It is show time over Iran. You are in a bind of your own making and, boy, am I glad to see that!
Allow me to explain.
The directly increasing Iranian belligerence vis-à-vis your pressure on Iran’s nuclear program indicates that a decision time has finally arrived. Your spokesman, the President of United States, having earlier included Iran as an integral part of the 'axis of evil' in a rush of blood, simply does not leave you with a ‘do-nothing’ option. You now have either to put up or shut up, once and for all.
Now let us see your options.
To start off, you could put unilateral sanctions on Iran. There is virtually no evidence, however, that unilateral sanctions have ever worked. You know very well that your country has imposed over 80 unilateral economic sanctions on foreign nations from 1995 to 2001. You also know that those sanctions cost U.S. companies up to $19 billion in 1995 alone. There are few items of international commerce of which your country has a monopoly. Target countries simply buy what they need elsewhere. The only losers are big American businesses, which lose sales to foreign competitors and whose reps you principally are.
Then is the putting of multilateral sanctions on Iran through the UN. Admittedly, multilateral sanctions have a better chance of success. These are, however, hard to maintain. And with China and Russia, Iran’s two major trading partners, present in the Security Council, these are also unlikely to materialize. Moreover, such sanctions too eventually break down, especially when the target country, such as your latest, has considerable deposits of tradable commodities like gold, diamonds or oil. Such goods are easily sold on international markets and difficult to trace. There are always those willing to buy sanctioned goods in return for big profits as your Iraq experience has shown you amply.
Suffice it to say that sanctions are not a policy. They are just a feel-good alternate for one, and often end up hurting the very people they are meant to help. Not that you care, but take the case of your country’s sanctions on Iraq. The only significant effect that those sanctions did produce was, according to a UN Children’s Fund Report, over 500,000 dead Iraqi children.
Next, you could get Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. There are, however, some deep-seated problems attached to this option too. Based on its known military capabilities, the Israeli Air Force can possibly conduct surgical strikes at 1000 Km plus range, but it is incapable of a sustained air campaign against a full range of targets at such a distance. According to one estimate, there are about 19 alleged nuclear facilities dispersed throughout Iran with no guarantees that this number is definite. It is very difficult to find, in the Iranian nuclear program, one vulnerable point destroying which the Iranian program is stopped or stalled for a long time.
Furthermore, targets that are well-defended, like the Iranian nuclear facilities, have to be attacked by a larger aerial force composed of attack aircraft, interceptors that protect them, and other support elements for e.g. air refueling, electronic countermeasures support, communication, and rescue etc. etc. For a long-term effect, therefore, any attempt to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities would necessitate sustainable operations on a relatively large number of targets and over an extended period of time.
Not having aircraft carriers of its own, taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities comprehensively would entail Israel conducting its operations from the facilities of a friendly country like Turkey or India. These states also have friendly relationships with Iran and are, therefore, not likely to allow Israel to use their territories for that purpose, which, in turn, would suggest that to have any worthwhile effects the Israeli attack aircraft would have to take off from air bases in Israel, fly 1,500-1,700 kms to the targets, destroy them, and then fly back the same distance—a daunting prospect for a doubtful outcome.
Secondly, the perceived cost of a violent Iranian reaction may forbid the Israeli leaders from following this course, especially when it is clear that with her limited long-range operational prowess only a progress delay in the Iranian nuclear program will be achieved. Iran does have a kind of balance of mutual deterrence with Israel. Groups like the Hezbollah, nurtured and supported by Iran, could be used to attack northern Israeli towns or Israeli interests all over the world. Then, Iran has already developed the long range Shihab series of ballistic missiles giving her the capability to strike directly at targets in Israel’s territory.
In a nutshell, the option of getting Israel to attack Iranian installations is difficult because the probability of success is low, the risks are high, and reprisals are certain. Israel could attack only a few Iranian targets and that too not as part of a sustainable operation over time but as a one time surprise action for an unsure result.
That brings us to your next option of using Israeli effort as a part of a larger American effort. This one is a non-starter. If your country undertakes joint preemptive strikes with Israel against Iran, it is sure to reinforce the existing perception in the Muslim world of an anti-Islamic Judeo-Christian conspiracy. Additionally, such an attack, particularly if it did not achieve its planned objectives, would have a destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East—the fountainhead of your much cherished substance, the oil. It could also lead to further acceleration of the Iranian program and a chain of violent clashes between Iran and Israel, as discussed in the preceding paragraphs.
Next, you could go it alone in a direct military confrontation.
It is no secret that your ideological godfather, Israel, believes that the key to the fight against the Iranian nuclear program is in your hands, especially after the war in Iraq. On November 8, 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in an interview given to the New York Post said that the U.S. war on terror should not end with Iraq. He added, “as soon as Iraq is dealt with, I will push for Iran to be at the top of the ‘to do’ list . . .”
Remember, please, that Iran is no Iraq. It is large, populous, rugged, and its nuclear facilities are spread throughout the country, some deep underground. A full-scale invasion would be a too-hot-to-handle venture for you. Agreed that in a conventional fight the Iranian army might provide no stiffer resistance than did the Iraqi army in 1991 or 2003 despite facing a demoralized and Iraq-fatigued American army. It is the post-invasion Iran that would prove to be the nightmare. This one fact you are now finding out through a whole lot of bloody lessons in the ‘cakewalk’ Iraq.
When one compares Iran to dictator Saddam’s Iraq where you thought you would be greeted as liberators, it is not too difficult to guess the degree, ferocity and popularity of a post-invasion Iranian resistance. Your invasion of Iran may finally prove to be that last straw on the camel's back in the unravelling of your great country à la the Soviet break-up post Afghanistan invasion. Iran’s ability to make it further difficult for you in Iraq and Afghanistan is, of course, a definite given.
That brings us to your final option, i.e. bargain with the Iranians. And it is here that you have truly become captives of your own bombast.
Bargaining with Iran would mean offering the present regime some incentives for disarmament while dropping the mad rhetoric of regime change. However, any overt bargain with Iran will surely be read as a tucking of your tail between your hind legs and a retreat from your much touted project of democratization and regional transformation.
Moreover, a bargain with Iran would also have global effects. The most serious would not be in France or Germany, whose governments have made it plain that they have no stomach for America’s future war parties or to oppose Iran, but in China and to a lesser degree in Russia. Beijing, Moscow and Tehran share a barely concealed dislike of the Pax Americana and have a long record of direct and indirect cooperation on nuclear and missile programs. A weak-kneed American deal would not only invite further aggressive thrusts form China and Russia into this region considered so vital to the well being of your beloved country, it would also sound the death knell for your empire building dreams.
In short, you are in a bind of your own making and one can clearly see you squirming in the cage. Yes, your mouthpiece, the U.S. President George Bush, had some harsh words for Iran in his State of the Union address the other night, but gone was the bellicose swagger from his tone. His pitch was very different from his post-9/11 State of the Union address in 2002, when he stridently hitched together Iraq, Iran and North Korea in an "axis of evil." Now, he says "the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons." The world, please note, not the United States. Five years of misrule, a rapidly awakening citizenry and a bloody nose in Iraq does that, I guess.
Now what will you do, dear Neocons?
This story was published on February 6, 2006.