As JCPOA Deal Fades, Is the Military Option More a Chimaera?
With JCPOA fading as a prospect, the West predictably is musing military options.
The US is souring fast on the JCPOA. Rob Malley, Chief US negotiator, was ‘vocalising’ his increasing doubts over the weekend that a deal with Iran was possible. Raisi and his incoming foreign policy team have promised to demand ‘proper implementation’ of the JCPOA, should the Vienna talks resume in September or October.
With JCPOA fading as a prospect, the West predictably is musing military options. On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Gantz said "Israel" must take action ‘right now’ in the wake of last week’s drone attack on an Israeli-operated ship near Oman. “Israel”, the US and the UK have blamed it on Tehran, but Iran denies it.
The US Establishment of today, however, dearly wishes to leave behind its dog-eared, old ‘War on Terror’ centered on the Middle East, and to transition to its shiny new ‘threat’: ‘Great Power Competition’ -- with a target roundel pinned to China’s chest. The point here is that Middle East conflicts are no longer sufficient to stir an American voter out of bed (these mornings), but in a radically polarised US polity, literally the only thing that does generate bi-partisan applause on the stump, is bashing China. China is the only issue perceived as potentially capable of bringing ‘warring’ Americans together, sometime in the future.
‘Big war’ is problematic for the divided US as well. So today, America is following a strategy of inflicting pain by a ‘thousand cuts’ on its enemies. This seems easier, and less costly for the US. China is to be tormented through the westification of Taiwan, and simultaneously ‘indicted’ over its Xinjiang and Covid ‘abuses’. Russia is hounded over just about everything under the sun, and the Ukraine quagmire is kept bubbling (in case of US need). But both these states understand that the US – though still dangerous - has lost its global military edge, and has entered into political entropy.
So, against this background, what is to be made of the military option in respect to Iran? Here in the Middle East, the US and “Israel” too, have lost the ‘military edge’, giving way to gathering clouds of smart missiles and swarm drones. Dr. Uzi Rubin, founder and first director of “Israel's” Missile Defense Organization at the “Israel Ministry of Defense”, wrote in October 2019, in wake of ‘the most devastating air strike’ on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq refinery that “this was also a surprise attack resembling in audacity, if not in scale, the 1941 surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. In a sense, September 2019 might be remembered as Saudi Arabia’s “Black September”. He indicated that “Israel” too, was vulnerable to this type of attack.
If a direct military attack on Iran is problematic because of Iran’s newish ‘Pearl Harbour’ deterrent capabilities, and if some western retaliation for the tanker incident is also problematic because (since, as Israeli defence correspondent, Ben Caspit notes) the deniable, covert tanker tit-for-tat - between “Israel” and Iran has been proceeding for some two years (with “Israel” leading by some 12 scores, to Iran’s 5). The bottom line is that “Israel” would be the more vulnerable in this “game”.
So what is next? A US-Israeli Balkanisation of multi-ethnic Iran to overthrow the government? This is an old pipe dream. However as another Israeli, a veteran IDF Iran-watcher, Raz Zimmt admits, the 'Balkanisation of Iran' likely is “fantasy”. Protests sparked by a severe water crisis in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan (in which the MEK reportedly has its finger) mostly were in Arab majority areas. (Ethnic Arabs - mostly Shia - make up about a third of the province's population).
The reality, Raz Zimmt writes, is that Iran has existed as a distinct civilizational-state for centuries, and the degree of minority integration within Iranian society reduces significantly the risk to Iran’s national cohesion.
For example, Arabs living in Iran are predominantly Shia, which strengthens their attachment to a Shia civilizational hub, and which greatly foiled efforts to mobilize their support during the Iran-Iraq war. Members of ethnic minorities have also held senior positions over the years, including Supreme Leader Khamenei (half-Azeri on his father’s side).
Israeli leaders have been ecstatic at Britain’s reported plan to deploy Special Forces against the presumed perpetrators of the Mercer ship drone attack, but they fret too, at “Israel’s” putative isolation -- with the US trying to exit the region, and with the adverse shift in sentiment towards “Israel” handicapping its clout in US domestic politics. But realistically, what can “Israel” do?
“Israel’s” greatest concern is what it dubs the ‘precision project’: Hezbollah’s arsenal of precision missiles that are viewed in “Israel” as a strategic ‘tie-breaker’, turning Hezbollah into a force capable of paralyzing “Israel” over a substantial period, in the case of any military clash. And a confrontation with Hezbollah, in itself, could trigger a multi-front war. Will PM Bennett take the risk? Recall that he was the artillery commander who was censured for ordering in 1996 artillery fire causing the Kufr Qana Massacre in Lebanon, killing 102 civilians and a number of UN officials. Perhaps the old sore lingers on?