Several weeks ago, I wrote a post speculating about what kinds of harm and pain Iran might inflict on the US if we were to attack its nuclear program. I complained in that post that the Bush Administration was insufficiently imaginative about what Iran might do. Well, for better or worse, the possibilities are coming into clearer focus.
The Telegraph claims today that the Brits will have a high level meeting tomorrow to consider consequences of war for Britain.
A senior Foreign Office source said: "Monday's meeting will set out to address the consequences for Britain in the event of an attack against Iran. The CDS [chiefs of defence staff] will want to know what the impact will be on British interests in Iraq and Afghanistan which both border Iran. The CDS will then brief the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on their conclusions in the next few days.
"If Iran makes another strategic mistake, such as ignoring demands by the UN or future resolutions, then the thinking among the chiefs is that military action could be taken to bring an end to the crisis. The belief in some areas of Whitehall is that an attack is now all but inevitable.
They've included a handy little picture that describes the potential US attack, complete with graphics of Iran's defensive ability. But they consider only Iran's military defensive ability--not any of the 4th generation warfare ability in which Iran really excels. (Meanwhile, Britain's MOD officially denies it is holding a meeting tomorrow to plan for war.)
Now don't get me wrong. Iran wants you to believe it will use its military to defend itself. Or at least I assume that's the message Iran intends to send with its warning that it will carry out a naval exercise in the Straits of Hormuz.
At the same time, Iran is preparing a military reply to go alongside the diplomatic one. A demonstration of Teheran’s strength will take place from 31st March to 6th April in the Strait of Ormuz, which links the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean. Naval exercises will be carried out there, according to unofficial information with the aim of demonstrating to the whole world that Iran controls this essential stretch of water, through which 80% of the oil refined in the Persian Gulf region makes its way onto the world markets.
But what I'm more interested in are the maneuvers that took place at the UN last week, because some of the parties revealed a few more of the cards in their hand. Sure, the Security Council agreed to give Iran a 30 day deadline to prove to the IAEA that it was ceasing its uranium enrichment plans. The US had wanted to impose a 14 day deadline; China and Russia sought a 6 week deadline. Why does this remind me of the period in March 2003 when the UNSC was trying to buy time for the inspectors? Only this time, no one expects that the deadline will bring any resolution. Iran has already rejected calls to cease enrichment. More importantly, Russia and China have both made it clear that they will be no readier to punish Iran in 30 days than they are now. They will not support sanctions, and they do not favor doing anything more.
During a news conference after a three and one-half hour meeting here today, Dai Bingguo, China's vice minister of foreign affairs, rejected the idea of sanctions and offered a thinly veiled criticism of the war in Iraq when he said, "The Chinese side feels there has already been enough turmoil in the Middle East. We don't need any more turmoil."
As it is, both Russia and China bluntly declared that they had no interest in imposing sanctions or taking any further action against Iran, though both countries did express concern about the nuclear program. Both countries said they wanted to refer the issue back to the atomic energy agency.
"Russia believes that the sole solution for this problem will be based on the work of the I.A.E.A.," said the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.
Meanwhile, Condi keeps trying to convince the world that the UNSC is united against Iran.
Ms. Rice alluded to the sort of sanctions the United States will likely propose when, speaking to reporters, she said the United States and its allies will look at "how a strong message can be sent to the Iranian regime that it's the regime that is isolated, not the Iranian people."
When in reality, any unified effort to curtail Iran's nuclear program seems to be in deep trouble.
Later, after Russia's and China's public rebuke of the idea of taking any further action, a senior administration official, briefing reporters, offered a different goal for the meeting, saying it had been an effort to keep the coalition of nations opposed to Iran's nuclear program together.
Someone ought to tell Condi that she's misreading the interests of Russia and China on this issue. Because she appears to be totally clueless.
Meanwhile, China continues to build closer ties with Iran, further diminishing the chances it will do anything except defend Iran against American strikes. And Venezuelan President Chavez makes it clear that he's watching the international pressure on Iran closely. Oh, and have you noticed the Shiites in Iraq are getting impatient with the US of late? Condi must have, because she and Jack Straw made a quick trip to Iraq to try to salvage the mess Bush has made of it. In any case, a lot of the questions I asked in my first Harm and Pain post--Chinese, Venezuelan, Iraqi Shiite involvement--seem to be real possibilities here.
And finally, finally!!! It took an excellent reporter like Dana Priest to notice what the Brits (or at least the Telegraph) seem to be missing. Iran's great strength is not its traditional military. On the contrary, its great strength lies in its ability to wage 4th generation warfare in many parts of the globe.
As tensions increase between the United States and Iran, U.S. intelligence and terrorism experts say they believe Iran would respond to U.S. military strikes on its nuclear sites by deploying its intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide.
Iran would mount attacks against U.S. targets inside Iraq, where Iranian intelligence agents are already plentiful, predicted these experts. There is also a growing consensus that Iran's agents would target civilians in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, they said.
But terrorism experts considered Iranian-backed or controlled groups -- namely the country's Ministry of Intelligence and Security operatives, its Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah -- to be better organized, trained and equipped than the al-Qaeda network that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Former CIA terrorism analyst Paul R. Pillar said that any U.S. or Israeli airstrike on Iranian territory "would be regarded as an act of war" by Tehran, and that Iran would strike back with its terrorist groups. "There's no doubt in my mind about that. . . . Whether it's overseas at the hands of Hezbollah, in Iraq or possibly Europe, within the regime there would be pressure to take violent action."
Iran "certainly wants to remind governments that they can create a lot of difficulty if strikes were to occur," said a senior European counterterrorism official interviewed recently. "That they might react with all means, Hezbollah inside Lebanon and outside Lebanon, this is certain. Al-Qaeda could become a tactical alliance."
Thank you Dana, for pointing out the obvious. Do you suppose the Bush Administration is going to hassle Priest for this article, as they did with her reporting on the secret prisons in Europe? Well, Priest may realize the obvious. But apparently the Bush Administration still doesn't get it. As one of the experts cited by Priest says,
"I think the U.S. government doesn't have a handle on this."
One more thing. Al Qaeda is not a nation-state. It does not have an internationally recognized right to protect itself. Iran does. If we attack Iran without UN backing and incite terrorist attacks in response, it will change the entire conceptualization of terrorism. Depending on the targets Iran hit, these terrorist attacks might well be legal. If we attack Iran and it responds primarily with 4th generation tactics, it may well represent the full maturation of 4th generation warfare, as a legitimate tactic wielded by a internationally recognized power using its legal right to defend itself.