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As of July 1, new sanctions against Iran are taking effect, effectively banning crude oil imports to the EU, which accounts for some 18% of Iranian crude oil exports. These new sanctions are coming into play as talks between the Iranian regime and the so called P5+1 nations (the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, and France plus Germany) are not making much headway.
Neither the May 23 meeting in Bagdad nor the June 23 meeting in Moscow resulted in anything substantial. Arguably, Iran is moving closer to the “point of no return” with threats being handed out on all sides and the rhetoric growing fiercer. Although a military solution seems to become more and more likely, there are compelling reasons why an air strike should be avoided at all costs.
An air strike on Iran is neither going be as easy as the Israeli strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, nor the strike on Syria’s reactor near al-Kibar in 2007. Iran, having learned a lesson or two from history, has gone to great lengths to protect their enrichment plants – spread out all over Iran – composing at least a dozen different sites. A top US air-force planner estimates that at least 400 targets would have to be hit, and that at least 75 would require the use of penetrating munitions (such as so called “bunker buster bombs”).
Furthermore, these sites are buried deep under ground, (such as the enrichment plant at Fordow which is located under a mountain), and are protected by sophisticated Russian-made air defence systems.
The air strike would have to be massive, continuous and surgical – and the problem is, it would do nothing but postpone the Iranian nuclear venture, (with some 2-5 years according to analysts). And detriment to the whole cause, a strike would naturally add enormous incentive for Iran to actually acquire the bomb, instead of keeping to peaceful uranium enrichment.
Following an Israeli strike, the Iranians would undoubtedly counterattack. Such a strike would be delivered both by means of conventional weapons such as ballistic missiles towards Israel (Iran has got the biggest stock of ballistic missiles in the Middle East), and also by the use of proxy forces such as Hezbollah who could target Israel with rocket strikes from the neighbouring Lebanon.
Other notable proxy strikes would come from the powerful warlord Moqtada al-Sadr, commander of the Shiite Mahdi Army, who’s openly promised to strike back at U.S. coalition forces in Iraq in the case of a U.S./Israeli strike against Iran.
If such a scenario unfolds, the U.S. would undoubtedly launch its own strike against Iran. The U.S., having built up a presence of some 125,000 troops in close proximity to Iran according to recent CENTCOM figures have the ability to hit some 10,000 targets inside Iran overnight.
However, the aftermath of a potential U.S. strike could prove to be very dangerous, as it would galvanize the other pro-Iranian powerhouses China and Russia, active in the region, and, in a worst case scenario, spark a new cold war.
Furthermore, a U.S. strike would have to be continuous and conducted over a long time span, in order to quell any resumed Iranian nuclear efforts, putting further strain on an already badly overstretched U.S. army, not to mention its economy. And all the while, soaring global oil prices would put the final nail in the coffin of an already badly beaten Western economy.
This is simply a scenario, but makes a rather convincing case why a military strike should be avoided at all costs. But amidst the threats and the gloomy outlooks, there are some positive notions.
Although the conflict has seen some escalations, such as cyber attacks on Iranian enrichment plants, as well as several mysterious and dramatic deaths of leading Iranian nuclear scientists, it has mostly been a war of words up to this point.
Historically, Israel has shown that when they are really intent on striking, such as in the cases of Iraq and Syria, it was done in the quiet, without any warning. The current amount of warnings and threats is thus a sign that Israel is content at keeping it “a war of words,” at least for now. But this rather precarious stalemate is not going to last forever.
Image Courtesy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejar