An average benign thought would defy the possibility of war between a United States (US) — who has seemingly failed to sustain a stable government in Afghanistan or Iraq, has been forced to backtrack in Syria and whom in Egypt and Libya seems to have to ally with those it came to eliminate se — and an Iran emboldened by its headways into Iraq and Syria and its ability to perpetuate a stalemate in Yemen against an improvised military; that of the Saudis.
In case of conflict, the Persian Gulf, based on its geography, calls for an alarmingly and closely drawn combat with several international ports and shipping lines collocated in the narrow gulf. Juxtaposed across each other is recently extracted Iraqi oil vulnerable to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Forces, an Oman not ready to lose friendly ties with Iran and a Qatar quasi-tilted towards Iran. All are against several US military bases in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq and even a meager deployment in Oman; as the US considers deploying 120,000 more troops in these bases in the event of a clash with Iran.
The US has reinforced sanctions on Iran in a bid to drop Iranian oil exports to zero, further baring the Iranian metal industries in addition to hurting the shipping and precious minerals industry. By doing so the US is trying to cut Iran from the global banking system, putting it under unprecedented pressure, which according to Hassan Rouhani was not even experienced in the Iran-Iraq War. However, sanctions are not a new phenomenon for Iran to bear. The US has been using them since 1979 to different degrees. Continuous embargos and persistent cuts to trade have forced the Iranians to resort to indigenous production of much of its inventory.
In a more conventional war scenario, wherein firepower is the determinant, Iran would be rendered dry of ammo much before rivals US, Saudi and Israel.
As of 2019, the Iranian forces have been ranked 14 out of 137 for global firepower. These figures are still shy compared to those of their rival forces like in Saudi Arabia, that has been purchasing state of the art war machines from high-tech sources. Or in Israel that spent $18.5 billion on defense only in 2018.
In a more conventional war scenario, wherein firepower is the determinant, Iran would be rendered dry of ammo much before rivals US, Saudi and Israel. Even if the Russians step in like they did in Syria, they will not be able to match the other side. However, the US will also face the same paradox it has faced before; of having to leave at some point in time, while the Iranians and the Russians have a greater probability of staying on, hence a war of attrition. Resilience and the will to survive will eventually matter.
Nevertheless, war will erase the last of the marks narrated in the Reagan Doctrine, wherein Iran was also to be rolled back for being in the communist camp since Ayatollah. One should note that this extension of the Reagan Doctrine shows continuation and cohesion in US foreign policy since the 1980s. It also shows that a rollback did not necessarily refer just to ‘regime change’: its ideal outcome. In fact, it was short of a regime change, because rollback was based on abetting and weaponizing insurgents in the targeted state which would lead to long guerilla wars. The least that could be achieved would be the devastation of the economy and infrastructure of that state; rendering it decades behind in global competitiveness. Needless to say, this has been achieved in each case.
This trivial goal of the referenced doctrine may in fact be the primary goal for Israel that faces an existential threat among a strong Arab neighbourhood. This is the reason, why Netanyahu, in the Warsaw Summit this February could not resist saying that the Arab countries participating in the Middle East conference in Warsaw, ‘are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran’.
In 2015, National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote an op-ed ‘To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran’, in which he contemplated that whereas the 150 nuclear weapons that Israel possessed ‘were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure’, the nuclear weapon that Iran is yet to build is a threat to the peaceful states of the region. He and Netanyahu have been constantly lobbying Trump to proceed with an attack on Iran, and Bolton has for years harbored the anti-Tehran MEK terrorist group, stationing it first in Iraq and now in Albania. In fact, in a recent interview, Jawad Zarif alleged that the so-called ‘B Team’, comprising of Bolton, Bibi (Netanyahu), Mohammed Bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed (UAE) was trying to ‘push the US toward disaster’, of waging a war on Iran.
In 2015, National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote an op-ed ‘To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran’, in which he contemplated that whereas the 150 nuclear weapons that Israel possessed ‘were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure’, the nuclear weapon that Iran is yet to build is a threat to the peaceful states of the region.
Indeed, if there is an attack on Iran, the targets will not only be Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but the whole of its military apparatus, under the broader ambition of the bombardment of entire cities to liberate them of the misery of living under the Ayatollahs. And then according to Bolton; Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt would be relieved of Iran’s N-bomb threat. But will they be safer?
Given the Iranian military network comprising both its own military and its allied militias spread in Iraq and Syria, the strengthened Hezbollah and Hamas and the resilient Houthis still in place, while being pushed to the brink of survival, the question remains on how they would retaliate. The precedent has been already set in Iraq and Syria. The only difference will be the temptation to deliver an overwhelming blow to Israel, if not an annihilating one while Israel with its thin expanse, would not have much space to hide in. And if Israel’s allies decide to come true to their friendship, the war would soon turn into a global one.
It is also not like Iran’s allies are not bothered. This comes in the wake of a recent string of news which includes Russia jamming satellite navigation for Israel, China’s fast-forwarding relationship with Azerbaijan in the pretext of the Belt and Road Initiative, (when the country can be used as a base for an attack on Iran and has previously cooperated with the US in the Afghan War) and Pakistan blocking its routes for US into Afghan soil. China has also allowed Iran to use means like ship-to-ship transfer, forged documents and the use of Iranian tankers that are not insured by international maritime insurers.
The only difference will be the temptation to deliver an overwhelming blow to Israel, if not an annihilating one while Israel with its thin expanse, would not have much space to hide in. And if Israel’s allies decide to come true to their friendship, the war would soon turn into a global one.
Why then would the US and Israel risk an Armageddon. They would do so only if they are over-assured of the fact that they will enter Iran just like they did in Iraq and Syria; and that the surrounding powers are either too weak to interfere or are allied to the US like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, or will not show immediate retaliation even if they can, to avoid risk of a nuclear confrontation, like Russia or China. However if the Arabs use this opportunity to strike at Israel, or Pakistan does not like an attack on its first door neighbor Iran, or Russia with its allies weakened perceives an attack not good for its own survival/power projection, or China intensifies its quest for a new global order; little will be able to be figured on how state actors will react to a war that everyone thought to be most impractical for the US to launch. As war itself is a tutor of evolving realities.
Aneela Shahzad is a geopolitical analyst who frequently writes for Express Tribune and Daily Pakistan Global. She serves as an editor at Maritime Study Forum.