Steve Soto posts an email exchange with Sam Gardiner that strongly supports a point I've been making.
A major piece of what I was being told was shocking. Iran and Syria were involved in the planning for the hostage takings. I was even told where and when their planning meeting took place. An individual with former connections to the CIA told me the current situation is all is about the Iranian nuclear program. I was skeptical of that explanation until I heard Zal Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, on CNN late in the day. He said, "It is about the Iranian nuclear program."
In other words, Iran did not wait for the US preemptive strike. It conducted its own.
To understand why I think Iran actually gains by this, I need to make clear how I suspect Iran's leaders calculated their risk and reward. Many have assumed that Iran's cost-benefit analysis weighed status quo in the Middle East and the prospect of a deal at the UN, versus implication in a regional war with Israel. If the Iranians had believed this to be the case, they would never have intervened in this confrontation (and understand, I am convinced they pre-empted an Egyptian cease fire; other claims are tough to measure because of the politics involved). I strongly suspect the Iranian cost-benefit analysis weighed certain war against the US on the US' terms versus war not on the US' terms.
Iran has every reason to believe that a US attack against it is inevitable. There is abundant evidence that our "negotiations" at the UN leading up to the Iraq War were never conducted in good faith. Instead, those negotiations had the sole purpose of winning some legitimacy for a pre-emptive war for which there was no real need indicated by available intelligence. Iran has every reason to believe negotiations at the UN, in its case, serves the sole purpose of gaining nominal support from likely allies Russia and China, and the moral endorsement of war by the Europeans. Given our recent history (and the referral to the Security Council in spite of the fact that, again, the intelligence says the threat is 5-10 years away), Iran has every reason to believe we are not negotiating in good faith at the UN.
Furthermore, Condi is bellowing in the same "stern daddy" mode that Bush did before the Iraq war. She declares that the Iranians have not made an adequate response to our demands, even though the IAEA should be judging such matters. Again, taking Iraq as a lesson, Iran would have had to conclude that war was inevitable.
Finally, there have been numerous allegations, even coming from the US side, that we've already got Special Forces in Iran. If we've already got Special Forces in Iran to soften its defenses (and Iran's leadership has said they're well aware of their presence), Iran would be insane to wait and allow itself to be attacked with weakened defenses.
We made it clear we were going to attack Iran, regardless of cause. So Iran chose to change the shape of the battlefield, dramatically.
I've said a little before about what it might gain from starting the war on its own terms. Iran's strength is in its 4G capacity, particularly its ability to strike with its surrogates Hezbollah and Hamas. If it prevents the US from neutralizing its capacity in the Straits of Hormuz--or its ability to influence Shiites in places like the Saudi oilfields, another strength is its ability to constrain the flow of oil, and with that strike our economy and our SUV-dependent support for any given Administration. An obvious strength is its influence in Iraq, where we've got over 100,000 sitting ducks. And a final strength is its centrality to Russian and Chinese plans for economic growth.
But for just about every single area of strength here, Iran stood to lose if it used the weapon in case of surgical first strike. That is, if Iran responded to missile attacks by having Hezbollah launch attacks in Israel, it might lose its moral high ground. If Iran cut off the oil and a bunch of Americans felt the real consequences of their oil addiction, it would be judged excessive. Moral high ground is a critical element in any 4G warfare, and the way the US was setting up its little adventure against Iran, Iran stood to lose it quickly.
But if--a big if--If Israel continues to act with what is judged to be excessive force, if Israel continues to strike at civilian targets, if Israel continues to disdain the consequences of its actions on innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip, then the war is no longer a fight over Iran's right to develop nuclear weapons. The war becomes a clash of civilizations, one in which the US and Israel stand to lose the moral high ground every time they exercise their military advantage. Every time Israel and the US resort to sheer military firepower in the near future, it serves Iran's purpose in the short term. Add to that, by forcing the US to fight a regional war with three or four fronts, it disperses the power of the US' already depleted strength.
Without firing a shot itself, Iran may have significantly neutralized the US primary advantage in this war. They may well lose it, if Hezbollah lacks the discipline to back off when Iran tells it to. But thus far, Hezbollah has shown more discipline than the Israelis.