Iran and Netanyahu’s Threats: Will Obama Listen to the Iranian Leader?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dr. Cyrus Faizee
Expert on Middle East & US Affairs

The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei attended last week’s Friday Prayer’s in Tehran and while referring to mounting threats of the United States and Israel, gave an important answer to those threats. During the past few weeks, Tel Aviv and Washington have tried to make the most of the recent faceoff between Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by beating on the war drums. Frequency of such threats has greatly increased in the past week with the New York Times and Washington Post allocating important parts of their pages to these issues. Most of their articles noted that the Islamic Republic has decided to discontinue cooperation with IAEA because the country is bent on developing the nuclear bomb.

Israelis have also said in their newspapers that Tehran is capable of making, at least, four nuclear bombs. Interestingly enough, they are currently emphasizing that Iran has gotten close to making the bomb and insist that the time for Iran having a bomb is quite close. Their claims are not limited to newspaper articles, propaganda, or Netanyahu’s ballyhoo, which are usually ignored by most people, but their claims are also supported in Washington. During the past two weeks, the US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta has frequently lent his support to Israel’s propaganda. He did not say that Iran will soon develop a nuclear bomb, but announced that Iranians are trying to make the bomb and may increase the speed of achieving it. This is a very important issue which had not been underlined by an important American authority before.

In Washington, almost everybody is trying to put more pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program. Even if there is no serious talk about a direct US attack on Iran, many people are talking about exertion of various political and economic pressures on the country. Efforts made to accuse Iran of interfering in Syria’s internal affairs and giving weapons to the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime were just part of Washington’s political efforts to put more pressure on Iran. Oil sanctions, sanctions against Central Bank of Iran, pressure on India and Latin American states to minimize their trade transactions with Iran and similar measures, constitute the spectrum of measures taken by Washington in line with economic sanctions it has imposed against Tehran. All Washington’s efforts are aimed at making Tehran give up its peaceful nuclear program. Although US President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech that no option will be off the table for stopping Iran's nuclear program, Washington’s threats are mixed with some sort of strategic appropriateness and caution in comparison with rash threats posed to Iran by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and other officials in Tel Aviv.

Washington’s policy on Iran covers a strategic continuum which has come to be known as the Middle East “big game” by some analysts in order to highlight its importance. According to that policy, although desirable changes are welcome, attention is also paid both to cost of those changes and stability and security in the Middle East region. Any change will be considered desirable by Washington only if it satisfies those important conditions. When the former US secretary of defense, Robert Gates, was asked about the proposed plan for the intervention of the US Ground Forces in the fight against the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, he clearly noted that people proposing that plan were “sick.”

On the opposite, Iran has so far acted in a calculated manner. The Islamic Republic’s behavior, even when severely criticized by Washington, entailed the least risk for the country. While Iran has been introduced in the world for revolutionary actions and the Western propaganda tried to depict the country as being involved in acts of “sabotage,” officials in Tehran have never diverted from the path of caution. As they learned more strategic lessons, the amount of that caution has even increased. Specifically, following terror attacks on 9/11 and despite continuation of past hostility toward the United States, Iran has shown more care for stability and security in the region. Elimination of two important foes of Iran (Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq) gave enough opportunity and motivation to the Islamic Republic to do its best for the preservation of regional order and security. The cooperation shown by Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan is a good example in this regard. During this period, Iran has shown the United States and other regional players that if they did not conspire against Tehran and got along with a regional order which will ensure everybody’s interests and is also supported by Iran, Tehran would cease to look like a “saboteur” to them, but will even seem to have the “first claim” to protecting the regional order. The measure taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran's Navy a few days ago by dispatching friendship and peace fleet to regional states was in line with this policy.

Therefore, the big game in the Middle East is of strategic importance both to Iran and the United States and neither of them is willing to make the first mistake. As a result, two main reasons are mentioned for serious actions recently taken by the US officials to threaten Tehran. Firstly, they aim to put more pressure on Iran to dissuade its alleged intervention in Syria. Secondly, their remarks are in reaction to Israeli hardliners who are trying to show Iran's nuclear behavior as dangerous. While Washington has vested interests in such low frequency threats, both kinds of threats are possibly exerted under pressure of Tel Aviv and Riyadh, both of which have experienced failures in handling regional issues and are now trying to get Washington in line with their goals.

In Israel, Netanyahu needs to put continuous emphasis on the Islamic Republic’s serious nuclear threat in order to securitize the atmosphere in that country and convince Israelis to remain loyal to his policies and those of his party. Netanyahu has announced that he would have a meeting with American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) next month to talk against Iran's nuclear threats. This may prove dangerous to the Islamic Republic for two reasons. Firstly, strategic culture in Israel is quite weak. As the country is unable to play a positive role in establishing stability and engaging in a controlled game, it may resort to negative and risky steps. As a result, while both Iran and the United States believe in a controlled game based on stability, and avoid of further intensification of tension, Israelis may fan the flames of a regional war. Political circles targeted by Netanyahu in Washington are dangerous as they can “securitize” the political game and easily impose a war on Obama.

In reaction, Iran has shown two kinds of behaviors. Tehran, in the first place, has decided to warn Riyadh to stop cooperating with anti-Iranian pressures as Saudi Arabia has proven on various occasions to be in line with those pressures. Sending Iranian Navy’s fleet to Jeddah was both meant to carry a message of friendship, and to warn Saudi Arabia to stop its dangerous game. Iran's second behavior was put forth in the words of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei when addressing Obama. Referring to US threats about all options against Iran being kept on the table, the Leader said, “Such threats to war are against [interests of] the United States and the war, itself, will be much more so.” Ayatollah Khamenei added, “The United States has no other option to promote its goals but bloodshed [which will] damage the United States’ credit in the eyes of nations and its own nation more than before and this is the main factor which determines the fate of regimes.” The Leader’s message was also directly addressed to Obama by advising him to avoid of talking about the threat of war as an option, which would motivate Israel to get “out of control.” The Leader also advised Obama to control its regional stooge and does not allow the situation to take an unpredictable turn. In the last part of his speech, the Leader pointed to the strategic culture which exists between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States by noting, “The Americans should know, and of course know, that the Islamic Republic has its own threats in the face of threat to war and threat to oil sanctions which, God willing, it will show whenever necessary.”

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