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A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL CHESS GAME: The Ongoing Balancing Act with Iran

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse - The classic chess game is confusing enough for most people who prefer not to stress out over the shades of gray that separate black and white. Those who are familiar with the three-dimensional variant of the game appreciate its higher degree of complexity that requires greater concentration and expertise. Now try to imagine a multi-dimensional chess game that is played under unpredictably changing rules and where the outcome of the game is determined through some unorthodox fuzzy logic.


This, in short, is the game of international politics that is being played today on the chessboard of the Middle East.


For the uninitiated, the issue is as simple as two and two equals four: the Iranians are viewed as supporters of international terrorism and, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are suspected of developing nuclear weapons and long range missiles in order to destroy Israel and threaten Europe and the United States. To prevent that from happening, the United States must, first through economic strangulation, and should that fail, by military means, stop this menace before the "smoking gun becomes a mushroom cloud" - a repeat of the Iraq scenario.


It is hard to argue against this kind of simplistic pseudo-logic: if it sells, sell it; and it has been saturation-marketed by the current administration with the support of our mass media, and will continue to be further emphasized at the Republican platform by John McCain and his pit-poodle. When it comes to Iran, the Democrats are coequal participants in this charade; they have to be.


Kam Zarrabi is the author of
In Zarathushtra's Shadow

To find the motivating force or forces responsible for the success of this hard-sell, or how this mindset was so well established among the American people, one must look for the major beneficiaries of this rather convenient portrayal of the Islamic Republic of Iran as the manifestation of evil.


Understandably, our presidential candidates and their running mates capitalize on the prevailing public sentiments, whether they personally believe in their own choreographed campaign rhetoric or not. For example, why is the Republican candidate, John McCain, so gung-ho for bomb-bomb-bomb-bombing Iran?  I doubt if McCain is truly overanxious to set the stage for watering down the roster of war heroes like himself by attacking Iran. Or does he think that the Iranians are less capable of defending themselves than were the Vietnamese? Even though he must also cater to his party's unbending position regarding Iran, he knows better than to strive for another war or, better put, catastrophe.


We can dismiss Sarah Palin as some credible strategic thinker with any global awareness, even though her bite-me persona, thanks to the American Idle and WWF viewing audiences, might prove to have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the elections. But her counterpart in the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, is a different story. It might interest many to know that those who are interested in a constructive rapprochement between the United States and Iran are actually much more supportive of an Obama-Biden administration.  


It seems, then, paradoxical that, during an interview with an Israeli reporter, the same Joe Biden claimed that he is, in fact, a Zionist even though he is not Jewish, and further confirmed his support for Israel. So, what's going on here?


Not long ago, Mr. Obama was also strongly pro diplomacy and for negotiations with the Iranian leadership without any preconditions.  But it didn't take long for the young senator to learn his lesson, as well. He passed his final exam during his trip to Israel where he was duly "enlightened!"


To the uninitiated, again, this change of heart in Barack Obama, Joe Biden and even the formerly non-Zionist Sarah Palin, must have occurred after each was properly convinced that they must express the view that Iran is, in fact, the biggest existential threat to Israel, and a clear and present danger to America and the West, or else!


Of course, now when it comes to the issue of Iran in this presidential campaign, both the Democrats and the Republicans are on equal footing. No longer can the McCain-Palin match up appear to hate Iran more than would its Obama-Biden rival.



During the first presidential debate last Friday, the moderator asked the candidates to express their positions regarding possible dialogue with the Iranians. McCain twice pointed out that sitting across the negotiating table from a man (Ahmadinejad) who wants to wipe Israel off the face of the world would be out of the question. Obama never questioned where Mr. McCain had heard those remarks and, instead, responded that he had never said he would talk to Ahmadinejad, as he might not even be the real Iranian authority to talk to in the first place.


As Mr. McCain shook his head with a silly smile of disbelief on his face, Obama said nothing to dispute his older rival's clearly deliberate distortion of the facts. Why, because it would have been political suicide for him to do so.


