US and Israel yearning to unleash mayhem
Yassamine Mather examines what lies behind Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria
While British news has been dominated by Brexit and the government shutdown in the US, the Middle East has seen the conflict between Israel and Iran dangerously escalate. Israeli aircraft undertook a series of attacks against targets in Syria. According to the official Syrian news agency (SANA), on January 11 Israeli planes fired missiles over Damascus, but Syrian artillery managed to “shoot down most of them”. SANA claimed that the jets, launched from Galilee, caused damage, but inflicted no casualties.
However, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV carried reports of Israeli planes targeting many areas from the suburbs of eastern Damascus all the way to the village of Dimas in the west, near the Lebanon border. And by January 14 it was clear that, even by the standards of recent Israeli air raids, this was an extensive operation. Israeli premier, Binyamin Netanyahu, told reporters: “Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets”, adding: “The accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria.”
According to an interview with general Gadi Eisenkot of the Israel Defense Forces, published in the New York Times, Israel has carried out “thousands” of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria:
We noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shi’ite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an airforce base within each Syrian air base.1
The headline - ‘The man who humbled Qassim Suleimani’ - is also noteworthy. In the same interview Eisenkot was asked why Iran’s general Soleimani was still alive. Clearly the interviewer’s assumption was that the assassination of foreign military personnel is now the norm for Israel. Eisenkot refused to answer.
All this, a week after Mike Pompeo’s visit to the Middle East, indicates how dangerous the situation has become. We know what the US secretary of state meant when he claimed on January 10 that despite the US withdrawal from Syria, Washington will work to “expel every last Iranian boot from Syria”. Of course, he was not referring to direct US intervention, but action by its allies.
Amongst all this we have talk from national security advisor John Bolton. He has always wanted to launch a direct attack on Iran and Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged presidency seems to offer the opportunity. State department and Pentagon officials are so worried about Bolton’s Iran regime-change plans that they have given details of his military and strategic “enquiries” to the Wall Street Journal. According to these officials, quoted by the WSJ, they were “rattled” last year by Bolton’s request to the Pentagon to “provide the White House with military options to strike Iran”.
Bolton was under-secretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005 during George W Bush’s presidency. He was an enthusiast for the Iraq war - one of those responsible for exaggerating Saddam Hussein’s military capabilities in what can only be described as manufactured misinformation. He continues to justify the disastrous invasion and occupation. Even at the height of the Iraq war, he was advocating an attack on Iran. In March 2015, Bolton wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times which was headlined, ‘To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran’. It goes without saying that he was an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal.
This week, as Iranians celebrate the 40th anniversary of the shah’s flight (January 16 1979) after the popular uprising, US hawks, such as Pompeo and Bolton, want to go to war with a view to installing a US-compliant regime. According to US media, Bolton is pursuing two parallel lines. This week he repeated what he had already said in Tel Aviv in early January: “We have little doubt that Iran’s leadership is still strategically committed to achieving deliverable nuclear weapons.” Of course, as with Netanyahu’s repeated claims of newly discovered nuclear plants in Iran, there no evidence of this - UN authorities, as well as the US intelligence services, completely rejected these claims.
The second line aims to defeat Iran’s allies in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. A tall order, especially in the latter two countries, where groups close to the Islamic Republic are actually in government. That is why for the time being attacking Iran’s allies and military bases in Syria remains the order of the day. It is a task delegated for the time being to the Israel Defense Forces.
Like his boss, Donald Trump, Bolton has no time for international law, in fact back in 1999 he gave a more honest interpretation of US foreign policy:
It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law, even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so - because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.
Of course, Bolton’s prediction of July 2017 that the Islamic regime in Iran would fall before the start of 2019 is a source of much mockery in Tehran. In a meeting hosted by the loony cult, Mojahedin-e Khalq, he stated that the Trump administration should embrace the goal of immediate regime change and recognise MEK as a “viable” alternative: “And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”
As soon as any of us point to such US madness, supporters of the MEK cult or the ex-shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, accuse us of supporting Iran’s Islamic Republic! Nothing could be further from the truth. There are two fundamental reasons why people like me oppose the Trump administration’s regime change plans:
- Almost 16 years after the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, no-one in pro-imperialist circles has learnt a single lesson. As I have said before, the current ‘regime change alternatives’ considered by Trump, Bolton and Pompeo make Ahmed Chalabi - George W Bush’s proposed replacement for Saddam Hussein - look like a wise choice. The occupation, and Chalabi’s appointment to the Iraq interim council, were disastrous. Bolton should have faced criminal charges for falsifying information about Saddam’s claimed ‘weapons of mass destruction’. That the likes of him are not only free, but can make decisions on US foreign policy, strengthens the religious right in the Middle East.
- The current Iranian regime is nothing like Saddam’s Ba’athist government. For all its betrayal of almost every aspiration of the February 1979 uprising (equality, freedom, independence), it maintains a layer of religious, rightwing supporters who will not hesitate to fight to the last drop of blood to defend the hell created by the corrupt, repressive Shia mullahs and their civilian apparatchiks. Some of them will fight ‘regime change’ military operations because their livelihood - their very existence - depends on the survival of the regime. Others will do so because they are blind followers of the supreme leader.
So what is the grand military plan considered by the likes of Bolton? Crippling sanctions, presumably to increase internal dissent, air attacks and the bombing of nuclear facilities, as well as key military bases - and then leaving the rest to the foot soldiers of Mojahedin-e Khalq and/or supporters of the ex-shah.
Clearly no-one with an iota of intelligence amongst the anti-Iran hawks has actually taken the time to analyse the actual balance of forces. What remains of MEK’s supporters are mainly elderly men and women, now based in Albania! Even if Bolton organised flights to carry the 300 or so MEK supporters from Tirana to Tehran, the idea that they would fight for US interests once they arrived is laughable.
As for Pahlavi’s supporters, they are mainly in the United States. Most of them voted for Trump and keep on calling for ‘intervention’. But there is also a handful of them inside Iran. Some have been completely taken in by the wall-to-wall coverage of the ‘golden era’ under the shah, presented by Saudi-financed TV stations. But don’t expect them to do any fighting in real life.
In reality Iranians who were to cooperate with a US attempt to impose regime change from above would be wiped out by hard-line supporters of the Islamic Republic within a few hours - leaving us with an even more repressive and brutal regime.
Of course, as with Iraq and Syria, the more astute US military/political strategists are looking for allies amongst Iran’s national minorities: Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, etc, who have genuine and valid grievances against the regime, and whose political leaders are seeking power with the aid of the US and Saudi Arabia.
And here lies a real danger. We could see endless civil wars as the US seeks to Balkanise Iran into a series of small dependent states. Such a scenario would make the civil war in Syria look like a storm in a teacup.