Middle East — 20 March 2006

The referral of Iran to the Security Council last week raised the bar in the ensuing nuclear crisis with the West. The pressure on Iran is to intensify with a plan of action to be presented by the Security Council next week. The eagerly awaited plan by the Security Council is likely to force Iran to implement a series of actions dictated by the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. The failure of Iran to adhere to the actions dictated by the IAEA will most likely lead to ‘serious consequences’. Therefore the question of importance is what are these ‘serious consequences’, which Iran would inevitably face in the near future; well a number of possible scenarios spring to mind:

  1. Air Strikes- This has been much touted amongst US policy makers but poses many difficulties if decided upon. Firstly, a number of Iranian Nuclear facilities remain unknown to the Security Council and many are underground. Secondly, those that are known are located near a large populace, therefore any air strike would result in the death of many Iranians. This would heighten anti Western sentiments in Iran (especially anti American sentiments) and put a dent in Western plans to win the hearts and minds of the Iranian people; a fact stressed by Condoleezza Rice in her latest journey to the Middle East. The possibility of air strikes via the use of Israel or pre-emptive action by Israel would be catastrophic for both the West and Israel in terms of security and stability in the Middle East
  2. Sanctions- This action seems to be the most likely but again there are various disagreements in the Security Council. The US, UK and France seem to agree upon the imposition of sanctions but China and Russia do not . This disagreement is dictated by national interests- with China and Russia both having significant economic interests within Iran. This can be seen via Russia’s arduous attempts to diffuse the nuclear crisis. In addition China is a net importer of oil to fuel its growing economy and its multi billion dollar oil agreement with Iran will surely determine Chinese opposition to any sanctions on Iran. In addition the consequences of sanctions are daunting for the price of oil with the price of a barrel of oil expected to rise to $100 if oil from Iran is cut off; which would lead to excessive hikes in domestic fuel prices in the West. Politically this would be suicidal for Western governments.
  3. War- This seems the most unlikely action and a far off reality. However would the US engage in war without a UN mandate like it did in Iraq? The answer would be most certainly no- the US is over stretched in Iraq, with the situation continuously deteriorating. In addition the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable and pressure is increasing on the Bush administration to re-build New Orleans in the aftermath of the destruction caused by hurricane Katrina. War in Iran would be suicidal for the US in terms of the wider Middle East; endangering national interests and reinforcing its image of being a bully.

It seems that any action on Iran is going to pose various dilemmas to the West and any wrong action would ultimately be devastating for its interests in the region. Whatever actions is decided upon, the ensuing outcome is going to be instability; which would add to the instability that is already present within the Middle East.

Further instability is going to be devastating for the people of the region that have continued to suffer for decades under dictatorship and intrusive Western foreign policy. Therefore an important question to present is what can bring order and stability to this devastated part of the world? Clearly the existing order has failed ; the region requires a new political framework; which is being expressed by the people via the ballot. Islamic politics is on the rise and the hope is with Political Islam in restoring stability. This is the real debate; can Political Islam ensure stability; clearly the public opinion in the Middle East indicates it can.

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