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Israel-U.S. Relations

Tag Archives | Israel-U.S. Relations

Amidst Confusion, Canada Severs ties with Iran

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Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Photo: Jason Ransom

Over a week after Canada suspended formal diplomatic relations with Iran, reaction in Canada remains mixed.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Photo: Jason Ransom

While supporters of the Harper government and defenders of Israel have declared it bold and principled, a number of foreign policy analysts have raised questions about the timing, and cause of the sudden rupture. On Friday September 7th a senior diplomat from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade arrived unannounced at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa carrying two letters. The first informed Iran’s diplomats that they were now considered personae non gratae, and had five days to pack up the embassy and leave the country. The second stated that Canada had already removed its diplomats from Tehran and was closing its embassy, effective immediately.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to praise the Conservative government, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a world leader of “the highest level.” On the CBC’s The National, Netanyahu declared, “We have to build a wall, not of silence, but of condemnation and resolve. And Canada just put a very big brick in that wall.” Yet, reaction in Canada was measured, with a number of prominent voices raising concern. James George, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Iran between 1972 and 1977 declared it “stupid to close an embassy in these circumstances.” “We need to keep an ear open there—our own ear,” George said.

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Mohamed Morsi’s Evolving Relationship with Egypt’s Military

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Leon Panetta visiting with Mohamed Morsi in Cairo

Ever since early April when he became an official candidate in the presidential election, Mohamed Morsi has been generally dismissed by most political observers as a weak and unimpressive politician.

Leon Panetta visiting with Mohamed Morsi in Cairo

In fact, he was an accidental contender since he was the stand-in candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) first choice, senior leader Khairat Al-Shater. The MB fielded Morsi as its back-up candidate on the last day of filing because it predicted correctly that its original candidate would be disqualified by the pro-SCAF Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC). As Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took the reigns of power in February 2011, many observers believed that a tacit understanding existed between the powerful Egyptian military and the MB, the most organized political and social group in Egypt. For the next eighteen months, this complicated and largely behind the scenes contentious relationship between these two powerful entities had its ups and downs.

When SCAF sided with millions of Egyptians in ousting Hosni Mubarak in early Feb. 2011, it was not to advance the objectives of the revolution but rather to sacrifice the president in order to save his regime. Throughout 2011, there were three centers of powers in the country: SCAF with its apparent military power, the MB with its enormous capacity for organization and mass mobilization, and the other revolutionary and grassroots groups (dominated by the youth but politically unorganized and inexperienced) taking to the streets throughout the year while paying a terrible price with dozens martyred, hundreds wounded, and thousands detained in military show trials.

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Israel and the Iran Nuclear Weapons MacGuffin

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President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office Monday, May 18, 2009.  Pete Souza/White House

I think there is some misunderstanding about Israel’s concern over Iran’s nuclear program.

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office Monday, May 18, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

To use Alfred Hitchcock’s term, the Iranian bomb is simply “the MacGuffin,” the psychologically potent but practically insignificant pretext for action, reaction, and drama. To my mind, the main object of Israel’s foreign policy as practiced by Benjamin Netanyahu, is to preclude US and European rapprochement with Iran. If peace breaks out in the Middle East, in other words, Iran, its markets, and its oil would quickly become remarkably popular with Western governments and investors.

In that case, the focus of unwelcome attention would shift away from the mad mullahs of Tehran to the bigots in Tel Aviv, with their creepy crypto-apartheid state, their undeclared nuclear arsenal, and their violent and unilateral overt and covert security policies that destabilize the entire Middle East. Exacerbating the polarization between Iran and the US and Europe is, therefore, an important element in the Israeli foreign policy game plan. Iran’s currently non-existent nuclear weapons program offers a suitable opportunity for Israel to declare an existential threat. The objective is not simply to repel and terrify the West with the image of the Iranian nuclear bugbear.

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Iran: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

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Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speak with Israeli soldiers at an Iron Dome anti-missile site in Ashkelon, Israel, Aug. 1, 2012

I don’t know if you guys have heard, but apparently Israel is about to go to war with Iran. Not only that, but it doesn’t actually matter what is happening in Israel or the rest of the world, because any event or environment can be interpreted to mean that an Israeli strike is just around the corner.

Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speak with Israeli soldiers at an Iron Dome anti-missile site in Ashkelon, Israel, Aug. 1, 2012

In fact, an imminent Israeli attack can be predicted based on two diametrically opposed sets of facts. For instance, in May it was reported that the decision to attack was imminent because Israeli officials were being uncharacteristically silent, and this speculation meant that an attack was about to come. As one unnamed Israeli official said, “Nobody is saying anything publicly. That in itself tells you a lot about where things stand.”

