Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Iran...will they or won't they?

If you believe the US, Iran apparently has a missile that can hit Europe.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that Iran has the ability to launch a ballistic missile capable of hitting sections of eastern and southern Europe.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told reporters he believes Iran now has a missile with a range of 1,250 miles, but he declined to say whether the weapon has been test-fired.

Whether it's true or not is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether the US will use this as a justification to attack Iran. Why they even need to come up with justifications at this point, is beyond me. Nobody'll believe them anymore. Those American and Israeli citizens (and there international fan club) who think Iran should be attacked really need no evidence of anything.

Will they actually do it? I don't know. I certainly think that Israel and the US could pull off an air campaign of some sort but not much more. Sure, Israel has some geographic obstacles in its way, but they could probably find ways around them. And the United States obviously has the capacity to bomb any place on the planet.

As far as odds go of it actually happening, Gwynne Dyer gives it 6 to 1 they won't, but that assumes a certain rationality on the part of the belligerents. Other hopeful indicators vaguely suggest elements in the US military including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense may balk at an attack order:
When a reporter asked Gates if Fallon's departure "means we're going to war with Iran," the secretary called the idea "ridiculous." But he didn't leave it at that. He began his own campaign of public remarks stressing the importance of a peaceful resolution of the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program. As he had at West Point, Gates held fast to the administration's basic stance—"all options are on the table"—but he drained the pugnacity of the claim with Fallon-like flourishes. "We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage...and then sit down and talk with them," Gates said in mid-May. "There is no doubt that... we would be very hard-pressed to fight another major conventional war right now." Admiral Mullen sounded a similar note when he recently told a television journalist in Israel that he was "very hopeful" that the US could avoid a conflict with Iran, which he evaluated as "a very significant challenge."


From one point of view the answer seems obvious. It is too late. With the exception only of the neoconservative faithful, every close observer of the American–Iranian standoff says that the administration's threats are empty, that the United States does not have the military resources, or the political support at home, or the agreement of allies abroad, to carry out a full-scale air attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, much less to invade and occupy the country. Two of the skeptics, Gates and Mullen, are running the Pentagon, and their cautioning remarks, only a step this side of insubordination, would seem to make attack impossible.
That said, I wouldn't bet on the US military doing anything but follow orders. So, regardless of odds which cannot be known other than in rhetoric based conjecture, IF an attack does occur, the outcome depends on two related variables.

First, the scale and nature of the attack, and second, the Iranian response. It seems to me there is a spectrum of scenarios ranging from simple to complex.

At the simple end of the spectrum, a US/Israeli attack is limited to a few buildings as in Osirak, 1981 or more recently, Syria it is possible Iran will respond in proportion. An Iranian response might involve doing little more a speech or two about the ineffectiveness of the US and Israel. Oil production facilities would still be intact and so would the Iranian state. The US/Israeli leadership could claim they destroyed whatever nuclear capacity they try to convince the world Iran has, wingnuts would cheer, and McCain might win an election. An escalation by Iran at this point would simply invite more attacks by the US/Israel, and Iran may choose to avoid this for reasons of self-preservation. They might also see it as bait, inviting retaliation, in order to give the US/Israel some sort of justification for really hitting them hard.

The scale of attack/level of response scenario gets much riskier as it grows more sophisticated. At the deep end, the attack would be engineered to utterly destroy any Iranian capacity to pursue a nuclear programme by either destroying every research institution in the country, or the state infrastructure that supports it. At this end of the spectrum, the Iranian leadership would rightly see an existential threat. In this scenario, the only thing that can be certain is that the price of oil will know no upper limit, and all bets off as far as ultimate outcomes.

Somwhere in the middle rest various combinations of military and oil options. Iran could simply increase support insurgencies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and S. Lebanon, or turn off the oil spigots for day, week or month, or some combination thereof in response to some intermediate US/Israeli action.

It really is not possible to determine what might happen outside of a few generalisations about oil price and decreased regional security. For us in Canada the worst scenario would mean the loss of a significant number of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as the rapid onset of a Peak Oil scenario as the availability of oil took a sudden exponential decline. What a fascistic goon like Mr. Harper would attempt to do with a situation like that, is anyone's guess.

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