Baku 'smart' in balancing between Iran, US

Mon 21 November 2011 07:30 GMT | 11:30 Local Time

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Dr Houman A. Sadri

News.Az interviews Dr Houman A. Sadri, associate professor and coordinator of the Model United Nations Program at the University of Central Florida.

How serious is the threat against Iran at the moment?

I would say that the threat against Iran has never been this serious, because it seems like the United States is very concerned – there are corners in the US that are concerned – about Iranian policy and politics and with the recent changes in Iran and in the politics of Iran. Israel is also very concerned. What worries me as an expert in the field is that it is an election year, and usually during periods like that candidates try to choose topics that would not have any constituency defending them. Bashing Iran or showing toughness against Iran seems to be a very popular thing, not only by the Obama administration but also by all the Republican candidates who are challenging President Obama. Then in terms of US foreign policy this makes it more challenging. So far of course there is just talk and there has not been any general action.

However, in the region, with what is happening in Syria, the fact the US is pulling its forces from Iraq by the end of this year, there are some individuals who are assuming that this would be the start of another military campaign. Of course, it goes without saying that Israel and the Israeli government have been concerned a great deal about Iranian nuclear programs. So all of these combined create an environment which is not a very helpful and peaceful environment. I hope, however, that when push comes to shove many people, before they do something that they would regret, that they would think about the consequences.

How would you explain the threat from Israel, while the Americans exclude for the time being military intervention in Iran?

The threat from the US and Israel are two different types of threats. The United States at the moment is not necessarily preparing for war with Iran. The US has been making a number of diplomatic moves to try to isolate Iran. The US has been working very closely with the European Union on one side, and trying to make connections with the other permanent members of the Security Council, namely China and Russia.

US foreign policy and Israeli policy have some overlaps, however they are very different. There are some corners in Israeli policy circles that are seriously talking about military intervention in the case of Iran. The fear that I have is that in the last several months a number of the older generals in Israel have retired and been replaced by a number of relatively younger generals. These generals are the new generation; they focused on precision bombing; they are of course military professionals but they are not savvy in terms of politics; they do not understand sometimes how a military decision can have major political complications. In the case of Iran, estimates are that if Israel attacks all of the Iranian nuclear sites, even with a very, very successful Israeli attack against Iranian sites, the Iranian nuclear program would be delayed only by two to three years. This would not completely destroy the Iranian nuclear program, like what the Israelis did in Iraq in 1981, or they did in Syria in 2007, 2009. It’s certainly not worth it.

Not only should you think about what’s going to happen later – Iranians would obviously be even more motivated and more nationalistic and would stand behind a government which right now is not a popular government for the majority of Iranians. Also, the Israelis should think that if Iran takes a hit, it could certainly return the favour. My understanding from some of the comments that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers are talking about, they are fuller aware of the Israelis and the range of Iranian missiles, and that a third of the Israeli population is concentrated between Haifa and Tel Aviv. Even with the most inaccurate Iranian missiles, they could basically make a missile attack against Israel in return for an Israeli strike. I would say that it’s OK for countries to demonize each other and use rhetoric against one another, however when it comes to action I certainly hope that all sides would be wiser before they resort to any kind of military campaign.

What consequences and threats may Azerbaijan expect as one of Iran’s northern neighbours from further developments over Iran?

I don’t think Azerbaijanis should worry about anything from Iran, because my understanding of talking to some of the Iranian local leaders or even national leaders, is that they do not consider any of their neighbouring countries a major threat. They think that some of these countries might end up being used by Israel or the United States. If the Baku government maintains a neutral position – of course the Baku government has its own interests; Baku has a very good relationship with the United States and of course they are not going to change that because of Iran. Nobody would do that. Baku also has a relationship with Israel. However, if in a struggle between Iran and the US or Iran and Israel Baku remains neutral, I don’t think they should worry about any consequences, quite frankly.

I know for example that the Iranians have had some talks with the leaders of Qatar, and Qatar is a very significant country because it is a local headquarters for the central command of the United States. The Iranians have been very clear that if ever a war starts between Iran and the US, of course some of the military installations in Qatari territory would probably be fair game. The Qatari leaders know that, but this is what they are prepared for. My understanding from my visit to Azerbaijan and talking with a number of people is that Azerbaijan’s leaders have been very smart in terms of finding a balance in the relationship between Iran and the US. I don’t see any major threats for Azerbaijan.




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