Rather than adhere to the Baker-Hamilton recommendations urging dialogue with Iran and Syria, US President George W. Bush has come out swinging.
As part of his Iraq "Surge" speech last Wednesday he promised to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria" and to "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq". British military heads, however, say they've seen no evidence of this.
Shortly afterwards, the president authorised a raid on an Iranian government mission in northern Iraq when six legitimate Iranian diplomats were abducted. Iran has demanded their release and compensation for the destruction of its offices.
Last week, US Vice-President Dick Cheney characterised the Iranian "threat" as "growing, multi-dimensional and of concern to everybody in the region", while warning that the US would take steps against any party out to destabilise Iraq.
Couple these snippets with the US aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear submarines congregating in the neighbourhood and the appointment of a neocon, pro-Israel admiral to command US forces in the Middle East.
Add a slew of newspaper reports that Israel is planning to attack Iranian nuclear sites using low-level nuclear bunker-busters and Sherlock Holmes would have a field day.
At the same time the US has sent 16 or more F16s to the Incirlink Airbase in southern Turkey along with refuelling planes and an early warning system.
Patriot anti-missile missiles are being deployed at American bases in the region, which indicates these may soon be vulnerable to attack.
Also suspect are the 25,500 extra US troops headed for Iraq. The consensus among the military is these are not enough to break the insurgency or tackle the sectarian conflict. They could, however, be used to contain Iraq's pro-Iranian Shiite militias, who would probably side with Tehran in any all-out US-Iranian war.
It's also worth noting that Israel has warned the 25,000-strong Iranian Jewish community to quit the country as a matter of urgency. Most have chosen to stay put.
White House spokes-man Tony Snow wrote off any threat to Iran's sovereignty as an "urban legend". He was trained by the best obfuscating school in the world Fox News.
Perhaps he can explain why US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is currently doing the regional rounds attempting to woo America's Sunni Arab allies on board the White House anti-Iranian bandwagon with nebulous promises of US re-engagement in the abandoned Israel-Palestinian peace process.
These are dangerous times. Tomorrow the caretakers of the Doomsday Clock are set to move the hands closer to midnight. We should all be concerned.
A Russian former fleet commander Admiral Edward Baltin says he believes the presence of US nuclear submarines in the region implies a likely strike on Iran. In this case, Tony Snow's "urban legend" is fast gaining legs.
If the Bush administration is bluffing in the hope Tehran will roll over by severing its links with Iraqi Shiites and offering up its nuclear ambitions on a platter, it could backfire with terrible consequences.
But given that the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he views a nuclear-armed Iran as an unacceptable existential threat and the US president is a chronic bungler with Messianic leanings it's likely the US is prepared to go the whole hog.
From Bush's perspective there is just one problem. How can he legitimise attacking Iran? The UN route is certainly closed to him. Russia and China have made their positions plain and had no hesitation using their powers of veto during a recent UN Security Council vote relating to Myanmar.
Then how could he possibly sell the idea of war with Iran to an already jaundiced and war-weary American public let alone a Democratic-led Cong-ress clamouring to bring "our boys" home? Put simply, he can't.
However, if Israel ignites the fire, as it did in 1981 when it bombed Iraq's Tuwaitha facility in the hallowed name of its security, the US will have a clear road to weigh in. From Israel's perspective, though, this option is fraught due to its proximity to Iran's allies Hezbollah and Syria, which have recently been strengthening their arsenals.
So what's left? Could it be that the US is deliberately goading Iran in the hope of being given an excuse to let fly? What happens if Iran refuses to take the bait? Another Gulf of Tonkin-type false-flag event?
Finally, I would like to leave you with a prÃ©cis of an Arab legend, recently quoted in a fine article by Mirza Yawar Baig titled The Black Bull Died Today.
Three bulls lived in harmony in a forest. In the forest roamed a tiger but each time he tried to attack one of the bulls the others came to his aid.
The tiger came up with an idea. When one of the bulls was grazing far away the crafty beast persuaded the others that their lives would be better without their friend. Seduced by the thought of extra grass, they agreed to let the tiger do his worst. Then there were two.
Of course it wasn't long before the tiger approached another bull and persuaded him to ditch the other. Soon the last bull left standing received another visit from the tiger. He looked in the creature's eyes and knew that this time he was the target. Too late, he realised the death of his brothers had sealed his own fate.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2007 Linda S. Heard
From Gulf News