Brian M Downing
The march toward war in the Gulf has slowed in recent weeks. The Saudis, dispirited by stalemate in Yemen, and Iran, concerned by greater Sunni wealth and allies, may soon enter into talks. Both sides see the potential for mutual ruin with little to gain, except for a larger, more costly stalemate.
The US and Israel support the Sunni states against Iran and do not want detente. Indeed, the prospect unsettles strategic outlooks in both countries. They prefer a continued march toward war and will press the Saudis et al to continue proxy wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.
The US and Israel will proceed with their own efforts to weaken Iran. The moves will aim to make Iran less amenable to negotiation and more wary of foreign danger.
For over twenty years Israel has pointed out the danger of Iranian hegemony to the Sunni states in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, which has its own ambitions. Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s instability strengthened the alignment, which would have seemed absurd not long ago. The reemergence of neoconservative figures with the election of Donald Trump last year solidified the alignment, or seemed to.
Detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia would undo decades of Israel’s diplomacy and fundamentally alter its strategic situation. Longstanding Sunni enemies would no longer be at daggers drawn with Shia adversaries. The Palestinian issue wouldn’t be on the back-burner in Arab capitals. Iran could allocate more resources to Syria and Hisbollah.
It would be the greatest setback since the 1975 Algiers Accord ended hostilities between Israel’s ally Iran and enemy Iraq.
Iranian naval vessels and drones have been operating near American warships in manners that are at least incautious. Responses have begun under the new administration in Washington. They may become more aggressive and provocative.
IRGC ships and drones that near American warships will face brief warnings then intense fire. Proximity to target and duration may vary. This scenario has already begun to unfold. Further Iranian escalation will be welcome in Washington.
The Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) was used by Mossad to assassinate key personnel in Iran’s nuclear program. The program has been on hold but could be renewed with Iranian military leaders as the new targets. Kindred groups with aims as varied as Arab separatism and a Pahlavi restoration could also be put to work.
Kurdish and Baloch insurgencies have simmered for years along Iran’s periphery and could receive greater foreign support. Israel already supports Iranian Kurds from camps in Kurdistan (northern Iraq), which come under occasional Iranian artillery fire. Support to the Balochs in southeastern Iran would be more difficult as it must come through Pakistan. Islamabad is fighting its own Baloch people and does not want anyone strengthening their kin across the frontier.
The US and Israel would welcome Russia’s reducing its support for Iran. This is one of the more plausible explanations of the secretive talks between Russian officials and members of Trump’s inner council, including security advisors Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner.
Without Russian diplomatic support, armaments, and the possibility of military support, Iran would be gravely weakened and vulnerable. It would have to take exceptional steps to bolster its security.
The nuclear program
Israel, or at least the country’s Right, has continued to warn of Iran’s nuclear program, despite the 2015 nuclear treaty. The Obama administration helped negotiate the treaty and deemed Iran in compliance. The Trump administration voices strong disagreement, though it presents no evidence of violations and its State Department has declared Iran in compliance.
Iran has reacted by stating it could renew its enrichment program if Washington steps away from the nuclear treaty. This of course would likely lead to American and Israeli attacks on the Fordo centrifuge complex. MeK assassinations would resume, IRGC facilities would suffer more mysterious explosions, cash and arms would flow to insurgents.
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Israel and the United States could also weaken Iran by attacking Hisbollah forces, which the IRGC has armed and trained from the early eighties. Since then the Shia movement has become a formidable guerrilla force that wore down the Israeli military and helped prop up the Assad government in Syria. Statements from PM Netanyahu suggest that strikes on Hisbollah are forthcoming.
Copyright 2017 Brian M Downing
Brian M Downing is a national security analyst who has written for outlets across the political spectrum. He studied at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and did post-graduate work at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs. Thanks to Susan Ganosellis.