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A step closer to military action
Why is Washington taking aim at Iran?

By Lee Sustar | February 10, 2006 | Page 12

THE U.S. government's escalating threats against Iran over its nuclear program are really aimed at breaking Washington's impasse in Iraq--even at the risk of plunging the Middle East into a wider war.

The decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for review is intended not only to ratchet up pressure on the Iranian government to abandon its efforts to enrich nuclear fuel, but to pressure Iran to abandon its influence over the Shiite Muslim-dominated government in Iraq.

Iran's plans to enrich uranium don't, in fact, violate the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In fact, European Union negotiators rejected Iran's offer for a two-year moratorium on nuclear enrichment, deliberately heightening tensions.

Meanwhile, the IAEA leaked a confidential report that alleges it discovered a "military-nuclear dimension" to Iran's program. In response, Iran has withdrawn from the NPT inspection process, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that there would be no more diplomacy over the issue.

With leading Democrats pressuring Bush from the right for a tougher line on Iran, the possibility of a U.S. air attack on Iranian nuclear installations looms behind the latest maneuvering. "A military confrontation is a sobering prospect," a Chicago Tribune editorial declared. "But once Iran has nuclear weapons, a military confrontation becomes far, far more dangerous."

Moreover, with Israeli politics in turmoil following the illness of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the victory of Hamas in Palestinian Authority elections, the chances are greater that the next Israeli government will make good on Sharon's threats to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared last month that "Israel will not accept Iran's nuclear armament," adding that Israel would take military action to prevent the development of such weapons.

Iran's Ahmadinejad recently gave speeches in which he said Israel should be "wiped off the map"--and vowed to hit back at the U.S. and Israel in the event of an attack, implying that the response could come from Iran's allies in Iraq, Syria and the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah party in Lebanon.

The political stage is therefore set for a replay of the 2002 buildup to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq--complete with unsubstantiated allegations of weapons programs pumped up by the New York Times. The Times' David Sanger--assuming the role Judith Miller played in hyping the threat of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction"--last November cited anonymous U.S. intelligence sources who claimed to have found evidence of a nuclear weapons program on a laptop computer smuggled out of Iran.

This time around, however, all the main European powers are supporting Washington's tough line.

Where former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder opposed the Iraq war, his conservative successor, Angela Merkel, compared Ahmadinejad to Hitler in a speech at which U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was present. France and Russia--which also opposed the Iraq war--have likewise squeezed Iran, with the Russian government offering to defuse the confrontation with a deal to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf.

While the European governments remain extremely wary of military strikes against Iran--where they have substantial investments--they share an imperialist consensus with the U.S. that nuclear weapons in Iran would transform the balance of power in the Middle East, and are therefore intolerable.

In the U.S., the war drums against Iran are being banged the loudest by some of the leading establishment critics of George Bush's handling of Iraq.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona declared, "There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option. That is a nuclear-armed Iran." Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York called for an "economic stranglehold" on Iran--and the Democrats' new star, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, used his 2004 election campaign to call for missile strikes in the event that Iran developed a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. has maneuvered to contain Iran since the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah, a pro-Washington strongman. In the 1980s, the U.S. pursued a policy of "dual containment"--in other words, keeping the Iran-Iraq War going as long as possible by secretly supporting both sides--until finally tilting towards Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Since then, Iran has since successfully pursued investment from European and East Asian companies, becoming economically the most important country in the Gulf region--and it now has close ties with the ruling parties in Iraq.

The Bush administration, which envisioned Iraq as an easy win and a launching pad to attack Iran, is now scrambling to keep its grip and stop Iran's influence from growing further. If that means unleashing more horrors in the Middle East, Washington is prepared to do so--unless resistance abroad and the antiwar movement at home can stop it.

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