Middle-East Great Game Approaching Climax
The dispute between Iran and the United States is progressing along a predicted course. A final resolution, whether violent or peaceful, does not appear too far away. To appreciate the factors influencing the dispute it would be helpful, even at the risk of repeating past formulations, to outline some facts and conjectures.
America and Iran have been holding quiet talks ever since the Iraq invasion started. Overtly there is loud bluster on the nuclear issue. Covertly there are quiet talks on the future of Iraq. Historically there has been a love-hate relationship between Iran and Israel. America has used Israel as the conduit for dealing with Iran. During the Iran-Contras deal in President Reagan's time it was Israel that passed on US funds to Iran for procuring arms against Iraq. It should be noted that despite Iran's ranting against Israel, there is no record of Iranian anti-Semitism against Teheran's Jewish community.
After Egypt's pro-Nazi Muslim Brotherhood waned, at the end of World War II, the first radical pan-Islamic movement started under Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Although a Shiite himself, Khomeini attempted to unify all Muslims under an Islamic agenda which questioned the basic assumptions of western society. But with the death of Khomeini and the emergence of Osama bin Laden this leadership passed into the hands of the Wahabi Sunnis of Saudi Arabia. The recent anti-Zionist posturing of President Ahmadinejad might, then, be reckoned in this context. Ahmadinejad seeks to regain the leadership of pan-Islam for the Shiites. He appears to be succeeding. While Osama lurks around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border releasing an occasional tape, Ahmadinejad has moved to centre stage with his anti-Israel rhetoric and his nuclear programme. He has become today the cynosure of global attention. Through brinkmanship both America and Iran are giving sleepless nights to the world community.
It was Tehran that enlightened world opinion about wider issues being sorted out between US and Iran than just the nuclear issue. Iran announced that it was prepared to discuss Iraq peace with America. Obviously, this could not have been an abrupt introduction in the negotiation agenda. It indicated that quiet talks on the subject had already been under way. Something must have occurred in those talks to encourage Iran to bring the item out in the open. This was followed by President Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter to President Bush. It was the first letter in 27 years from an Iranian President to the US President. This letter seemed to invite a comprehensive dialogue on all differences dividing Islam and the West. It targeted the Christian Right constituency that has traditionally supported President Bush. It repeatedly invoked God, Jesus and Christian values.
While the US-Iranian nuclear dispute continues, Russia, China and Europe have intervened in different ways and at different times to avert a collision. Current efforts to take Iran's nuclear issue out of the UN Security Council are afoot. Meanwhile both the US and Iran have prepared contingency plans in case peace talks fail. The US frequently leaks information about its plans to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. But that is not all. To reinforce this threat the plans for a regime change are also advertised. On March 5th this year Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran's son, gave an interview to the journal Human Events. He opposed both an Iranian nuclear weapon and a US military intervention. He said that in the next two to three months he would finalize preparation for a movement to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime. Though he lives in exile in the US, Pahlavi claims to be in touch with elements in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other activists in Iran who have pledged him support. After his proposed revolution Pahlavi would be willing to become a constitutional monarch if offered that role. He said: 'I'm ready to serve in that capacity if the people so choose, it would be my greatest honor.'
While America makes such veiled threats, Iran is not idle. It has prepared a move that could destroy the dollar and US economy. It has finalized preparations to open the Iranian International Oil Bourse (IOB) on the island nation of Kish. It will offer oil in euros. That would be a real threat to the U.S. dollar. According to Forbes the IOB is ready for trading and could open in weeks. But Reuters, basing itself on statements of President Ahmadinejad, reported it will open only after two months.
On April 30th Al-Jazeerah reported that many nations, including China and India, would back IOB. Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffet, a well known Rothschild banker, believe that if IOB operates it could spell doom for the US economy. Today America's economy needs to borrow $2 billion a day just to stay afloat. It is heavily reliant on its petrodollar reserve status. Since all international oil transactions are presently in US dollars, more than two-thirds of all central bank reserves are in dollars. This creates a constant demand for dollars despite America's vulnerable economy. If and when IOB comes into operation, this arrangement could collapse.
So, will America and Iran settle peacefully or plunge the world into crisis? There is some hope on the nuclear dispute. Last week Mr Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), pointed out that Iran was surrounded by nuclear nations. He named Russia, Israel and Pakistan. He said: 'There is a sense of insecurity. When you talk about the Iranian issue, the only solution is a package that should inter alia include security issues.' Did this hint credible guarantees to Iran regarding Israel?
But what of Iraq's future? Iraq was ruled by a Sunni minority for years. Now the majority Shiites and the Kurds demand fair shares. Last weekend the Iraqi parliament approved at long last a cabinet. Will it succeed in keeping Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds united? Or will Iraq eventually divide into three separate nations? How are distortions left behind by imperialism to be resolved? By creating pluralist democratic societies accommodating all groups? Or by redrawing maps to protect ethnic and cultural identities? The latter option would create upheavals. Protesting Kurds abound in Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
This debate affects the future of South Asia.
Kashmiris are contiguously located in India and Pakistan, Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Tamils in Sri Lanka and India, Bengalis in Bangladesh and India, Punjabis in India and Pakistan.
With time this issue will gain urgency. How it is settled will determine the shape of the new world order. That is what America and Iran are struggling to resolve.