallery. But he has endeared himself to Muslims and oppressed people everywhere by standing up for a wronged people. At the same time, I can’t close my eyes to the reality that the Iranian president, by his un-diplomatic and hawkish posturing, has managed to earn more enemies for Iran during the past year and half than all the leaders of the Islamic republic have over the past quarter century or so. If the US and its ever-willing allies are today spoiling for a duel with Iran, Ahmadinejad’s style of leadership has played not too insignificant a role in it. But the Iran leader is not entirely to blame for the current confrontation with the West and tensions in the neighbourhood.Bush and his neocon pals never needed an invitation to take on the Islamist Iran. Just as they didn’t require a provocation to strike at Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Iran had been one of the key targets of the neocons, according to the blueprint unveiled during Bush’s first year in office. The ambitious plan for a new American century seeks to reshape the Middle East and the Muslim world by taking out the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and others. Iraq, part of Bush’s original axis of evil, has already been liberated and democratised, in accordance with the neocon-Zionist worldview. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan may be next in line. That plan is still on the table, as Bush would put it, despite the series of humiliating defeats the neocons have suffered and all-round havoc they have wreaked. So the attack on Iran — absolutely nutty as the idea may sound — may still be coming. In fact, the possibility of a US-Israel combine strike on the Islamic republic is growing by the day and the hour. So it’s not a matter of IF but WHEN Iran is likely to get hit by the Coalition of the Willing. The Iran-UK row over the 15 British sailors is only a tiny piece of the Middle East jigsaw that will unravel in the days and months to come. So don’t be surprised if Blair is ‘disgusted’ at Iran’s ‘behaviour’ that made the sailors sing on Iran TV admitting they were indeed in Iranian waters. Indeed, Blair has every right to protest Iran’s treatment of the detained Britons. For God’s sake, don’t the mullahs know how to treat the enemy combatants? When will the Arabs and Muslims learn the rules of engagement of the civilised world? Why there were no hoods, no dogs or leashes! Instead the British sailors were given new suits and traditional gifts by the Iranians before their release. Is this the way to treat the enemy? It seems the Iranians drew no lessons from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It’s understandable then as soon as the sailors landed in Britain, Blair slammed the Iranian regime for its ‘involvement in terrorism’. Looks like the Iranians will have to learn it the hard way. Just as the Iraqis have. But Iran is no Iraq. For one, the Islamic republic is not the toothless tiger that Iraq had become in the twilight years of Saddam. The long war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and then the subsequent attack by the US and its allies under Bush senior had reduced the Baathist Iraq to a hallowed, cardboard country. Let alone the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Bush claimed Saddam had and the late dictator pretended to possess, Iraq didn’t even have enough conventional arms or men to defend the country. No wonder the regime collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions at the mere touch of the invader. But Bush and company would be committing a historic blunder — even bigger than Iraq – if they went ahead and attacked Iran. Iranians are a young nation with over sixty per cent of its population being born after the 1979 Revolution. Fiercely patriotic and proud of their ancient past as well as Islamic identity, the 70-million strong people have never been more united as a nation. And they would fight with their lives to defend every inch of their territory. Not only would an attack on Iran add to the overstretched US coalition’s troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is certain to inflame the already restive Middle East and rest of the Muslim world. Although Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons – at least not yet – to stave off aggression, it has other options of retaliating. It boasts a standing army of 450,000 troops as well as long-range missiles that could hit Israel and even Europe. More importantly, a desperate Iran can play havoc with the global economy by blocking the Strait of Hormuz through which much of the world’s oil supply is routed. Just a few missiles or gunboats could bring down vessels and block the channel, hitting the global oil supplies with untold negative consequences for our world. Then there is the humanitarian suffering of epic proportions that is sure to follow such a dangerous, pointless and unjust war. The Oxford Research Group has warned that up to 10,000 people would die immediately if the US bombed Iran’s nuclear sites, and that an attack on the Bushehr nuclear reactor could send a radioactive cloud over the Gulf. If the US uses nuclear weapons, such as earth-penetrating bunker buster bombs, radioactive fallout would become even more disastrous. Which is why I wonder how the American people can allow their administration to undertake such a disastrous campaign after all that it has done over the past seven years? Especially when Iraq and Afghanistan, the two other fronts in America’s war, are still burning.Is there no one who can stop Bush from visiting this madness on us all? Aijaz Zaka Syed writes a weekly column on the Middle East and Musim world affairs in Khaleej Times published from Dubai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org