War clouds loom ever more menacingly over Iran



FROM this week, it emerged that Britain and France have joined Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as allies in a new US war against Iran.

While the West Asian nations have not only agreed to assist US forces in logistics but are also training with them for aerial coordination and forces interoperability, the European nations add a special weight as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The Sarkozy government has made France an unreserved US war ally, and last month Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned the world to prepare for a war against Iran. In recent days the Britain of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has gone further, reportedly supporting a drive to war with a supply of British special forces troops.

The official word from London is that diplomacy is still the preferred course to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment project. But that is not expected to work since unlike North Korea, the United States is offering neither concessions nor compromises to Iran.

Besides, British press reports say that even the nuclear issue is now redundant as a pretext for war, since Iran’s crimes are now judged to be its alleged support of Iraqi insurgents, supply of weapons to militant groups, and being the potential chief beneficiary of a post-Saddam Iraq.

In addition, Shi’ite Iran is accused of supporting Afghanistan’s Sunni Taliban, which Teheran has long opposed. British military commanders and diplomats in Afghanistan have lately added their weight to US allegations that Iranian sources have been supplying Taliban fighters.

Last Saturday, chief US military commander in Iraq Gen David Petraeus raised the stakes by accusing Iranian ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi-Qomi of being a member of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite al-Qods force. Petraeus offered no evidence and Iran denied the charge, but the accusation has the effect of neatly sidelining diplomacy in favour of military action.

The Qods force is also blamed for training militant groups in Iraq, a new rationale for a US attack on Iran. There are other indicators that the White House is shifting to a war footing.

On Monday, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said President Bush was given to understand that Britain is “on board” a war against Iran. London has not refuted such an understanding is in place.

Britain’s SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service) are expected to be pressed into action, particularly in demining Iranian ports and harbours. The role of the British navy is said to be crucial in keeping the Straits of Hormuz open.

Pentagon officials have been cited as saying that in his meeting with Bush in July, Brown expressed support for “tactical strikes” against Iran but not a full-scale war. Nonetheless the effect of such strikes would amount to the same thing.

The White House plan is to blast some 20 suspected military and nuclear sites out of a possible 2,000 in Iran. That could provoke Iran to retaliate, which would then trigger all-out war.

A US general said Iran needs to wreak only as much damage as “10 dead American soldiers and four burnt trucks” to trigger a full-scale US war against it. Teheran has already said it would do much more by unleashing missiles if attacked even in a tactical strike.

David Wurmser, former adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, wants two wars – against both Iran and Syria. His recent retirement could mean Washington is likely to go for just one war, against Iran, for now at least.

However, Defence Secretary Robert Gates is believed to be pushing hardest against war, and is working with the directors of National Intelligence and the CIA to advise Bush against attacking Iran. Against them are pro-war neo-conservatives led by Cheney.

Iran has dismissed the threat of war as mere US psychological warfare; but like all threats, to be credible it needs to be “actionable”. More than in Saddam’s Iraq before, both the United States and Iran are now set for war.

The US views anti-government protests in Iran as a sign of vulnerability, while Teheran sees a US attack as a means of unifying the nation under the government. And like Iraq but unlike North Korea, Iran does not have nuclear weapons to retaliate with, thus remaining open to a US attack.