Tuesday, November 06, 2007

To war, one step at a time

The timing of the Interpol general assembly voting on whether to put five Iranians and a Lebanese on “red” notice — the international police agency’s “most wanted” list — suspected of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires (seen left) could not be more conspicuous, coming as it does at a time when the US and some of its allies are putting unprecedented pressure on Tehran to cease its alleged military nuclear work. Despite Interpol’s assertion that the decision to vote on the matter was not, as Tehran alleges, the result of pressure from Washington (or Israel), one wonders why the agency, which has had 13 years since the bombing, would decide to act now, knowing fully well that doing so will only add fuel to an already dangerously unstable political brew.

To its merit, Tehran decided to abandon trying to block the vote, but irrespective of that decision, the vote confronts it to a lose-lose situation, in which (a) refusal would give the impression it is trying to hide something, that it supports terrorism or is simply a “rogue” international actor, while (b) the responsibilities attendant to the “red” notices could result in pressure to arrest or hand over the suspects in Iran (although states are not obligated to do so).

Whether the decision to hold the vote (a majority suffices) was indeed the result of political pressure remains to be determined, but regardless, its timing could not have been worse. Not only will this further isolate Iran at a time when it needs to be embraced, but the sixth suspect, Imad Mugniyeh (right), also happens to have intimate ties to the Lebanese Hezbollah, an ally and sometimes proxy of Tehran. Given the instability in Lebanon — fueled by the US/Israel/Syrian power play there as well as internal sectarian fault lines — pressure on the Lebanese government to hand over Mugniyeh (although he is unlikely to be in Lebanon) or on Iran to do so would inevitably result in linkage and thereby render both the Iranian "nuclear" problem and the Lebanese one all the more unsolvable.

By accident or design, independent decision or one brought about by pressure, the decision at this specific point in time to target those six suspects takes us ever closer, down the long succession of small things adding up, to war with Iran.

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