"Rumors of war" are not helping alleviate tensions in the Middle East.
Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and a contributing editor to The National Interest, made the following observation this morning:
Perceptions in Iran of hostile intent are far greater than generally understood in the West. A Russian journalist wrote several weeks ago about something called "Operation Bite," a well-detailed (and completely imaginary) planned U.S. attack against Iranian nuclear and military facilities, to take place during the low news cycle of Easter weekend (this Friday at 4am). The piece wasn't translated into English and was largely consigned to a few low-circulation blogs in the United States and Britain. But it got wall-to-wall coverage in the Farsi-language Iranian press. This, combined with recent U.S. statements about targeting Iranian agents in Iraq, the capture of Iranian diplomats in Irbil, and significantly increased U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf has created an aggressive, hostile mentality among Iranian elites, many of whom increasingly feel that the United States is looking for an excuse to attack.
The Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported "Russian intelligence has information that the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in the Persian Gulf have nearly completed preparations for a missile strike against Iranian territory", but qualified this by adding: "American commanders will be ready to carry out the attack in early April, but it will be up to the country's political leadership to decide if and when to attack." The initial reports gained credence when Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, voiced his opinion that the story was valid and that the Pentagon was planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran's military infrastructure in the near future.
So, take these reports, take the withdrawal of large numbers of Russian technicians from Iran (leaving because of payment disputes or because, as suspicious minds might wonder, to avoid being killed in U.S. airstrikes), and then the spectacle of Congressional leaders stripping out of legislation provisions that would require the president to gain prior approval before launching any sort of military strike on Iran-and the stage is set for all sorts of misinterpreted signals.
My prediction is that the British military personnel will not be released until after the reported "start date" for this "Operation Bite."
Meanwhile, Ha'aretz's Aluf Benn (also a contributing editor to The National Interest), is reporting: "Israel's political and military leadership has been preparing in recent weeks for the possibility of a Syrian attack on the Golan Heights that will start as a result of a "miscalculation" on the part of the Syrians, who may assume that Israel intends to attack them." Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin presented information that "Iran and Syria believe that a war this summer will be initiated by the U.S. and that Israel will be involved. He said that the preparations were defensive, adding that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah were not expected to initiate the war."
When tensions are high, intentions are unclear and forces mobilized for battle, the possibility of an accidental incident are high. Let's not be brandishing any guns about if we aren't prepared to pull the trigger.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.