Weather clears for a US strike on Iran
By Victor Kotsev
War drums are beating in the Middle East. In a short time, the United States
has increased the number of its carrier strike groups opposite Iran to three,
and reports are raining down of a tightening ring of American and Israeli
concentrations all around the Islamic Republic. On the diplomatic front, the
Israelis are unusually concerned about their international image (for example,
making concessions in Gaza) while their top officials - including Defense
Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself - are
shuttling between Jerusalem and Washington.
Everybody in the region is restless. Turkey is making spectacular diplomatic
pirouettes. Egypt is quietly seething, and Saudi Arabia less quietly so.
Jordan's king had ruefully predicted war if no peace was achieved by the summer
, and summer has now
come. Syria and Lebanon are positioning themselves to weather the coming storm
. Yemen is in disarray. Russia, China, India, and a host of other powers are
vying to make the best of the fracas. The Iranian regime itself appears to be
digging in for a fight.
By most accounts, a cataclysm is approaching. The situation, according to
analyst Tony Badran, is "arguably similar to the one immediately preceding the
1967 Arab-Israeli war". Some very detailed analyses of the technical details of
an Israeli strike on Iran are also available, such as David Moon's Asia Times
Online story "The anatomy of an attack on Iran" . An Israeli expedition into
Iran may well take this course; however, at this point it seems very likely
that if a strike occurs, it will involve Israel and the US acting in tandem.
The US appears to have stepped up covert operations and preparations for action
against Iran. Persistent reports reveal that American forces have been
concentrating around the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus, most remarkably in
Yemen and Azerbaijan, and that US and Israeli air forces have recently been
practicing joint bombing drills. It may be, therefore, that the US is simply on
a geostrategic collision course with Iran, and doesn't feel confident enough
that Israel will be able to do the job.
According to a Stratfor monograph from February 27 titled "The Geopolitics of
Iran", for example, the Islamic Republic cannot put up with a US presence on
its borders, and has consequently tried hard to "manipulate ethnic and
religious tensions in Iraq and Afghanistan to undermine the American positions
there and divert American attention to defensive rather than offensive goals".
The greatest threat to Iran in recent centuries has
been a foreign power dominating Iraq - Ottoman or British - and extending its
power eastward not through main force but through subversion and political
manipulation. The view of the contemporary Iranian government toward the United
States is that, during the 1950s, it assumed Britain's role of using its
position in Iraq to manipulate Iranian politics and elevate the shah to power.
This in itself - not to mention the interests of other vital American allies
such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt - might be reason enough for an American
However, all this is only a part of the picture. An attack on Iran will likely
spark a conflict that is brutal and intense, but relatively short-lived and
militarily inconclusive. The US interest is to end up with as little spilt
blood as possible. As a rule, no Middle East war in the last 60 years has
lasted for much longer than a month (the shortest and most spectacular one
ended in just six days), and this is no coincidence. Nobody in the region, Iran
and Israel included, can sustain an all-out campaign for very long, and in
fact, nobody is likely to even attempt an all-out campaign. Such an option
would be too devastating given the destructiveness of modern military
technology and carry too great a risk of outside intervention. Russia has also
repeatedly warned that it would not tolerate a major war close to its borders.
Stratfor's broader geostrategic prognosis also points to a deadlock of sorts:
always, the Persians face a major power prowling at the edges of their
mountains. The mountains will protect them from main force but not from the
threat of destabilization. Therefore, the Persians bind their nation together
through a combination of political accommodation and repression. The major
power will eventually leave. Persia will remain so long as its mountains stand.
The main impact of a military campaign, therefore, would not be military. The
true battle will be one of persuasion, and the target will be the Iranian
people as well as the Muslim and broader international community. Luckily for
the US, Israel, and their Middle Eastern allies, it appears that there is a
growing international consensus against Iran, and that at the very least most
states would once again refrain from too much criticism of the dominant
superpower. If that happens, the Iranian regime could be quickly humiliated and
weakened, its nuclear program set back by many years, and its international
isolation deepened. In this case, seething internal tensions would eventually
lead to regime change in the Islamic Republic.
Moreover, such a development would shake up the status quo in the Middle East,
giving US President Barack Obama much needed leverage to push through an
Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Having fulfilled his most important pre-election
promise, in turn, would make Netanyahu more prone to compromise. Hamas would be
left adrift, more or less, and initiatives like Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas' recent peace public relations campaign might be able to take
hold and to galvanize some support in otherwise disillusioned Israeli and
Palestinian publics. 
Pessimistic scenarios also exist, but apocalyptic predictions of a major war
involving Syria and Lebanon are unlikely to materialize. In that respect,
right-wing Israeli blog Samson Blinded makes a couple of unusually sharp
observations: "[Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad remembers that the ayatollahs
did not help him when the IAF [Israeli Air Force] flattened his nuclear
reactor, and wouldn't be eager to help them. He understands that launching
Scuds at Israel would cost him Damascus, and perhaps something more important -
his throne. As the Arab saying goes, 'Syria is ready to fight Israel to the
last Egyptian soldier'."
Still, it is unclear weather at least some large-scale bloodletting could be
avoided, and Iran would likely be hit hard. Iraq and Afghanistan, already on
the verge of chaos, could be additionally destabilized, though a perceived US
victory against Iran would add some credibility to the American presence. Even
minor disruptions in shipping through the Strait of Hormuz could wreak havoc on
Despite these potential problems, Obama could get a chance to make something of
a generally bad situation he faces in the Middle East (for an insightful
analysis of the Afghanistan situation, see
Obama risks all on flip of a COIN Asia Times Online, June 29, 2010.
If he succeeds in minimizing the immediate fallout from an Iran campaign and
capitalizing on it to achieve even partial progress in the Israeli-Arab peace
talks, the embattled US president would get some major foreign policy credit to
compensate for the dark clouds looming elsewhere.
In all, it appears that some sort of a military showdown is all but unavoidable
between the Americans, the Israelis, and the Iranians. The most important
question, then, becomes to what extent the damage can be contained and what
opportunities might arise in it.