To understand this political charade, we must clear the haze and look beyond the superficial. The question that must first be asked should be: Is Iran truly a threat to the safety and security of Israel, Europe or the United States? The answer is: It certainly can be. But a lion could also pose a "real and present danger" to a trophy hunter who wants to collect its pelt. If the lion had the mental capacity to foretell the arrival of the hunting party and its intentions, it would also sharpen his teeth and claws, fortify its den and prepare for the worst, come what may!


But is Iran really gearing up to initiate an assault on American targets or Israel? To answer this question we must distinguish between mere propaganda and the realities on the ground.


I would be foolish to assume that the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran, contrary to what is portrayed by the Israeli propaganda and the rhetoric out of Washington, consists of crazed suicidal maniacs.  Therefore, it must be crystal clear to the Iranian leaders that the repercussions of any unprovoked attack, even on the most insignificant targets in the area, would bring about massive devastation to the Iranian nation. The question that begs to be asked is: What could Iran possibly gain by initiating an attack on Israel, or firing missiles into Europe or at American forces in the area? 


Then, is it logical to think that the missile defense shield that the United States is setting up in Eastern Europe is actually to defend against a potential missile attack by Iran? The answer, again, is; Yes, it could theoretically be possible; but possible only in a retaliatory response after an American or European strike upon Iran.


It is actually laughable, if not so pathetic, that the administration officials of supposedly the most advanced civilization on earth verbalize such asinine hyperbole. The only rationale for making such statements would be to warn the intended listeners that a preemptive attack on Iran is, in fact, being planned. One can just imagine what Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, was thinking as he listened to his counterpart, Condy Rice, reassuring him that the missile defense shields are to protect against Iranian and North Korean missiles. What an utterly stupid charade!


Granted, ordinary folks who glean their knowledge of the world events mostly or exclusively through the entertainment media may not have any reason to be skeptical about the nature of the garbage they are fed on a daily basis. Like fast-food and soda pop, the crowds are well trained, to the point of addiction, to crave and consume the propaganda and disinformation that is fed to them as news and information.


The sad reality is that these same folks comprise the voting public, to many of whom a clueless pretty-faced pit-poodle suited for a PTA president's job seems qualified to become the nation's Vice President! Her pitifully embarrassing television interview with Katie Couric of CBS was a perfect example of what the bovine crowds find so charmingly simple and appealing: to this foreign affairs genius, there are "good guys" in the world and there are "bad guys", and since we are among the good guys, we must side with other good guys; simple enough for you?


Behind this façade, and literally invisible from the public eye, lurks the realities that are at play in this multi-dimensional chess game.


Both the American and the Israeli top decision makers know that Iran poses no threat either to Israel or to the United States; at least no threat as an aggressor who might initiate any hostilities. In spite of this fact, the official pronouncements from both camps have been relentless in portraying Iran as an existential threat to Israel and a potential nuclear threat to the world. The question should be; Why? While we keep hearing from the Pentagon top brass and former Secretaries of State and Defense that war on Iran is not in America's best interests or that it would be very ill advised, the drumbeat of war propaganda continues unabated. Now it is the "October Surprise" that is supposed to put the scare into the Iranian leadership's heart!


Israel could not possibly benefit from striking at Iran's nuclear centers or other strategic targets, either. Not only would such adventurism bring about devastating retaliatory damage to Israel's population and infrastructure, Iran's nuclear facilities, according to most experts, will not be affected beyond recovery. Yet, we read in the news that they are receiving bunker-buster bombs from the United States in preparation for such attacks.


Do the Israelis really want to strike at Iran, or do they want us and the world to think they do?


It is a sure bet that America's future prospects in the Middle East will be determined to a significant, if not critical, degree by what kind of relationship might evolve with the Iranian government. If we accept the premise that war against the Islamic Republic of Iran is not in the interest of the United States, other measures such as covert sabotage activities, blockade, and harsh economic sanctions, might still be employed to further pressure Iran; but pressure Iran toward what exactly?


Additional pressure on Iran will simply increase the volatility of the Middle East as a whole. This would mean a postponement of any meaningful resolution in Iraq, an intensification of instability in Afghanistan and, worst of all, the possibility of some inadvertent or deliberate spark that might trigger a knee-jerk reaction by Iran, Israel or the American forces in the region.




