Friday, September 11, 2009

Oh, Russians...

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted, and even longer since I wrote a serious international affairs piece. A spate of disconcerting events and new comments from the Russians today prompted me push aside the LSAT studying for a bit to write down a few thoughts on how this new information now makes war more likely than not.

The comments today were those of Vladimir Putin, delivered via a spokesman, that Russia has no evidence to cast any doubt on Iran’s claim that its nuclear development is for anything other than peaceful ends, and therefore will continue to fight against sanctions.

Meanwhile, today’s news also reports that Iran now has enough material to produce a nuclear bomb. A week or so ago, there were reports that a boat full of Russian-made S300 missile systems destined for Iran was hijacked and then rescued by Russian forces. The theory goes that the S300 systems were being sold without government authorization to Iran by disgruntled current and/or former Russian generals. Israel’s Mossad, learning of this, hired mercenaries to hijack the boat, and then tipped off the Russian government so that the Russians could prevent the delivery and safe face. Israeli and Russian officials both denied this, though were S300 missiles on board, I’d bet money that this is more or less what happened.

Another bit of breaking news is the revelation of an alleged clandestine trip to Russia by Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Reports vary on details, but the just is that Bibi went to discuss the S300 matter.

The Iranian Defense Minister has led Europe to pay closer attention to the situation with recent comments that suggest Iran is now pursuing a missile system with a range of over 2,000 kilometers, making Iranian nuclear weapons a threat to the European continent. We now see France and Germany taking much stronger stands against Iran.

Iran, with the requisite material to produce nuclear weapons, a missile system capable of taking down Israel’s most advanced planes, another missle system with the reach to strike Europe, and the influence on the region Iran would attain from all this, along with Russia’s continuing to fight against sanctions, means war is on the horizon.

War is now likely to happen, with perhaps some variation, along these lines:

1. Israel obtains hard intelligence that Russia will sell Iran the S300 system, which makes an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nearly impossible
2. Israel pre-empts the full operational capability of the S300s with attacks, pushing Iran a few years back down the nuclear time line
3. Iran responds by strengthening Hizbollah and Hamas, likely inciting them to launch attacks on Israel
4. Iran mines, or at least monitors, the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of the world’s oil is transported, causing a worldwide oil supply crisis
5. The U.S. and Europe are forced into the meat of the situation (when either they are unable or unwilling to enter another field of combat), testing the tenuous and slight diplomatic gains made between the U.S. and Syria through the pressure Iran will put on Syria to stir things up in Iraq
6. Instability in the Arab arc will be set lose, putting the United Arab Emirates, an ally of rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the U.S., in an extremely difficult position. The UAE will, with good reason, fear foreign attempts at occupation, whether politically or militarily, by any of their three “allies”
7. Iran will put pressure on Bahrain, a key ally of both Iran and the U.S., the later of whom has their Fifth Flee/t headquartered there, to force the Americans to leave, which would be catastrophic for the U.S. in its Near East operations (including the current war in Afghanistan). To keep their the base, the Americans will have to pledge military support - to keep Iran at bay when it comes to Bahrain’s territorial concerns – that it can’t logisitically provide

The instability and havoc this scenario creates is really only put into motion at step 7. It would likely expand beyond step 7 and could even reach South and North America via Venezuela and Bolvia and the growing al Qaeda cells operating in Central America, but that’s much harder to assess.

Here may be the most worring part of this scenario: from the perspective of the most likely country to act, Israel, this is, if you eliminate the sanctions options - the only responsible thing to do at this point - probably the best scenario. This is because Israel is more likely to receive international intervention with a war. If Israel does not attack and Iran secures the S300, it gives Israel’s enemies, near and far, the protection of a nuclear umbrella. This is the worst scenario for Israel, because it creates an Israel beholden to Iran’s whims. Iran could attack Israel with support from Hizbollah, Hamas, and Syria. More likely, though, is that Iran seriously arms its allies and gives them the green light to stage attacks against Israel. Once Israel responds, Iran can tell them to back off or receive the wrath of Iranian missiles. This is the Israeli nightmare.

From the American perspective, there isn’t an attractive option. At this point, we only enjoy support from 2 of the remaining 4 Security Council members. Neither China nor Russia are committed to the Iranian threat. For Russia, it is both economic and geopolitical, and arming Iran helps them achieve both those goals. For China, their motivations are less discernable. I’m not going to go into China much other than to say they share some of Russia’s motivations. Given that international sanctions are no longer feasible and that Russia is likely to eventually sell Iran the missile systems that will destabilize the Middle East, and that the scenario I outlined above guarantees terrible consequences, it is time for the Obama Administration to take a stand. There are unilateral sanctions that can harness the Iranian public’s discontent with its government should the U.S. levy heavy economic burdens on the country in ways that expose the poor governance of the Iranian regime.

These include oil and financial considerations. The first sanction would be to deny the right of any person, company, and nation to the ability to conduct transactions with any Iranian person, company, and government in U.S. dollars. The second sanction would be to levy debilitating actions against people, companies, and governments who supply Iran with oil or buy oil from them (Iran imports over 150,000 barrels of oil per day for domestic consumption because the Iranian government highly subsidizes petrol pump prices. Forcing Iran to function on only domestic oil would drive the price beyond what Iranians could afford, and force the regime to make a decision whether or not to divert oil from its oil-dependent military complex. However, 40% of Iran’s oil imports come from India, a U.S. ally, making this a politically difficult maneuver to make, however necessary it would be). Between these two sanctions, the Iranian economy and way of life would crumble within days. This might begin to turn the attitude of the Iranian government, which is exactly what needs to be done.

To caveat all this, I am aware that the U.S. is trying to work out a deal with Russia that would lead to Russia supporting sanctions. Putin’s comments are likely due to one of two things: they won’t make a deal, or they want more than the U.S. has been willing to offer thus far. Depending on how this plays out, the above scenario could change considerably.

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