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Iran, USA and Israel

When considering the direct connection between Iran and the Jewish State, we should never forget the issue of the border between the Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon.

Nevertheless, while the Islamic Republic of Iran is increasingly interested in a periodic military confrontation with the United States – as it seems currently evident – it is so, also in this case, in an ever more indirect and unconventional way.

Obviously this regards also the Israeli engagement to defend the country against the missile attacks of Iran, the Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad.

The various types of overt military clash between Iran and Israel could be: a) a small-scale war on the Litani river border, but much more relevant than the one in 2006.

Or, b) a direct war between Israel and Iran, on the Syrian border and also an autonomous clash with Hezbollah on the Litani river – mainly a missile one –  in connection with the movements of the Shiite forces on the Golan border.

Finally, c) a war could be possible on two borders between Israel and Iran: the Hezbollah, Iran and probably Syria would simultaneously fight a war against the Jewish State.

The trigger could be a US, and possibly even Israeli, bombing of an Iranian nuclear site or the continued interdiction of the sea transit of Iranian oil cargo ships or anyway of freighters carrying Iranian oil or natural gas.

In this context, decisive variables are the behaviour of Russia, which is now Syria’s master and has no interest in an Iranian-Israeli war, as well the behaviour of the United States itself, which could favour an action to support Israel but, probably, not long enough as it would be needed.

The US political cycle often does not coincide with the necessary length of strategic operations.

In this scenario there is still a possible danger for Israel, i.e.  a Russia that seeks to mediate or prevent the deployment of all the military options at stake, including the Israeli one. There is still the probable limitedness of the US intervention, as well as the structural inefficiency of international organizations to mediate and achieve peace.

Hence, if- in the contrast within the US-Israeli-Iranian triangle, we head to a “long war”, an Israeli limited success will be more likely. Conversely, if all parties think of a “short war”, the Jewish State’s chances of success will rise. Finally, if the option is an asymmetrical war, for the time being the variables cannot be calculated.

Moreover, a strategic need for Israel is to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from spreading the attack into several hotbeds, with a view to weakening their own defence forces.

As is well-known, Hezbollah has about 100,000 missiles available from the Lebanon, but Iran has many more missiles, although only a few of them can reach the Israeli territory.

Hence, if Hezbollah does not want to destroy its logistical base on the Litani river and its hegemonic relationship with the current Lebanese government – as a result of the Israeli counterattack in the Lebanon – the Shiite group must think of another possible operation, i.e. the already implemented operation to train its proxies from Iraq and Syria, with Iran’s clear support, so as to create a significant attack force on the Golan Heights.

So far we have considered only the land warfare. In this three-country context, however, we must also think about the naval confrontation.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar have long been at odds to acquire hegemony in the Western Indian Ocean and hence in the Persian Gulf.

Here we also need to consider the Chinese maritime Silk Road, which is essential for the future equilibria, not just in the Middle East.

However, there is the “eastward direction” of the Indian Ocean (and the Gulf itself), which will become increasingly important in the future. This is the direction of the major powers using Middle East oil and gas, as well as the direction of Saudi and UAE economies’ diversification, and finally the direction of Iran’s exit from the sanction regime.

Competition between ports will increase, including between the approximately sixteen ports of the Persian Gulf, while Saudi Arabia is already focusing on the Red Sea ports and the Emirates can currently invest directly only in Saudi infrastructure.

We also need to consider the new and the old chokepoints: the Strait of Bab-el Mandeb, obviously, but also the Suez Canal.

Also the militarization of the Red Sea (an anti-Iranian variable in the aforementioned war regions) underlines an already noted trend: Turkey, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran are carving out a strategic niche in the region for their power projections.

The Emirates’ military bases in Eritrea and Somaliland are designed to ensure safe navigation in the Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb.

There is also the Saudi military base in Djibouti, parallel to the Chinese and the US base, an essential military control point for the whole Middle East. Finally, in 2017, Turkey obtained the temporary control of Suakin in Sudan.

Nevertheless, Iran’s Navy is currently the most present one throughout the Red Sea for “anti-piracy operations” – as it calls them.