So the lesson is that when things are quiet, an attack is on the way. But wait – now there is a slew of reports that Israel has decided to attack because all sorts of officials are openly talking about it, and everyone knows that rampant speculation means that an attack is about to come. So the lesson now is that when there is lots of noise about an attack, an attack is on the way. Isn’t it nifty how that works? No matter what Israeli officials are saying and doing, a strike on Iranian facilities can be easily predicted.

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Self-Immolations Speak of Israel’s Economic Pains

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Israeli housing protest in Tel Aviv. Gerrit De Vynck/Flickr

Israeli housing protest in Tel Aviv. Gerrit De Vynck/Flickr

In the past weeks, the streets of Tel Aviv have been witness to desperate people setting themselves on fire in protest against the growing social and economic inequalities and the rising cost of living in Israel. Almost one year after 400,000 Israelis filled Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard in protest at the increasing economic difficulties, a wave of civil unrest and upsurges is again encompassing the country. The latest victim of the protests was 57-year-old Moshe Silman, a disabled war veteran who sustained severe injuries after setting himself ablaze at a bus stop near Tel Aviv on July 14.

The death of Silman ignited widespread anger and frustration among the Israelis who have poured into the streets of Tel Aviv en masse since early July to call on the government to meet their socioeconomic demands in the light of the unprecedented recession and economic crisis in Europe.

The New York Times wrote that many people have compared Silman to the Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi whose suicide on January 4, 2011 became the preface to the Tunisian revolution and the subsequent Arab Spring which have transformed the Middle East. However, the chained self-immolations in the past weeks in Israel are not exceptional. Although few may remember the tragic event, back in July 2004, when another Israeli, Mordehai Cohen, set himself on fire in protest at the rejection of a work license. Moshe Silman was formerly a businessman, working in a messenger service.

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Iran Sanctions: War by Other Means

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Now that the talks with Iran on its nuclear program appear to be on the ropes, are we on the road to war? The Israelis threaten it almost weekly, and the Obama administration has reportedly drawn up an attack plan. But in a sense, we are already at war with Iran. Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern warfare, defined war as the continuation of politics by other means. In the case of Iran, international politics has become a de-facto state of war.

According to reports, the annual inflation rate in Iran is 22.2 percent, although many economists estimate it at double that. In the last week of June, the price of chicken rose 30 percent, grains were up 55.8 percent, fruits up 66.6 percent, and vegetables up 99.5 percent. Iran’s Central Bank estimates unemployment among the young is 22.5 percent, although the Financial Times says “the official figures are vastly underestimated.” The production sector is working at half its capacity. The value of the Iranian rial has fallen 40 percent since last year, and there is a wave of business closings and bankruptcies due to rising energy costs and imports made expensive by the sanctions.

Oil exports, Iran’s major source of income, have fallen 40 percent in 2012, according to the International Energy Agency, costing the country just under $32 billion over the past year. The 27-member European Union (EU) ban on buying Iranian oil will further depress sales, and a EU withdrawal of shipping insurance will make it difficult for Teheran to ship oil and gas to its diminishing number of customers. Loss of insurance coverage could reduce Iran’s oil exports by 1/5 million barrels a day, or $4.5 billion a month. Energy accounts for about 80 percent of Iran’s public revenues.

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Obama and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

Obama displayed an exceptional ability to inspire confidence in his promises during the 2008 campaign. One such promise was his pledge to actively pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians—an issue he did not shy away from on the campaign trail.

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

Although Obama implemented an assertive and logical plan to resolve the conflict early in his presidency (something his predecessors avoided), the administration’s policies and diplomatic efforts have proven strikingly unsuccessful. What happened over the past three and a half years, and why did a well-intentioned and forthright policy go wrong? Obama addressed the Arab-Israeli conflict with a two-fold strategy: restoring America’s tarnished image among Muslims and persuading Israel to stop settlement expansion. The pinnacle of Obama’s diplomatic outreach to the Muslim world took the form of a much-publicized address in Cairo. He laid out the parameters for peace and was fairly adept at presenting the U.S. as an evenhanded mediator. Perhaps most importantly, the overall tone of the speech was notably more receptive and open-minded than that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Despite these positive indications, it remained unclear at the time how much substance lay behind the rhetoric.

As the world dissected the president’s speech, newly-appointed Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell worked energetically in the background, visiting multiple times with Palestinian, Israeli and Arab leaders during 2009. Obama matched Mitchell’s diplomatic efforts with a significant policy change in May. During a joint press conference at the White House with recently-elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama set a precondition for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He announced that real progress could not be achieved without the Israelis first implementing a settlement freeze. The move was well-reasoned, noted Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lierberthal and Michael O’Hanlon in a recent essay. “Restricting settlement activity should have improved the environment for negotiations and reduced Palestinian mistrust of Israeli intentions.”

