[Viewpoint] Why war is not an optionDeadlock persists between Iran and the West over the controversial Iranian nuclear program. Even though another round of talks has been proposed, the grapevine gaining momentum in diplomatic and strategic circles is that the attack on Iran is “not a matter of if, but rather when.” In other words, the United States will resort to the military option against Iran. But this war cry appears to be far-fetched. There are many reasons why armed conflagration between Iran and the West is improbable.
Prima facie, the situation looks similar to 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq. There is a sense of deja vu among the observers. But it needs to be kept in mind that Iran is not Iraq. At that time, Iraq was an isolated country. Cutoff almost entirely from the rest of the world, Baghdad didn’t have any friends in the neighborhood. Also, Iraq was a dictatorship.
Iran is different in the sense that it is a functioning democracy, where people enjoy a certain degree of political freedom and economic independence and a relatively high standard of living. Hence, domestic opposition to the regime remains miniscule, notwithstanding American attempts to engineer a Color revolution in Iran since 2009 on the lines of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Moreover, Iran’s conventional military firepower is way more developed than that of Saddam’s Iraq, boasting a stockpile of ballistic missiles, fighter aircraft and submarines.
After the not-so-pleasant Iraqi experience, the world is skeptical about Washington’s claims that Tehran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program; similar accusations of Baghdad possessing the weapons of mass destruction were the pretext on which the U.S. launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. However, no WMD has been found.
A lot has changed since then. America is not the America of 2003, when it could unilaterally act at will and the world had no other option but to follow Uncle Sam. In the past decade, the world has witnessed the rise of China and India and the resurgence of Russia on the world stage, along with the simultaneous relative decline of the West. These countries don’t readily support the American stance on Iran.
Therefore, it will be an uphill task for the United States to garner international support in the UN and other international fora as any such unilateral step is bound to be met with stiff resistance by these emerging powers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already warned that a military strike against Iran would be “a great mistake, followed by a catastrophic outcome.” China and India have also advocated diplomatic solutions to the crisis.
Despite all these constraints, if the U.S. decides to go ahead with the war option against Iran, there could be two scenarios. In the first case, the U.S., along with Israel, will directly engage in war, using its military assets in the region, though it seems impractical since Israel will have to cross Iraqi territory in order to reach Iranian nuclear sites, and Baghdad has clearly stated that it won’t allow the use of its airspace by the Israeli Air Force.
When faced with an attack, the first and the most expected reaction of Iran would be the shutting down of the crucial Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. Navy’s big aircraft carriers and warships are simply redundant when it comes to combating the small fast attack boats and naval mines planted by the Iranian elite force Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In a more unlikely second scenario, the U.S. could incite its Sunni proxy in the region and staunch enemy of Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia, to carry out surgical strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. Riyadh would be wise enough not to do so as it may stir up revolt in its own oil-rich Shia-dominated eastern provinces and also in Shiite Bahrain, home to the United States Sixth Fleet. Hence, this step has the potential to escalate the clash into a full-fledged regional conflagration.
Since this is an election year in America, lobbying in Washington is at its peak. In order to win the election again, President Obama would need the support of both the left and the right. He will have to walk a tightrope between the pro-Israeli, anti-Iran American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) lobby and Military Industrial Complex on the one hand, which are pushing the administration to punish Iran, and Big Oil on the other, with assets worth billions of dollars in the region that are at stake.
* The author is a freelance political analyst based in India.
by Sameer Jafri