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article imageOp-Ed: US — Iran best and worst case scenarios — Leading to war?

By Paul Wallis     Jun 18, 2019 in World
Sydney - In a move which will reassure nobody, the US today announced the deployment of more troops to the Middle East. The move comes as Iran restarts its uranium enrichment program after the United States pulled out of the international nuclear deal.
The troop deployment has added a lot of heat to the Middle East. The Iranian situation is tense and has been getting tenser as the war of words between the United States and Iran intensifies. The US unilaterally pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal, despite protests from the EU and other highly annoyed allies. The US move was seen as unnecessary, and guaranteed to restart the previous standoff with Iran regarding its nuclear power capabilities.
The US has accused Iran of being responsible for the recent tanker attacks, despite denials from shipowners regarding the circumstances of the attacks.
Images of hull damage to one of the ships do look like mid to low caliber projectile damage, and definitely not the extreme destruction caused by maritime mines. Damage also seems to be confined above the waterline, casting further doubt on the mines theory.
The net effect of these highly debatable and remarkably unconvincing bits of evidence is that the attacks can also look like a pretext for conflict in the Gulf. That’s not likely to be good for anyone.
Background; America and the Middle East tangle
Since the end of World War 2, America has been tangled up in Middle East politics. Political and commercial interests have dominated US policy to the ongoing detriment of US best interests in the opinion of many experts.
Iran, however, is a special case. The Iranian Revolution toppled a pro-Western government, and caused a range of problems for the US, starting with the US Embassy hostages. Following decades saw major confrontations with Israel and other Iranian commitments in the region.
The nuclear standoff also included another factor- Iranian threats to Israel were seen as a possible cause of a major regional war. Israel stated that it would attack nuclear facilities in Iran, as it did in Syria. To do so, Israeli planes would have had to cross US-controlled airspace in Iraq and elsewhere. The risk of war, and possible nuclear war, was real enough. The nuclear deal with Iran was intended to defuse a very dangerous situation.
Grotesquely, after intensive US efforts to reach a settlement, the US walked away from the deal after Trump was elected. The entire situation which the deal was supposed to solve has every chance of restarting, this time with direct American involvement.
US lousy diplomacy at its least impressive
The US wants countries and corporations to cease Iranian oil imports, or be “banished from the global financial system” a loudmouth move which has impressed nobody. America seems to have forgotten that these are major financial commitments, and have instant collateral damage effects on trade and businesses around the world.
Dictating to the global finance sector isn’t as easy as it was. China also has a major stake in the sector, and can be relied upon to take advantage of any half-ass US moves in that regard. Iranian trade can easily ship through the New Silk Road, even in its current startup form, or other non-aligned intermediaries.
Best case isn’t much of a case
The pity of it is that the American moves so far don’t have any clear path to many good outcomes. The best outcomes are:
• Iran ceases its nuclear program – Unlikely at best, in this hostile environment.
• The Gulf of Hormuz shipping routes remain open – A problem which didn’t even exist until US sanctions is “solved”.
• Israel doesn’t attack – Another solved problem which has to be solved again.
• The Saudis feel good about things – Well isn’t that what the world is here for, to make the Saudis happy? How’s Yemen going, guys?
• Regime change in Iran – Very unlikely at best. The Iranian regime has shown itself to be pretty substantial in terms of surviving the last 40 years. External forces are unlikely to achieve that goal, ever.
These “achievements” may cost more trillions of dollars to achieve, and many lives. As a best case scenario, it’s obscene.
Military issues - Iran is not Iraq
Any military actions by the US against Iran will be conducted on a very different basis from the Gulf Wars. There are no similarities between military operations in Iraq and any possible Iran scenario.
Iran is a very mountainous country, with a totally different military structure. Any military action will include a significant naval component and serious risks to all merchant vessels in the area.
American air, naval and technical superiority may be enough to manage Iranian conventional forces, but that’s about all. On the ground, Iran is likely to be very like a gigantic Afghanistan. Iranian forces including the Revolutionary Guard and other non-mainstream military forces do represent a significant long-term threat if boots are put on the ground.
Unlike Iraq, the Iranian government is unlikely to collapse when pushed. Resistance won’t be fragmented by simple moves, if at all. Iran can also mobilize forces around the Middle East, and perhaps the world, for countermoves.
It’s debatable whether US allies will take kindly to yet another war, particularly on such an arbitrary policy basis. The US has put considerable demands on its allies since the first Gulf War, and after nearly 30 years, the novelty has worn off. Having totally ignored allied views on the original issue, the nuclear deal, all bets about allied military support should be considered off. (Unless of course the understudy dogsbody UK or minor and not very enthusiastic in this case allies like Australia can be persuaded to join in again.)
Global war? Probably not, with good reason
The risks of a global escalation of a war against Iran are relatively small. Iran is perfectly capable of attacking target worldwide, but few other nations are worth attacking in a conflict with the US. Iran doesn’t have many major allies. It does, however, have working relationships with the Russian Federation and China which could easily support military needs and trade, to a considerable extent.
It’s unlikely that Russia and China would bother getting directly involved. They’ll be happy enough to watch the US find another war to lose and to which the US will have to make major, perhaps generational, policy commitments.
They’re not stupid, either - When your major international rival is busy following a bankrupt policy, why interfere? A war with Iran could go on for decades, much like Afghanistan, with no end in sight.
A war too many?
To be a superpower, and continue to be a superpower, one of the major requirements is not making disastrous mistakes. The only question is how long you can make continuous mistakes until you pay a serious price for them. The old colonial powers found that out the hard way, and America may also find out.
Historically, American policy judgement in the Middle East is highly questionable at best. Not much has gone right, and a lot has gone wrong, in the last 70 years. Whether you consider policies to be Israel-centric, oil-centric or both, the entire region is still a potential major war zone, with multiple players. “Middle East peace” remains a theory never put in to practice. Another war could well be a war too many, and America has a lot to lose and nothing to gain.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about USIran relations, Gulf of Hormuz attacks 2019, US military Middle East deployments 2019, Tanker attacks 2019, iranian military
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