Mercury rising in Gulf

IRAN has responded with greater defiance to the worldwide concern over its missile tests and war games in the Gulf on Wednesday with more missile tests. Clearly, a nervous Teheran is seeking to underscore the message that it is 'prepared' for an Israel-US attack on the country.

However, as this newspaper argued in this space yesterday, this desperate show of power and muscle-flexing on the part of Iran — and Israel of course — could only further heighten the tensions between Teheran and the West and exacerbate the crisis.

When you have so much tension, mistrust and suspicion on both sides, any minor incident or accident could lead to explosions with catastrophic consequences in an extremely sensitive and strategic region.

Predictably, the United States has responded to the latest series of missile tests with strongly worded warnings and threats.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has reminded the Islamic republic that the US takes its obligation to defend its allies very seriously and it intends to do that. "In the Gulf area, the United States has enhanced its security capacity, its security presence and we are working closely with all our allies... to make [sure] they are capable of defending themselves," the top US diplomat emphasised. Israel has promised its own response in the days to come.

Clearly, even if Iran is not seen as the belligerent party in the Middle East and even if this game of brinkmanship was not started by it, the Islamic republic is playing into the hands of the Israeli lobby and the US hawks by resorting to these gimmicks.

More importantly, these shenanigans can very well be used by the hawks as an excuse to hit Iran.

This is why the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Muslim countries that are friends with both Iran and United States should persuade the two sides to resolve this business at the negotiating table, not in the Gulf waters.

Right now Iran needs to exercise utmost restraint and caution. For its part, the US must strongly advise Israel against taking any hasty and drastic measures against Iran on its own. Iran is not a sitting duck like Iraq had been; and if it retaliates against Israel and US targets, the consequences can be disastrous for the whole region.

At a time when Iraq is still burning, the Palestine-Israel conflict continues to shed innocent blood and the world is battling a worsening economic crisis, the last thing the Middle East — and the world — needs is another pointless and catastrophic war. It would not be in anybody's interest. No matter who starts this war, all of us will be its victims.

And all of us will pay for it.

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