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The Arab Spring and the Image of Islam

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Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Vince Millett

Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Vince Millett

Based on lecture at the Advanced Studies Research Center, Brussels, Belgium.

The multi-season Arab Spring is the third anti-imperialist Arab revolt in less than a century: against the Ottoman empire, against the Western Italian–French–English empire, and now the US-Israel empire. The empires hit back. The Ottomans were weak, but England–France–Israel even invaded Egypt in 29 October 1956––in the shadow of the Hungarian revolt against the Soviet empire that crumbled nearly a quarter century later. And now it is the turn of USA–Israel to try to maintain an illegitimate structure.

So much for the background. In the foreground is class, pitting the powerless at the bottom against the powerful at the top. Wealth flows upward, accelerated by corruption; military, police and secret police forces protect the top against revolts; decision-making is by dictatorships; all of this that used to be justified by the fight against communism is now hitched on to fight against Islamism.  Needless to say, we can have corrupt, brutal dictatorships in Arab countries without any imperial backing. Like in former colonies––Libya, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria––where borders were drawn regardless of inner and outer fault-lines. The architects thought that by sheer force they could contain such “indigenous tribal” conflicts. Their successors followed in their tracks, with dictatorship and force. But less so in Egypt and Tunisia: they were old, established countries.

But imperialism, as opposed to naked force, works through local elites that can do whatever they want to their people as long as they serve the imperial interests. The Ottoman empire was run from Istanbul; the Western empire was partly based on monarchs that were deposed. The US–Israel empire is based on more ordinary corruptible, brutal dictators.

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An Unlikely Peace: Iran’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons is Likely to Lead to War

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Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressing the Security Council.  Rick Bajornas/UN

“It is not in our hands to prevent the murder of workers…and families…but it is in our hands to fix a high price for our blood, so high that the Arab community and the Arab military forces will not be willing to pay it.” – Moshe Dayan, Warrior: the autobiography of Ariel Sharon

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressing the Security Council. Rick Bajornas/UN

As Israel has faced the threat of Arab armies and Islamic terrorism throughout its history, it has struggled to maintain a strong deterrence in the Middle East, one that will prevent other countries in the region from continuing to attack and to kill Israeli citizens. One of today’s most important issues in foreign affairs is Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons and how their journey towards nuclear dominance in the Middle East might bring America and Israel into the conflict.

In Israel this issue is arguably more pertinent than anywhere else. The fear of a second Holocaust at the hands of an unstable regime in Iran is feared by most every citizen in Israel and their government is doing everything in its power to prevent Iran from achieving that goal. From a country who has called Israel “a true cancer tumor on the region that should be cut off,” Israelis have every right to be afraid of Iran achieving their goal of nuclear weapons and Israel has every right to continue to defend against that threat.

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Profiting from Patience: Why Israel Should Not Act Unilaterally Against Iran

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Israeli military units conducting exercises. Photo: Ori Shifrin

“As Prime Minister, I will never gamble with the security of the State of Israel.” – Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech to AIPAC, March 5, 2012

Israeli military units conducting exercises. Photo: Ori Shifrin

Even before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage at the 2012 AIPAC conference, the crowd of more than 13,000 participants knew what the topic of his speech would be: Iran. Speaking with passion unmatched by any of the other notable speakers, including US President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres, PM Netanyahu used biblical quotes, touching personal stories, and unbridled rhetoric to ensure that those in attendance understood that Israel would no longer stand by as Iran developed a nuclear weapons program.

His speech made it clear that Israel was losing patience with the diplomatic approach that has been favored by President Obama, and that Israel was seriously considering unilateral military action. This threat, credible or not, would not create the stability that PM Netanyahu seeks for his country. On the contrary, unilateral military action by Israel could possibly be the worst course of action available. Iran’s search for nuclear weapons has created a regional and global political environment that is substantially more beneficial to Israel than ever before. Such an environment would no longer exist should Israel pursue pre-emptive military action.

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Why Iran will Compromise this Time

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House, July 6, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

As we inch closer to the crucial nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers, the so-called P5+1, the primordial question is whether this time will be different: Is Tehran willing to make necessary compromises – from greater nuclear transparency to more stringent restrictions on its enrichment activities - to reverse the economic siege that is bringing the country close to the edge? Is she going to use the talks as a delaying tactic or will she finally strike a mutually-acceptable deal with the West?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House, July 6, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

From the perspective of the Iranian leadership, with sanctions beginning to squeeze the Iranian economy - atop intensifying threats of military invasion and a growing Western naval presence in the Persian Gulf - the nuclear impasse is worryingly morphing into a question of regime survival. Sure, the regime has significant resources – both financial and military – as its disposal to head-off growing international isolation, and pursue its nuclear program, but growing external pressure can affect the very foundation of Iran’s trillion-dollar industrializing economy. Moreover, growing economic uncertainty – compounding decades-long structural economic challenges - could also impact the country’s very social cohesion, amidst lingering discontent among certain quarters of the population.

