By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
For all the talk of the Zioconned United States' long-standing hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, its military superiority is not without shortfalls that, in turn, show significant flaws in its ability to maintain a "credible military threat" against Iran, the stand that nowadays complements its coercive diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program.
With the next round of talks between Iran and the "P5+1" (also known as the "Iran Six", the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - plus Germany) nations scheduled in Iraq on May 23, Washington has skillfully combined the carrot of softening its "red line" by reportedly considering the option of tolerating Iran's low-enriched uranium program, with the "long stick" of adding new layers of military threats aimed at convincing
This is in light of the widely-disseminated news over the weekend that the US has deployed its latest generation of stealth bombers at "Iran's doorway", possibly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is in dispute with Tehran over the three islands of Abu Musa, Little Tub and Big Tunb, strategically situated near the Strait of Hormuz.
The United States has deployed a number of stealth jets, its most modern, fifth-generation fighter bomber, to an air base in Southwest Asia, according to the US Air Force, the Washington Post reported. The service would not say where the F-22 Raptors would be based, but the US military has recently moved other assets into the Persian Gulf amid concerns about a confrontation with Iran, the paper added.
The tacit message sent to Tehran is that the US is now poised to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, especially the bunkered one known as Fordo, if Iran refuses the US's demands. Also, it indicates a new tilt in the UAE's favor, in light of pro-UAE statements by the US and a number of European officials with regards to the three islands, often referred to Iranian media as "Iran's aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf", in reference to Iran's occasional forays into the idea of militarizing those islands by placing missiles and other military hardware that would improve Iran's counter-strike capability.
"Those islands were legally ceded to Iran in 1971 by the British government before the independence of the UAE and it took the UAE 20 years to complain about them to United Nations, which refused to take action in 1992. This was part of a double deal between Tehran and London, the other one concerning Bahrain that was historically owned by Iran and yet Tehran agreed to forfeit its claim," said a Tehran political science professor who spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity.
Since President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's visit to Abu Musa three weeks ago, the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have embarked on a virulent international campaign to renew the UAE's sovereignty claim over the islands as well as calls on Iran to consent to arbitration by the International Court of Justice, rejected by Iran that insists its agreement with Great Britain is valid as a matter of international law and there is no need for the ICJ's intervention.
A UAE military official has threatened to rain military hell on those islands, a threat that Tehran cannot ignore in light of the US's growing proclivity to side with the UAE against Iran.
Hypothetically, if the Zioconned UAE somehow managed to wrest those islands from Iran's hands, then the US could conceivably overcome its present military deficit in the Strait of Hormuz by joining the UAE forces in protecting those islands and offsetting any Iranian move to scuttle oil flows in the event of a military flare-up.
This is reason enough for Iran to openly contemplate beefing up its military presence in the Persian Gulf and fortifying the three islands considered as "integral parts of Iran". The consensus in Iran is that as long as Iran has the choking capability in the Strait of Hormuz the US would not dare to attack Iran since the results for the world economy would be disastrous.
Inevitably, the three islands play a key role in the current geostrategic calculations that, no matter how the compliant US media pundits cut it, favors Iran in some respects.
Add to this the economic factor - ie, the several hundred billion dollars of Iranian capital in the UAE, the burgeoning trade and sizable presence of an Iranian merchant class there - that on the whole weighs heavily on the UAE's calculations vis-a-vis Iran and, bottom line, pose a significant bar to the military option.
In a word, the ties of economic interdependence may well suffer a long-term setback in a military scenario, to the detriment of a UAE that is still grappling with the recent economic meltdown.
Meanwhile, a number of Iran's parliamentary deputies have renewed Iran's discourse on collective security in Persian Gulf, thus complementing Iran's hard power strategy with the soft power approach that focuses on "shared security concerns" and the like.
The idea first emerged during the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the early 1990s (Iran unveils a Persian Gulf security plan Asia Times Online, April 14, 2007) and now has the added benefit of potentially counting on Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein zeroed in on the three islands to rally Arab support, as a junior partner.
