Monday, January 9, 2012

Drums of War in the Gulf


by Mordechai Kedar

Even a deaf person can hear the sounds of the past two weeks regarding Iran and the challenge that this country poses to the world, because the severity of the Iranian expressions and those who oppose them increase from day to day. On one hand, official Western bodies, mainly the United States, say that "all options are on the table", but on the other hand, official bodies in Iran launch warnings to the United States that they had better not introduce a John Stennis aircraft carrier into the Gulf because if they do, Iran will take it as a belligerent act.

However, the events of the past two weeks involve not only talk, but actions as well, with the United States intensifying the economic sanctions on Iran, Western countries refusing to fuel the jets of the Iranian airline, and Iran practicing a naval blockade on the Hormuz Straits. It's as if Iran says to the world, "If you won't allow the jets to refuel, and if you impose on us an embargo of petroleum products, you won't have oil either, because we will close off the Straits of Hormuz". These straits are the only passage from the Persian Gulf to the open sea, and a third of the world's oil passes through it. The width of the Straits is not narrow - between 55 and 95 kilometers (34 and 59 miles) - but because the Persian Gulf is, for the most part, shallow, the huge oil tankers can only pass through the center of the Straits, which is a narrow strip of about ten kilometers (6 miles). Therefore, from an operational point of view it is relatively easy to seal off the Straits of Hormuz.

The problem is that Iran doesn't need to actually seal off the Straits, because it would be enough just to declare that it has planted one naval mine in the Gulf to cause insurance rates for ships to rise dramatically. There is another possibility available to the Iranians, which is to launch missiles from Iran into the Gulf. This would be similar to the closing of the Tiran Straits by Egypt just before the 1967 Six Day War, which brought disaster upon Gamal Abd al-Naser: the defeat in the Six Day War.

At the same time, there are those who claim that if the Iranians close the Straits it will bring destruction upon Iran, because the world will take joint action against it to open the Straits by force. It is doubtful whether even Russia will be able to defend Iran if it takes an action such as this that is so clearly against International Law, which holds that sea passages must remain open to the ships of the world as long as they do not endanger marine traffic.

It is worth mentioning that in the year 1971, eight years before Homeini's revolution, Iran under the Shah conquered three islands in the Persian Gulf, and now they practically control the traffic in the Gulf. The weak global reaction in the current situation and the years of Arab inaction toward Iran enable the Ayatollahs to "go haywire". Therefore the tension in the Gulf is rising, and the neighboring countries of Iran on the Western side - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the seven United Emirates - take the rising tension out on their peoples.

We will bring here a few of the things that were written recently in the Saudi media with my comments in parenthesis.

On January 2, Ali al-Khashiban wrote an article in the Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh with the title, "Writing about the Straits of Hormuz - the Funeral of Iran or the Coffin of Syria?". In this article he writes: "It is not difficult to foresee the size of the global crisis which will stem from a confrontation in Hormuz, because it is clear that the Iranians are playing with fire, and appear to be operating according to suicidal logic. When Iran announces its determination to close the Straits as a natural result of the feeling of strangulation that the world is imposing upon it, this indicates the Iranian desire to commit political suicide... We, in the Islamic world, and especially in political circles, fail to learn from history, because according to the culture of Arab and Islamic societies we learn many historical facts, but what trips us up is the way we read it and how we interpret the facts."

Last Tuesday, according to the newspaper "Ha'aretz", the past head of the Mossad said to his audience, Israeli ambassadors, that Iran poses no danger to Israel and does not pose an existential threat to it. This approach is not a mistake in the Israeli political conduct, which has not changed from its fixed belief that a nuclear Iran is a real danger to Israel, and I fear that Iran will understand this message wrongly… Netanyahu always describes Iran as an existential danger to Israel, however while the Israeli Prime Minister holds his rod, preparing to throw the line into the water, he names the past head of the Mossad to prepare the bait and place it in front of the Iranians in the presence of a hundred Israeli ambassadors, proving that he placed the bait in the right place and in the correct quantity in order to catch the biggest fish that lives in the water.

Also in the Israeli newspaper "Ma'ariv" the Israeli chief of staff says that Iran must not get its hands on nuclear weapons. This Israeli stance stems from the feeling of existential danger; therefore, Israel is willing to react severely and decisively. Iran knows the history, but either intentionally or unintentionally misunderstands it, so it will be easier to fish it out of the water of the Arabian Gulf rather than to hunt for it in the deserts of Iran.

(The writer's meaning is that Israel fears for her life, therefore it is an immediate danger to the Iranians, because Israel’s impulsive and unpredictable reactions might cause a disaster for Iran. As a result, the Iranians direct their efforts towards taking over the Gulf, since these countries do not represent a danger to Iran. But in the Gulf, the world will deal with the Iranians instead of Israel having to do it. This is the trap that Israel is setting up for Iran.)

