The Katyusha that hit the Baghdad Green zone a few weeks ago, the most fortified piece of land in Iraq, proves that the Americans had accurate intelligence that some sort of attack was about to take place. Or did they? With the US, it is hard to tell because if it is war it wants, it could have designed it exactly as it happened. Make the world believe that Iran was about to attack then remove essential personnel and carry out the attack themselves; unlikely scenario but fully plausible.
Assuming they had nothing to do with the attack plus the sabotaging of oil tankers and the Huthis drone attacks against oil installations in Saudi Arabia, a pretext for war is well in the making.
But what kind of war can be expected between Iran and the US?
Iran is a strong country in the sense that it has capabilities to wreak havoc across the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen are just few examples of Iran’s reach. Whilst that reality might discourage the US from any adventures, the opposite is quite possible and that the intentions to hit Iran hard are in fact motivated by the desire to stop its ever widening reach.
Iran’s strength is a double edged sword in any potential confrontation. It is an advantage and a disadvantage. An advantage because the Middle East has become a Wild Wild West where only power guarantees safety and safeguarding of other interests. A disadvantage in that if it engages the US in warfare, the US will use all it has in its might to face that strength. This wouldn’t be approached as the war against Iraq or ISIS. This will be far more brutal in that the intention would be utter devastation of Iran’s army.
What must be noted is that Iran is a growing power and as such it has been showcasing its best capabilities to deter any military action against it. The US on the other hand has China and Russia as its natural enemies and thus its best capabilities must be its most guarded secrets. There are hidden dangers there against Iran in case that assessment is accurate.
It is a fact that Iran has rocket capabilities that can truly choke the Persian Gulf and can bombard Israel into a panic. But looking at how freely Israel attacks Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria without any serious consequences places a shadow of doubt of whether Iran can do what it boasts it can against Israel. Facing Hezbollah is far more challenging for Israel than facing regular armies as was the case with the US against ISIS compared to the ease with which the Iraqi army crumbled.
Iran and its proxies can fire a barrage of missiles and cause serious physical and economic damage to US allies and by default to US’s economic interests. However, the duration of its ability to continue attacking would depend on a number of factors.
First, this is a war where Iran will not be facing a single enemy. This would be a war where Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE among others who are likely to side with the US especially if they come under attack. In addition any economic impact on US’s economic interest would affect Europe the same way. Would NATO allow that to happen? That is highly unlikely.
Second, although the US is flexing its muscle with its air craft carriers, the real devastation against Iran could be from submarines and other means. There is no reason to believe that the cruise attacks by Trump against Syrian forces last year following supposed chemical attack by Assad’s army can’t have the same impact against Iran. Third, Iran’s enemies in the Middle East have huge rocket stockpiles of their own. Add to that the B52 bombers, the thousands of fighter jets the US commands and you can see the true shape of such a war.
Occupying Iran is impossibility because to achieve that would require the same level of efforts seen against ISIS and Hezbollah but in a far larger scale. Thus the US has no interest in occupying Iran. The war against the like of ISIS and Hezbollah are more complex because identifying targets against irregular forces is more challenging than with a regular army like Iran’s which the Americans have undoubtedly been monitoring for decades.
For the super power, this is about settling a long standing “threat” and a must undertaking to preserve its power image simply because that image has been its most important deterrence. For the US, Iran’s continued defiance to its dominance is in itself a danger that must be dealt with. In a way Iran has been mudding the USA in the face. Whilst that is not a strong cause for war, if you consider the mentality of Trump’s consultants like John Bolton you won’t bent against it.
The grave danger between a war between the US and her allies on one side and Iran and her proxies on the other is its potential for the utilization of nonconventional weapons. Americans have in many occasions demonstrated willingness to use them to ensure dominance and the religious leadership of Iran is surely capable of risking it all. In short, Iran could use them as the last attempt at survival and the Americans could use them to avoid a protracted war.
It would be a grave mistake for Iran to count on Russia’s or China’s support in any serious terms. Not least because Russia has internal pressing issues that it must consider. If Iran were as rich as the Saudis during the Iraqi war where the Saudi kept the tap opened for the Americans then it was possible to count on Russia. But Iran is a country struggling to maintain its own house in order economically. Secondly, the Russians have shown hesitation to intervene in those cases where Israel attacked Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria.
The Chinese can’t be depended upon either because for them what they have fought hard to achieve, economic power, is not worth risking. China cannot allow a war in the Middle East to interfere with its economic uprising. Also, if China had any intention to engage the US, it would have done so to settle its long standing issue with Taiwan.
In reality though, chances for a war are very slim. First, Trump is a businessman and war can’t possibly be good for business. Second, US presidents have two main factors that they must always consider; the elections and Americas interests. The former is more important at this juncture due the proximity of the American 2020 presidential elections. Thirdly, like all the fallen regimes of the past decades in the Middle East and elsewhere, their people turned against them because the unfortunate truth is that many have been boasting power abroad whilst chocking their own citizens in one way or another. Iran must be weary of an implosion in case of any war.
The likely scenario is that the sanctions will stay in place so long Trump is in power. The two countries will find ways to cool down this episode and Europe might have a chance to pick up the pieces. The best long term setting to avoid an all-out war is for Trump to lose the 2020 US elections. The war with Iran is significantly more likely in the second term where Trump would have nothing much to lose. He is also of the type that would wish for his name to enter history books for a gigantic event; Nothing can be bigger that a fight with “Islamic hardliners” of Iran.