Now, let us examine who would stand to gain or lose by a continuation of regional instability, just short of an all-out war, in the Middle East.


The losers:


With a growing population and ever increasing demand for economic and social reforms, the nation has been struggling against runaway inflation and other economic hardships. With no relief in sight, to safeguard the security and internal stability of the nation, the hardliners will resort to stricter measures aimed at quelling public protests and postponing democratic and economic reforms.


The United States.

For America, an open-ended involvement and military presence in the Middle East will mean increasing resentments in the region and the world, and ever louder opposition at home. Even though the bulk of the moneys extended for the war effort flow back into the pockets of America's own military-industrial complex and contractors, additional trillions of dollars of war expenditures could be allocated in more meaningful ways that would improve the nation's ailing economic system and infrastructure.



The extended presence of American troops and military bases in Iraq simply postpones the inevitable clash between the main Iraqi factions which will ultimately result in a sustainable balance in that war torn country. This rivalry has less to do with ethnic or religious differences, and everything to do with the entitlements over Iraq's oil wealth and division of power. Without the involvement and cooperation of Iraq's most influential neighbor, Iran, the Iraqi quagmire can never be cleaned up.



It is no secret that the initial incursion into Afghanistan and the subsequent successes in getting rid of the Taliban and establishing the government of Hamid Karzai, were accomplished with major cooperation by the Iranian military and diplomatic involvement. The current resurgence of the Taliban and cross-border problems with Pakistan that have been creating increasing headaches for the American and NATO forces will certainly intensify in an atmosphere of tension and fear of a war against Iran.


The winners:


For several decades, Israel has successfully paraded as a tiny outpost of modern civilization and a bastion of democracy and Western values in an area that is strategically vital to Western interests. In the West, particularly and most sincerely here in the United States, Israel is viewed as a peace loving state trying to survive against hostile intents by nations in the Middle East whose hatred of the Jews and Western culture and civilization is rooted in their militant Islamic fundamentalism.


To help Israel and to protect the industrial world's interests, the United States has been obligated, both morally in view of the Holocaust, and for its own vested interests in the region, to provide the Jewish state with unequivocal monetary, military and diplomatic support.


For this "passionate attachment" to not appear as a one-sided love affair or some parasitic symbiosis, the pro-Israel factions and lobbying organizations have managed to portray Israel's agendas as equally vital and consequential American interests, even in the face of clearly contradictory evidence thereto.


Israel's dependency on American sympathy has been facing increasing challenges from America's own Jews who object to Israel's policies, and also from a more vocal and internationally more aware American citizenry. The sporadic hints by the US administrations that Israel must heed the International community's demands for peace negotiations with the Palestinians have been a major concern for the rightwing Zionist hardliners, fearing that America's total commitment to satisfy Israel's demands might be at risk.


A calmer or a more peaceful Middle East, particularly where Israel's arch antagonist, Iran, is involved, would mean more pressure on the Jewish state to come to terms with the Palestinian nation. For the Israeli hardliners, giving up anything that they have gained in violation of international norms is tantamount to national suicide.


In the absence of some "clear and present danger" to America's security and vital interests, Israel's raison d'être as America's so-called strategic ally, will cease to function.


It is, therefore, understandable why the Israeli regime finds it necessary to fan the fire of turmoil in the region, particularly as it is aimed at Iran, which has been effectively portrayed as the biggest threat to Israel as well as to Europe and the United States.



As long as the threat of a preemptive strike against Iran remains just that - a threat - the Russians are happy. Russia is increasingly dependent on the high export price of its oil and natural gas to fuel its economy and to rebuild its outdated military. The continuation of tensions in the Persian Gulf oil region ensures an instability in the crude supplies, which is always translated into higher prices.


A lowering of hydrocarbon prices, for example below eighty or seventy dollars per barrel of crude oil, will bring Russia's ambitious economic growth to a halt.


