On Poison Pills and Game Changers – CP/Sic Semper Tyrannis

by Newsstand


The US-Iranian nuclear deal has many enemies, most notably Israel (and their volunteer/hiree US proxies) and the Saudis, who are getting bonkers about the prospect of a shifting regional balance of power in which Iran emerges as a regional power again. Both are lashing out angrily, on several fronts:

Israeli Theatre:

The DC Front

Israel has mobilised its surrogates and its more deep pocketed partisans have shifted campaign contributions to Republicans in order to punish the Democrats and disincentivise them from supporting Obama’s rapprochement with Iran, while at the same time making it a partisan issue, leveraging the US partisan divide in Israel’s favour.

The IAEA and Sanctions Front

Former IAEA nuclear inspector Robert Kelly has lined out in an interview with the Deutsche Welle how the deal with Iran contains a poison pill that can be used to delay a clean bill of health for Iran by perpetuating inspections forever:

Since dispelling any doubt about a possible military use of Irans nuclear program is a precondition for lifting the sanctions, perpetuating doubt is a way to perpetuate the sanctions.

“Robert Kelley: The IAEA is receiving external information, primarily from intelligence agencies in Israel and the United States. And they have written up … a whole series of allegations that Iran had a nuclear weapons program prior to 2004 and it may have continued past that point. … All those things are thrown out as accusations with very little proof or information where the allegations came from.

DW: How credible are those accusations in your eyes?

Robert Kelley: Many of these accusations I find to be quite incredible. …

DW: … Could those allegations be part of an effort to derail the nuclear deal with Iran?

Robert Kelley: Absolutely yes! It is a poison pill that is included in the deal. People know that the IAEA is going to be unable to reach a decision on these issues because it is beyond their capability. So when the IAEA needs to be satisfied before the sanctions are lifted, history tells you: This will not happen.

That is the very point, the idea being having the IAEA inspect ad nauseam and keep it that way by periodically throwing in new accusations (perhaps a Laptop of Doom II), which then too, must to be investigated ad nauseam to dispel any lingering doubt etc. pp. and keep the dance going, with the added hope that Iran at some point, nauseated, quits.

The Lebanon and Syria fronts

All is quiet on the northern front, for now, with the exception of occasional Israeli attacks against against targets of opportunity in Lebanon and Syria.

The Israelis are itching for revenge for their embarassing defeat in 2006, to ‘restore deterrence’, which, miraculously, wasn’t restored by bombing Gaza the last time, and the time before, and the time before that or by the sack of Southern Lebanon and Beirut from the air in 2006. Puzzling!

Suggestion: Maybe the whole idea of periodically ‘restoring deterrence’ is BS? After all, for that periodic restoration to be necessary, deterrence needs to get lost all the time. How come? Perhaps there is something fundamentally flawed in the approach.

In the Israeli view, the reason for the dysfunction is that Israel has not achieved a decisive victory. They seek a Siegfrieden (i.e. winner-take-all), not the status quo or, it’s a bit naive, I know, peace.

Israel sees Hezbollah engaged in Syria fighting with Assad against the headchopping Jihadis and may conclude that Hezbollah is overstretched. They also probably estimate that that constitutes a weakness and that if they attack Hezbollah now, they’ll have an easier time than in 2006, perhaps even be supported by Jihadis from Syria, catching Hezbollah in a two front war. Given that Saudi Arabia and Israel form a de-facto alliance against Iran, the Saudis would probably be delighted to see Jihadis join that fight.  Already, there are Jihadi incursions into Lebanon.

Israel would, in an attack against Lebanon, massively attack civilian infrastructure in an act of deliberate collective punishment. Their capability to do so has only increased since 2006, and even then the effects were already devastating.

Beyond that, Israel would pursue several objectives in a war in Lebanon – harming Hezbollah and getting even for 2006, helping the Syrian Jihadis against Assad (Israel already treats wounded Jabat al-Nusra fighters from Syria [to wit: Al-Qaeda, swore allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, re-branded]) and perhaps achieve his fall, and aggravate Iran so much as to scuttle the deal.

To be able to aim at all that in one go is for Israel a strong incentive for war in Lebanon. For the Netanyahoo – what’s not to like?

Trita Parsi and Paul Pillar have recently published an OpEd in which they line out how Israel in pursuit of a game changer might this summer attack Lebanon.

“There are signs Israel may be at war again this summer. This time, not with Hamas in Gaza but with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Such a war may be the result not only of spillover from the Syrian war or ongoing Israeli-Hezbollah tensions. The deciding factor may be an Israeli calculation that war will shift momentum in the U.S. Congress decisively against the pending nuclear deal with Iran — a deal that critics say will increase Iran’s maneuverability in the region, including its support for Hezbollah.”

