The announcement of major manoeuvres by a naval armada made up of about 25 nations off the coast of Iran — including the U.S. and Britain — signals a huge rise in tensions over the question of whether we are going to fight a war with Iran over its nuclear program. In the following week, Iran is slated to hold its own largest military exercises to date, the primary objective of which is to prove that it can defend against a massed aerial attack on its nuclear and strategic facilities.
Needless to say, tensions are running red-hot over a potential preemptive strike by Israel on Iran, an event which could lead to a domino effect in the region that would engulf many more countries. Building a scenario of winners and losers is pointless, because the scale of such a conflict means that too many people to count will die, especially when they need not lose their lives.
But lets take a quick look at the impact a possible was with Iran could have, especially in the short-term.
The U.S. electoral dimension is that President Obama’s foreign policy will go to shambles if hostilities break out. He has made clear his stance on a diplomatic resolution for Iran, to the chagrin of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government. There is one significant point of departure between the two: Obama’s military response would only come in the event of an attack from Iran, but Netanyahu wants to attack first. If Obama can make Netanyahu believe that he will not support an Israeli attack, even politically, then the Israeli PM can be effectively deterred. If not, it will be an act of war on behalf of Israel and a response then by Iran is fully justified.
With the last round of violence in the Middle East following the unfortunate publication of the film Innocent Muslims, the legitimacy of American foreign policy in the region is in crisis. The tragic death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens is a rather loud reminder of that, alongside the protests and attacks against American embassies and consulates in the wider Muslim world. If a movie can cause such a response, then we might say an attack on Iran will be equivalent to an attack on Islam. Ergo, Muslims could very well see America as a legitimate existential threat and choose to act. The compounded effect will be the last shreds of American foreign policy credibility being gone.
The risk here is the newfound power of the Arab Spring regimes, which are, predictably, Islam-focused and hold public legitimacy. Each of these new governments can very quickly turn against America. In other words, a war against Iran could rapidly escalate into a multi-front conflict.
Traffic through the Hormuz Strait, an essential artery for global oil deliveries, would predictably grind to a halt. Mining the strait, sinking old ships, and shore-based batteries are three ways to effectively impede the flow of traffic through it, and are all possible scenarios in this hypothetical Iran war.While Iran would lose out economically in such an event, so would the rest of the world, and in a very big way. The price domestically would be an incredible surge in petroleum prices.
The riskiest factor remains on what Israel chooses to do. First, the usual response should raise second thoughts, because Iran is not the average underequipped Arab army Israel has usually fought; nor is there the element of surprise, like the Six Day War. Iran’s rich ballistic arsenal and ability to wage protracted war (Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88), are two unacceptable risk factors for Israel, with which it cannot deal if confronted with.
American foreign policy must preserve what it has left as a standing in the Mideast, following two decade-long wars, the visible Islamization of politics in the Mideast and the most recent unrest in the region. Simply put, opting for peace is the only real option. The alternative involves a nightmare of a war and rivers of needlessly spilled blood.
The reaction of the international community is still one variable to hold hope. The UN Security Council is the only body, de jure, with the power to authorize state-state conflict, and the UN isn't about to sanction a new Iran war.
In the event of a war, terrorist attacks across Europe and the United States would almost certainly happen with greater frequency. Considering that the Muslim world extends from Morocco to the southernmost archipelagos of Indonesia, the price is also the strategic relevance of the United States in a big part of the world. Russia might see some domestic unrest as well and in the foreign policy front, restart supplying Iran with weapons and nuclear technology.
Ultimately, an attack on Iran would immediately change the Ayatollah’s mind and while he would say he regrets the turn of events, he would allow the militarization of nuclear energy by Iran. Such a turn automatically enters the nuclear variable as a part of a war that could very well continue – and that is a risk that not just Iran, Israel or America, but the world cannot accept.
Once more, peace and diplomacy are the only way forward.