Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war – Donald Rumsfeld
Two days ago I happened to meet an Iran-affairs expert, who, to the best of my knowledge, was supposed to be in London. We discussed the morning’s headline. He was in despair; he estimated we are on the threshold of war with iran. “That’s not what you told me back in January,” I said; he was much more optimistic then. He nodded sadly.
It is quite possible Bush has already decided to attack Iran. The escalating rhetoric – “Third World War” is not, to be understated about it, a phrase frequently used by a head of state – points to it. The storage timing of the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terror organization last month, a bill pushed by the neo-conservative Senator Joe Liebermann, may signify that the administration is looking for a reason, a cause, some semblance of a congressional approval for such an attack. Should that happen to be the case, Hillary Clinton’s vote for the amendment may haunt her much more than her vote approving the Iraq war.
Leaving aside the future politics of 2008, the public ignoring of a certain point is astonishing. Let us assume that American planes, taking off on a bombing mission in a country as large as Germany, France and Britain combined, do find their underground targets and destroy them. That’s where public imagination halts: Mission accomplished, threat removed; the hero lands, takes off his flying gear and lights a cigar. Credits begin to roll. The end.
This scenario assumes utter passivity on the part of Iran. It assumes a country which justly considers itself a regional superpower will simply avoid a response after its sovereignty has been violated, a military attack has been carried out on its territory, a project which cost it untold funds and which around which the population is gathered has been destroyed. This assumption will not stand the test of reality.
Iran has a complete array of response options, none of them nice. The most likely of which are a Hizbullah attack on israel’s northern border, an unprecedented Iranian missile attack on Israel (which is, justly, considered the cause of the attack), and a full Shi’ite assault against the American forces in Iraq. The Mahdi’s Army, Muqtada Al Sadr’s militia which enjoys Iranian support, has more men on the ground in Iraq than the US military. And the Shi’ites take – very sensibly, from their point of view – a very dim view of the American-Sunni rapprochement in Anbar Province.
American forces will find it hard to get out of this trap – especially when you take into account the fact that Turkey (which threw the US’ Iraq invasion plan out of joint in 2003) may do so again following an attack on Iran, and may prevent American supplies and reinforcement from entering Iraq from within its borders.
And these are just the expected military outcomes. It’s perfectly possible the mullahs hold some surprises up their sleeves, such as a sleeper terror network in Europe and the US, which would be activated upon an attack.
But the direct military response pales before the diplomatic one. The anger in the world against the US, already at an all-time high, will rise sharply – especially if the Bush administration will give up on a UN approval of the strike, an impossibility given the veto power of Russia and China. And the rage will find its boiling point in the Middle East.
A fifth American attack on a Muslim country in 15 years (Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran), is expected to lead to an explosion in the “Muslim Street”. In a much less combustive situation, at the beginning of the Second Gulf War in 1991, King Hussein of Jordan hastened to grow a beard and spout Islamic slogans. A strike against Iran, whose pro-Israeli motives are so transparent, combined with an Iranian military response, could lead to a meltdown of the Middle East.
Israeli experts are already speaking openly about the expected collapse of Jordan. Mubaraq holds to his throne by the skin of his teeth, and the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys a majority among the Egyptians. Syria may be dragged, following Iran, into a war with Israel, if only to prevent radicalization of Islam within it; Assad Junior is not strong enough to repeat his father’s Hama Massacre. An attack on Iran may finally push Turkey to the Islamic side, and may serve it as an excuse for an invasion of Kurdistan. Only God knows what would happen to the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Principalities.
The attack may well strengthen Iran. The mullah regime has trouble ruling, it fails in supplying its subjects with livelihood, and Iran is a revolution-prone country. A large segment of the population abhors the regime, and the only thing which may bring the people together around the mullahs (thereby postponing the oh-so-necessary reform) is an attack by a foreign power.
In short, the concept that an air attack on Iran will rid us of the “danger of a Third World War” is a dangerous fantasy, since it gleefully disregards the counter-offensive which is certain to come. The very attack is the most likely catalyst, at the moment, for such a war. The counter-reaction will cause massive damage to the US’ standing, may bring about a military defeat in the Middle East, and may trigger an isolationist response of the voters in November.
The counter-reaction may, on the other hand, wipe out Israel off the map. For some reason, Israeli thinking, too, stops at the great image of Natanz in flames, and does not look five minutes further into the future. Anyone who thinks the IDF may defend him, is hereby cordially asked to take a second look at what happened in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
Such introspection won’t take place, of course. We will continue to support war with Iran, because “everybody knows” there is no other option. And when everything will go up in smoke around us, we will ask (as we do ever since that shining moment in 1967): how did this happen to us?
And anyone who will remind the public that this question has to end with “again”, will be termed a traitor, a person who thrusts a knife at the nation’s back.
(Written and published in the Hebrew blog today. Translated by Yossi Gurvitz)