By Paul Wallis
None of this is to suggest that the United States would not “win” a war with Iran, but given the incredibly painful costs of Iraq and Afghanistan; wars fought against weak, poorly organised enemies lacking broad influence, politicians campaigning for war with Iran are leading the American people into a battle which will be guaranteed to make the past decade of fighting look tame in comparison.
A recent study has shown that an initial US aerial assault on Iran would require hundreds of planes, ships and missiles in order to be completed; a military undertaking itself unprecedented since the first Gulf War and representative of only the first phase of what would likely be a long drawn-out war of attrition.
For a country already nursing the wounds from the casualties of far less intense conflicts and still reeling from their economic costs, the sheer battle fatigue inherent in a large-scale war with Iran would stand to greatly exacerbate these issues.
Gulf News.com feels that any attack on Iran would simply reinforce the hardline anti-Western policies of the Iranian regime:
The expectation is that the Iranian regime would retaliate — probably by seeking to block oil shipments through the Gulf, with rocket attacks on Israel by Hezbollah, and, quite possibly, with a wider campaign of terrorism. It would also throw its weight behind the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Such predictions, however, gloss over the likely impact within Iran. No one knows for sure, but diplomats privately suggest three probabilities. The first is that bombing would solidify the Iranian leadership, weaken moderate politicians and disarm dissidents. The mullahs would claim they had been right all along about the US.
There in a few paragraphs you have a condensed version of the views in circulation around the Middle East at the moment.
The overall view of the result of an attack on Iran, by Israel with or without or the US:
1. Iran could use its terror networks around the world to attack Israel, the US and its allies.
2. An Iraq-style invasion would be a massive burden for the US.
3. The US doesn’t want another war.
4. The US can’t win a war against Iran by those means.
5. There would be a massive regional conflict, uniting Moslems against the US and Israel.
6. Iran could block the Straits of Hormuz, sending oil prices skyrocketing.
7. Iran may have been passing on “dirty bomb” nuke technology to proxies.
8. Iran has previously threatened strikes on the US in the event of a conflict.
9. The US can’t win a guerrilla-style Vietnam or Afghanistan type of war.
Underselling World War 3
There you also have the seeds of World War 3. These theories work on the basis of a traditional regional limited war. You can almost hear the geniuses talking about atomic suicide bombers. They assume that the same tactics which have dragged out conflicts would be too much for the American public or politicians to stomach.
Unfortunately, this is a rather complacent viewpoint. It really does sound like “business as usual”. The world has changed since 2001. The probability is that these tactics would be more than they’d be prepared to tolerate. The mindset of the world has changed. The only real “success” of Al Qaeda in its September 11 attack was to make the rest of the world perceive radical Islam as a threat. Iran’s involvement in supporting various groups in the region and its record of supporting terrorist groups around the world makes it a credibly dangerous threat.
That credibility is likely to become an own goal. Iran, in short, has become the best possible excuse for anti-Islamist hardliners to make political capital. Any attack by Iranian or Islamic groups in support of Iran in the case of a conflict would be a cause for rabble-rousing.
Worse, it would be an excuse for much more drastic types of warfare. The lessons of Afghanistan don’t quite apply in the case of a war against a nation. An enemy nation is a legitimate target. The US could simply stand off and fire its weapons, without invading, and destroy Iran. There would be no need to invade.
(Arguably, that’s exactly what the US should have done in Iraq. Simply destroying the regime’s military support, destroying the nuclear facilities beyond recovery and letting the locals argue it out among themselves would suffice. It’s a lot cheaper, too. It’s more than likely that the US would look for a simpler and less expensive option in any future Middle East war.)
Then there’s the capacity of Iran to hit targets in the West and the US. Another potential own goal, and a big one. Escalation by attacks on the West could backfire, badly. The use of “dirty bombs” or small nukes (there are quite a few ex-Soviet small “suitcase bombs” in circulation) could be a legitimate reason for the use of heavy nukes against Iran. Terror strikes in general could cause civil reprisals, as 9/11 did in the US. A dirty bomb or small nuke strike on Israel would inevitably get instant, massive retaliation.
There are no guarantees of a mere war of attrition under these circumstances. Nor is there much to be gained for the people in the region. Food prices would go up enormously as foreign imports dried up. Trade would become impossible. The black market, already thriving in Iran, would do very nicely, but the rich nations in the Gulf and elsewhere would get an entirely negative effect.
The Middle East, without trade, would become a human desert. The huge populations in this region would be at risk from multiple shortages. Iran’s very large population, without infrastructure, would be in a terrible position.
Fighting people isn’t the same thing as fighting politicians and lawyers
There’s another factor- People. In the past, guerrillas have fought politicians trying to stay in power and armies playing by rules. In a real war, those niceties aren’t in play. In 1945, massive attacks on civilian targets like Dresden, Tokyo and Eastern Europe were commonplace. The “civilized” allies weren’t very civilized at all. The hatred generated by years of war was literally translated into firestorms and massive attacks on cities.
The Middle East has never seen a war with whole countries literally obliterated from the face of the Earth. From Berlin to Moscow was one big graveyard of wrecked cities and millions of dead. About 24 million people died. People were killed simply for being German or Russian or just being in the wrong place. There were no laws in force at the time of the actual fighting. In one attack, the US Air Force burned Tokyo to the ground and killed about 100,000 people in a fire bombing raid.
That’s what a real war is like. Fighting politicians and lawyers isn’t the same thing as fighting people. The guerrilla methods of the past will be truly obsolete weapons if the sleeping but very ugly and merciless monster of vengeful human hatred is aroused. World War 3, in fact, won’t be fought so much with weapons, but with mindsets.
All involved are advised not to push those buttons. You can’t un-push them afterwards.