Between the US and Iran, War Looks Unlikely, Peace Seems Impossible

Article Summary
The recent escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran are worrisome, but they fall within the tug-of-war the two sides have been engaged in for several years, writes Ma’moun al-Husayni in an opinion piece. While no resolution to the crisis is in sight, war remains equally unlikely, he believes.

Although the conflict between the West and Iran transcends current tactical concerns and is directly linked to the regional strategic balance, the recent escalation--which has almost reached the boiling point--didn’t go beyond the state of tug-of-war that has persisted  for several years, amid attempts [by both sides] to achieve unattainable gains.

Israeli politicians and generals, for instance, disagree on the dangers that may result from a military strike on Iran. Israel has therefore sought to intimidate Iran and pressure the Western powers to impose tougher sanctions against it by threatening war and refusing to promise the Americans it would not strike at Iran without first consulting Washington. Israel has informed US General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , that it would [only] notify Washington 12 hours in advance of any possible attack on Iranian [nuclear] facilities. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak subsequently announced that any Israeli decision on an attack aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear program wouldn’t happen “any time soon.” The US administration--which has tried to mobilize the world to impose “unprecedented” sanctions on Tehran--has been promoting its view that additional sanctions would destroy the Iranian economy within half a year. Thus it has not hesitated to convey several signs of appeasement [to Tehran]. [The US commissioned the Turks to mediate [with the Iranians] to open a negotiations channel between Tehran and Western capitals. President Obama--via Iraqi, Swiss and international channels--directed a message to [the Supreme] Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], which carried indications of appeasement. It also rushed to deny any involvement in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan and announced the postponement of US-Israeli joint military exercises until the end of the year. In addition, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran must show a "seriousness and sincerity of purpose" if talks are to resume on its nuclear program.

After [Iran’s] threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and its warning to the Americans not to return their ships to the Persian Gulf, Tehran delivered several signs of appeasement that kept the door open for various possibilities. Iran's United Nations Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee announced that his country would only seek to close the strait if a foreign power attempts to “tighten the noose” on Tehran over its nuclear program. Also, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Hossein Salami said that US warships and military forces “have been in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East region for many years. Their decision in relation to the dispatch of a new warship is not a new issue, and it should be interpreted as part of their permanent presence.”

These signs of appeasement, however, didn’t change the situation at the Strait of Hormuz, which saw the crossing of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered carrier capable of deploying 90 aircraft and six warships, [escorted by HMS] Argyll, a frigate from the [British] Royal Navy. The US move demonstrated the West’s seriousness about being prepared for all eventualities, including the option of war. It also came as a direct practical response to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s statement that the Americans are “flexing their muscles in public, but they are also secretly saying ‘come talk with us.’”

A set of facts emerges from this foggy and worrying scene, rendering the option of armed confrontation--which a large number of US experts, analysts, politicians and military personnel warn against--unlikely for the foreseeable future. This is despite all the uproar associated with the calls to war and incitement against Iran. Among these facts are the way US withdrawal from Iraq took place; the way the Obama administration handled the issue of the seizure of the US stealth aircraft by Iran; and the weak US reaction to military friction between the US and Iran in the Gulf--including the shooting down of US reconnaissance planes, the dispatch of Iranian spy planes to photograph US fleets, and Tehran’s success in disrupting a US satellite--according to European sources--not to mention its Velayat 90 naval maneuvers [in the Persian Gulf] and the experiments and events that accompanied them.

Other factors warrant serious consideration by US decision makers, according to observers. The Iranian army is the most powerful and capable among the armies that have been confronted by the US of late. The Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran [MISIRI] is one of the most efficient [agencies] in the world. Moreover, Iran has strategic allies that have proved themselves powers to be reckoned with, including Lebanese Hezbollah, which managed to inflict a defeat on the Israelis in 2006, as acknowledged by the [Israeli Government-appointed] Winograd Commission.

Iran also has considerable and increasing capabilities in the field of electronic warfare. Colin Kahl, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, says in Foreign Affairs magazine that “even if the US chooses to go for a military strike [against Iran], there is no guarantee that it will achieve lasting and decisive results.” This means that the conflict between the US and its allies on the one hand and Iran on the other will continue.  And until these realities change, [the conflict] will be limited to hot spots like Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, in addition to political, diplomatic, and intelligence arenas, which will most likely heat up gradually, with the approach of elections in Iran.

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