Wednesday, April 21, 2010

About those missiles Russia sold to Iran…

It's official, Russia has sold its S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile defense system to Iran. The S-300, which Iran has been trying to buy since 2005, is considered to be one of the best SAM systems in the world, can hit a target at 100 miles, and will be delivered to Iran within months.
The sale is viewed as a massive blow to Israeli defense chiefs, who already fear Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is building up a nuclear capability to attack them.
Tensions couldn’t be higher in the region.
On April 14, Jordan’s King Abdullah II told members of the US Congress that a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is “imminent.” The next day, King Abdullah told the Chicago Tribune that, although most in the Middle East wanted peace, there was a “very good chance” that war could break out in the region in the coming months.

“If we hit the summer and there’s no active process, there’s a very good chance for conflict – and nobody wins when it comes to that.”

Considering that Iran, a potentially nuclear state, has been the main supporter of Hezbollah, and considering that in a nuclear conflict, it's all or nothing, there will be no winners indeed. It is true that Israel and Hezbollah have squared off without resorting to nukes in the recent past, but current events in the region are still quite unsettling.

Israel’s government has not helped ease tensions. They object to the US establishing diplomatic relations with Syria, even though this could result in further isolating Iran, and they object to any notion that the Palestinians are entitled to their own state. While President Obama has called Arab-Israeli strife “harmful” to US interests, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has compared the international community’s handling of a potential nuclear program in Iran to Europe’s failure to stop the Nazi war machine prior to World War II.

“Israel's hardline government is deeply worried that the U.S. will try to impose a Mideast peace deal, that the Palestinians might declare statehood unilaterally and that Washington could be moving to end tensions with Syria. These fears underscore how the current differences between the U.S. and Israel go far beyond a still unresolved diplomatic row over Israeli settlement building. Instead, there is a deepening chasm between the visions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, raising questions about the strength of the U.S.-Israeli alliance despite mutual pronouncements that the bond is unshakable.”
-CBS News

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has indeed floated the idea of unilaterally declaring statehood as early as next year, and his proposal led Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to threaten to annul past peace agreements and even annex parts of the West Bank. But disagreements in the Holy Land are not anything new.

Contrary to what the hawks in Israel are saying, there are also hawks in Washington. In response to Mr. Ahmadinejad taunting the US with a display of Iran’s already strong missile arsenal during its annual Army Day Parade, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen let it be known that the Pentagon is already considering its options of last resort:

The Pentagon was ratcheting up pressure for military action against Iran last night as America’s top uniformed official said for the first time that a strike on nuclear targets would “go a long way” towards delaying Tehran’s uranium enrichment programme.
-The Times Online

Obama had already made it clear earlier this month that a nuclear attack on either North Korea or Iran would remain a policy option for his administration.
And it just so happens that Iran is holding war games exercises this week in the Gulf and Straight of Hormuz, a waterway crucial to world oil supplies. As if that weren't enough to heighten tensions, on April 20, Iran's Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded to the tough talk out of Washington by demanding that the international community not let Obama get away with nuclear threats.

"We will not allow America to renew its hellish dominance over Iran by using such threats."

In response, the next day, the Pentagon reiterated its hardline stance:

“We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. “The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military... It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.”
-The Jerusalem Post

Meanwhile, focusing on the more moderate voices in Washington, Israeli hardliners were concerned that the US would tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, and debated the prospect of launching their own, unilateral military strike:

"The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington's blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability."
-The Wall Street Journal

Needless to say, we're following these developments closely.