The mere prospect of an Iran-Iraq concert in the Persian Gulf has rattled the GCC states to the point that they are now trying to influence Washington's Iraq policy to shift in favor of the rebellious Kurds, but only to the point of weakening the central government in Baghdad yet short of a break-up of an Arab state.
This is playing with fire since Iraqi Kurds have their own plan of action that reflects a growing concert with non-Arab Turkey, in light of the recent Ankara visit by Kurdish leader Masoud Barazani, coinciding with the Tehran visit by Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
All this involves a complex interaction between nuclear, security and economic issues and other considerations that has introduced policy headaches for Washington - that suffers from noticeable military deficits in its traditional turf - the Persian Gulf, informally coined an "American lake".
A huge influx of ground forces incurring major expenses for Pentagon's shrinking budget would be required to compensate for those deficits, simply because air and naval power alone does not suffice.
Fully cognizant of those limitations, Tehran remains unconvinced of the "credible" in the US's military postures cited above, seen simply as maneuvers bordering on bluff more than anything else.
In essence, this means that Iran remains the custodian and gatekeeper of the Strait of Hormuz for the indefinite future, thanks in part to its vital possession of the three islands.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD.
Return of medievalism in Middle East...
The Kurds in Iraq have their own agenda. Similarly, the al-Abidat tribe in eastern Libya behaves almost like an independent political entity. Also, in the Western Mountain region of Libya, the Amazigh tribes, like the al-Zintan, are almost independent. This case is not particular to Iraq and Libya. Countries like Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria have very similar problems. Even Egyptian politics displays strong medievalist characteristics, particularly with its rising Salafi movement.
In fact, the nation-state project has never been successful in the region. What kept the different sectarian, tribal or religious groups of many Middle Eastern countries to the nation-state form was authoritarianism. However, the collapse or weakening of central governments in the Arab Spring has changed the balances in the region dramatically. As a result, Middle Eastern politics is now a politics of not only states, but of states and regions. Any political equation has to include the regions in its focus: the Kurds, the minorities, the Christians, the various ethnic groups, tribes, the Salafis, the Tuaregs…
Does the nation-state project stand a chance of revival in the Middle East? The possibility of that revival has at least two prerequisites: The first is consensus among the elites, which would be very difficult to achieve now. Political elites have no strong, efficient dialogue channels in countries like Turkey. Once there is no chance of compromise, the natural strategy is to deploy a hegemonic tactic that demands the purging of all competitors. Although there are many examples, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki deserves to be distinguished as the champion in the region of hegemonic strategy. Maliki either deports or arrests any opposition leader he encounters. Recently, he ordered the arrest of Faraj al-Haidari, head of the independent electoral commission. Al-Haidari represents Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party.
For the revival of the nation-state project, the second prerequisite is a careful strategy that establishes a prudent balance between central governments and regions. The strong, unitary state model is a dead alternative in the Middle East, including in Turkey. Thus, some sort of federalist or anti-centralist political model is the only model likely to rescue the state order in the region. If Middle Eastern states fail to satisfy the autonomous demands of regions, chaos will continue.
The rise of regions indeed creates suitable environments for certain transnational agendas. Iran seems to be happy with this, as it has been very successful at increasing its influence in countries like Syria and Iraq. The weakening of the nation-state order and the return of medievalism force regional powers like Iran and Turkey to employ transnational strategies through the various religious or ethnic groups.
The US seems to be happy with medievalism. Obama’s failure vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis should be understood as a display of American contentment with the new medievalism in the Middle East. Of course, the “tacit” (!) US support of Maliki, the leader of the Iraqi Shiites, is the other brilliant example. And, most ironically, Israel has almost been transformed from a modern state into a kind of “Jewish tribe” in its foreign policy by various radical war criminals and assassins like Avigdor Lieberman and many others....