Friday, July 18, 2008

War with Iran? I don't believe it.

The press seems to assume war with Iran is more and more certain. At least the western press. My father, who travels widely, tells me that virtually all Israelis now believe war with Iran is now inevitable. The prevailing assumptions are outlined in this gloomy op-ed for the New York Times:
Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.
—Benny Morris
I guess this puts me in the optimist camp for a change. I think Morris is missing something (maybe everything would be more accurate). Israel can not hope to achieve anything by launching a unilateral war against Iran. This is because Iran is now backed by both China and Russia (and, discretely, by Japan). China and Japan depend on Iran for energy supplies. Russia is building much of Iran's new infrastructure, including military, and has many billions of rubles worth of business deals there. Iran is to Russia as Iraq is to America: Russia is fortifying Iran to secure their oil and gas supplies, much as America installed massive military bases in Iraq to secure their oil and gas. Russia has supplied Iran with Sunburn cruise missiles, which are a generation more advanced than US and Israeli cruise missiles, giving them tactical superiority. They are capable of evasive maneuvers, making them hard to defend against. These missile installations look down on the straits of Hormuz, bottleneck to the Persian Gulf oil shipments.

Of course, Iran can't win on the basis of better missiles. Over all, the Israeli and American military is far superior to Iran's. The real issue is not tactical, but strategic. Israel is backed by the USA and England, and Iran is backed by Russia and China. If a conflict starts, unless it turns into a short and quick victory for one side (unlikely), the side that will prevail will be the side with access to the most energy and capital. I'm not saying that Russia or China would attack the USA or England. Rather that those powers would employ geopolitical leverage to prevent Israel from destroying Iran, and vital Russian interests there, i.e. the oil and gas fields.

The USA and England are both on the brink of outright insolvency, and the USA is also dependent on imported energy. They are in no position to back Israel in a war. Wars are insanely expensive. England is now a net importer of energy, and their domestic supplies are in rapid depletion. Israel purchases its oil imports on the London and Russian markets. They depend on American and UK lines of credit.

Russia is not only self sufficient in energy, but can, and has demonstrated its willingness, to cut off energy from its export markets. China can do the same with capital, by simply selling part of its war chest of US Treasury bonds. China and Russia's superiority is so overwhelming that they can prevent a war from happening.

And that, I believe, is optimistic. If Iran had the bomb, I don't think Iran would nuke Israel and assume a retaliatory strike. In fact I think it is astonishing that Israel is threatening exactly that. Don't tell me that Iran is more crazy than Israel. They are both crazy. I think saner heads, i.e. Russian and Chinese, will prevail.


Anonymous said...

You are right. You could add a lot of other possibilities regarding a conflict with Iran; such as, other Moslem countries (although of a different sects) come to Iran's defense, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc.

All some countries would have to do would be to turn off the oil spigot, that would be enough to bring us to our knees.

By the way, could lose, too. We could lose a multi-billion aircraft carrier and a couple thousand soldiers, and billions of dollars like we have in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Well, don't count the neocons out- they just started a new war with Russia and they are sending a huge naval armada to Iran

Henry said...

The SS-N-22 Sunburn (Raduga P-270 Moskit) is not a cruise missile, but an anti-ship missile, or AShM. This particular model is very fast (ramjet powered), but is certainly not a cruise missile, nor does it compete with recent US cruise missiles (JASSM). Although it is quite effective, the new naval point defense system called the Rolling Airframe Missile was designed to counter it. It is understandable that Iran would want the very best in AShM's due to the overwhelming size of the US Navy in comparison.