On the other hand, a continuation of tensions in the Middle East and a threat of war against Iran give some plausible, albeit superficial, excuse for the anti-missile defense shields that the United States is erecting in the Czech Republic and Poland, which the Russians correctly believe are actually aimed at them, not at Iran or North Korea as claimed. That kind of rationale could also be used by the United States and NATO to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the fold, as well.


For Russia, therefore, this balancing act is a sensitive issue, hence Russia's off-and-on support for, or disagreement with, the enforcement of stricter sanctions against Iran at the UNSC.


Finally, what would the outbreak of a war with Iran bring about? Here we must look at two scenarios: In one, a series of surgical strikes against Iran's nuclear operations and high-value military targets near the Iraqi border, for example, will take place. Whether the United States carries out this task with or without Israeli involvement, or the mission is initiated by Israel with or without American participation, the Iranians will blame both states as the aggressors.




In the case of a limited targeting where the nation's infrastructure and population centers do not receive major damage, Iran would stand to gain significantly by not responding militarily at all. It would even help Iran's standing in the international community if Iran could restrain its affiliated allies, Hezbollah of Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas from taking matters into their own hands.


In this scenario, Iran and its allies come out clearly the winners, and the United States and Israel as disgraced losers.


In a more serious scenario, this aggression exceeds beyond token strikes and Iran's economic base is targeted, resulting in significant population casualties and the devastation of the country's infrastructure.


Let us examine the potential losers and winners in such an eventuality:


The losers:


The biggest loser will undoubtedly be the Iranian nation. The country will go into a tailspin and will be set back decades. What's more, no amount of outside influence during the process of reconstruction of the country is likely to bring about a fundamental shift toward a more open society akin to Western style democracy.  The only epoxy that will ultimately re-congeal the nation after such total devastation will prove to be the one thing that has historically served that purpose among the ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse populations - religion.



No amount of missile defense, no matter how high-tech, can prevent Iran from reaching Israeli targets with at least enough missiles and bombers to inflict major devastation to the tiny state. In addition, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups will not remain silent if Iran unleashes its wrath upon their perennial enemy.


The Persian Gulf Emirates.

Iran will definitely strike at these small states and their oil production facilities, all located within a stone's throw of the Iranian mainland.


The international oil market.

By closing the Straits of Hormuz, an easy task for the Iranians, the world oil market will be dealt a death blow, resulting in economic meltdowns in major industrial centers of the globe.


The American naval armada in the Persian Gulf.

Again, no amount of technology and preparedness could possibly prevent at least enough warheads to strike the American fleet to cause major damage. In addition, American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will be targeted for as much retaliatory punishment as the Iranian forces, with the inevitable help from local insurgents, could inflict, and that could be considerable.



An all-out war in the Middle East will lead to an almost immediate expansion of NATO alliances in areas that Russia regards as its rightful buffer zones against American adventurisms. To prevent or discourage this threat, Russia could slow down its export of oil and gas to the Europeans, forcing them to back away from supporting the United States. This, however, will result in a catastrophic blowback for a country that relies on its petroleum exports to finance its economy.


The winners:


No one; except, perhaps, for China.

If the American misadventure in Iraq is a measure, an attack on Iran will prove to be degrees of magnitude more involved. An extended, perhaps lasting two decades or more, entanglement in Iran will give the Chinese and the Russians the opportunity to close ranks and form a long-awaited alliance, with possible integration of India, to counterbalance the Western alliance.


Chinese (and Indian) economic and industrial power, backed by the still indomitable Russian nuclear armed military and its oil and gas resources, would create a new balance in the global dynamics.




In conclusion:

It is abundantly clear that attacking Iran is neither to America's advantage, nor to Israel's; the only two sources of such a potentiality.  This leads one to examine why the drumbeat for a preemptive attack on Iran has been getting louder as the Bush administration's term reaches its lackluster end.


Every now and then, masked underneath other current events news, one reads unconfirmed reports by officials who remain anonymous that the United States has been warning the Israelis to refrain from doing something stupid, such as attacking Iran's nuclear sites or arranging some "accident" that would draw the American forces into battle against Iran; or that the United States would not support Israel in case of a reckless move by that country. We have also seen reports, mostly in anti-war news sites, that the United States has refused Israeli requests for safe passage over Iraqi airspace on the way to bombing the Iranian targets.


