Checks and Balances for Israel

19 January 2010 | 18:56 Code : 6706 General category
A regional cooperation plan is the only way Iran can contain Israel’s expansionism. By Diako Hoseini
Checks and Balances for Israel
You can imagine that Iran’s nuclear crisis will finally be settled as the country approves of the Geneva agreement. You can also imagine that after a short while, Tehran may acquire the know-how for high-level uranium enrichment in its own territory, or you can think of any other similar plan that fits within IAEA regulations and its meticulous investigations while the international community stays alert watchful. But among all this sound and fury, there is one basic point which both Tehran and Western powers have missed: this circle of mistrust will never end as long as no equilibrium has been established in Middle East.

Key focus of Iran’s Near East policy –the Palestine-Israel issue- is affected by the strategic imbalance between Iran and its Arab allies on the one hand, and Israel and the Arab ensemble supporting it on the other. Iran’s never-ending quest to guarantee its security at the maximum drop us a hint how the problem has imposed a profound chaos on Iran’s strategic sphere.

That makes it a question whether or not Iran’s natural efforts to reinforce its security and establish a strategic balance vis-à-vis Israel trigger new pressures from West after the settlement of the nuclear dispute and initiate another crisis. Nearly everyone knows that would happen sooner or later. Chain crises which target Iran’s technological, economic and security campaigns will bring days and years similar to the ones passing now. Having this cardinal puzzle in front of us, the question is how to deal with it, without trying to circumventing or crossing it off. I believe that despite all its potential in solving the nuclear crisis and breaking the impasse, the Geneva plan had a basic imperfection, and that was lack of any initiatives to correct the imbalance in Middle East. Iran’s former regional nuclear strategy –a Middle East free of nuclear weapons- seems to have been totally forgotten in the diplomatic rhetoric of Ahmadinejad’s administration. Too bad since it could be a perfect ground for Iran’s nuclear diplomacy. Lack of meticulous planning, theoretical incoherence and practical confusion, exacerbated with the frequent reshuffling of nuclear negotiating team, have deprived Iran from the opportunity to set denuclearization as its grand regional strategy. However, there is still a chance for Iran to resume this promising strategy. Iran’s counter attack relied on ‘Middle East free of nuclear weapons’ should be based on three major initiatives:

1.      Establishment of a regional atomic energy agency with the participation of all Middle East states, including Israel. The agency should function based on the mechanism of mutual supervision and must be legally under the aegis of IAEA.

2.      Step-by-step reduction of conventional weapons in the region, particularly offensive arms.

3.      Compulsion of regional states to resolve territorial states, and forcing countries such as Israel and Syria –unable to make such promises for short-term- to set a timetable for ending disputes.

The present international atmosphere will eagerly welcome such a plan. Deadlocks of the nuclear negotiations and Palestine-Israel peace process which have provoked the criticism of Western countries, and United States’ will to tone down nuclear race –reflected in Obama’s Prague speech- can help Iran in promoting the plan and mitigating its strategic concerns in the form of a solution for the nuclear crisis.

This plan, which can be called “Peace and Stability Plan for the Middle East”, will have considerable benefits for Iran, not to mention its merits for the region in solution of crises. Initially, the plan will set up a rational, non-adventurous platform for Iran to realize its military, demographic and geostrategic potentials. In its most concrete sense, Iran is the only candidate of becoming Middle East hegemon power. If in the previous decades, the equilibrium between Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia deprived Tehran of the position it deserved, today, demographic vantage, geoconomic potentials (as the holder of the second largest gas reserves in the world) and substantial transformations in its security sphere in Central Asia, Caucasia and Caspian, have given Iran the so-much-upper hand against Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The fall of Saddam stretched Tehran’s strategic depth as far as the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, and tightened the cordon around Saudi Arabia. Aware and weary of this fact, Saudis definitely have the motive to contain an Iran which will become even more powerful after achieving nuclear weapons. Thus, any initiative that clarifies strategic intentions of regional states will be welcomed by the Saudis. Saudi Arabia’s military expenditure reached 18 billion dollars in 2005, giving it the eleventh rank in the world, while Iran stood at the 26th step with a budget slightly passing 4 billion dollars. According to the World Bank report, in 2008, the Saudis’ military budget consumed up 8.17% of their GDP, giving it the top global rank, followed by Israel. Iran’s 2.47% portion of the GDP positioned it among the countries with regular military expenditure. Numbers clearly signal the fears of Israel and Saudi Arabia with Iran’s rapid progress.

The source of this fear not only lies in Iran’s unparalleled maneuverability in Middle East, but also in Israelis and Saudis’ failure to fill the geostrategic, economic and demographic gap between them and Iran. However, the continuation of this replete-with-tension-and-mistrust situation which has kept all the regional states alert on their guns brings good to no one. Such equilibrium is highly prone to military confrontation and undermines security rather than reinforcing it. Israel has managed to partially make up for the gap by its nuclear weapons, but lacking such non-conventional arms, Saudi Arabia is utterly vulnerable against Iran. If for any reason the United States withdraws its support for Saudi Arabia, the country has to admit to Iran’s hegemony in southwest Asia, unless it follows Israel’s path and nuclear weapons. In such a situation, usually the party at the weaker position considers the loss and benefit and welcomes any opportunity for strategic cooperation with and containment of the more powerful side.

The initiative’s second advantage is its potential to contain Israel –as the only regional state militarily superior to Iran- through a legal and legitimate mechanism. This initiative will sharply reduce the need for military solutions. It will take years for Iran to establish a qualitative and quantitative military equilibrium with Israel. Entrapping Israel via restrictive organizations will have substantial benefits. This was exactly the procedure followed by West Germany after the Second World War in order to make up for its military weakness against two nuclear powers, i.e. France and Britain. Japan may resort to a similar solution vis-à-vis China if U.S. folds its umbrella in the Pacific Ocean. There are many other countries with the same situation, UAE against Iran, Egypt against Israel, South Korea and Indochina against China, Argentina against Brazil, Sudan against Ethiopia, Ukraine against Russia, Kuwait against Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa against South Africa to mention a few. Adoption of a similar measure by Iran may seem unlikely at the first place, but it would definitely help it to establish a true, stable and long-term equilibrium against Israel and contain this expansionist state with the barbwires of the international community.

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