Saturday, January 10, 2009

Israel, Gaza War, Return of “Emboldened Iran,” and Obama

Farideh Farhi

A curious pattern characterizes the recent military adventures in the Middle East. Overwhelming and disproportionate force is utilized in the name of at least temporarily popular objective – combating terrorism, preventing WMD proliferation, restoring deterrence, bringing democracy and so on. But once the human costs and efficacy of attacks in terms of stated objectives begin to be questioned, the narrative shifts and the argument for the sustenance of war, refusal of ceasefire, or even the need for “victory” begins to rely on the line that if a certain party or organization in question is not crushed, all the extremist forces in the Middle East led by Iran will be emboldened.

The justification for the continuation of reckless and indefensible violence shifts and the putative objective becomes, above all, to ensure that Iran does not expand its influence in the region as the leader of regional “resistance.” Even if one objected to the initial military foray, it is said, there should be agreement that leaving the mess in the middle and not finishing the job – whatever that means – will lead to the worst of all possible worlds: an angrier crowd that is allowed to survive and cause mischief at the direction of hegemony-seeking Iran. In its latest version, we are told by no less a figure than Israeli president Shimon Peres, “Our goals are clear. We do not want to make Gaza a satellite of Iran.”

I am not going to dwell on the insanity and immorality of violence imposed on a defenseless people based on a future possibility. The callous squander of lives and livelihoods in Iraq, Lebanon, and now Gaza speak for themselves. And, as far as know, no one is claiming that the lengthening of violence in Iraq or Lebanon stopped the presumed process of emboldening Iran.

My bet, like almost everyone else’s at this point, is that whatever the result in Gaza, it will do little to shift the narrative one way or another. There is nothing in the cards that suggest that what has not worked in the past will magically work today.

Hamas as an organization is likely to survive. And in an era in which mere survival against what is perceived to be an uncontrolled Behemoth is considered victory, its fortunes or the fortunes of elements even more bent on “resistance” will rise within Palestinian politics and this will be considered yet another feather in Iran’s – or “the leader of the resistance camp” – cap; a feather Tehran’s bickering leaders will happily or grudgingly accept depending on circumstances and political positions probably with little concern or inability to do much for additional Palestinians who lose lives and are made miserable in their names.

Even if Hamas is dismantled - remember the PLO was also forced to pack its bags once and move to Tunis - there are still others left and a standing, even if presumably weakened Iran, will continue to be a problem. In the midst of an angry region, even the crushing defeat of a foe such as Hamas and sacrifice of a good number of people for the purpose of weakening Iran does not assure a strategic overhaul.

It is true that we are told that such a crushing may help build a better Middle East in which the adversary will be weakened and hence will become more pliant and passive. But common sense tells us that it is difficult for violence to give birth to passivity; not when it is watched in living rooms and squalors alike all over the world and in the Middle East.

But the narrative of emboldened Iran and the need to weaken it by crushing its so-called proxies persists because the picture of a threatening and emboldened Iran is not only necessary for a dysfunctional Israeli polity always in need of leaders showing their martial grit but also for another fight; the fight over how to deal with Iran.

As usual nothing occurs in a vacuum. In all the three countries heavily vested in the drama –Israel, the United States, and Iran – there are folks who for whatever reasons – it really doesn’t matter anymore whether the reasons are justified or not – are ideologically, institutionally, politically, and economically vested in the continuation of animosity.

Call them hardliners, hawks, radicals, demagogues, economic profiteers or ideologues, polarization is to their benefit and each has its own fears, including loss of power. They operate in the midst of societies in which the population is also divided – again for whatever reason - and they are contenders for influence. Theirs is politics of fear, worry, as well as actual and advocated violence. They are not necessarily a united bunch in their respective countries. In fact, in all three countries, the art of bickering has been perfected. But bickering should not be confused with withdrawal and lack of power.

At the same time, in all three polities, there are also a good number of people and leaders who are either tired of ideological thinking or just simply tired of the consequences of never-ending animosity. In Iran, ideologues were set aside for a few years and there is good reason to believe that the kind of politics and foreign policy that was practiced during those years would have had a better chance of lowering tensions in the region after 9/11 had the Bush Administration approached Iran in a more conciliatory manner than it did after the two countries cooperation based on their shared interest in Afghanistan.

But bygones are bygones. What is at hand today is that a reformist or pragmatist is the elected president of the United States backed by a good chunk of American people who have invested in him their hope for re-direction, common sense, and human decency.

