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    Middle East
     Feb 3, 2006
SPEAKING FREELY
Iran and the jaws of a trap

By Paul Levian

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Judging from the rather frantic behind-the-scenes efforts of Russia and China in Iran, they seem to appreciate that the Iranian leadership is in for a big and probably deadly surprise. The Bush administration has not only handled its Iran dossier much more skillfully than Iraq, but also managed to set up Iran for a war it can neither win nor fight to a draw.

If the Iranian leaders think they can deter an attack because the



US is bogged down in Iraq they are already between the jaws of a well-set trap. Though a Western war against Iran will be a big geopolitical defeat for Russia and China, they cannot but resign themselves to this outcome if they are unable to convince the Iranians to accept the Russian proposal - ie uranium enrichment in Russia.

The Russians saw the writing on the wall when France, Germany and Britain began to march in lockstep with the United States. In particular, the widely but wrongly discounted nuclear belligerence of President Jacques Chirac last month implied that France was ready to accept the US use of nuclear weapons in a war against Iran if they saw fit to do so.

The Iranian leadership's obvious confidence in its ability to deter the US, Britain and Israel seems to rest on mainly four assumptions. Iran is militarily much stronger than Iraq, much larger, its terrain more difficult, its society more cohesive - thus more difficult to defeat, to occupy and to pacify. In addition, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad seems to take particular comfort from the widely anticipated wave of popular outrage and anti-Western attacks in the wider Middle East if Iran should be attacked.

Moreover, the economic costs of a war against Iran in terms of the price of oil and the interruption of the Iranian supply would propel the world economy into a tailspin. And finally, Iranian leaders seem to accept at face value the US moans over its overstretched military forces and the demoralization of US forces in Iraq.

Certainly, Iranian misconceptions are helped mightily by the defeatism of the Western debate about such a war. "No good options" has become something like the consensus view: an airborne and special forces "surgical strike" (as well as a massive attack) against the Iranian nuclear industry and military targets could at best delay its nuclear program and will be followed by retaliation in Iraq, Lebanon etc; a ground attack is out of the question because most of deployable US ground forces are desperately busy in Iraq.

If such things could be planned, one might be persuaded to consider this debate as an aspect of strategic deception. In fact, the US and British forces in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf as well as the forces in Afghanistan are quite able to redeploy on short notice, for example during the days of an initial air campaign against Iran for large-scale operations against the remaining Iranian forces and can be reinforced during the war. The US military infrastructure at the borders of Iran has a very substantial capability to deal with surge requirements.

The somewhat standard scenario for this war - as indicated by Chinese and Russian war games - has the following features:

An initial Israeli air attack against some Iranian nuclear targets, command and control targets and Shahab missile sites. Iran retaliates with its remaining missiles, tries to close the Gulf, attacks US naval assets and American and British forces in Iraq. If Iranian missiles have chemical warheads (in fact or presumed), the US will immediately use nuclear weapons to destroy the Iranian military and industrial infrastructure. If not, an air campaign of up to two weeks will prepare the ground campaign for the occupation of the Iranian oil and gas fields.

Mass mobilization in Iraq against US-British forces will be at most a nuisance - easily suppressed by the ruthless employment of massive firepower. And Israel will use the opportunity to deal with Syria and South Lebanon, and possibly with its Palestinian problem.

The character of this war will be completely different from the Iraq war. No show-casing of democracy, no "nation-building", no journalists, no Red Cross - but the kind of war the United States would have fought in North Vietnam if it had not had to reckon with the Soviet Union and China.

Paul Levian is a former German intelligence officer.

(Copyright 2006 Paul Levian.)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.


The noose tightens around Iran
(Feb 2, '06)

China's veto power weighs heavy
(Feb 2, '06)

Playing to Iran's strengths
(Feb 1, '06)

A high-risk game of nuclear chicken
(Jan 31, '06)

Iran's challenge to the UN
(Jan 28, '06)
 
Covert ops and disinformation aimed at Iran
(Jan 27, '06)

 
 



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