We can’t be sure; but the odds must be that George W Bush’s administration will not launch a bomb attack on Iran in its last few months in office.
Even if such an attack went neatly as planned, it couldn’t bring any triumph that would boost the standing of the administration or of its favoured candidate in the November presidential election, John McCain.
Politically, an attack would be very difficult only months after an official US government report declared that Iran had probably stopped any efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has in fact inched towards closer diplomatic links with Iran.
Iran, paradoxically, has been the great gainer from the US invasions of Afghanistan (2002) and Iraq (2003). It now dominates western Afghanistan and has huge influence in Iraq. Rising oil prices further strengthen Tehran’s hand. There are good reasons for Iranian president Ahmedinejad to feel confident about striking aggressive postures internationally.
A US attack might well strengthen Ahmedinejad’s hand politically. Unless it was on a very large scale, it could not remove him. Especially if the attack caused heavy civilian casualties — very possible, whatever the Pentagon says about smart bombs — it could end up strengthening Iran’s diplomatic position, and maybe blowing up the fragile elements of improvement for the US in Iraq.
But what about Israel bombing Iran, with tacit US approval, or approval-by-faint-condemnation? That is another matter.
At a special international conference “against Zionism” in December 2006, Ahmedinejad declared: “Thanks to people’s wishes and God’s will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is [headed] downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want. Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out”.
Some people have sought to soften this language by saying that Ahmedinejad’s words would be better translated into English as saying that “the Zionist regime” should, or will, “vanish from the page of time”, and that he was attacking a government, not Israel as such.
The argument seems thin: how could “the Zionist regime” (in the very broad sense of “Zionist” that Ahmedinejad would use) vanish “as the Soviet Union did” (i.e., as a political unit, not just as one government being replaced by another) without military obliteration?
In other words, Israel can plausibly adduce threats from Iran as a motive for an attack, which the USA can’t.
Inside Israel, such an attack — so long as it went smoothly in a military sense — might well be popular. The liberal Israeli daily Haaretz has in recent months run two opinion articles arguing that the blowback from such an attack would be manageable (or even, they hint, politically welcome).
Yossi Melman, for example, wrote a couple of months ago: Iran’s “Shihab missiles are not considered particularly reliable... The Shihab’s guidance system is not very accurate... Israel’s aerial defense system... would certainly intercept quite a few Shihab missiles. Moreover, Iran’s firing missiles at Israel would enable Israel to respond in a decisive manner”.
In September 2007, Israel launched a one-off missile attack on a remote site in Syria said to be a place where nuclear weapons were being developed. The attack was said to be militarily successful, with few civilian casualties, and Syria attempted no retaliation.
The Iranian regime is no champion of the world’s oppressed, but rather a regional big power, lording it over several oppressed national minorities (Kurdish, Baluchi, Azeri, Arab), and with aspirations to domination beyond its borders. Whatever the current deficiencies of the Shihab missiles, Iran’s threats against Israel should be taken seriously.
But, for some of the same reasons that restrain the USA, it is quite possible than an Israeli attack on Iran could strengthen Ahmedinejad, and increase the threat from Tehran’s clerical fascism rather than reduce it. In any case, the way we want to see Ahmedinejad tamed and removed is by the action of the peoples and the working class of Iran, not by Israeli militarism.