This is precisely why this time could be different, and there are no shortages of diplomatic overtures on the part of Iran, signaling Tehran’s interest in resolving the crisis. If there is one thing that is consistent with the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is her undying instinct for self-preservation. Moreover, the Iranian regime is anything but monolithic: even within the upper echelons of the politico-military leadership, pragmatic forces have always sought to prevent any crisis or conflict, which would endanger the country’s territorial integrity. After all, the 1979 Iranian Revolution was nationalistic: its founding principles emphasized Iran’s territorial integrity and independence.

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Netanyahu’s and Obama’s Unsavory Choices on Iran

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President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pete Souza/White House

Whether Iran’s goal is ultimately to produce a nuclear weapon is unknown, but as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said last weekend during his meetings in Washington, if it looks, walks and talks like a duck, it is usually a duck. He also asked a simple question – Would Iran be producing its missile program simply to place medical isotopes on top of their missiles?

President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pete Souza/White House

At least one world leader is asking the right questions and looking this issue squarely in the face. The others, including President Obama, seem to believe that if the West is patient enough, Iran will buckle under the weight of sanctions, and the breakthrough (if that is what it really is) recently achieved with North Korea will prove to be achievable with Iran.

Well, in the event that time was not limited and the potential consequences of an Iranian bomb were not so frightening, he might have an argument – but we do not believe he does. The Obama administration faces limited options in addressing its dilemma with Iran. While each choice carries its own risks and rewards, the fact that this is an election year in the United States, Israel and Iran taints any option. In short, what was an unsavory range of alternatives is now a question of which is the best looking horse in the glue factory.

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Iran, Israel and the U.S.: The Slide To War

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President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

“The challenge is the potential arming of Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities. That is a great danger to all of us.” – Benjamin Netanyahu

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was. It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out if there will be a war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

First off, because oil and gas are involved, a war would have global ramifications. Iran supplies China with about 15 percent of its oil, and India with 10 percent. It is a major supplier to Europe, Turkey, Japan and South Korea, and it has the third largest oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserves in the world. Some 17 million barrels per day pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a significant part of the globe’s energy supply. In short, the actors in this drama are widespread and their interests as diverse as their nationalities.

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When Netanyahu Crossed the Line

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem

The bombing of an Israeli embassy car in Delhi threatens India’s diplomatic maneuvers between Israel and Iran, and has put India’s discreetly nurtured ties with Israel since 1992 through a severe test.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem

Those who are attracted to Israel’s depiction of Iran as a terrorist threat to world peace would do well to read historian Mark Perry’s account, revealing that Israel is recruiting, and collaborating with, terrorist groups in a secret war with Iran. That low-level conflict is spreading. Israel’s latest reaction should be seen in the light of Perry’s revelations. The Israeli government’s hasty and aggressive posture following the Delhi bombing has caused offense in the Indian capital. Officials in Delhi have made plain that India will not be recruited into the anti-Iran alliance under Israeli–U.S. pressure. India will not allow “Washington, the Jewish lobby and much of Europe to push the country into a corner” over Iran.

How India conducts its ties with that country dating back to ancient times is its business. Furthermore, police investigations into the bombing cannot be rushed to suit external interests. The law of the land must take its course. What particularly irked Indian officials was that immediately after the Delhi bomb (another device was defused by Georgian police in Tbilisi on the same day), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sought to upstage India’s police investigations into the incident. Netanyahu described the Iranian government as the world’s “largest terror exporter” and Hezbollah in Lebanon as Iran’s “protégé.”

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Iranian Attack on the U.S. Unlikely

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CBS' "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer interviews Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, center, and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

US intelligence officials have recently warned that Iran may attempt to conduct attacks on the US mainland in retaliation for what is presumed to be ongoing US and Israeli covert efforts to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions.

CBS’ “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer interviews Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, center, and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

Computer viruses have infected Iran’s nuclear laboratories, aerial drones have violated its airspace, and several of its nuclear scientists have been assassinated. Given the evidence that international economic sanctions against Tehran are beginning to have a significant impact on the Iranian economy, and given Iran’s increasing isolation, some analysts believe that Iran may think it has little to lose by attacking the US homeland.

We believe that an Iranian attack on the US is unlikely, but the Iranian government may believe such an attack is in its best interest, if: It conducted an attack in such a way as to make full-scale retaliation unlikely. A war between Iran and the US would ultimately prove a Pyrrhic victory. Facing growing discontent, it became desperate and felt it must take action in order preserve itself.

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