For someone like me, an Iranian-American with vested interest in the reconciliation of the two parts of my identity – for mundane reasons such as easier travel and money exchange as well as bigger ones such as fear of a military attack against the rather large family I have left behind - the question is whether trends in the United States will have a better chance at lowering tensions and reducing violence.

The answer obviously rests not in who Obama is - notwithstanding his palpable human decency that has allowed many us to pin our hopes on him - but what he does. It is not the question of goodwill begets goodwill, as George Bush the father once famously said but whether still the most powerful country in the world can lead by setting example and itself becoming less ideological, violent, and insecure at a time of global economic crisis that is bound to get worse; whether the United States can become a more or less competent seeker of solutions or will it remain wedded to and chained by reactive and reactionary institutions and ideas and dysfunctional relationships.

Having watched Iranian politics and foreign policy closely for years, I am convinced that despite all the hurled insults and maneuvering, a change of direction in American foreign policy will impact Iran in significant ways. Iranian leaders of all variety have been sending messages that they are ready to engage in serious conversation about redefining Iran’s role in US’ regional policies. The point they are trying to make is that instead of the attempted pitting of the region against Iran and search for security at its expense, the United States will be better off accepting Iran’s appropriate regional role which should be commensurate with its geographical size, resources, and regional political clout.

Tehran’s reaction to events in Gaza confirm this message and has included a combination of theatrics, genuine expression of sorrow, a bit of diplomacy - much of it with Syria which has a bigger stake in the Israeli-Gaza conflict and Turkey which also has a bigger stake because of its close relations with Israel in the face of a population angered by the Gaza tragedy - and a good dose of wait and see attitude. This is a bed Israelis have made for themselves and they are the ones that have to figure out a way to tidy it. This is why Iran's chief of Islamic Revolution’s Guard Corp (IRGC) rather calmly rules out providing military support to Hamas, saying "Gazan resistance does not need other countries' military help."

Iranian leaders are not stupid. They also worry about Israel being "emboldened.” But generally speaking they think that Israel is digging its own grave by going into Gaza. This is what Iran’s president Mahmud Ahmadinejad means when he says that Israel will wither away in the pages of history; it will fall based on its own contradictions and policies.

Iran's game is one of expression of genuine anger and resentment - it is hard to be from that part of the world and not be angry at what is being seen on television - and playing to the crowd. On this latter front, the real targets are Arab regimes - Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and not Israel per se. The intent is to use the support for Iran's anti-Israeli position in the Arab street as an instrument in preventing the creation of anti-Iranian front by Arab governments. Iran’s leaders would be stupid and delinquent to only play the wait and see game and ignore the possibility that the Obama administration will essentially follow the Bush Administration policy of trying to pit the region against Iran and search for security at its expense.

But playing to the crowds has its limits, at least inside Iran. People were encouraged to demonstrate and volunteer to be sent to Gaza after supreme leader Ali Khamenei declared that anyone dying for the cause of Gaza will be considered a martyr. But after the demonstrations began to entail attacks of foreign embassies, they had to be told publicly by his representative to the universities to calm down and respect international laws and treaties.

And when volunteers for Gaza sat in Tehran airport and angrily demanded from government officials to be sent to Gaza “to fulfill the leader’s command,” again they were told in no uncertain terms by that their task was conscious-raising and moral support. The supreme leader himself acknowledged Iran’s hands were tied while blessing and thanking the volunteers for their dedication in a simple one liner.

The bottom line message: Palestine is not as important to us as you think. It only becomes important for ideological purposes and in response to what we consider to be attempts that are intended to create regime or territorial insecurity. If you don’t believe us, just compare our energetic behavior and policies in Iraq and Afghanistan – countries of high interest for security reasons – to our rather lackadaisical approach to the Gaza conflict.

Another message: We are not about to let excited crowds run our foreign policy.

As is often the case, the Iranian regime may be over-playing its hands and expecting too much. Perhaps the Bush Administration’s support for the continuation of violence in Gaza is intended as a parting gift to Obama. A crushed Hamas, the thought goes, will weaken Iran’s hand in the impending talks with the Untied States and as such must be accepted as an Israeli gift. Surely the people of Gaza are the not first sacrificed at the altar of geopolitics.

Given the added drop in oil prices and the disaster Ahmadinejad’s presidency has brought to the Iranian economy, the Obama Administration may even be tempted to go further and play hard ball, thinking that a weaker Iran is an Iran that will finally say yes to demands that it has said no to throughout the Bush Administration.

Within this frame, Obama’s new Iran policy will just be a variation of the policies that have been going on for many years. In this new iteration, the presumption is that a little more pressure along with more incentives will do the trick. Perhaps! One can never speak in absolute terms about the future.