They are probably right. I think that Israel, led by the Netanyahoo, is absolutely capable of such a violent tantrum, which would likely plunge Lebanon into a second civil war (made worse with Jihadis joining the fray from Syria … so many more apostates to behead). In doing so, Bibi would get a whole lot more killed than just the Iran deal.

One would suppose that what the region right now needs is stability, but the Israelis appear to not think so. Pat’s suggestion that Israel’s goal appears to be the pauperisation of its neighbours seems disturbingly accurate.

Indeed, with Syria ruled by Jihadis, the Israelis would probably in their inimical way claim that they now (finally) must annex the Golan, for security reasons – after all, in the Jihadis they ‘don’t have a partner for peace’, and while at it, why not take the entire West-Bank too, for security reasons, as an indispensable buffer zone against the Jihadi threat (that they helped create, but why bother).

Saudi Theatre

The Saudis are right now at Peak Paranoid about all things Shia and have convinced themselves that Shia are under every stone, and that they must roll back what in their fertile imagination amounts to a global Shia threat– the Shia Crescend.

There is the Shia minority in Saudi-Arabia proper (~15%, probably under-reported, and treated as second class citizens and potential 5th columnists), there is Iran (~89% of the population being at least nominally Shia), there is Iraq or what’s left of it (Shia make up ~70% of the population), there is Yemen (Shia there are ~45% of the population, and never mind they are 5ers), Syria (allied with Iran, and worse, ruled by also apostate Alawites, so, all the same) and even Lebanon (where Shia make up ~27% of the population, also probably under-reported).

I’d like to point out that the Shia live there for a very long time, so their presence shouldn’t come as a surprise. And yet, to the Saudis the Shia, once empowered, are a threat, and are all surrogates of Tehran, hear each other think, and have no will or interests of their own.

Apparently to Saudi thinking a Shia is what a Jew was/is to a Nazi, and is being treated with Nurembergish laws, the occasional pogrom and regarded in fear of a Shia World Conspiracy.  Given that Saudi attitudes about Shia as apostates and not much better than dogs are obviously informed by religious bigotry, this now officially extends to their foreign policy.

Yemeni Front

In Yemen the Saudis appear to be content with strangling the Yemenis while bombing them at will with impunity ant try not to go there since a ground war is too costly (and that Pakistani Corps is staying home). The Houthis are apparently quite a handful to deal with Mano-a-Mano and merrily warlike, and the Saudis are not.

In the meanwhile, the UN is reporting that a large scale humanitarian crisis is imminent because of the blockade’s effect on food supplies, meaning that widespread hunger is imminent since Yemen must import about 70% of the food it needs. The US aid the blockade and are silent.

 Syria Front

Saudi and Turkish support for Jihadi groups appears to bear fruit and there have been gains against the Syrian government by the almost completely foreign sponsored opposition.

Under the Nicaragua precedent the support of insurgents in other nations is a violation of national sovereignty and the mandate of non-interference in internal matters of the targeted country. That is so even when one invokes R2P as an extraordinary justification (i.e. legalising conduct otherwise illegal) to intervene anyway (which, notably, the Turks and Saudis don’t do).

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are for all practical purposes at war with Syria and support opponents of the Syrian government with supply, intelligence and training in violation of international law. Washington, having been supportive of regime change and the overthrow of Assad from the onset, is more or less silent even as it observes with increasing unease the rise of the Jihadi elements that Turkish and Saudi support is empowering. Not that that slowed the Turks or Saudis down.


I observe that these days we’re back to the Cabinet Wars of old (pre-1914), in which countries, after more or less thorough deliberation, decide in national cabinets to go to war, just as if it still was the prerogative of monarchs.

Another curious parallel is that Washington ever since Clinton has increasingly pursued a ‘Politik der freien Hand‘ – emphasising ‘Freedom of Action’, in which ‘all options’ are always ‘on the table’ – much like Wilhelm II  abandoning the system of alliances and restraints forged by Bismarck to protect Germany from disastrous two-front wars. It didn’t serve Germany well.

Today’s Cabinet Wars are being waged in violation of the prohibition of war and in violation of national sovereignty, as if war was still, or is again, a normal tool of statecraft. No more, but – who cares? In my impression it was primarily unbound US conduct and precedent since the Clinton years, much exacerbated by Bush 43 and his troupe, that has legitimated such behaviour by states, which had the predictable destabilising effect.

In a sense, I miss the old days in which nations at least had the courtesy to formally declare war. That was in many ways more honest, if just as dumb. O tempora, o mores!

Sic Semper Tyrannis : On Poison Pills and Game Changers (by CP).