JAKARTA: As local media pays more attention to domestic crises, from the natural disaster in West Sumatra to Lapindo Brantas in East Java, international issues seems overlooked.
The tension between the USA and the Islamic Republic of Iran has reached a peak. The Middle East is currently engulfed by a war cloud. Washington and Tehran are unfortunately likely to enter into armed conflict soon.
Three reasonable indications, at least, support this prediction. First, the Pentagon has already appointed Admiral William Fallon as the new US Central Command, replacing General John Abizaid. Fallon is charged with multiple and yet difficult tasks: keeping Afghanistan and Iraq stable which includes preparing attacks on Iran.
Second, the US has exercised its military power in the biggest war in the Middle East since 2003, involving use of aircraft carriers and hundreds of fighting jets. They underwent a similar exercise before the US military fired missiles on Iraq in 1991 (First Gulf War) and 2003 (Second Gulf War).
Third, Iran was unfortunately reluctant to halt its program of uranium enrichment, even though the UN Security Council recently issued its two resolutions (1737 in December 2006 and 1747 in March 2007).
Tehran’s behavior does not bode well for dialogue and only encourages Washington to invade Iran in the near future.
The international community would once again witness the shedding of blood at the beginning of the 21st century. After World War I (1914-18), World War II (1939-45) and the Cold War (1948-90), a number of states still resorted to military force as a means to settle international disputes. In the first year of our third millennium, for instance, hundreds of thousands died in the US-Taliban conflict.
More than three million Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran when the US and its coalition forces started bombing the Taliban regime on Oct. 7, 2001. In the name of combating terrorism and its networks, five US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf fired 600 cruise missiles into all Iraqi territories on March 19, 2003.
The Taliban regime ended with the takeover of Kabul on Nov. 13, 2001 and Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003. The expansionist ambition of the US war planners apparently did not cease, but is instead increasingly on the rise.
Iran now becomes the next target of the US war machine.
And Syria, to a great extent, is possibly the most wanted after Tehran.
But why should the US attack Iran? President Bush’s administration has, of course, strong reasons to bomb Iran. Firstly, Washington accused Tehran of masterminding attacks against the US and its coalition in the post-Iraq war era.
Suicide and remote bombs are claimed to be the work of the Iranians. Secondly, the Iranian intelligence services were held responsible for supplying arms to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and to the Muslim freedom fighters in occupied Palestine where Israeli interests are threatened. Any attack on Israeli occupation forces would mean a declaration of war against the US.
Thirdly, the Iranian government has been deemed guilty of illegal proliferation of nuclear weapons. Although the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed ElBaradei assured the world that Tehran needs years to acquire nuclear bombs, the Bush Administration has a different view: invading Iran before it is able to successfully test its nuclear weapons is the best preventative measure.
The refusal of President Ahmadinejad to stop Iranian uranium enrichment is seen by US policy makers as casus belli or smoking gun for mobilizing American military might in the Persian Gulf. Are we then to believe that war between the US and Iran is inevitable? There is no easy answer. Nevertheless, I am of the view that there is still an opportunity to avoid war.
First, the UN Security Council has to show its credibility as the world peacekeeper by pressuring the Bush Administration to avoid unilateral action. The US must not make the same mistake as before, when it failed to stem the US attacks on Iraq in 2003. It is the right time for countries such as France, China and Russia to use their veto powers and resist US arrogance. Second, Arab states under the Arab League should express their silenced voices to the US.
If Arab leaders stand united in solidarity, President Bush would not unilaterally attack Iran. Third, all Muslim countries listed in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) must also concur. As the largest world organization after the United Nations and Non-Alignment Movement, OIC could play a very important role.
If OIC member countries scattered across the Middle East, South Asian, Southeast Asian and African regions eventually stand together to implement boycotts or embargoes on the US, I believe Washington would face significant losses for taking any irresponsible action.
However, much depends on the United Nations, The Arab League and OIC. If they show reluctance to act, war is truly unavoidable. Consequently, one should stop dreaming that the US war machine can automatically come to a halt. Good Luck!
AH. Mahally (Abdul Halim Mahally) is an Associate Director for Middle East Studies at Research Center for Political Sciences, the University of Muhammadiyah Jakarta (UMJ).