Iran, Russia, US, Europe and Israel: Why Mugabe is irrelevant

This gem is usually delivered on the back of some hack thesis about the hypocritical invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to free them from dictatorships whilst leaving poor old Zimbabwe languishing under Mugabe. Next is generally the sagely delivered “it’s all about the oil” phrase.

There are some pretty good reasons why the West has better things to do than “free” Zimbabwe and it is way more involved than just oil.

Perhaps a simple synopsis of the current state of a few of our planet’s pertinent power relationships will help to indicate why Mugabe means less than nothing to those with real power. It will show why the old fool is allowed to say what he likes without so much as the batting of an eyelid. It will also show why the world is less than interested in Zimbabwe’s problems and why SADC is the only power with anything to gain from expending time and effort trying to resolve the mess that Harare’s great lingering buffoon has made.

Iran tested short range and medium range missiles capable of striking Israel this weekend. Zimbabwe did not.

Iran’s president, Ahmadinejad, has again stated his belief that Israel won’t last long and that the Holocaust was a pretext with which to colonise the Muslim world. His principle view is that Israel should have been founded on the land of those who oppressed the Jews and not on Arab land; Muslim land. His logic is twisted but strangely sound in many ways and the man is no fool. Unfortunately, he is about 60 years too late for his view to receive due consideration. There is a country called Israel now, it’s in his neighbourhood and no matter what ethical issues exist surrounding its formation, it will not be moving. Other, more complex and mature solutions are now required. His rhetoric, therefore, can only be interpreted as coming from a man who is about to commit genocide or from a complete religious lunatic. Sometimes he comes across as both, which is a terrifying combination.

In either case, a man, whether drunk on his extreme religion or just perceiving himself threatened presents a much greater danger to the world should he have nuclear capability. George Bush was the perfect example of that but thankfully his nuclear finger was not hovering over the button, primarily because the actual threat to US survival was far from serious. He, instead unleashed a massive display of everything but nuclear weapons. Although the fact remains that the US is the only country ever to use the bomb in anger, further use of this devastating technology by others should not be ruled out on the basis of this comforting statistic. It might be unlikely but corner a country with the capability and they may feel they have no option but to use it.

That is precisely why countries such as North Korea and Iran have been trying desperately to develop nuclear weapons. They feel cornered. They are not doing this necessarily to use these weapons to destroy anyone out of blind ideology but to gain a seat at the bargaining table; to be taken seriously and to promote their strategic aims. It could well be that Iran is simply buying time with the missile launches and speeches and trying hard to deter an attack by appearing more armed and prepared than they actually are. Defence disguised as aggression. It’s a risky strategy but not uncommon in the Muslim world. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership used the same bravado instead of negotiating from their weaker positions shortly before their countries were demolished from the air.

More worrying to the West though are the kind of deals that could be struck under the table should these countries with nuclear capability not be taken seriously. Iran may not have the bomb just yet but they have a suitable array of weaponry and technologies that somebody like Al Qaeda would love to procure. Iran could, in a sense, be forced to supply enemies of their enemy to keep focus off Iran itself. It’s a strategy they have used before on countless occasions. Iran sought to project its power and fundamentalist religious beliefs via covertly supporting proxy organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shia militants in Iraq. The weaponry that Iran had to offer their radical allies certainly hampered Israeli and US efforts but hardly threatened to dominate the battlefield. It did, however, remove focus from Iran and place it squarely onto Lebanon and Iraq which were both reduced to rubble as a result.

A nuclear Iran with sophisticated Russian equipment is a different animal all together. The US, Israel and especially Russia know this.

The US is deeply engaged in a protracted campaign against Islamic fundamentalists whom, after September 11, it perceives as a threat to its national security. Sure, it is not acting in the interests of world peace and harmony and the reason it gave for invading Iraq was flimsy. The US is, as always, aggressively promoting its own interests and trying to strategically and militarily dominate the globe. The US is not the democratic softy that it painstakingly promotes itself as. It is a highly militarised, powerful, pushy and aggressive contender and promotes its views across the globe in as relentless fashion. The US is currently engaged in jealously keeping every other nation out of its top spot and in so doing has extended herself horribly and alienated many potential allies.

Russia has long been the only other world state capable of challenging US world hegemony. The bear has a long reach and is smarting from decades of being bullied by the US. The fall of the Soviet era weakened Russia. It did not, however, crush Russia as assumed by most. Russia presumed that by opening up and aligning itself with the capitalist system, Europe and the US would start to trade and welcome her as an equal at the table. Instead, in keeping with US behaviour outlined above, Europe and the US moved as quickly as possible to try and prevent a weak Russia from ever becoming a power again. From missiles in Poland, to revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine to bombing her ally Serbia and invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia started to understand that the US and Europe were not going to be welcoming to the prodigal son. Rather they were going for the jugular and were effectively encircling her borders with newly created hostile states.

When the US and EU backed the independence of Kosovo and the US built a massive military base there, Russia snapped. The bear withdrew the hand of friendship and prepared for the worst. The worst came shortly afterwards in Georgia when the Western-backed Georgian army invaded South Ossetia and Russia finally broke the chains and hit back. It was a massive blow, not only for Georgia, who assumed that Russia would not react, but for Nato itself who had grossly underestimated Russia and her abilities. Russia put on a show of force, flew its MiGs and Sukhois with utter impunity over Tblisi, took over the Black Sea with its fleet and dared the West to come to Georgia’s aid. It did not. The Western propaganda machine tried its best to show the invasion as a Russian initiative but any thinking follower of the story could see the truth. Georgia invaded with Nato’s blessing, Russia hit back, Nato left Georgia in the lurch and ran. Russia 1 — Nato 0.

