Thursday, November 01, 2012

Existential Threats and Wars Of Choice

Alan G Jamieson submits his scenario of what a war with Iran may look like:
The fact is that Israeli governments are rightly worried about starting a new war in the Middle East whose final outcome nobody can definitely predict. In the end Israel can probably co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran, just as the US learned to live with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union. After all, Israelis and Iranians have one thing in common: both groups dislike the Arabs.

Saudi Arabia and the other Arab monarchies of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have played as great a role as Israel and the US in bringing about the present situation where an attack on Iran seems increasingly likely. Indeed Saudi Arabia has now replaced Egypt as Israel's principal de facto Muslim ally, whatever the denials from Riyadh.

Thus the forces assembling to assault Iran are not doing so because of some existential threat posed by that country, but are engaged in an exercise in great power aggression. The three principal actors - Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia - believe that curbing Iran's power, and possibly overthrowing the regime of the ayatollahs, will benefit their interests. Israel wants to preserve its monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East; America wants vengeance on the only non-nuclear armed state which has persistently defied its hegemonic power since 1979; and Saudi Arabia desperately wants to preserve its self-declared leadership of the Muslim world in the face of Iranian challenges. Will these three powers succeed in their aims?

If past precedent is anything to go by, they may be successful, at least in the short run. The traditional script for an Israeli or American attack on a Muslim country in the Middle East goes as follows. Israel/US is said to be provoked beyond endurance by the state and threatens military action. The target Muslim state blusters and makes wild threats about the destruction it will inflict on any attackers, a refrain taken up by its supporters around the world, who forecast world chaos if the country is attacked.

Israel/US launches a military assault on the country; its armed forces are quickly defeated; and the world does not collapse into chaos. Any wider effects of the conflict (higher oil prices, etc.) are only short-lived. The regime of the country may or may not be overthrown as a consequence of its defeat, but it will certainly be reluctant to face such a military onslaught again, no matter how much its people may resent their humiliation.

Only if Israel or the US unwisely turns military victory into the occupation of Muslim territory does their success all too quickly turn to prolonged, expensive and bloody asymmetric warfare. Israel learned this in Arab lands after 1967 and in Lebanon after 1982; the US has had similar experiences in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq from 2003. Governments are easy to curb or overthrow, but popular resistance is much more difficult to deal with.

Despite Iran's dogged performance in its war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988, when it eventually ended up fighting an Iraq supported not just by the rest of the Arab world but also by the US and other Western states, such prolonged revolutionary resistance is unlikely in a future conflict. More likely a new war with Iran will follow the scenario noted above. Israel and the US (now with the added assistance of a Muslim power, Saudi Arabia) will find continued Iranian intransigence a provocation and will threaten military action.

The Iranians will bluster and threaten the destruction of anybody who attacks them, while worldwide 'liberal' opinion will prophesy the end of civilization if war comes to the Middle East. Iran will be attacked and its armed forces swiftly crushed (so that oil prices do not soar to great heights for too long). The chastened ayatollahs (if their regime survives) will have to admit defeat, but most Iranians will never forget this unholy attack by Christians, Jews and (Sunni) Muslims, and sooner or later Iran will return to the pursuit of the nuclear option as the only way to guarantee national independence.

If the United States is reckless, it may (as has been suggested) occupy Iran's Gulf coast, where most of the country's oil and gas reserves are located. Probably the retreating Iranians would destroy most of the production facilities, creating a worse environmental disaster than Saddam Hussein's retreating forces caused in Kuwait in 1991, but the Americans would have the lure of an occupation that would pay for itself once the facilities had been repaired.

No doubt some of the profits from American exploitation of Iran's energy resources would be put in a special fund to be released once a regime favorable to the US had been established in Tehran, but the Americans would find it difficult to present such exploitation as anything other than naked imperialist robbery. Iranian guerrilla resistance might pose problems, while the ending of American energy dependence on Saudi Arabia and other GCC states would soon alienate them, however popular it might be with the American public.

Of course the past is merely a possible guide to the future. Nothing is inevitable. The Iranians may not collapse as rapidly as all their Muslim predecessors from Nasser's Egypt to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. If the Iranians can survive the initial attack and preserve the means to retaliate, then they may be able to sustain a prolonged war against their principal adversaries, certainly longer than the one month war recently forecast by an Israeli government minister. The longer the war goes on, the more likely that its effects will further damage an already weak world economy.

Although missiles dropping on Tel Aviv or sinking American warships may give satisfaction to some Iranians, they are more likely to direct their retaliation against the weaker members of the anti-Iran coalition: Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states.

If the Iranians destroy the oil and gas production, storage and loading facilities on the Gulf coasts of states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, it will not matter if the United States Navy keeps the Strait of Hormuz open for tanker traffic. Any tankers that get through will find nowhere to load cargoes of oil and gas.

The price of oil is currently around US$100 a barrel. If a war with Iran led to the doubling of that price, the US would soon find its European and Japanese allies begging for an end to the conflict. Should the price of oil go appreciably higher than $200 a barrel and remain at that level for more than a month or so, then the world economy would be in a major crisis.

An early sign would be the end of commercial air traffic as prolonged high oil prices would soon drive most airlines into bankruptcy. Should such a situation arise, perhaps those who have decided to start a war of choice not necessity might then recognize the need to bring it to an end before it threatens the economic prosperity of the whole world.
Via: "Asia Times Online"

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