The Middle Eastern equivalent of WWII?

My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:

The “exclusive” in London’s Sunday Times that Israel is planning to use nuclear bunker-buster bombs against Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities is cause for serious concern in the already volatile Middle East.

Of course, such reports, impossible to verify, are reminiscent of a Seymour Hersh investigation in April last year that detailed similar discussions within the Bush administration. The shameless hypocrisy of threatening to use nuclear weapons so that Iran doesn’t itself obtain nuclear weapons almost beggars belief (as is the fact that there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons.)

Israel has, unsurprisingly, denied the allegations but Israeli experts haven’t been so quick to do likewise. The credibility of the Times story has already been challenged (by a none too reputable source) and the information is likely simply to contribute to growing US and (especially) Israeli pressure over Iran’s mullahs.

This report comes amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Middle East, US attempts to overthrow the democratically elected Palestinian Hamas government, ever-growing carnage in Iraq (the latest “official” figures almost certainly underplay the death toll) and plans to strike Iran militarily in 2007/8. In Israel and within much of the US Zionist lobby (as usual, simply blindly followed in Australia) there are serious moves to challenge Iran and institute “regime change.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on 1 January that the US and Israel must commit all resources to stop Iran’s nuclear push. Lest one thinks military action is pure folly, Netanyahu and his fellow travellers are actively engaged in persuading both the Bush administration and new Democrat leadership that Iran must be confronted, and soon. In this thinking, world terrorism would somehow decrease when the “world’s number one terrorist state” is obliterated or attacked.

One such example of this pressure, woefully bungled, was last week’s “exclusive” by leading neo-con Michael Ledeen that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was dead. Many of these people still believe, despite the failures in Iraq, that the Iranian people are waiting to rise up against their leaders and simply need a military push from the White House.

Alongside the rising anti-Iran propaganda is the Iraq quagmire.

Bush’s injection of more troops is destined to fail (and former Iraqi defence minister Ali Allawi’s blueprint for the country is generally ignored). Equally confronting is the news, leaked to The Independent on Sunday, that, “Iraq’s massive oil reserves, the third largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.” If anything will further encourage the insurgency, this is it.

All these developments may seem unrelated, simply more randomness we’ve come to expect from the Bush administration and Blair government (with the loyal and clueless Howard team in the rear.) But Anatole Kaletsky, a Times associate editor, has other ideas. His New Year analysis may be apocalyptic, but for my money, is the most accurate:

What now seems to be in preparation at the White House, with the usual unquestioning support from Downing Street, is a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Second World War. The trigger for this all-embracing war would be the formation of a previously unthinkable alliance between America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Britain, to confront Iran and the rise of the power of Shia Islam.

The logical outcome of this ”˜pinning back’ process would be an air strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities, combined with a renewed Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, aggressive action by American and British soldiers to crush Iraq’s Shia militias, while Saudi-backed Sunni terrorists undermined the increasingly precarious pro-Iranian Government in Baghdad.