Israel publicly and militarily distanced herself from Georgia just two weeks before the invasion. It seems that Israel realised earlier than most that it could not take the chance that Russia might not back down. Why? Israel knows that should she anger Russia, Russia has a wealth of options that could make life very tough for Israel indeed. Israel is surrounded by hostile countries that are long on hatred towards Israel but short on the sophisticated military hardware and military intelligence with which to express it. Should Israel take a firm position against Russia, Moscow should have no problem in selling a few top-notch weapon systems to her enemies. That would make life for little Israel very tough indeed.

In fact, Europe knows this too. In the wake of the South Ossetian war, the US and UK vocally denounced Russian action but the rest of Europe, especially Germany, took a more measured approach. Europe lives right next door, well within reach of the Russian war machine and the good life in Europe over the past few liberal decades has meant military spending is way down. Not the ideal time to pick a fight with an angry bear, especially when you depend on her for a large portion of your energy needs.

How does this all relate to our current Iranian situation? The US is engaged and fully extended in two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. Georgia was the test of validity of this statement. If the US had the resources, it would have backed up her ally Georgia. Russia played her bluff and the US was exposed. Knowing the US to be fully occupied allowed Russia to begin making new allies and making new demands. The war in Afghanistan was being supplied through Pakistan. Islamic militants have made Pakistan supply routes unreliable. The US has had to reroute her supplies through Russian influenced former Soviet states. For this Russia has demanded that the US halt missile defence plans in Poland and Czech Republic. The US reluctantly complied this week.

Russia holds the aces for now but her time window is small. Should the war in Afghanistan end, the US will once again be free to dedicate resources to meddling in Moscow’s backyard. For now, Russia effectively has the power to covertly support any of the US’s many enemies to make things very difficult and expensive for the US. The US is currently pushing for crushing sanctions against Iran.

Russia has indicated that it may not vote to apply these sanctions even after US concessions on missile defence. Without them, The US has no other option but to engage Iran militarily to squash the perceived nuclear threat or to back off completely and allow Iran free rein to develop nuclear capability and rule the Middle East. Iran knows this and is pushing and testing the US with rhetoric and missile launches to see how far it can go. Russia, which probably does not want a nuclear Iran in its back yard, would probably be prepared to covertly support Iran against a hostile US as it weakens the US and draws her into yet another protracted campaign that she is unlikely to win. The US may not have an option because Iran may be willing to supply the technology it has gleaned to Al Qaeda or Hezbollah who would not hesitate to use it against the US and her allies. Iran knows this would ensure an invasion and is therefore unlikely to do this unless the US forces her hand in which case it would perceive it has little to lose.

Deadlock for now. The only real question is what Israel will do.

For Israel, the threat of a nuclear Iran is far more real than for the US. Iran is an open and vocal enemy and is taunting Israel with missile tests and war talk. Israel’s president secretly flew to Moscow a week ago. It is suspected that Mossad intercepted a cargo of S300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia en route to Iran. These Russian missiles, if deployed around the nuclear sites in Iran would make air strikes much more dangerous for Israel’s airforce. Read more about the cloak and dagger here and here.

Israel knows that Russia has no real love for Iran except as a potential lever against the US. Israel and the US have long been heard to sing the same tune in matters of strategic importance. Recently, however, Obama and his administration have started to distance themselves from Israel. Obama’s speech in Cairo called for a mature and measured peace and by implication, Israeli concessions. Recently the US vocally condemned more Jewish settlements on the West Bank. This weekend they have sternly demanded a return to the negotiating table. Especially in the case of Israel, the US is behaving less like an ally and more like an impartial power as noted here by this article in the Washington Post.

The crack is growing.

The only question is whether it is a real or fabricated crack. This is pure speculation on my part but it may be of great use to the US to have a perceived crack in relations with Israel. That would allow Israel to act against Iran alone, perhaps even with Russia’s secret blessing signed off on that last trip to Moscow in the night. The US could condemn such action and remain deadlocked but cordial with Russia. If so, the situation could soon unfold with Israel unilaterally launching massive air strikes on Iran, the US would condemn the attacks but not stop them. Iran’s nuclear capability would be destroyed and Israel would be castigated by the world as usual. Russia, however, would not give those guarantees lightly unless it perceives an armed and nuclear Iran as a threat to her interests as well. Moscow has the US in a half nelson right now and would prefer to exact as much mileage as it can out of that. Missile defence systems are likely to be a small part of a bigger negotiated package if Russia were to back off.

Time will tell. If Russia has given those guarantees and the US has made a faux diplomatic break with Israel, the invasion of Iran by Israel with the tacit blessing of the big powers could well be into the planning stages and could happen soon. Israel may decide to invade anyway without Russian permission and before Russia supplies Iran and handle the Russian situation afterwards in whatever way it can. It all depends on the size of the perceived threat from Iran to Israel.

It should now be clear why the US, the EU and the world have much bigger things to worry about than Zimbabwe and the little thug that lords over it. Mugabe is a threat to his own poor battered people and nobody else. While the clown rave and rants under his polyester umbrella in some field, nations with real power are grappling with real issues in corridors of real power. Mugabe is a joke and SADC has shown itself to be a toothless joke to match.

South Africa, Africa and South America are currently engaged in massive multilateral negotiations to open up relations between the continents. Chavez is there. Gaddafi, complete with his tent on the lawn, is there. Mugabe is there. Zuma is there. They are all, like Mbeki before them, talking of great things for Africa. Like Mbeki before them, they are all talk. Calls of creating new powers and countering Western domination of the globe have been loud, predictable and laughable.

If SADC can’t understand the global implications of and deal with an issue the size of Zimbabwe, how do they presume to create a cohesive power to challenge the US, Europe and Asia?

If it were not so tragic it would be comical. (Thought Leader – Mail & Guardian)