The Middle East Channel

Two journalists were killed in the escalating bombardment of Homs

Two journalists were killed in the Syrian city of Homs, while an estimated three other reporters were seriously injured when a house being used as a media center was hit by a rocket. With the intense shelling of Homs, it is unknown if the journalists were intentionally targeted. The two killed were Marie Colvin, an American working with Britain's Sunday Times, and award winning French photographer Remi Ochlik. Colvin had been reporting on the bombardment of the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, and on Tuesday said the shelling was "unrelenting." She continued that, "There is Free Syrian Army here. They're very, very lightly armed. People are terrified they will leave." According to activists, over 40 people were killed on Tuesday, another of whom was Rami al-Sayed who had been broadcasting a live video stream from Homs that was being used by world media. Journalists have largely been prevented from entering Syria since March 2011, but the government has started issuing short-term visas for a small amount of journalists accompanied by government minders. Others have entered the country covertly, such as the late New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who is believed to have died from an asthma attack last week. The United Nations estimates 5,400 have died in Syria since the beginning of uprisings that started nearly a year ago, with reports from activists reaching 8,000. The escalation in violence in Homs has come as Western and Arab countries are planning to meet in Tunisia as the "Friends of Syria" to discuss options to end the conflict.

Headlines  

  • The IAEA announced that its visit to Iran failed as inspectors were blocked from a site suspected for weapons research, while Iran stated, "our enemies want to endanger Iran's national interests."
  • Yemen's election saw an estimated 60 percent voter turnout, but could have been as low as 20 percent in the south where the most violence was seen at polling sites.
  • The trial of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other high officials will come to an end today, with the politically contentious verdict not expected for a couple of weeks.
  • An Egyptian court found the voting system used to elect the parliament unconstitutional, raising concerns that the body slated to name a council to draft a new constitution will be paralyzed.

Arguments & Analysis

'Pressure not war: A pragmatic and principled policy towards Syria' (Marc Lynch, CNAS)

"The ongoing slaughter in Syria poses a major challenge to the United States, both morally and strategically. The call for intervention in such a tragedy is understandable. But there are no realistic military options available that could improve the situation, and those calling for military interven- tion must demonstrate not only that it is just, but that it can work. They have not." 

'Israel's risky option on Iran' (Dalia Dassa Kaye, Los Angeles Times)

"Israel has never been integrated into the Mideast. But Israel has rarely faced total isolation. When Israel has confronted Arab nationalist adversaries in the past (Egypt and Iraq), it had the non-Arab "periphery" to turn to (Iran and Turkey). When Israel perceived a rising threat from Iran, it turned to peacemaking with its Arab neighbors. Israel has not faced a strategic situation in which it is isolated from Arabs and non-Arabs alike, while at the same time facing growing international isolation. To many in Israel, nothing could be worse than a future with a nuclear-armed Iran. But a future with a nuclear-armed Iran that has been attacked by Israel could actually be a lot worse."

'The U.S.-Egypt NGO debacle' (Jeff Aronson, The Arabist)

"In purely political terms, those elements in Egypt most interested in Washington's helping hand have proved least able to win public support in the polling booths. Revolutions unleash all kinds of sentiments, good and bad. In Egypt, the serial errors of the SCAF, the lingering power of the ancien regime and growing public frustration with the uncertain fruits of revolution have soured the atmosphere and created an explosive context for efforts of the kind that Washington-supported NGO's promote. What was once a relatively unimportant sideshow now risks moving to center stage, thanks to the mutually reinforcing missteps of all parties." 

'Indian and Iran: Similar experiences, converging interests' (Mohammed Ayoob, CNN)

"They [Iran and India] are cognizant of the fact that while occasional differences and even conflicts of interest may arise in their future relations, there are no major clashes of interests visible on the horizon. In contrast, there are enough common interests, both economic and strategic, that are likely to bind the two countries together and help them reach their shared goal of regional pre-eminence in the two contiguous but clearly demarcated regions of South Asia and the Persian Gulf. India's refusal to go along with sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and Europe highlights New Delhi's recognition of Iran's importance to India over the long term." 

