In a surprise and unscheduled military exercise displaying its conventional weapons strength and leaving Israel very worried, Iran fired a battery and range of land and ship-borne missiles and maneuvers along with anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons. Code named Great Prophet-2, Iran’s exercise tested Shabab-3, Nasr, Noor, and Kowsar with ranges of 170 to 2000 kilometers capable of attacking an invasion or targets in Israel or some parts of Europe.
The message Iran was giving the West was that it had the capacity to strike fuel tankers going through the Straits of Hormuz carrying nearly 30% of world’s oil supplies. Affecting oil supplies will cause a large oil price hike and greatly affect the global economy. Iran also has a history of attacking oil tankers as it did during the 1st phase of the Iraq war. By testing missiles, the other message being conveyed to Israel is that, unlike Lebanon, Tehran has a second and counter strike capability and remind Tel Aviv of its vulnerabilities during the Lebanon War when missiles were fired into Haifa with impunity.
Such excessively aggressive actions only heighten fears in Israel about Iran ’s stated intentions to work for its demise. Since Israel has a good offensive mechanism because it is limited by its size and population levels and hence uses offense as a means of defense. Handicapped again by fractured democracy wont to incessant debates (as in any democratic society), Israel usually raises its rhetoric against Israel to garner support at home for possible action. Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Government have been focusing on 3 major points while drumming up consensus at home and abroad. It has successfully demonized Iran, threatened it with non-conventional attack, and portrayed the dangers Tehran poses to the region and world.
While warning Tehran that it should start to fear” and “pay dearly” if it did not compromise, Olmert’s Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh reiterated that they were not “advocating pre-emptive military action against Iran” but it would be considered as a “last resort.” Ominously, Sneh says that “the last resort is sometimes the only resort.” By highlighting Iran’s involvement in Palestinian Territories through Hamas, Lebanon through Hezbollah, Iraq through various Shiite groups, and missile capability to reach Israel, Iraq, many parts of Europe, and US bases, Tel Aviv’s portrayal of Iran as a threat to regional and global peace has been bought by the US which is now openly counseling a containment policy of Iran.
However, by definition, a containment policy requires brinkmanship readiness and encirclement by allies prepared to do the dirty work. In a global economy, it requires economic, financial, sociological, and political angles besides military positioning. Looking at the geography, the countries would be candidates would be Israel, Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkey . In all these nations, the only nations that may support action Iran are Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Iraq because of religious sectarianism or being dependent regimes without real power. While Palestinian Territories, Syria and Lebanon will be completely resistant to the idea of containing Iran, the others may be neutral or against such action for several domestic reasons. Pakistan is already torn apart by sectarian violence and cannot afford another front. Despite tens of thousands of foreign troops, Afghanistan does not have control over its territory and hence may be unable to help. Russia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan may actually oppose such moves. India will be neutral unable to move because of fear of a Muslim backlash at home and Turkmenistan may barter tactical support for financial assistance. Financial, economical, social, and political clampdown may succeed to a moderate extent because of the Western control over the UN watered down Iran ’s allies Russia and China . Therefore, a classic containment strategy will have little impact or effectiveness militarily and only moderate impact via the other angles.
A pre-emptive military attack on Iran may also be a tricky thing because there is little or no reliable evidence on the quantity, quality, or location of Iran ’s missiles. With anti-missile defense systems at an incipient stage, it is unknown how they may work against an Iranian coordinated missile attacks on Israel or energy sources. While Iran knows that an obliterating attack from it will invite an equally debilitating or obliterating nuclear attack from Israel or the US, no one knows if Iran can be beholden to the philosophy of self-preservation. Hence, no one know whether Iran will go for a suicidal all out missile response on Israel with Shahab-3 armed with cluster bombs if there is a pre-emptive attack so it will take out all of Israel at the cost of its own existence.
If options to deal with Iran with conventional missiles are uncertain, the scenario becomes more complex when a nuclear-armed Iran is factored in. This is precisely what US President George Bush meant when he said “Imagine an Iran with nuclear weapons.” Not to be undone by this escalation of muscle flexing, the US has sent in USS Boxer accompanied by a Canadian Frigate into the Persian Gulf as they had just completed exercised with the Indian Navy off Goa. The US reasoning that a softening stance on Iran may be construed as capitulation is not unfounded. Every time a weakened UN message or a divided P-5 message is sent to Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to ratchet up his bellicose statements by a notch. However, one-upmanship is not means to an end and cannot bring peace to the region.
For its own safety, Israel needs to make peace with Palestinians. But how does one make peace with a neighbor who does not make peace? After all, the peace dialogue between Israel and Palestinians had been jettisoned by last elections where the victor Hamas has refused to acknowledge previous agreements, Israel ’s right to live, and give up violence. While financial sanctions and aid cut-off imposed at Tel Aviv’s behest by the European Union and the US, Israel needs to make some peace overtures. It needs to come clean on women and children who may be held captive. While it is understandable that they may not want to release these prisoners for security reasons, they should at least ensure that the children get education and employment skills while the women are treated well. By either releasing them or publicly rehabilitating them, Israel may remove a weapon from Hamas and Hezbollah. This would also arm potential allies such as the Fattah or leaders like Lebanese leaders such as Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri with enough powers to drive consensus within their nations.
At the same time, the US needs to expand its contacts with Iran and Syria and engage them in unconditional direct talks. At best, they may find common ground and at worst, they may know if their differences are irreconcilable. While the world cannot afford a nuclear Iran, it cannot afford another war in that region either.