Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The War With Iran

For the last eight months I have been waiting to see a red flash across the TV screen that reveals Israeli fighter jets have bombed several nuclear targets in Iran. Fortunately this has not happened and I am finally breathing a sigh of relief because the probability of war with Iran is dwindling. However, there is still a loose cannon on deck that could engulf the Middle East in war. Israel has not come to terms with the possibility of a nuclear Iran and it places the United States in an uncomfortable political position.

On the surface the Obama administration still wants to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons yet many deadlines have passed without a hint of effective sanctions on Iran. This is not a sign of political weakness but rather the admission of diplomatic defeat.

Sanctions have been in place against Iran for the better part of 35 years and failed to bring Iran to the table with meaningful negotiations. Placing new sanctions would require the full support of both Russia and China. However, Russia and China benefit by having United States forces tied up in the Middle East and allows them to expand their spheres of influence with little resistance. Helping the United States would go against their incentives. So short of a full military strike there is nothing the United States can do to stop nuclear proliferation by Iran. However, Israel is in a different political situation were a military strike is an acceptable solution.

Israel’s foreign policy has always been driven by a fight for survival and little has changed since the nation’s birth. Iran has been a constant thorn in the side of Israel since the end of the Iraq/Iran war in the 1980s. Iran now has considerable influence in the Middle East through its proxies of Hamas, Hezbollah and many other militant groups. The long-term goal of Iran is to be the regional political powerhouse and build an effective and wealthy commercial petro-empire. Iran has large oil fields that it has been unable to effectively pump due to the many sanctions on oil equipment. To survive Iran imports almost half of its refined oil needs. This situation has led the Iranian leadership to use military proxies to gain influence over many of its neighbors allowing the nation to import more equipment through China and Russia.

The development of nuclear energy accomplishes two goals for Iran. First, creating effective nuclear power will drastically cut the nations reliance of imported fuels. Second, having an atomic weapon is the best deterrent bar none in the world and would force the world to lift sanctions that have been in place for decades. Iran has very little to lose at this point in history by developing a nuclear weapon.

Israel on the other hand cannot even entertain the idea of Iran developing a nuclear weapon due to the small size of the country. Even a crude weapon would cripple Israel and open the flood gates of its many enemies. The chances of Iran using an atomic weapon as an offensive weapon are slim to say the least. Iran knows Israel possesses atomic weapons and it could not hope to win an atomic firefight with Israel. The problem is what if radicalism in the Iranian leadership allows such a suicidal bombing to happen? There lies the great danger for Israel.

So what is going to happen? I have a very hard time believing Israel is going to sit around and let Iran continue to refine radioactive materials and the notion that an air strike would not be effective is ridiculous. It would take less than half of Israel’s air force to completely destroy or damage all of Iran’s nuclear sites. It is Iranian retaliation that worries the United States and Israel. Iran would use its proxies in Syria, Palestine, Iraq and in other nations to completely interrupt oil coming out of the Middle East. This could severely hurt recovering economies across the world and possibly force the United States to respond with military force, engaging our nation in a third Middle East conflict.

The situation is incredibly complicated and is on the brink of collapsing on a daily basis. How Washington responds to an Israeli air strike will test the Obama administration to its limit. Let us all hope Israel keeps a cool head for everyone’s sake.

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