Monday, January 16, 2006

War With Iran?

It's not a very comfortable conclusion, but it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that we have seen the risk of a rather major war during the next few years rising rather substantially during the last few weeks.

I don't think anyone really wants it. But war often comes when everyone has locked themselves into position they can not get out of, and where the one seemingly logical steps leads to a profoundly unlogical outcome.

A major war wsith Iran is suddenly a realistic possibility. Not imminent, but not unlikely within the next two years or so.

There is now an escalation of political steps in order to increase pressure on Iran on the nuclear issue. The IAEA Governing Board will be followed by the UN Security Council.

In the best of world's this at some stage leads to the resumption of real negotiations that leads to a real deal. There are certainly formulaes that should be possible to use.

But the problem is that we don't seem to know very much about what the different parts of the Iranian leadership wants. Some are likely to be deliberately seeking a confrontation with the West - some most certainly not.

At some point in time the reluctance against using military instruments to at the least slow down Iranian efforts to develop and to deploy nuclear weapons as well as more long-range missiles might be overcome.

Not because there are any good military alternatives. There are not. But because at some stage it might be that there are no real political alternatives left - and failure is not an option.

Some evenings ago I ended up in a discussion with some very experienced and informed Western military leaders.

None of them believed that there were any light or easy options. No one wanted to use military means - but all had been doing thinking on what could be done if an order after all was given.

One believed that the only real alternative was to descend on the key installation with an airborne brigade or so, clear everything out and then get out as soon as possible. This would involve establishing air supremacy over a fairly large area, and mounting the entire operation from a considerabled distance.

Not easy.

Another talked about striking at 30 - 40 different target sets, a substantial number of which would be air defence installations to assure access to the targets.

Here, success in achieving the desired destriction was far less certain than in the first case.

And everyone was most concerned with what would be the next steps.

That the Iranians would try to close the Strait of Hormuz was taken for granted. They might succeed for a week or so, with profound effects on oil prices. But at the end the US Navy was likely to win that fight.

Then they would in all probability use political allies to launch major attacks against all sorts of American and Western presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Southern Iraq and Baghdad would very suddenly become very dangereous places.

And then there were other possibilities discussed.

Each of these possible Iranian counter-moves would obviously lead to another American or Western counter-counter move.

And this is where it all risks descending into a rather major war engulfing the region from Herat to Baghdad and dragging in the Gulf states as well.

There is no guarantee that such a war can be won easily. Iran is a nation of 70 million people and inheritors of the second-oldest civilisation on Earth.

This development is a far less unlikely development now than only some weeks ago.

We might be facing years of war.

Will Iran Be Next?