There is a serious crisis brewing in West Asia as the US and other Western nations tighten the noose on Syria and Iran. There is no knowing how the denouement will work out. The charge against Iran is the old one -- about its nuclear weapons ambitions -- while the Syrian people must be helped to get rid of their dictator. It would be unfortunate if Iran were to go for the nuclear weapons option.
Yet, drawing lessons from what happened to Libya after it gave up the nuclear option and what has not happened to North Korea because it did not give up, it is difficult to see the present regime or any other regime in Iran, giving up the nuclear weapons option.
The drone war: Iranians claimed they had shot down an American
RQ-170 drone in Iran
Dubious successes in Egypt and Libya have not deterred the West from focusing on Syria and then ultimately, Iran. China is not on board with any harsh action against Iran and Syria. Russia has already despatched its aircraft carrier "Admiral Kuznetsov", along with a destroyer and a frigate from Murmansk to reach the Syrian port of Tartus along with reinforcements from the Black Sea. The US nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush and some naval vessels are anchored off the Syrian coast. Tartus incidentally is defended by the Russian S-300 air defence missile system (comparable to the Patriot).
For the present, the idea seems to be to glower at Iran, indulge in some sabre rattling and sponsor leaks about how the next attack would be configured. The Iranian regime is unlikely to be impressed. Apart from the overt, a ruthless covert war has also been in action in Iran and, surely in Syria too. About three weeks ago there were reports of a major setback to Iran's most advanced missile programme following a huge explosion at a major missile testing site near Tehran.
While the official version described this as an accident, suspicions that this might have been sabotage carried out by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), persist especially after the Stuxnet worm incident that had attacked Iran's uranium production facility at Natanz last year. The Iranians have accused the Americans and the Israelis of espionage, surveillance and sabotage. In a recent incident, the Iranians claimed they had shot down an advanced American RQ-170 drone in eastern Iran.
When the British lifted the ban on the MeK an enraged Tehran saw this as another move to try and destabilise its government. The recent anti-British protests in Tehran were also a reaction against the British move to impose new sanctions against Iran even before the EU had taken a decision. Generally speaking there is a strong move to tighten the sanctions regime against Iran and cripple all industry and financial systems even further.
This is not to suggest that Iran and Syria are angels.
They have supported and built the Hizballah into a formidable force in Lebanon. It has placed thousands of rockets aimed at Israel; has de facto control over Lebanese intelligence, immigration data bases, and the capability to conduct electronic surveillance. Hizballah exhibited its counter-intelligence abilities recently in June this year when it arrested two of its own members as CIA agents. This was followed by assistance in the arrest of 12 CIA spies in Iran in the last week of November.
Surely, the West is not risking a catastrophe to exhibit a sudden upsurge of love for the Syrian people. Damascus is only a stepping stone for the ultimate destination, Tehran. Just as the declared targets in Iraq were its non-existing WMDs in March 2003, Iran's nuclear weapons ambition may really be the camouflage for actual goals.
These would be Iran's abundant oil and gas reserves, its strategic location sitting atop the Persian Gulf, its relative strength compared to the various Arab regimes in the neighbourhood who remain in awe of Iranian power. If the West wishes to retain global dominance, it is imperative that it should have unimpeded access to cheap and abundant oil for itself. Also, that its distribution to rising economic powers and rivals like China and even friends like India, should be controlled. The danger with war rhetoric is that this develops a life of its own and its own deadly logic.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)