Why a strike on Iran could amount to a suicide mission

By Jalal Nali

The failure of diplomatic efforts aimed at providing Tehran with incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment in exchange for a transparent civilian nuclear program under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision has the international community worried that Tehran can no longer be engaged in meaningful negotiations.

Suspicions are multiplying exponentially about Iran’s secret agenda of building nuclear weapons, suspicions that were confirmed back in May 2011 after UN inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from research centers linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Pragmatically-minded Sunni monarchies belonging to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates aren’t especially confident about Shiite Iran’s short-term plans for the region nor its growing influence, which destabilizes regional security. Israel is now threatening to unilaterally attack Iran’s uranium enriching facilities.

Yet on the basis of my research on geostrategic repercussions of short term military action against Iran, I believe that all these allegations are based on non-realistic calculations.

First, it is inconceivable that Israel would undertake an armed clash against Iran without informing the White House of the exact timing. This is mainly because none of Israel’s allies or United States allies will gain any short or medium-term benefits by initiating a war in a region on the edge of conflagration. With many countries in the Middle East occupied with restructuring themselves and balancing their economies, the region is too explosive.

Second, the United States in an unenviable position. It must deal with the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict and coordinate international efforts to tackle the financial crisis, while designing strategies to deal with radical changes of the Arab spring. At the same time, it must search for consensus with Russia and China in the United Nations to find an antidote for Iran and avoid any surprises such as a nuclear bomb test.

There are other reasons why the Obama Administration is unlikely to act militarily, including caution surrounding the 2012 elections; the uncertainty of relying on traditional Middle Eastern allies due to the Arab spring; America’s sensitive situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its attention devoted to the nuclear threat of North Korea (despite a recent major breakthrough), and economic competition from China.

Involvement in another war will be interpreted by American society as leading towards another economic crisis and possibly national bankruptcy. It would also look bad for a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

And yet, for Israel to position itself like David, and attack the Iranian Goliath unilaterally is opening a huge Pandora’s box. In fact, it may be a suicide mission, for the following reasons:

  1. A unilateral Israeli strike will give the Iranian Revolutionary Guards wider support even its among local opponents.
  2. Iran could deploy its influence over Hezbollah to sabotage Israel straight away after an initial attack, to distract it from carrying out further attacks – by forcing Israel to focus on immediate Hezbollah and Hamas threats.
  3. Syria is looking desperately for a diversion to avoid the implosion of Assad’s regime; and Syrian secret services might have a prepared plan to insert themselves into the conflict as a distraction to unite Syrians against Israel, but also to honor their alliance with Iran.
  4. Iran could incite Iraqi Shiites to undermine the fragile peace process in Iraq and destroy America’s efforts by destabilizing the whole region. Iran supporters will target American and Saudi Arabian interests in the region (and the interests of their regional allies), tightening the circle of protection around the Ayatollah’s rule.

Thus, an attack is highly problematic for both the United States and Israel.

A third and final factor to consider is Turkey, another big regional player that might have a role to play in its desire to maintain its good relations with America and keep up the image of a modern open Muslim country. But Turkey is more likely to watch than act, to avoid  public opinion wrath at home.

Turkey will never launch a face-to-face confrontation with Iran, mainly because Iran can threaten to expel its Kurdish population to Turkey. It could even pressure its ethnic Kurdish nationalists to join forces with Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish Kurds destabilize Turkey and its economic success.

Instead of looking to those countries for military action, a better approach might be to compare Iran to an octopus. The way to weaken an octopus is to cut off support for each tentacle: economic sanctions to hurt its finances; deepening the wedge with Syria, securing Iraq, and keeping a close eye on Russia. Finally, no one has yet tried the magic approach: giving Iran guarantees against future hostilities against it or helping Tehran to achieve the regional respect it has been seeking for a long time. Without considering these alternatives in a comprehensive way, Iran will surely refuse to renounce what it refers to as “the Iranian civil nuclear program.”

Dr. Jalal Nali is a Moroccan national based mainly in Brussels; he has a PhD in management and negotiations, and he studies global terror, world trade and science.