By John Reimann
March 9, 2012
US capitalism is committed to Israel because there is no other friendly regime in this all-important region upon which they can rely for any extended time
The turmoil over whether (or when) Israel and/or the US will attack Iran is far more than a conflict between the regimes of these nations, as important as that conflict may be; it contains within it, and it affects all the tensions and conflicts wracking world capitalism. This includes the ongoing economic crisis, the reordering of world capitalist powers, the rising revolutionary wave throughout the world, and even the environmental crisis and the issue of peak oil supplies.
AIPAC, Netanyahu and Neo-Conservatives
Attention has been focused on this conflict with the convening of the annual meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the annual trek to this convention by the Israeli Prime minister and his meeting with US President Obama. (AIPAC in reality represents the far right Likud Party of Israel as well as the neo-conservatives in the US. According to reporter Chris Hedges, when then newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin first visited Washington DC, he refused to meet with AIPAC saying, “I don’t meet with scumbags.” Yet despite this, AIPAC has a powerful influence, especially over the US congress.)
Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had reached a low point, as Obama pressured the intransigent Netanyahu to back off from the land grab settlement expansions, especially in and around Jerusalem. As Avi Shlaim, Jewish ex-Israeli citizen and professor at Oxford put it in the Independent newspaper (March 5, 2012), “Benjamin Netanyahu is a bellicose, right-wing Israeli nationalist, a rejectionist on the subject of Palestinian national rights, and a reactionary who is deeply wedded to the status quo. Nationalism has an in-built tendency to go to extremes and Netanyahu's brand is no exception.” Netanyahu’s ascension to power in Israel is a symptom of the Frankenstein’s monster that Israeli capitalism (i.e., Zionism) has set loose and can no longer fully control. In order to maintain the allegiance of the Israeli working class, they have to continue to foster anti-Arab racism. And if nationalism itself has a “built-in tendency to go to extremes”, then this is doubly so for the sort of racism upon which Zionism is based.
US Influence Limited
Obama tried time and again to pressure Netanyahu to compromise with the Palestinians, but he himself was bound by the same problem. US capitalism is committed to Israel because there is no other friendly regime in this all-important region upon which they can rely for any extended time. They thought they had such an ally in the regime of the Shah of Iran, and that regime was overthrown in a hot second. Second best was Mubarak in Egypt, but he is gone. The Turkish regime is becoming unreliable. Their closest ally is the Saudi regime, but their sclerotic, degenerate ruling clique could crack apart at any minute. Only Israel remains.
And so US capitalism must put up with the uncompromising aggression of that regime. Their ability to pressure the regime into a more flexible approach is severely limited. In order to do so, they would have to start to shine a light on the crimes of the Israeli regime, but once that can of worms is opened, it could lead to widespread opposition to any US support for Israel. In addition, there is the role of AIPAC, which takes full advantage of this situation as well as the many millions donated to them by wealthy backers, including some of the far-right Christian fundamentalists.
The rise of the Iranian regime as a regional power cannot be tolerated by the US regime or its ally, Israel. This is the real issue, and the question of a nuclear armed Iran is only a symptom.
On the other hand, Iran is only a regional – not a world – power. Such regional powers can never be independent of the major world capitalist powers. How is it that the Iranian regime can so defy the United States?
History of Iran’s Nuclear Efforts
It is useful to consider the history of Iran’s nuclear efforts. These efforts actually began in the 1970s under the Shah of Iran. At that time, the German company Siemens invested in developing a couple of small nuclear energy plants. The development of those plants ground to a halt after the Shah was overthrown and the mullahs came to power. The new regime eventually turned to China and Russia to help build nuclear plants. At the same time, they signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and agreed to have their nuclear plants inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The problem with this, from the point of view of the major nuclear powers, especially the United States, is that there is a close association between developing nuclear energy and developing nuclear weapons. The two industries are inextricably linked, so much so that they can hardly be called separate industries. The development of nuclear bombs by the North Korean regime is a case in point.
It does seem somewhat strange that a country with oil reserves as great as Iran’s should be so intent on developing nuclear energy, especially considering how uneconomical that form of energy is. The Iranian regime justified this development by claiming that it only had 47 years of oil reserves left. Western estimates put the figure at 72 years of reserves. Regardless of their intentions, the development of nuclear energy, especially the capacity to refine the fuel, does tend to give a nation the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. It is not so much a question of Iranian regime being nuclear armed as being nuclear “ready” – i.e. being able to build a nuclear bomb on short notice. And the Iranian regime must surely have taken notice that the US invaded non-nuclear Iraq but has had a hands-off approach to nuclear North Korea.
Real Reasons for Opposing Nuclear Iran
The Western capitalist regimes make a huge issue out of this. However, while they don’t like the North Korean regime having nuclear weapons, they have accepted it. Why not in the case of Iran? Their claim is that it would lead to the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the region. This isn’t seen as a threat in the case of Israel, however -- a loose cannon if there ever was one.
The real reasons are several-fold. On the one hand, they (especially US capitalism) cannot tolerate any power in the oil-rich Middle East that is not directly allied with the US. And if that power has a nuclear weapon, or can develop one relatively quickly, then they are somewhat immune from the sort of pre-emptive attack that the US carried out against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
China and Russia
Standing behind this issue is the growing rivalry with Chinese, as well as Russian, capitalism. For Russia, the technology transfers and the construction of nuclear plants in Iran bring much-needed foreign funds. They also help strengthen a relationship with a nearby relatively powerful regime. This is important to the Russian regime which is increasingly surrounded by US military bases.
