Adel Safty

Recently, Admiral Mark Fox, commander of the US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain told reporters: “We’ve developed very precise and lethal weapons that are very effective, and we’re prepared.” Last month aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln entered the Gulf accompanied by British and French warships, thus increasing the US military ability to launch air and naval attacks on Iran.

Notwithstanding these ominous developments, it is hard to believe that the US is preparing to attack Iran - a country that has not threatened it. Even Iranian statements about the possibility of launching pre-emptive attacks are more intended to act on the psychology of Israeli leaders, who are suspected of preparing for an attack on Iran. For now, President Barack Obama has made it abundantly clear that he prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis. And how could he possibly in an election year entertain the possibility of waging war against a country thousands of miles away and that does not pose an immediate threat to the security of the US.

Whatever political capital Obama may have earned for ending the war in Iraq and reducing American involvement in Afghanistan, would be completely wasted if he were to embark on such a military adventure. He would also have to justify why he decided to go to war against the advice of the military and intelligence establishment in the US, which concluded that striking Iran, even if carried out by the Israelis, was still a bad idea. Even former President Bush refused to accede to the request of the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, for Washington to approve an Israeli attack against Iran.

Having criticised Bush for commencing “a war of choice” in Iraq, Obama would be ridiculed for allowing his country to be dragged into another war of choice that would make him look more militarist than Bush. In fact, the Obama administration has already made it clear to the Israelis that it did not intend to be dragged into such a war. The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak that if Israel were to act unilaterally and launch an attack on Iran, it should not rely on the US to come to its aid.

For Obama to do otherwise, he would also have to provide compelling reasons for war (and there is none right now) to the Muslim world - to which he had extended a hand of friendship at the beginning of his presidency, and offered to build new relationships based on mutual respect and interest. Finally, Obama - if he were to be foolish enough to strike Iran - may go down in history as the only Nobel peace laureate, who betrayed the trust placed in him and in his commitment to peace.

It is worth noting that the Iranians appreciate the fact that given the militarist views of the front runners among the Republican presidential hopefuls in the US, if a peaceful resolution of the crisis is to be reached, Obama would be the man with whom to negotiate such a settlement. An indication of this awareness on the part of the Iranians became clear last week when it was revealed that they had written to the EU and the members of the UNSC indicating their willingness to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

The enthusiasm raised by this development was somewhat tampered by the news from the IAEA indicating that the latest mission of the inspectors to Iran had been a failure. But in view of the forthcoming elections in Iran, the current leadership may have calculated that appearing to be tough is the necessary price to pay for the major concession they made by agreeing to resume negotiations without conditions.

What is intriguing is that Washington is clearly sending contradictory messages. On the one hand, Obama recently told a television interviewer that he did not believe that the Israelis had decided what to do about the Iranian crisis. On the other hand, his Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta stated that there was a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike Iran sometime between April and June this year. It may be that the latter statement and the preparations for war are meant to throw the Iranians off balance and to bring pressure on them to agree to a peaceful resolution of the crisis, while the threat of an Israeli strike hangs over their heads.

The sanctions against the Iranian oil exports are supposed to take effect in July. There is thus a window of opportunity of some four months to stave off the drastic effects of diplomatic and economic pressure, while negotiating a solution to the crisis that may avert war. Indeed, it is in the interest of both Iran and the US.

The writer is professor adjunct at the Russian Academy of Public Administration. Novosibirsk. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky and published in England. The article has been reproduced from the Gulf News.