War on Iran: A Foregone Conclusion or a Giant Smokescreen?

As Donald Trump will likely announce the unilateral US withdrawal from the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) in less than 24 hours, many are openly questioning whether this is the first step in a march to war against Iran or whether it is merely another move to allow further punitive economic measures against the Islamic Republic in a bid to try and extricate Iranian forces from Syria and Iran through economic blackmail.

The US and “Israel” would both like to attack Iran or to be far more precise, the US would like “Israel” to attack Iran and “Israel” would like the US to invade Iran. Because Iran is a formidable military force compared to most of the Middle East states invaded, occupied and provoked by the US and “Israel”, there is a clear sense of reality biting two countries whose aggression is generally limited to states whose regular forces cannot fight back.

Because of this, while the US would like “Israel” to ‘go out on a limb’ and while the “Israel” would like the US to fight yet another war on its behalf, the likelihood is that neither will happen in the near future, barring a catastrophic wave of instability within Iran, something both Tel Aviv and the US have time and again tried to create, but have yet to be successful in pulling off. Furthermore, because European companies do business with Iran (while they don’t with Syria), the same Europeans who still sometimes shout “Assad must go” are now shouting “the JPCOA must stay”. Apart from the US and “Israel” no one has an appetite for war, not even Saudi Arabia.  In respect of Saudi Arabia, if a wider war against Iran were to be a prolonged one, it could end up being partly fought on Saudi soil and even if the Islamic Revolutionary government was replaced by a re-installed Pahlavi, this would mean that the US would suddenly have a larger and more important new (old) ally that could complete with Saudi Arabia for US loyalty and friendship in the region. One mustn’t forget that after 1979, the Saudi-US partnership intensified because the US no longer needed to divide its regional attention between a friendly Shah in Tehran and a friendly King in Riyadh.

Because of this, the idea of “invading Iran” is at least for the time being one giant bluff as a whole, while the US and “Israel” seem to be bluffing each other regarding who might make the first foolish move. But sadly, the story does not end there. One of the reasons the US and “Israel” do not need to attack Iran is because they’re already attacking Iran in Syria.

Far from this being novel let alone conspiratorial, the US and “Israel” have admitted this dozens of times. Having both realised that so long as Russia is a superpower with a port in the Syrian city of Tartus, that President Assad’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party will remain in power in Damascus, both Washington and Tel Aviv have stated that their new goal is not to rid Syria of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party but to rid Syria of Iranian military advisers, alleged Iranian regulars and Iranian allied Arab fighters including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

This reality of “Israel” and the US using Syria as a base to fight Iran rather than Syria itself was made clear in a rare remark of reconciliation and realism from one of the most aggressive war criminals to ever be an “Israeli” Defence Minister.  The ultra-hawkish Avigdor Lieberman told a Russian journalist that Tel Aviv is “not going to interfere in the internal Syrian affairs”. Even by the standards of the early and mid 1990s when Syria and an allegedly less hawkish “Israel” inched close an ultimately failed reconciliation attempt, this is one of the most conciliatory statements an “Israeli” minister has ever made to its Arab Nationalist neighbour. This is not to say that “Israel” still does not wish ill to Syria and nor is it to say that “Israel” will comply with the UN and hand back the occupied Golan Heights to Damascus, but what it does mean is that Tel Aviv is acknowledging that not only is regime change off the table, but that most forms of meddling in Syria are off the table once again too. In other words, “Israel” will grudgingly return to the pre-2011 status quo if Iran were militarily extricate itself from Syria in the near future.

Lieberman further stated that he hoped that Russia would “take into account Israel’s interests related to our security as well”. This coded phrase obviously means that Tel Aviv would like Russia to continue its existing policy of trying to persuade Iran into pivoting its military presence in Syria to one that is more squarely aligned with a political settlement now that most Takfiri groups have either been defeated or are on the verge of defeat. While Russia will not adopt America’s zero-sum approach and ‘force’ Iran to limit its military presence in Syria, Russia has other more subtle and non-violent ways of making its position known.

Whether Iran and Syria agree to such a pivot is a matter of speculation. Thus far, Iran and Syria have both quietly ignored Russia’s calls for such a pivot while Syria has also ignored Russia’s calls for reconciliation (even at a minor level) with Ankara.

But the fact remains that Iran on the one side and the US and “Israel” on the other are playing a game of cat and mouse in the Arab world. On the one hand, if Iran withdrew most of its military advisers from Syria, Russia might be more vocal about putting its foot down over a possible US withdrawal from the JCPOA. At the moment, Russia is stating clearly that it wants the JCPOA to stay, but the fact that Emmanual Macron, Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson are defending the JCPOA more vocally than Russia, is not an insignificant development, although strangely it has not been pointed out by any observer so far as I’m aware. This development illustrates that because Iran is ignoring Russia’s advice in Syria, that Russia is restraining its rhetoric on defending the JCPOA, while still remaining obliged to its commitments and its consistent foreign policy.

On the other hand, because Iran is fighting US and “Israeli” backed terrorists in both Syria and Iraq, there is a strong argument to be made that if Iran were to withdraw from Syria, the US and “Israel” might find another excuse to argue for aggression against Iran in the coming months and years, where at the moment they have a ready made excuse not to invade Iran, because they’re already ‘invading’ Iran’s presence in Syria.

Thus, in an odd way, it is both to Iranian and to the US/”Israel” advantage to fight the war in Syria. This way, Iran is fighting against unabashed enemies while Iranian territory remains unmolested, all the while the US and “Israel” get to have their fight against Iran for regional supremacy without risking the possible suicide mission of a full invasion of Iran itself.

Thus, what on the surface looks like a mutually disadvantages situation is actually a mutually beneficial situation as a possible war that would create tensions in both Iran and “Israel” and the US, has been replaced by a familiar war that has been fought for years in Syria and may go on in sometime. The problem, as Russia knows all too well is that if things escalate, “Israel” and the US could take the war to Iran and then Iran could take other forms of war to “Israel”. Russia, which is keen on balancing the existing power structure in the Middle East would like to avoid this which is why Moscow would be happy to facilitate an Iranian withdrawal from Syria (if Iran and Syria agreed) in return for using its leverage with “Israel” to get the Tel Aviv regime to tone down its anti-Iran rhetoric. This could actually happen, but first the will to take such a plan seriously would need to exist and right now it does not and as a result, Russia is watching and waiting.

In summary, “Israel” and the US got the war they claim they want, while they’re not subjecting themselves to the heavy losses they would incur by going into Iran itself. Inversely, Iran gets to fight back without having to risk the destruction of its own territory. Of course, the slightest change to the regional dynamics could throw this situation out of balance as Russia is keen to gently remind all sides, but for the time being, the more each side threatens, the less each side seems to change its existing strategy.

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