The Whole Area Will Be in Flames


About seven in the morning on 25 April 1980, I rolled over in my bed in the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran and turned on the BBC news. I had missed most of it and was just trying to doze again when the announcer said, ‘And now to repeat the main news. The American attempt to rescue the Embassy hostages in Tehran has failed.’ And I forget exactly what followed because I was leaping to the window to see if a vengeful mob was coming up the hill to string a Western reporter like myself from the nearest lamp post.

The fatuously named Operation Eagle Claw a fantastically complicated helicopter and fixed-wing operation designed to rescue US diplomats held hostage in the US Embassy in Tehran  failed when the planes literally crashed into each other in a violent dust storm at a desert meeting point south of Tehran. The charred bodies of the dead US marines and airmen were displayed to the public in Tehran a couple of days later.

The failure was such a disaster that President Jimmy Carter, who approved the plan, lost the election a few months later to Ronald Reagan, and the Iranian nation exulted in the proof that Allah, as the mullahs said, was really looking after them, even to the extent of sending the storm that brought humiliating defeat to the Great Satan.

And now the Great Satan is at it again. If you read the rhetoric coming out of Washington, the US is once again gearing up for an attack on an Islamic enemy. That recent triumph of American arms, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, is going to have a sequel, just across the border.

The build-up to an armed confrontation with Iran dates back at least to January 2002, when President George W Bush, in his State of the Union address, named Iran as one of the nations comprising ‘The Axis of Evil’. Since then, he and his ministers and generals have fleshed out the accusation: Iran was supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon; it was arming and training militias in Iraq; it was supplying operatives and roadside bombs to the Taliban in Afghanistan. And worst of all, it was using a ‘peaceful’ nuclear program to disguise its efforts to build a nuclear bomb.

The fervid propaganda campaign now being waged by the White House against Iran is very much a re-run of the verbal campaign that led up to the war against Iraq in 2003. Then we were told Saddam Hussein had the infamous Weapons of Mass Destruction nukes that would be carried to the edges of Europe by long range rockets. And, according to Washington, Iraq still had vast stockpiles of the poison gas that it had used against its Kurdish population. Never mind that UN inspectors given free access to Iraq had never found a trace of nukes, and Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the UN’s nuclear monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iraq didn’t have a nuclear program.

As we now know, because Iraq has been searched from end to end, ElBaradei and the weapons inspectors were right, Iraq never had those weapons. But Bush’s words well, the lies actually were enough for the Americans to launch, ‘Shock and Awe’, dragging assorted Brits, Poles and even our brave little Diggers with them.

That’s the war which Bush declared had been won by as early as May 2003. Remember ‘Mission Accomplished’, the sign above his head when Bush the draft dodger appeared in full airforce gear on the flight deck of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared, ‘Major operations have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed?’

That’s the war that still goes on, has destroyed Iraq, torn the exhausted US military to shreds and killed close to 4000 of its soldiers, has cost US$800 billion so far, and the lives of you guess 100,000 Iraqis?

It’s the war which history may mark as the period when the United States of America began its irreversible decline from being the world’s most powerful nation. And the deluded fool who runs that country wants to start yet another war.

Until recently Bush’s threats seemed just to be that — threats. But now, the US has imposed sanctions on Iranian businesses and banks, frozen bank accounts and generally tried to stifle Iranian international commerce. These probably won’t hurt a country that has something the world needs: oil. But hair started standing on end from Moscow to Washington DC a couple of weeks ago, on 17 October, when Bush told reporters at a news conference, ‘If you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [the Iranians]from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.’

As the normally sober New York Times summed up this threat in an editorial this week, ‘With a different White House, we might dismiss this as posturing or bank on sanity to carry the day, or the warnings of exhausted generals or a Defense Secretary more rational than his predecessor. But not this crowd.’

Not that it matters what the Times, or anyone else, says. Bush and Cheney won’t listen to reason and we know that because of the way they rejected all the information offered them before the start of the Iraq War. But it should be noted by the USA’s traditional allies that ElBaradei, who was right about Iraq, has now issued similar advice about Iran. He supports negotiations as happened with North Korea and not threats. ‘We cannot add fuel to the fire. I would hope we would stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue,’ he told CNN

Some hope.

I think we have to consider that the Dangerous Duo might go ahead with an attack on Iran. The US is so stretched militarily, its troops so exhausted, that any land attack on Iran would be out of the question. The assumption by everyone is that the US would strike at a series of targets which would certainly include the bases of the Iran Revolutionary Guards, missile sites, communications centres, possibly regular army bases.

The Israelis are pressing the US to hit nuclear installations as well. They’re obsessed by the idea of an Iranian bomb. But there is no major Iranian nuclear complex like Israel’s Dimona. The Iranian plants are smaller and many are hidden underground. It is known that there is a large nuclear installation in the city of Natanz, but a strike there would almost certainly kill hundreds of civilians, possibly thousands if there was nuclear fallout from a smashed laboratory.

The major attacks would be from cruise missiles launched from ships in the Persian Gulf, but strikes against hardened sites, like Natanz, would have to be done by planes carrying bunker-busting bombs.

I can see the pictures already because I’ve seen them before in other wars — burning houses, piles of dead civilians, screaming women and children. All broadcast across the Islamic world by Al Jazeera and other agencies and probably on Osama’s website as well. They keep up with the news.

And inevitably, because these operations never go perfectly, the battered faces of shot down US airmen paraded for the world’s television audiences. Or, as I saw with Eagle Claw, film of charred American bodies and ruined planes.

As Bush and Cheney can’t, or won’t think ahead for themselves, let me speculate for them about the aftermath. First, Iran, which has been a minor supplier of arms to its Shi’a brothers in Iraq and to the Taliban, will pour in guns and roadside bombs and operatives to direct attacks against the US and its allies. Then they’ll step up aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon, who in turn could ramp up attacks on Israel.

And look at the map of Iran, see what other States are on its borders? Do you think the Iranians will stay out of Afghanistan and Pakistan?

If anything will get Sunni al-Qaeda and Shi’a Revolutionary Guards to co-operate, it will be another American attack on Islam. It’s quite possible that sleeper agents across Europe will be activated. It’s even possible that Iran will send mass reinforcements across the Iraqi border where they will be welcomed as the heroes who helped arm Iraqi Shi’a when they were persecuted by Saddam.

And for we Australians, snuggled safely in our isolated continent, how about petrol at two dollars a litre? Oil is US$93 a barrel today. Attack Iran, one of the world’s biggest oil producers, and see where prices go especially when the Iranian navy launches attacks on tankers bringing Gulf oil through the Straits of Hormuz. You don’t have to sink a line of tankers you hit one, and the others stop.

And the brave blockade busters who get through, they sell you oil at what? For you, a special price: $US200 a barrel.

But don’t take my word about the coming catastrophe. Listen to an Iraqi (repeat, Iraqi not Iranian)view. This is the considered view of Iraq’s National Security Advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, speaking at a conference in Washington DC in early October, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Attacking Iran? I say a big fat no. It’s a fatal mistake. It should never be an option at all. It’s not a strategy, it’s a mistake of Chernobyl magnitude. The whole area will be in flames and Iraq will be the battlefield for all this, and we will pay heavily.

Don’t anyone say we weren’t warned.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.