But if it doesn't, we will be facing an uglier Iran in the future that is bound to be even more restrictive at home and problematic in the region, indeed risking war. In short, a weakened Iran pressured to do what it does not want to do, in all likelihood, will also be an angrier and more hard-line Iran.

Those of us who advocate some sort of compromise with Iran, based on a process of give and take, do so on the premise that such a compromise will be good for Iran, the United States and ultimately the region because it will have to be based on a process in which broad spectrums of the public and elite in both countries end up being okay with the compromise.

Reaching such an acceptance inside Iran is harder because it is the country under pressure to give in on what its broad public considers a right. Even if Iran's leaders buckle under, without such an acceptance, a group of unhappy trouble makers will continue to exist, constantly intent to undermine the new equilibrium which to them will be mainly a concrete and unhappy manifestation of the American will egged by the Israelis. Were these folks an insignificant member of the Iranian society, in terms of numbers and power, I wouldn't worry. But they are not.

The Obama Administration can continue to ignore this domestic predicament and negotiate in order to put Iran in its place in the same way the Israelis and its American enablers have continued to ignore the Palestinian predicament and reality of occupation and have repeatedly pinned their hope on breaking the Palestinian will to resist.

Or, it can change course. It can seriously begin approaching the region with the objective of solving conflicts, rather than picking fights and sides. It will of course not be easy to go against interests that are vested in conflict. But given the disaster that the Middle East has become, no one is asking for a lot at this point; just a sense that a different kind of approach is being contemplated and hopefully tried.


Mark Pyruz said...

Well stated, Farideh. Thank you for this analysis.

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Anonymous said...

What shouldn't be forgotten is that, Palestinians in Gaza are not in need of volunteers to defend themselves (they already have 1.5 mil volunteers), what they need is sophisticated weapons.
And you can not smuggle sophisticated weapons through tunnels, they need to be delivered via Rafah crossing controlled by Egypt. That's why Iran's hands are tied, not because it doesn't care much about Palestinians.

Anonymous said...

Well said Anonymous, what is with Iranian's in the USA, Obama has no interest in Iran being a regional power. Israel is USA's choice of the regional bully. You seem to think that the Iranian regime are into theatrics why?
Was your parents supporters of the criminal Shah? Did you gain financially with the Shah's regime

Abbas Djavadi said...

Delighted to read this analysis. I have offered it as "recommended article to read" after my own commentary "Could A Disabled Hamas Help All?" on my personal website
Regards, AD

imsmall said...


I sit beside the radio
And hear the massacre--
It´s ten days now, and progress slow,
Israeli casualties are low,
Some six, those "friendly" dont ya know--
And more yet to endure.

The Palestinian death count is
(Excluding never children)
At least six hundred--utter bliss
To the Israelis, death like this,
As driven unto their abyss
The numbers are bewildering.

It was a lesson very well
That Jewry learned in Warsaw--
In Palestine to make a hell,
As bloating bodies cast their smell,
Dead innocents, as no tale tell
But so it is in Gaza.

Today, I understand the cry
Of "Death to Israel" often
Upraised--I used to wonder why,
A child, but with an open eye
I see such massacres go by
Which judgement cannot soften.

"Vengeance is mine" hath said the Lord,
It ought not be the people´s--
Yet Old Allah, although abhorred
By those who do not love the sword,
Perhaps will chortle in accord
When vengeance Israel topples.

Ah well, the ways of God are strange--
The radio keeps broadcasting--
The only certainty is change
As fate and fortune rearrange,
And Falangists, derailed their flange,
Find triumph never-lasting.


Anonymous said...

Israeli occupation withdrew from Gaza, didn't it, while saying: "Look, we no longer have you occupied. You're free to enjoy yourself and be happy about your freedom. Now be good neighbours to Israel and live in peace and democracy".

Evilness however moved out to the Gaza borders in the form of border controls, allowing (rarely) or disallowing (mostly) all that would be considered normal movements and trade for a 1.5 million population. There exports of groceries will have to wait until it's rotting away, if at all allowed. There the pride of Israel, its miltarized youth, representing the fifth largest miltary force on earth, a gift from the christian right in the USA, will point with guns and American supertanks, stopping, humiliating, questioning, forbidding, lying, degrading, ridiculing, bullying, stifling with unlimited inventiveness.

Around the enclave Israel then keeps screaming to the world: "Look how they behave against us, God's favoured folks, they're hurling rockets at us." Accordingly, Israel says, we decline to accept their politically elected representatives Hamas, cause they're terrorists, so we sharpen our control of the borders, strangle still more their import of oil, electricity, water, money and block further international aid and reconstruction. So we march in and crush those who oppose us. We and our benefactor and backer, the USA, need never notice what the United Nation Security Council or the world ever says. We're too powerful to have to.

