Posted by Joshua on Monday, October 8th, 2007
"Policy Brief" by Alistair Crooke, circulated by the U.S./Middle East Project, of which Henry Siegman is the Director
TICKING CLOCKS AND ‘ACCIDENTAL’ WAR
BY ALASTAIR CROOKE *
9 October 2007
Editor: Robert Malley
In an article in Salon.com on 19 September, Steven Clemons describes a debate at a recent Washington dinner party attended by eighteen persons at which “Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft squared off across the table over whether President Bush will bomb Iran.”
Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, Clemons writes, said he believed Bush’s team had laid a track leading to a single course of action: a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Scowcroft, who was national security advisor to President Ford and the first President Bush, held out hope that the current President Bush would hold fire, and not make an already disastrous situation for the U.S. in the Middle East even worse.
The 18 people at the party, including former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, then voted with a show of hands for either Brzezinski’s or Snowcroft’s position. Snowcroft got only two votes, including his own. Everyone else at the table shared Brzezinski’s fear that a U.S. strike against Iran is around the corner.
Clemons, who moderated the debate, argues that the case presented in terms of a ‘binary decision’ – to bomb or not to bomb – is unlikely to lead to the decision to bomb Iran, for various reasons, resting mainly on the U.S. military’s known opposition to conflict with Iran. In his final paragraph, Clemons suggests that “we should also worry about the kind of scenario David Wurmser has floated, meaning an engineered provocation. An ‘accidental war’ would escalate quickly and ‘end run,’ as Wurmser put it, the president’s diplomatic, intelligence and military decision-making apparatus.”
The view from those most likely to be affected by an “accidental” war, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, all share the conclusion both that war is imminent and that any one of a number of “ticking clocks” may be “engineered” as a provocation that would by-pass the Pentagon chiefs of staff arguments against expanded conflict and trigger war. All of these actors have been preparing flat-out for the coming conflict.
They see the circumstances of the Middle East as one of hair-trigger instability and escalating tensions. Equally significantly, there is a heightened inter-linkage between events that suggests that, as in 1912-14 in Europe, some unexpected and relatively insignificant event – a Sarajevo moment – could ignite currents and dynamics over which major states and movements would have little influence.
Iran (from where I have just returned) as well as leaders such as Hassan Nasrallah and Khaled Mesha’al see the signs of preparations for conflict taking place in Israel. These are the signs they see: Israel conducting low level overflights in Lebanon to create sonic booms; Israel, whose prime minister had been volubly warning of the risks of some misunderstanding leading to war between Israel and Syria, then launching an aerial incursion into Syria. And all of this as the international community remained silent.
The Syrians saw on their radars the four fighters that penetrated into Northern Syria from the Mediterranean; but they also saw the much larger numbers of Israeli aircraft that were flying in a holding position close to Cyprus. The Syrians were not about to disclose their anti-aircraft missile capacities to Israel; and the intruders dropped the munitions and their long-range fuel tanks without pressing any attack, but returned to join the larger group still flying a holding pattern off Cyprus before all returned to Israel as a single formation.
The Israeli objective remains a matter of speculation, but the general conclusion is that Israel was only ready to run such a risk against unknown air defenses either as a proving run or, given the size of the numbers of aircraft off Cyprus, to destroy some target that for whatever reason they were unable to engage. Either way, the mission seems related to future conflict……
This is only one among a series of ticking clocks:
(i) Lebanon: ……
(ii) Syria ….