Winds of War?

The Easter and Passover holidays have now passed. The New York Times tells us that the Biden administration is having meaningful talks with the Iranian regime over the nuclear weapons issue. And in Israel, there is still no sign of agreement on a new government coalition.

The one item that I feel stands out in all the above list is Iran. There was another news item that mentioned a “mysterious” electrical failure in the Iranian Natanz Uranium enrichment facility. The Iranians say it was terrorism, and pointed a finger at Israel. American (and, supposedly, Israeli) intelligence sources are reported to claim the damage done was extensive (which it apparently was) and may take 9 months to repair. How they arrived at that number is unclear. What does seem clear to me is that this may lead to a major change in what is happening in the Middle East. Here’s the way I see it.

The past year, and especially the past 4 months, look like a continuous stream of wins for the Iranian regime. They may be talking to the Americans, but it seems more like they are dictating terms. They want all sanctions lifted as a precondition to continuing any discussion. I see no hard stand against this from the American side, just delays. Iranian arms continue to flow to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and to Hizbullah in Lebanon, and to Syria, and to various groups in Iraq. It’s a major leg of Iranian foreign policy. We will arm groups that we support. If we can’t get what we want peacefully, we are ready to use force. If you don’t recognize the pattern I suggest you go back and re-read Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu.

The Iranians don’t stop there, either. They have made open attacks on Israeli owned merchant ships sailing in the area of the Persian Gulf. Israel just spent a lot of time and treasure recovering from a crude oil spill that washed up on Israeli beaches. The source of the spill? an Iranian tanker sailing in the Mediterranean! Was it intentional? At this point there isn’t an answer to that question. But as a new innovation in terror attacks it certainly bears looking into. Nobody expected the 9-11 suicide crashes when they occurred either.

Iranian backed terror groups have been implicated in many other attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets all over the world. Striking soft targets under the guise of “plausible deniability” of responsibility is one of the more common ways of waging low level warfare in the nuclear age. Groups called Non-Governmental Organizations” (NGOs) are employed in order to avoid potential retaliation on the sponsoring nation. It’s a very useful tool when you don’t want an actual full scale war. This is especially true if you think the targeted country may have a stronger military, or possibly access to their own nuclear weapons. Back in the 1950s China repeatedly claimed they were not afraid of American Nuclear bombs because they had a much larger population and could absorb such strikes. Those claims ended abruptly after China successfully tested their own A bombs.

Iran is almost a member of the very restricted nuclear club. They are undoubtedly unwilling to risk a full scale open war with someone who is already a member. America is an obvious target for a policy which avoids open confrontation. Israel, on the other hand, can be provoked more freely. Israel’s official policy is that she will not be the first to use a nuclear weapon. A policy that neatly avoids admitting to already having one in her arsenal. But any hostile nation that can deliver a nuclear attack on Israel is considered, correctly, to be an actual existential threat. A single nuclear bomb on Tel-Aiv would be a major catastrophe. That’s why Israeli aircraft destroyed Iraq’s Osiris rector some years ago. Libya recognized the implied threat and promptly arranged to halt all nuclear weapons research that other Arab nations were conducting in her territory.

Iran and Israel once had friendly relations. Is it unrealistic to hope that could happen again? Israel has started friendly relations with a number of formerly hostile Arab states, possibly because those countries feel threatened by Iran. But friendly relations,including trade and tourism, have a way of growing. Only a major change, like the Iranian Clerical Revolution, can disrupt them. There is opposition to the Iranian Theocratic Regime. If it were to fall, for whatever reason, maybe a return to the “old day” is possible.

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