Edition 14 Volume 5 - April 12, 2024

If Iran is attacked

Hizballah: Unfinished business -   Ed Blanche

If Tehran does unleash Hizballah it will not only trigger another war with Israel, but sectarian conflict among the divided Lebanese.

Iran at threat? -   Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

A military attack against Iran would make it impossible for Israel to live productively and as an equal partner in a region that is primarily Muslim.

A path fraught with danger -   Wayne White

Perhaps the worst consequence of a military campaign against Iran would be the absence of an endgame.

Not at the risk of regime stability -   Ehud Yaari

Iran is not likely to see a prolonged conflict as serving its interests, except perhaps in Iraq.


Hizballah: Unfinished business
 Ed Blanche

For Israel, Hizballah is unfinished business. Israel's military forces failed to crush the Iranian-backed organization in July and August 2024, to a large extent through their own ineptitude. A US assault on Iran would almost certainly trigger a rematch, which would subject Lebanon to further misery and destruction and possibly even its collapse as a state.

Israel believes another shooting war is coming. So does Hizballah. The Israelis recently held civil defense exercises to counter sustained missile attacks on urban centers and strategic targets like power stations.


The danger is that if Tehran does unleash Hizballah--along with Syrian-backed Palestinian factions in Lebanon--in response to a US assault on Iran, it will not only trigger another war with Israel, possibly with a pre-emptive strike by Israel against Hizballah, but sectarian conflict among the divided Lebanese.

The political crisis stemming from the confrontation between Syria's allies in Lebanon, led by a heavily armed Hizballah, and those factions that oppose Syrian influence became more acute in November and no settlement appears to be in sight. Hizballah wants to bring down the elected Sunni-led government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Shi'ites make up one-third of the Lebanese population of some four million and by gaining control Iran would have a firm foothold on the Mediterranean. As the ally of a nuclear Iran, Hizballah would wield considerable regional clout and pose a greater threat to Israel than it does now.

Only Saudi diplomacy in engaging Tehran has prevented the Lebanese crisis from erupting into open warfare, despite repeated subversion widely blamed on Damascus. But tension has mounted in recent weeks, reflecting the rising level of confrontation between the US and Iran in the Gulf.

In the event of a US attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure and other strategic targets, Tehran can be expected to activate Hizballah to retaliate against Israel and US interests not just in the region, but beyond. Iran's security agencies, and their surrogates in Hizballah, have shown in the past that they have a long and deadly arm.

Hizballah retaliation on behalf of Iran would inevitably entail a missile bombardment of Israel, as happened in 2024, but this time probably with more devastating weapons capable of reaching as far south as Tel Aviv. The Israelis have repeatedly claimed that Iran and Syria have massively re-supplied Hizballah with missiles and other arms since the August 14, 2024 ceasefire.

These charges have been repeated by anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon, such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt whose intelligence system has proved to be highly competent in the past. UN officials concur. Jumblatt goes so far as to say that pro-Syrian elements in Lebanon's discredited security services are helping smuggle the weapons in for Hizballah--allegations that only fan the smoldering sectarian embers as dialogue to end the crisis has deadlocked, with Hizballah refusing to lay down its arms. The bizarre spectacle of rival leaders hugging each other and joking in public only serves to underline how much they are in thrall to outside powers.

On paper at least, Hizballah is not able to operate near the Israeli border under the terms of the ceasefire, monitored by an expanded UN force. But it would be fanciful in the extreme to believe that Hizballah has been restrained to any significant degree. There is little doubt that it has rebuilt and expanded its defensive bunker systems in South Lebanon--using resources that could have been used to help Shi'ites left homeless by the war--and could swing into action immediately if required. It has also been recruiting on a large scale, with no shortage of applicants following its self-proclaimed "divine victory" in 2024.

Hizballah's intelligence system, greatly enhanced by Iranian help, was a key factor in fighting the militarily superior Israelis to a standstill. Israeli bungling and intelligence failures were another. But neither are likely to be repeated in a new conflict. So there is little doubt that Hizballah will find itself with fewer advantages in that event, which will make the fighting all the fiercer.

Israel should not be expected to commit its forces in the piecemeal way in did in 2024. Delaying a major ground effort for two weeks was a military disaster. Next time, the Israelis will no doubt launch coordinated air, land and sea attacks and will probably initiate a powerful push into the Bekaa Valley of northeastern Lebanon--Hizballah's heartland, its armory and its overland supply line from Syria--as they should have done in 2024.

This would mean a much wider war, with the objective of crushing Hizballah and destroying Iran's trouble-making capabilities in the Levant. This could pit the Israelis against Syria's armed forces. They stayed out of the 2024 fighting, but by most accounts they have been strengthened with large numbers of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles provided by Russia (often through third parties) and Iran. Syrian commando units, possibly working with Hizballah, can be expected to launch operations if Israel strikes, with most of the ground fighting taking place on Lebanon's blood-soaked soil.