Gaza is since long one by Israel hermetically sealed and by Israel alone controlled enclave encompassing some 19 refugee camps crowded with palestinians expelled from Israel, with all the signs of a de facto concentration camp.

Israel now tries to convince the world opinion that blowing the heads off 500 children of the Gaza residents will bring about peace.

How, very, very far removed from reality can the Israel leadership be??

Anonymous said...

Dear Farideh,
Thank you for the analysis. I just wrote a piece on the same issues you brought up, please feel free to provide feedback.

The URL is

Kind regards,

Mansa said...

Zio-nazism: "Israel's Ugly Reality"
Aaron Abdel Muzill

This article is not an attack on the Jewish Faith:
After it was apparent that the Third Reich would not survive the onslaught of the Allied invasion, many German officers and other important officials of Nazi Germany looked to the Lebensborn Society to save their (specially groomed) children along with the already thousands of orphans and other "stolen children" from their occupied territories who were Germanized by the SS.

In the wake of over sixty years of Zionist occupation of Palestine, and the relentless oppression of the indigenous people there, it seems as though some of these Germanized and Nazi children were tossed onto trains and ships along with Jewish orphans that were headed for various countries in the world, including the land of Palestine. The Zionist leadership of Israel are apparently some of those "Children of Hitler", as they were sometimes called, and are now coming into their own in Israel. Their action aganist the people of Gaza speaks much louder than their twisted words of "we were only defending ourselves".

Yeah! They were defending themselves against curd homeade rockets and rocks hurddled by people who have no real military way of defense against a powerful and curl enemy like the Israeli government. These Zionists have stolen and mismanaged the Jewish rights to a homeland and have now made the land into a situation far worse than apatheid in South Africa. Race, religion, culture, and human rights are the means that is used to oppress the Palestinians, just as the apatheid government of South Africa. Is what I am telling you the truth? You be the judge.

Nazism came into power and the social consciousness of German society by the creation of a mythical "godlike" race of the Aryan people that they proported to be superior to other races. The Zionist in turn have created a simular ideology using scripture and the Jewish religion. The Jews, they say have a "god-given" right to that land they call Israel. Formally known as the country of Palestine. This right they say superceeds any other historical, curtural, or religious right or claim by others. Most Christians accept this claim. Muslims, however do not accept it, and infact called it a big fabrication by the Zionist. This is where the whole world become twisted and confused in their understanding. Especially when something concerns their faith, their scripture, and who's right or wrong.

Jerusalem and the land of Palestine have for centuries been a land of peace for all the monotheisistic faith, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was only after WWII and the creation of the State of Israel on the land of Palestine that peace was sacraficed, and sixy plus years of opression begins. Thanks to Zio-nazism.

I know many of you that is reading this might say: You can't be telling the truth!

Well you can check it out for yourself. Through a through investion into the history of what happened to many of the orphaned youth of Nazi Germany, then may be
your eyes will become opened. Do you think that the Nazis were going to give up on their twisted plans just because they were defeated? The Third Reigh was suppose to last for a thousand years.Therefore these Nazis knew that their youth were their future and that through their children, they can survive. The SS carefully groomed them into becoming leaders reguardless if Germany would fail or not. After Nazism was defeated a scheme was created to supplant these youth into governments around the world, and this was their ideal way of continuing the Third Reich. Read up on it. You will be amazed.

Getting back to Israel. The Nazis and others, seen that Zionism was a likely cannidate since the Jews were creating a homeland in Palestine for hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Jewish holocaust. Therefore some Zionist merged together with Nazis in a marriage of convience which ultimately resulted in the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. History will tell you that Israel started out from a natorious Jewish terrorist gangs/movements, who terrorized Palestians, underminding their government and sabotaging centuries of peace that existed among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

Thats a lie! You are lying! You're a &^&*^()(*%##78()0)muda f-$%@%^7_ lie! (I took the liberty of responding for some readers who are obviously upset)

OK if I am lying then here is something that the good citizens of Israel should demand of their elective officials: A DNA test to trace their ancestry. A DNA analysis will prove that some of these Zionist Jews in Isreal, and especially those manipulating and guiding its leadership are not Jews, but are actually Aryan Nazis hiding among the Jewish people and carring out an SS type extermination on the Palestinian people. Their tactics mirrior Hitler's prided SS as we see the result in their continued slaughter of over a million indigenous people of Plaestine. Is the world asleep?

Enough said..Check it out for yourself.

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