Such reports, much like the exposés in the New Yorker magazine by the investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that, almost on a yearly basis, has been predicting an imminent strike against Iran, do serve an interesting Machiavellian purpose.


The subliminal message seems to be that the United States does not intend to start a war against Iran, although "all options remain on the table" should the need arise. But, at the same time, concern by the United States is implied that Israel might take matters in its own hands and start something that might lead to a major global catastrophe.


Superficially and only for public consumption, Israel's paranoia about Iran's intentions to wipe Israel off the face of the map has received nods of understanding by the American administration at the highest levels. Realistically, however, both the Israeli and the American administration officials know that this "understandable paranoia" is a brilliant disguise for Israel's true motives.


The real Holocaust of WWII did justify the creation of the state of Israel, in spite of the fact that its location on top of the Palestinian people in the Middle East was not too well thought out.


Subsequent exploitation of the horrors of that human tragedy by rekindling its memories, which according to the Israeli professor and the son of actual Holocaust victims, Norman Finkelstein, has become what he called  The Holocaust Industry in his book of that title, has been serving the international Zionism very well to this day. This is despite the fact that many Orthodox Jews in Israel and abroad object to the concept of Zionism and find no place for it in true Judaism. They also fear that zealous Zionism is a sure ticket for another holocaust, this time, perhaps, as the prophesied Armageddon!


As the global sympathy for the so-called Jewish cause erodes in time, the importance of a new, this time imaginary, menace by what the Zionist propaganda calls an "existential threat" posed by Iran becomes clear. The "second Hitler", what the Iranian President Ahmadinejad has been called by the Zionist machine, is actually in no position to determine Iran's foreign policies or to declare war, and his term in office will expire in 2009. Furthermore, those who understand the Farsi language and can read or listen to his statements and interviews know fully well that the quotations attributed to him are deliberately distorted and taken out of context in order to picture him as the ultimate Jew-hating anti-Semite. If poor, innocent Sarah Palin has no real understanding of these issues, John McCain certainly does. Yet he, too, spews this nonsense for what it's worth for him to achieve his political ambitions.




Final words:

It can be easily demonstrated that America's potential best ally in the Middle East would be Iran, not Israel. For those who might have an epileptic seizure reading this line, don't worry, America's passionate attachment to Israel is not going to be in any jeopardy, come what may; the Zionist interests that dominate our news, entertainment and, by extension, our political affairs and financial institutions, have created a solid enough base that would take decades to even be redressed.  Nobody even dares touch that subject officially or in the open media. The current crescendo of war rhetoric against Iran, as the baton is to pass from one administration to another, is simply to ensure the continuation of the "same-old same-old", as the saying goes!


Our politicians have no choice but to cater to this mindset, or their chances of success would vanish in a heartbeat. Some, like the pompom girl Sarah Palin, are innocently gullible. Others, such as Obama and Biden must bite their lips and try not to be outdone by the theatrical gun-slinging/warrior McCain, who surely knows the script he has been handed to read does not reflect the realities.


In the scene that has thus been created, Israel will continue to parade as America and the West's indispensable friend and ally, deserving of any and all favors bestowed upon it, along with strongly voiced words of thanks for its contributions to the civilized world. This much is not likely to change in our lifetimes, at least those of us who have passed middle-age!


Who will be the ultimate winner of this multi-dimensional chess game? Will it be Iran and the United States who have the highest stakes in this game? It can be, and it should be, and the handwriting is already on the wall. We don't need to appeal to quantum theory to demonstrate that an alliance of cooperation between the United States and Iran will work to both parties' advantage, and will not jeopardize Israel's position or agendas. Cooperation does not necessarily mean love, only efforts toward achieving goals of mutual interest; and there are many goals of mutual interest to achieve.  


Kam Zarrabi

Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion. He is available to conduct lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues, at formal and informal gatherings or academic centers anywhere in the country. To make the necessary arrangements, please contact him at More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at:


... Payvand News - 09/30/08 ... --

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