There are those in the Israeli leadership, particularly on the right wing and in the military, who favor pre-emptive attacks against Hizballah and Iranian-supported radical Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip who have also been building up their armories since Israel unilaterally quit Gaza in September 2024. They argue that Israel's deterrence power was critically eroded by the military's failures in 2024 (it had been since the first Lebanon war in 1982-85) and that the Israeli army's honor must be restored. With Hizballah rearmed and digging in its heels, that's a dangerous combination in these uncertain times.

Effie Eitam, a hawkish former general who heads the Knesset committee overseeing the army's absorption of the hard lessons learned in the summer war, spoke for many within the Israeli military establishment and the right wing when he espoused a two-pronged offensive against these forces during a recent visit to Washington. That must have been music to the ears of the neocons inside the beltway who preach tough action against Iran and its allies.

Eitam says the ability of Hizballah and Hamas to operate freely on Israel's frontiers means "they are actually Iran on the Israeli border." South Lebanon and Gaza, he says, are "two arms of Tehran closing around us".

Eitam and his friends are admittedly a minority inside Israel at present. But as Israel grapples with a crisis of confidence in the national leadership over the 2024 debacle in Lebanon, rampant corruption that reaches to the highest levels and a plethora of demoralizing political scandals, that may not always be so.

Israel's generals have had their way many times in the past, often with disastrous consequences. But Hizballah miscalculated badly in July 2024 as well, and that cost Lebanon dearly.- Published 12/4/2007 bitterlemons-international.org

Ed Blanche is a Beirut-based analyst and former editor of The Daily Star newspaper.


Iran at threat?
 Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Anyone with some knowledge about the recent history of Western and Central Asia will be aware that the United States and Israel have been involved in more inter-state wars and intra-state conflicts in the area than any other stakeholder. Israel continues to be embroiled in a conflict over Palestinian territories and has had to mobilize its military forces and civilian population in seven major wars with its neighbors. The United States has launched three invasions in the area in the past 17 years and continues to be engaged in two civil wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus both countries have become, implicitly and explicitly, the primary military actors in the region.

Against that background, any attack on Iran would seriously deteriorate, even globalize, the Greater West Asian crisis. Iran, by virtue of its transnational outreach--into the Persian Gulf area, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan--would have multiple opportunities to retaliate asymmetrically against US and Israeli interests. The effects of a military attack would not only reverberate militarily, of course. Economists have forecast that any attack on Iran would quadruple the price of oil and gas on the international markets. In other words, any military conflict with Iran would not only reify existing wars in the region, it would intensify them exponentially both in economic and military terms.

We may add a third dimension. If you pit a global military superpower with limited ideological access to the Muslim world together with a regional military power with no ideological access to the Muslim world in a war against one of the constitutive agents of the Muslim world, you are bound to be left with a conflict that is not only determined by military means, but is rigorously fought within an excessively destructive ideological framework. In other words, the agents who consider themselves engaged in a "global war on terror" (Israel and the United States) would be pitted against the agent who considers itself to be fighting a transcendental battle for the emancipation of the "oppressed masses" (the Islamic Republic of Iran).

Any war within such globally charged narratives is bound to produce a conflict with equally global consequences. To think otherwise is to think that nation-states such as Israel, the United States and Iran, which are constituted of transnational ideologies, would retract from their fundamental norms and innermost institutions in a conflict situation. That would negate their very existence. Would any peoples or individuals accept such a nihilistic fate? Did the Vietnamese, Cubans, Palestinians, Chechens, Iraqis or Afghans?

Together, the United States, Israel and Iran at present stand at the edge of a strategic precipice. None of these countries is blessed with a rational leadership that has strategic vision and diplomatic courage. But Israel perhaps faces the greatest challenge from an attack against Iran--not necessarily militarily: Iran's military expenditure is a fraction of Israel's--but in ideological terms, because it is the only country in the area that is still fighting for its very legitimacy.

A military attack against Iran, however engineered and within whatever international constellation, would make it impossible for Israel to live productively and as an equal partner in a region that is primarily Muslim. In the case of a military attack against Iran, Israel would not only be considered an enemy state by the Iranian government, it would enter the historical consciousness of Iranian society as the enemy par excellence. From there it is a long and arduous way back, as the Americans and the British can testify. Is this really what Israeli society wants? Does it really want to add yet another West Asian people to its enemy portfolio?

Ultimately, these are questions that have to be answered in Israel itself. They are questions that will determine the country's relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds as a whole, and the fate of its presence within a region that had a history without it for several millennia. Eventually, Israel will have to carve out a presence for itself within that history that is not considered singularly disruptive. This is the real modus vivendi that we need in West Asia, a regional consciousness that is symbiotic, rather than exclusionary. In the meantime, we are obliged to fight off the destructive forces that have been too readily unleashed in opposition to such a consciousness.- Published 12/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam has taught comparative politics and international relations at SOAS since 2024. He is the author of "Iran in World Politics". His newest book entitled "A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations" will be published in November 2024.


