Iran’s ability to retaliate against the United States and its interests abroad spans the gamut from economic, by driving up the price of oil, to political, by spurring restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to openly revolt against regimes that, for now, are American allies. Iran can also hit back militarily, against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Finally, Iran could target America’s closest ally in the Middle East—Israel. While Israel has a missile defense system that can shoot down ballistic missiles, Iran’s military rulers might try to provoke an Israeli response anyway. Saddam Hussein tried that during the first Gulf War and failed, because the first Bush administration successfully pressured Israel to exercise restraint, and Israeli casualties were minimal.
But it’s impossible to know if Israel would keep its powder dry under a similar assault, and an Israeli response could bring us back to the problem with the Arab street. “If Iran were to attack Israel, and cause the Israelis to retaliate, it would no longer be the United States against Iran, it would be a Western-Jewish alliance against another Muslim country, and that’s not going to play well on the Arab street,” said Trita Parsi, the author of “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S.” [complete article]
If we look at what’s going on behind the scenes in the two capitals, we can begin to disentangle the strands of this crisis. First, the military option: Despite all the saber rattling from Bush and Vice President Cheney, the United States doesn’t have good military choices now — and the Iranians know it. That’s one reason they are being so provocative; they believe that a U.S. military strike would hurt America more than Iran.
Here’s how one Gulf official sums up the problems with use of force against Iran: “When you look at it seriously, what’s the objective and what are the consequences? People talk about a bombing campaign, but in six weeks of bombing in the Gulf War in 1991, you didn’t take out the [Iraqi] Scud missiles. If the Iranians fire a missile across the Gulf, what happens to the price of oil? Or suppose they sink a tanker in the Gulf. And then they have Hezbollah, they have sleeper cells. What is your target?”
Many Arabs argue that the Iranians actually want America to attack. Politically, that would help the hard-liners rally support. And militarily, it would lure the United States onto a battlefield where its immense firepower wouldn’t do much good. The Iranians could withdraw into the maze of their homeland and keep firing off their missiles — exacting damage on the West’s economy and, most important, its will to fight. [complete article]