The Sunni monarchies’ policy is therefore competition between ports.

Finally, India is increasingly connected to Oman and will soon build its own military base in Seychelles.

In the future Saudi Arabia will enter Sinai permanently, in continuity with its future bases in the Red Sea.

This will greatly change the Israeli Southern security dimension.

Conversely, the Emirates will increasingly head to the Mediterranean or to Cyprus, Libya, Spain and France.

Hence, as can easily be guessed, the Sunni maritime powers’ closure to Iran’s “long-arm” operations will be almost complete.

At terrestrial level, there is already the “Arab alliance” against Iran, a project of President Trump’s Administration and of Israel.

The problem is 2020, precisely the year in which the United Nations will put an end to the embargo against Iran, in keeping with Resolution No. 2231.

Furthermore, the “alliance” also proposes to Israel the Arab Peace Initiative, the old regulatory framework of 2002, which is anyway already overtaken by events.

According to The Economist, Saudi Arabia would even buy 100 billion of defence equipment from Israel.

In short, Israel’s remote defence area is not 100% sure, but anyway reliable, at least until the first signs of a clash.

We still wonder, however, how could a conflict between Iran and the USA develop.

Probably Iran would directly hit the US military structures, without anyway hitting Saudi Arabia and the other US allies in the region.

Moreover, as already stated by a Pasdaran leader, if the USA sent troops to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, Iran would hit the US cargo ships with missiles or “new top secret weapons”.

In all likelihood, there would also be sabotage operations against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – very similar to those recently occurred in the Gulf- so as to prevent the US and Israeli friendly powers from immediately entering the conflict between Iran and the United States (as well as Israel).

Furthermore, considering that Saudi Arabia has always carefully hit the Iranian oil and gas export routes, for years there will be attacks on Saudi and Emirates’ freighters by the Houthi insurgency in Yemen and by other Shiite minorities armed by Iran.

Iran will have no qualms about using its missile sector to drive away the military troops arriving in the Gulf and to harshly hit the US bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The war between Iran and the United States will be fought on Israeli territory alone.

In this case, Iran could use both Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Southern Israel.

The Syrian military organizations that are now trained by the Pasdaran in Syria itself will also be involved.

The same holds true for the Shiite networks -again armed by Iran – already operating in Iraq.

For the United States, the area of confrontation with Iran could go from the Euphrates area to its base in Tanf, on the border between Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

Another Iranian target is the US military bases in Iraq.

From Iraq, Iran’s direct point of contact with the United States is the Gulf of Oman.

From the Gulf of Oman to Yemen there is the above mentioned Houthi insurgency. Hence we can see that Iran has a continuity between land and sea that other countries in the region have not.

We also need to consider Iran’s recently reactivated enrichment of uranium.

According to some analysts of the RAND Corporation, if it were relevant for the manufacturing of a new series of nuclear weapons – as cannot certainly be ruled out – the chances of a war between the USA and Iran (and hence Israel) would rise by approximately 35%.

Furthermore, if we witnessed a military clash between the United States, Israel and Iran, the oil barrel price should reach approximately 150 US dollars, but there could also be a share of US oil and natural gas entering again the global market, which would significantly lower the oil barrel price.

This is unlikely, at least until the next presidential election in 2020.

Moreover, scientists believe that – considering the current 4.5% rate of uranium enrichment – the nuclear risk of bombing Iran is such that there is no danger of radiation outside the borders.

What about Russia?

For Russia Iran is a major bulwark to stop and curb the US power in the Middle East and to influence – from the United States – the world cycle of oil and gas prices, thus indirectly determining Russia’s economy cycles.

Russia, however, wants to avoid confrontation with the USA in the Middle East.

Another factor to consider are the sales of the very efficient Russian S-400 anti-missile system, which is already in the Turkish arsenals and will soon be in the Qatari ones.

Moreover,Russia wants the EU to implement the INSTEX system that can make the European companies avoid the US sanction regime against Iran.

Russia also wants a powerful, autonomous and secular Syrian regime.

It also wants any possible de-escalation between Iran and Israel.

This is the system of forces in the field, with all the related variables.

Giancarlo Elia Valori