A path fraught with danger
 Wayne White

At a time when the very real possibility of eventual United States or Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear infrastructure looms, it is important to focus on the potentially devastating impact of such action on the stability of the Persian Gulf, the already fragile situation in Iraq, and repercussions even farther afield.

US military contingency plans for major strikes against Iran have been in existence for some time, judging from significant leaks in 2024. This information points to a robust campaign requiring more than 1,000 combat missions and cruise missile launches that could last a number of days. Such a campaign would resemble something closer to a full-scale air war against Iran than a "surgical" strike.

Iran's nuclear infrastructure would not be the only target of such an effort. The US would doubtless also focus on eliminating much of Iran's airpower and any retaliatory capabilities that could be used in the Gulf. Included would be most of the Iranian air force and much of Iran's anti-aircraft defenses to clear the way for strikes on widely-dispersed nuclear targets. In addition, the large array of Iranian anti-ship missiles, Iran's Kilo-Class submarines, Scud-C and ballistic missile assets, mine-laying capabilities, and even the Revolutionary Guards' fleet of small boats trained in swarming tactics against combat vessels and commercial shipping would likely be struck.

Despite the size of this effort, it would be impossible to take out all Iranian assets that could be used to retaliate in the first wave of strikes. Consequently, confronted with a "use or lose" situation, Tehran might well be strongly motivated to strike back quickly with whatever assets had escaped destruction early in such an ambitious air campaign.

Perhaps the worst case scenario for the US and the Arab Gulf states would be an Israeli attack on Iran. In the "fog of war," and with attacks most likely to be conducted at night, Tehran could wrongly conclude that it had been hit by the US (or Israel with the assistance of the US). The latter would not be an altogether unreasonable assumption since the Israelis probably would have to over-fly US-occupied Iraq with Washington's consent in order to reach Iran with a reasonably effective strike package.

The Israelis, however, would be relatively limited in the number of strikes they could carry out at such extreme range. As a result, Israeli attacks would largely be concentrated on nuclear-related targets, taking out only those portions of Iran's air force and air defenses required to reach those targets. Therefore, key Iranian retaliatory capabilities that could be used in the Gulf would most likely be left virtually untouched.

In this situation, stunned by such a blow and possibly uncertain as to the true identity of the attacker for many hours, Tehran would be well-positioned to hit back against US fleet units, US facilities in the Arab Gulf states, commercial shipping, or even petroleum-related targets on the other side of the Gulf employing missiles, aircraft and naval assets. Consequently, in this scenario, before such attacks could be suppressed, substantial damage could be inflicted, including possible Iranian mining operations in the Strait of Hormuz.

In any attack scenario, Tehran also would likely urge Hizballah to restart military operations against Israel from southern Lebanon. In the event of a US attack, it could use pre-positioned covert assets to conduct terrorist operations against US interests throughout the Middle East region and perhaps beyond. In the latter scenario, attempts also might be made by Iranian operatives to attack government and economic targets in the GCC states. Tehran probably would assume that most of the GCC states were complicit in any US attack.

Another damaging retaliatory option open to Iran, most likely in response to a US attack, would be operations inside of Iraq. Indeed, the greater the damage to Iran's potential for retaliation in the Gulf, the more Iraq would likely beckon as the most promising venue for Iranian pay-back.

The Iranians could wreak havoc inside of an already unstable Iraq. They could work through surrogates or send literally hundreds of their own operatives and military personnel across a fairly porous border to attack US targets. Such activity would complicate still further US efforts to bring stability to Iraq. And even if the Iranians chose not to extend any military confrontation with the US into Iraq, many Iraqi Shi'ites would be angered by a US or Israeli attack on Iran, injecting still more tension into Iraq's deeply-troubled internal equation.

Perhaps the worst consequence of a military campaign against Iran would be the absence of an endgame. Saddam Hussein moved militarily against Iran in 1980, a vengeful Iran refused to give in, and Iraq was trapped in an eight-year war. In a similar manner, military action against Iran by the US or Israel could initiate a prolonged crisis in the Gulf region, among other things threatening the flow of oil from the Gulf and driving up world oil prices considerably.- Published 12/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's intelligence office for the Near East and South Asia, is an adjunct scholar at Washington's Middle East Institute.


Not at the risk of regime stability
 Ehud Yaari

Iran conscientiously exaggerates its military power, along with the pace of its progress in the nuclear field. It is vital to keep this in mind when examining the possible courses of action at the disposal of the leadership in Tehran in the event of an American attack. Not all the chatter of threats emanating from Revolutionary Guard commanders is credible.

