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Op-Ed: Is Iran talking itself into a nuclear confrontation with Israel it can’t win? Probably.

Let’s just hope sanity finally gets a word in edgewise.

A woman walks past a banner depicting missiles bearing the emblem of the Islamic Republic of Iran in central Tehran
A woman walks past a banner depicting missiles bearing the emblem of the Islamic Republic of Iran in central Tehran - Copyright AFP Bastien INZAURRALDE
A woman walks past a banner depicting missiles bearing the emblem of the Islamic Republic of Iran in central Tehran - Copyright AFP Bastien INZAURRALDE

The dismal depths of human idiocy have found another hobby for the early 21st century – Starting stupid wars. The Middle East, one of the world’s more popular war zones, is helping with a grim-looking few weeks of pushing and shoving between Iran and Israel.

This inelegant situation includes Iranian threats against Israeli “nuclear sites”. If you’re a military person, you can see a few issues with that statement. Nuclear sites aren’t easy targets. They may well be decoys. The actual nukes could be in the air when they’re hit.

According to various sources, Iran doesn’t currently have any nuclear weapons. That may or may not be the case, but Iran is hardly transparent when it comes to their nuclear aspirations.

They could probably buy some nukes from somewhere, of course, and fit them to their missile systems. If that sounds more than a bit iffy, it is. It’s difficult enough to deliver a nuke on systems designed for them. A backyard ICBM or MRBM would be a true horror story, and impossible to disguise from foreign intelligence sources.

Israel has been continuously saying that any nukes in Iran will be considered legitimate targets. Nobody’s wondering why the Israelis see things that way. The US, meanwhile, would prefer the Gulf not to be a nuclear war zone.

The current situation has a long, ugly, and murderous history. Iran has been poking Israel with a stick for decades, not very successfully. Proxy wars through local groups like Hezbollah and Hamas have routinely led to a lot of dead people and Israel not budging. Iran is also active in Yemen and around the Gulf states in confrontation with the US and others.

Iran puts a lot of money into these exercises. All those well-fed guys with guns and millions of dollars’ worth of weapons are the visible side of Iranian power projection.  Iran projects an image as the ultimate Islamic theocracy, it’s also been the home of various degrees of militancy and dogmatic hostility to the West since 1979.

…None of which seems to have achieved a damn thing worth mentioning. The Middle East is a longstanding mess thanks largely to politics and religious grandstanding. Iran’s economic issues are well-known and real enough.

The country is in many ways economically stagnant and out of touch with the world. Iran’s association with the current dilapidated version of Russia is a case in point. Not much has come of it, nor can it. These things are more about publicity than practical.

…So why provoke Israel? Why are they in such a hurry to trigger a US response?

There are a few practical issues here:

  • Iran cannot seriously expect to achieve much against Israel by conventional military means. That’s the main reason for the constant guerilla and terrorist incidents.
  • Iran’s economic situation is already worse, due to new sanctions caused by its missile strikes. Iran can’t really afford more economic issues.
  • Iran’s relations with its Sunni neighbors are at best shaky. Those neighbors definitely do not want to be part of a major global conflict.
  • Iran’s various proxies have severely limited military strike capacity. They can’t do anything at the higher strategic level. If they did, it’d also be the perfect excuse for an attack on Iran.
  • Iran would come out very badly from an actual Israeli nuclear attack. The Iranian government would be the first target, and its authority would be in serious trouble.
  • Israel has nothing to gain from a continuation of the current situation, let alone a nuclear weapons issue.
  • Russia can support Iran, but only at severe risk. Putin’s talk about nuclear threats was bad enough; this would be too much for the West. Even Trump couldn’t say that Russia arming Iran would be making America great again.
  • Russia’s oil customers can pull the plug on them anytime. They could well decide that sanctions are in their best interests. The Saudis and the US could take up the slack in oil supplies with ease.  
  • China can do without nuclear issues in one of its major trading zones. There’s no guarantee China wouldn’t pull the plug on Russia for violating Xi’s many clear policy statements.
  • Saudi Arabia would think it’s Christmas. Iran is a rival, and it’s unlikely the Saudis would object to the Iranians cutting their own throats so thoroughly.
  • The Iranian proxies would be left high and dry in any significant escalation of the current situation, let alone a nuclear standoff at some future point in time. They’d be out of money, which is their main asset and sole reason for credibility, to start with.

Not exactly a glowing testimonial for an Iran – Israel nuclear situation, is it? Iran has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. The trouble is that rational thinking is the last thing anyone would expect.

Let’s just hope sanity finally gets a word in edgewise.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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