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Syria and Iran: A Watched Pot Boiling Over

February 17th 2012

Juda Engelmayer

Disturbing video images from Syria show civilians being used as shields for Syrian troops. They are first seen standing, then lying in front, serving the purpose of the advancing Syrian guards.  This, as documents leaked from President Bashar Al-Assad’s office reveal that Iran has been helping Syria circumvent sanctions by handing over $1 billion to continue slaughtering its civilians.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the ferocity of the Syrian assault, saying “I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of things to come.” He sees the inevitable end to this too.

The U.N. is frozen, unable to do anything about the slaughter of some 6000 people.  Security Council mainstays like China and Russia have vetoed any attempts at intervention.  Notwithstanding how easy it is for both to act fast when condemning the State of Israel for defending itself – even when it first drops leaflets warning civilians of its intent to strike, the Syrian government has little to worry about from the world body.

While the war against the Syrian people rages on, Iran’s fingerprints were found in some failed attempts to kill Israeli diplomats around the world; in India, Thailand and Georgia.  Although they deny it, the Iranian plot was exposed when the terrorists were caught in Thailand with Iranian passports in hand. That one blew his leg off trying to lob a grenade at Thai police only proves incompetence, not detachment.

Now there are heightened threats of Iranian attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests in the U.S. It would seem that Iran is provoking Israeli or American action to create a worldwide calamity. Controlled by the promise of power, oil and financial interests and not the mandate of actually bridging the world of nations, the U.N. remains powerless.

Once again, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to block a passageway for a fifth of the world's oil supply. If Iran does this, it would also make countries that are holding up action in the U.N. against Syria more dependent on Iran’s oil and more prone to do its bidding.

Oil plays a critical role in setting policy and policing human rights or abuses around the world, and it begs the question as to why the United States does not act faster to develop better alternative energy solutions, or why we allow politics to interfere with matters like the Keystone pipeline that could replace a significant quantity of Middle East oil with Canadian crude. We allow issues like electioneering and foreign threats to oppose one another and defeat rational thinking.

The Iranian threat has been brewing for a long time. As it is a very dangerous and difficult situation to manage, leaders of rational countries quietly hope that someone else will strike at the problem first and remove their burden. Some are actually being less quiet while trying to play down their encouragement of a preemptive strike.

Leon Panetta, the U.S. Defense Secretary made no secret in his declaration that he believed Israel would strike Iran. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote on February 2, "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb.” This week, however, Panetta backed off and refused to confirm that he said it at all.

Then on February 9th, after Iranian state television reported on evidence that the U.S. was behind the assassinations of its scientists, NBC News cited Obama administration insiders suggesting that Israel’s Mossad had trained the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) to assassinate Iran’s nuclear scientists.

If true, why would it benefit the U.S. to reveal this and possibly provoke Iranian action, which it may have done with the attempts on the lives of Israel’s diplomats this week?

For a nation like the U.S. to pawn off the responsibility of Iran to Israel, through implied acceptance of an inevitable action as Panetta did, or through actual provocation, as the unnamed White House sources did, is confrontational. Yet, it creates enough mayhem should an Israeli first strike occur, and enables U.S. actions under the guise of protecting an ally or an interest rather than the more frowned upon act of actually launching a first strike.

This is a public relations strategy for America to insulate itself from blame of a strike on Iran. Partly for the sake of ultimate anemic approval from the inept U.N., but more to quell the opposition stemming from the American left who does not support military activity.

Syria’s boiling over with Iran’s money, and Iran itself is reaching a standoff with Israel and the west - which is facing a global economic crisis that cannot withstand any oil flow interruptions - something’s got to give. The groundwork is being laid for action. Whether or not the U.S. is making Israel a scapegoat for preemptive action is more about domestic policy and electioneering than real objection to that action.

As President Obama has been buttressing Israel’s military arsenal lately, we would be naïve to assume that Israel and United States are not lockstep on the final course. The posturing is for constituency consumption and not critically indicative of true foreign policy.

Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR Agency, 5W Public Relations. This article first appeared in the Jewish Star.


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