This is particularly so when we assume that any attack--and of course there is no certainty there will be an attack or how effective it will be--would from the outset target a broad range of objectives in addition to known nuclear facilities. These could include Iran's very limited number of active Shehab missile launching bases, airfields and ports, and command and control centers of both the army and the guards.

Based on this reality, we can adopt several assumptions.

For one, the decision regarding Iranian retaliation, its scope and objectives, would at the end of the day be made by the Traditional Conservatives, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei together with Hashemi Rafsanjani and his entourage, and not by the New Conservatives led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Then too, the central concern confronting these decision-makers, who may already have discussed this secretly, is the preservation of the Islamic Republic regime: strengthening their grip on the country and preventing the emergence of fissures that could invite internal turbulence.

Even after an American strike, the Iranian leadership would still try to avoid a prolonged military confrontation with the US. However energetic the Iranian political discourse regarding the end of American ascendancy in the region, Tehran's leaders are well aware of the American forces' total supremacy.

Accordingly, the most likely pattern of response by Iran would be designed to reassure the leadership that following an exchange of blows with the US it would remain in place, however bloodied. At the same time, the regime would seek to display a sufficient capacity to counterattack so as to generate at least the appearance of a draw or the absence of a decisive victory over Iran.

If indeed this is a realistic set of assumptions, then the options available to Iran include, first and foremost, painful and even spectacular retaliatory operations such as the sinking of a large warship and a series of terrorist attacks on sensitive targets. Ostensibly, the main threat that Iran projects by way of responding to an American strike is to respond by blocking the Strait of Hormuz and complicating the export of oil in tankers from the Gulf. This could entail widespread naval mining, saturating shipping lanes with commando boats and deploying Iran's Russian-made submarines. All these are likely options, however complicated they might be to execute in view of America's heavy naval and military presence and total air superiority. Common sense requires that we anticipate a major Iranian effort along these lines, based on a readiness to bear considerable sacrifices.

There is a real possibility of disrupting the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. But it is doubtful that this tanker route could be paralyzed for long. The opening of secure lanes cleared of mines would constitute an inevitable American follow-up move. Within a relatively short time, Iran would have to decide whether it is going to enter into a prolonged confrontation over energy transport routes and to pay an escalating price for doing so.

It is abundantly clear that in recent years Iran has made preparations to carry out sabotage operations against energy infrastructures on the Arab side of the Gulf--in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. The Iranians have deployed sleeper networks among the large Shi'ite communities of the GCC states, and according to some reports have even recruited the participation of the Lebanese Hizballah. Here again the question would arise: how long would they persist in this approach, given that it would push the Arabs to join with the Americans in a joint defensive effort.

Terrorist attacks outside the Middle East, along the Buenos Aires model, are another option that Iran has invested in preparing. No doubt, Tehran is capable of projecting painful and spectacular operations at great distance. Yet here again, the Iranian leadership would soon have to consider whether it wishes to pursue a strategy that portrays it as a major global terror exporter.

Iraq is perhaps the most tempting arena for an Iranian response in the form of a prolonged campaign based on attrition. It is capable of multiplying several-fold the scope of attacks against American forces in Iraq, deploying the complex and largely concealed infrastructure built up by General Qassem Suleimani of the al-Quds Force and turning some of the Shi'ite groups into active combatants against the "occupation". Further, Iran can threaten the stability of the Kurdish regions in northern Iraq and confront a leader like President Jalal Talabani with a cruel dilemma.

As for Israel, Iran is constantly signaling that if attacked it would direct efforts in that direction as well. But Israel is not a decisive arena for Iran; rather, it can provide an appropriate backdrop for the entire confrontation. Thus the Iranians are liable to launch Shehab missiles against Israel, direct Hizballah to fire long-range rockets, and initiate a variety of high-level terrorist attacks. But here one important reservation must be noted: the missiles may never reach their targets and Israel may respond this time with a more effective operation in Lebanon than that of last summer.

Were the Iranians to assess that Syria would join the fray, their calculations might be different. But there is currently no indication that President Bashar Asad is prepared to do so. Indeed, there are growing indications that Damascus no longer sees eye-to-eye with Iran regarding the fate of Iraq. Asad is not pulling out of his pact with Iran, but neither can he be counted on automatically to take its side.

Thus a number of heavy constraints would affect Iran's response. The Iranians would make every effort to react sharply, quickly and across a wide spectrum of targets. But they are not likely to view a prolonged conflict as serving their interests, except perhaps in Iraq. In any event, they would seek to maintain broad security margins regarding the stability of their regime. Already we can hear voices from Iran expressing doubts regarding the benefit of pursuing nuclear weapons. These voices will only grow stronger as the price Iran is likely to pay becomes clearer.- Published 12/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ehud Yaari is Middle East commentator of Israel TV channel 2.





 
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