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Shaking the Kaleidoscope in Iran

Discussion of military action against Iran is again taking center stage. It takes me back to a late September 2002 meeting, when I brought a former senior Israeli official to see the late Congressman Tom Lantos, then the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee. Our meeting focused on Iraq, with Lantos arguing passionately for pre-emptive U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein, who he compared to Hitler. Lantos dismissed out of hand our Israeli visitor's suggestion that a war might be destabilizing to the region and to Israel, telling us (and this is close to a direct quote):

The Middle East is like a kaleidoscope. If you pick up a kaleidoscope and look through it, you don't see anything special. But if you shake the kaleidoscope and look through it again, you see something more beautiful than was there before. 

We were taken aback. One of the most powerful members of Congress -- a Holocaust survivor with unchallenged moral authority -- was saying, in effect, that the U.S. should wage war not to achieve a specific goal, but to shake things up, in the hopes that out of the chaos would emerge more attractive options.

Advocates of military action against Iran today are relying on a similar "shake the kaleidoscope" approach. Their arguments are predicated on the belief that all other presently available options are unacceptable. They believe that Iran is immune to pressure; that Iran will abuse diplomacy to run out the clock and go nuclear before the world can stop it; and that containment -- learning to live with a nuclear or even a "nuclear-capable" Iran -- is a non-starter.

Most war advocates concede that military action will at best delay -- not stop -- Iran's nuclear program. Most admit that it will probably kill many innocent Iranian civilians -- the same civilians whose human rights many of them also claim to defend (AIPAC's simultaneous campaign for human rights in Iran, and its campaign for an ever-harder line on Iran, culminating in the current effort to get the Senate to adopt a pro-war resolution, is a prominent example of this phenomenon). And most acknowledge that an attack on Iran could be profoundly destabilizing to the region and could threaten U.S. interests around the world.

Yet their conclusion is that military action is nonetheless both desirable and inevitable. Why? Is it because they hope that shaking things up will lead to regime change? Or because they hope a new pro-U.S. Iranian opposition will rise from the ashes of war? Or because they hope the U.S. can leverage an Iran war to engineer a dramatic pro-West regional realignment? 

This all sounds familiar. In Iraq, the results of exactly this kind of recklessly "hopeful" approach to war continue to play themselves out on the ground every day (and are in no small part responsible for the challenge that Iran poses today). 

Now, as the 2012 election season shifts into high gear, Iran hawks in both parties (and their Israeli counterparts) are chomping at the bit. They will no longer be placated by ever-escalating sanctions -- sanctions that for many were perhaps never about achieving U.S. goals, but about checking off a box on the way to war. They are increasingly pressuring Obama to "prove" his anti-Iran (and, it is implied, pro-Israel) mettle, with the threat hanging over him that Israel may at any time force his hand. Having de facto acquiesced to an Iran approach defined by sanctions and saber rattling, Obama is now faced with the question: if sanctions have proven inadequate to the task of achieving U.S. goals when will the saber be unsheathed?

Back in 2002, my Israeli visitor was shocked by Lantos' cavalier approach to war, but didn't actually oppose military action against Iraq. Indeed, the Israeli national security community largely viewed such action as a positive for Israel. Today, in contrast, senior Israeli military and security officials -- including former Israeli Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi and, reportedly, current IDF Chief of Staff Tamir Pardo, Military Intelligence Aviv Kochavi, and Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen -- are openly disputing the pro-war arguments. They join a chorus of voices from the U.S. military, national security, and intelligence community warning against a rush to war.

When Congressman Lantos talked about shaking the Middle East kaleidoscope, an image came into my head: a kaleidoscope filled with people -- Iraqi men, women, and children, U.S. soldiers -- shaken until their bodies broke, creating bloody designs on the kaleidoscope's lens. That gruesome image comes to mind again today, as the chorus of voices calling for military action against Iran grows louder.

Clearly, there is no easy path forward on Iran, but any discourse about war must be a sober one, weighing all options -- including the option of re-committing to serious, sustained engagement -- and taking into account the full range of possible consequences. It must be a discourse in which the voices of reason and wisdom from America's (and Israel's) own military and intelligence communities are not marginalized in favor of the kind of dangerous ideologues and fantasists who made the case for war in Iraq.

With all that is at stake, nobody can afford to let such a decision be hijacked by those who want to shake the kaleidoscope and hope for the best.

Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now

AFP/Getty images