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In the second scenario, Iran would have the pretext, but that doesn’t automatically translate into an actual conflict either. For one thing, there is the same problem as before. A direct conflict would not end with an Iranian victory. There’s only so much guerrilla warfare you can carry out on the water before the game ends. Without a local civilian population and a vast landscape to hide in, the whole thing implodes.
A naval conflict would be less dangerous to the regime than a ground war, but it would be far more expensive. The Iranian economy is already in bad shape and while the regime will always choose guns over butter, it also needs a certain amount of butter to prevent the regime from being completely overthrown. It also needs credit to buy more guns.
The brief conflict would give the regime a boost at home, but would also demonstrate its unreadiness to take control of the Persian Gulf. It would set back its naval capabilities, impose a heavy price tag and pile one humiliation on top of another.
The Iranian regime is the motherland of terror, and terrorists are natural cowards. They want to intimidate and terrorize their enemies into giving in to their demands while avoiding the consequences. A nuclear bomb is the perfect coward’s weapon because it can be passed along to terrorists, while its mere possession makes retaliation too risky. Without the bomb Iran has to practice the fine art of shaking a stick that it can’t use.
The strangest twist in all this is that some of the most fervent progressive opponents of an attack on Iran are also proponents of an attack on Syria. Reports suggest that Iran actually has sent in a sizable force to help the Assad regime win the civil war. If opponents of an attack on Iran’s nuclear program really believe that it would have devastating consequences, why are they courting a conflict with Iran in Syria?
No one can predict the future, but the best guide to the future is the past. Israel took out nuclear programs in Syria and Iraq without a regional war. Taking out Iran’s nuclear program will require attacks on a larger scale, but the paradigm still holds. Israel and the United States recently took out an Iranian-backed reactor in Syria without it leading to a war.
That doesn’t mean that an attack will not lead to a war, only that it is not the likeliest outcome. And the war panic that is being brewed up serves Iranian interests. Iran’s best hope for buying time is to make an attack on its nuclear program seem as dangerous and costly as possible. That is the only real card it has to play and falling for it lets Iran bluff its way to a nuclear ace.
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