As the present Chinese economy expands, they are scouring the world for natural resources, first and foremost oil. On the other hand, China has vast funds – something Iran desperately needs to develop its oil and natural gas resources. Thus, the two regimes concluded a $70-$100 billion deal in 2004 to for China to finance development of gas and oil in Iran and to purchase those commodities. Similar deals have been signed since then. At the same time, China is a major exporter of manufactured goods to Iran. Together with their close proximity, the two are natural allies.
As an article in “Foreign Affairs” (March/April, 2011) put it: “Oil may grease the wheels, but the Chinese-Iranian relationship transcends energy. Robust activity in the arms trade, mining, transportation, power generation, and consumer goods markets – including those for electronics, auto parts, toys, and even Islamic headscarves – has helped make China one of Iran’s leading trading partners, second only to the re-export hub of Dubai.”
On top of the economic ties, there is the long history of cultural ties, going back 2500 years to the old Silk Road trade. At present, the Chinese regime has a strong political interest in maintaining friendly relations with the Iranian regime in order to help ensure that China’s Muslim population is not further enflamed.
The Chinese regime, however, must carry out a balancing act. As its representatives have said, they do not want to see Iran develop nuclear weapons as this would further destabilize the entire region. In addition, there is the symbiotic relationship with US capitalism to consider. On the one hand, the stocks of several Chinese companies are traded on Wall St. On the other, there is always the potential for US sanctions against Chinese companies that deal with Iran. Thus it is that while China is a major purchaser of Iranian oil, those purchases have declined recently, and while some $200 billion of oil development deals have been signed between the two nations, the actual carrying out of those deals has been very slow.
The entire relationship symbolizes what is happening in world relations. US capitalism can no longer dominate the world. Chinese capitalism, and to a lesser extent also Russian capitalism, are rising rivals. From the South China Sea to the “Stans” (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.), from competition for natural resources to competition for markets and outlets for capital, this rivalry is being carried out. Secondary (and even lesser) capitalist powers – from Iran to Venezuela – are increasingly defying US capitalism. Meanwhile, while mutually dependent, and with some interests in common, these major powers are being drawn ever deeper into conflict, even as they desperately seek to avoid it.
The conflict between the US and Israeli regimes and that of Iran does have its own dynamic. The US and Israel cannot tolerate a real rival in the region. Further, a nuclear armed Iran would tend to set off a greater arms race throughout the Middle East. This would be especially so for the Sunni dominated regimes like Saudi Arabia (as opposed to the Shiite Iranian regime). This would tend to threaten the reliable supply of oil for US and Western capitalism. However, the point is that secondary powers like Iran cannot stand up to a major power like the US on their own; they must also have a sponsor state upon which they can rest.
Perspectives for Military Attack
It is impossible to determine whether or not an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is imminent. The Israeli regime is reported to believe that the US regime cannot apply as much pressure against an attack before the presidential elections as after, which has led some to predict an attack early this spring. In addition, some military leaders in Israel who had been speaking up against such an attack have recently been silent, leading some to conclude that they have now accepted the “inevitable”. On the other hand, the logistics for an independent Israeli attack are considered to be extremely difficult, although perhaps not impossible. The recent speeches at AIPAC by Obama and Netanyahu show that Obama continues to apply pressure on Netanyahu to hold off and these speeches also indicate that there is some tension between the two regimes around this issue.
Meanwhile, the Israeli regime is using this issue to divert attention away from its increasingly aggressive attack on the Palestinians. Obama, for instance, mentions not a word about the settlements anymore. This while Israeli soldiers raid Palestinian homes, drag off young men whom they imprison for weeks, months even years, subject them to torture all for the crime of simply being Palestinians.
And if there is an attack on Iran?
It will coincide with even greater attacks on the Palestinian people. It will threaten to lead to a far wider military conflict throughout the region, as Hezbollah will likely rain rockets down on Israel. That is why polls show that the majority of Israelis actually oppose such an attack.
Should such an attack occur, Iran would probably respond both by direct retaliation on Israel as well as by closing down the Straits of Hormuz. Either of these would tend to draw the United States into military involvement – exactly at a time when they can least afford it. Among other things, it would send the price of gas into the stratosphere. This, in itself, would cause both economic and political turmoil in the United States. There would be a tendency to blame Israel, which would tend to raise further doubts about the US’s support for that regime.
Human and Environmental Disaster
There is another, equally great, danger: Such an attack would center on bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. The environmental consequences would be absolutely disastrous. It would rival those of Fukushima or Chernobyl, or possibly even worse.
Thus, this conflict and the potential dangers involved are but one example of the increasingly dangerous world, of the disasters towards which world capitalism drives like a runaway freight train roaring down the tracks. As the world’s working class finds its feet, it will have to deal with far more than just the direct attacks on its own standard of living. From every angle, it will have to deal with a world economic system that has far passed its “sell by” date.
John Reimann is a retired carpenter and an expelled member of the Carpenters' Union in the United States. (He was expelled for leading rank and file struggles against the union bureaucracy.) He is a long-time socialist, who organized for a number of years in Mexico. He is presently a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Source: The Viewpoint