The Western superpowers will not allow a match to get close to a barrel of the world's oil because this problem worries the whole world, especially the Arab countries of the Gulf… Iran reads history in the opposite way… It is trying to restore Persian glory by means of an ideological Shi'ite excuse. (Iran always rationalizes its desire to take over Bahrain, Iraq and the Eastern strip of Saudi Arabia, where there is oil, and where Shi'ites live, as a defense of Shi'ites against Sunni oppression, but the truth is that the Shi'ite story is not true and it is only a cover and camouflage to hide Iran's true intention, which is mainly to renew the Persian hegemony in the whole region)… History teaches us that whenever there are weapons in the hands of someone without reason, or in the hands of people whose emotions have been aroused by scenes of crying or political flagellation (like the ceremony of "tazia" that the Shi'ites carry out in memory of the slaughter of Husein ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in the year 680 CE in Kerbala, in which they wound themselves even unto the drawing of blood) these weapons become dangerous. Therefore great efforts are being expended in order to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, not only because of the countries close to it geographically but because of all of the countries of the world, because the region cannot tolerate the reality of a person without reason, especially if they are enemies.

The question is: Why is Iran doing all this, and how do Syria, Lebanon and Iraq figure into this whole mess?

The deterioration of the situation in Syria is like an earthquake whose aftershocks affect all of the surroundings, but the strange thing is that Iran is the one who wants to receive the crushing blow from the world.

Did Iran understand that the Syrian regime is internationally discredited, that Iraq is no more under Iran's control, that Hizballah is looking to commit suicide in a religious event so that it will be remembered as a martyr? All of these possibilities exist but the most difficult one to understand is why does Iran hope to see its own funeral because of the Straits of Hormuz before it prepares the coffins for its satellites, Iraq and Lebanon?

Iran has a tough lesson coming in the form of international punishments as a decisive result of its nuclear plan in a region that doesn't accept even one new match, because any change might set off another world war. The Iranian threat to close the Straits of Hormuz comes in the framework of a failed threat to the world when Iran will be punished because it doesn't obey the world and doesn't put an end to its nuclear program, and despite this, it threatens to launch long-range missiles during its naval exercises in the attempt to become a military superpower.

"The Iranian leadership, especially the military leaders, and the Iranian military know well that all Iranian conventional weapons will turn into children's toys and toy guns when up against the international military force, and that it won't take long to eliminate all the equipment of the Iranian Navy, a few hours at the most. Iran wants to read history according to its own version (the rebirth of the Persian Empire and regional rule), therefore the most suitable expression for it is "farewell". Because I believe that the fate of Iran is determined, like the fate of the Syrian regime, if it doesn't retreat from its nuclear plan."

Here ends the article of Ali al-Khashiban, which is obviously an attempt to hide the increasing fear that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia has toward the ever-strengthening Iran, which intensifies its threat to burn the Gulf in the fires of war; a war which everyone knows how and where it will start, but no one knows how many countries will be involved and what the number of casualties will be. It is interesting to see the role of the Israeli press in the heightening of Saudi fears when Israel threatens Iran, and therefore it turns to the Gulf states.

And when Saudi Arabia fears Iran we hear threats emerging from Washington directed towards the Ayatollahs. This result is hard won, because for many years, the Saudi Emirs have tried mightily, perhaps even more then Israel, to turn the United States against Iran. Israel did this openly, but the Saudi King became angry with Obama, secretly. Israel entreated the United States and brought proofs against Iran, but the Saudi King threatened the United States with such a dramatic reduction in oil production that it would cause a drastic rise in the price of oil and result in pressure on the American economy. Therefore the United States began to move. This is where the Saudi anger with Israel stems from - that it turned the Iranian threat to Israel into an Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia.

Hans Morgenthau, the father of international relations, taught us all that relations between countries are not based upon righteousness or values, but upon one thing only: interests. It is time that Israel stops behaving like the world owes it something. Even the memory of the European Holocaust no longer is a driving force in international politics. Only the strength, unity and determination of Israeli society, combined with the strength of the State of Israel, will save us from the threats that arise from the Gulf. And if the Shi'ites have a religious issue with the Sunnis, or if the Persians have a historical issue with the Arabs, they should solve their problems by themselves and leave Israel alone. Everyone, even the Iranians and Saudis, must honor the right of Israel to exist in security, and if they want, Israel will live in peace with them. The drums of war that are heard in the Gulf are a problem of the Islamic world, and it is important that the Muslims will conduct the conflicts among them in such a way that they will not spill over into other areas.

Allah addresses the Muslims in the Qur'an (Sura 3; Verse 103) with the call: "Adhere to the religion of Allah all of you and do not separate". The time has come when the Muslims should begin to listen to the word of Allah.

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Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the
Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally.

Links to Dr. Kedar's previous articles on this blog:

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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