FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Rising Tensions in the Persian Gulf

by BRIAN M. DOWNING

Once again US political and military figures are hinting at military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Few looking back on US ventures in the Middle East will be struck by exceptional farsightedness or appropriate gauging of likely consequences.

Instead, many of those ventures were based on naive understandings of forces in the region and equally naive understandings of the utility of military force. Iran has numerous options to counter any US strike – many of them quite sobering.

Iran has considerable influence in Iraq, far more than does the US. Important political parties were set up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and ties have long endured. A sign of Iraqi leanings was offered after the recent elections when parties sent emissaries not to Washington, but to Tehran.

Iranian influence in Iraq could be used against the US. It has already been used to order the US out by the end of 2011. The deadline could be stepped up as an insult, but more lethal responses are likely. The Shiite-dominated army and militias not yet integrated into it could turn on US troops, most likely in surreptitious, low-intensity attacks with what might be called plausible denial, putting the US in the contorted position of fighting the democratic government it prides itself on installing. Alternately or in conjunction with Iraqi forces, Iranian Quds Force personnel could cross the porous border to conduct guerrilla warfare.

Iraq, with guidance from Iran, could turn on the Sunni Arab population. Over the last year, the Sunni Arabs have launched a terror bombing campaign, killing hundreds of Shiites. The government’s response has thus far been restrained, but it may be biding its time for a harsh response to remind the Sunnis of their marginal status in national affairs, placing the US in the position of defending the Sunni militias it armed and protected during the Surge.

Iran could also retaliate in Afghanistan. Iran has no affection for the Taliban. In Tehran’s eyes, they are uncivilized Sunnis, who are responsible for the 1998 slaughter of ten Iranian diplomats and thousands of Shiite Hazaras. Iran supported the Northern Alliance in ousting the Taliban in 2001 and dropped its support for Burhanuddin Rabbani in the post-Taliban election, and shifted support to the US candidate, Hamid Karzai.

Nonetheless, Iran sends the Taliban small amounts of weapons and trains a handful of their fighters in the craft of IEDs. Support is thus far of minimal importance in the insurgency, but it is a reminder to the US that it can escalate the fighting and casualties, thereby making Afghanistan what Iraq was four years ago.

The Straits of Hormuz would make another arena for a vengeful Tehran. The narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf sees a great deal of US traffic, both merchant and naval. “Swarming” tactics – sending large numbers of planes and missiles toward a few ships in the hope of overwhelming their defenses – could sink several US vessels, perhaps even a carrier.

More likely, Iran would make only a token effort in the Straits, one that signaled the potential for more serious responses. This could be done by firing a missile or artillery round across the bow of a US ship or an oil tanker. In a matter of an hour of word reaching world trading desks, the price of oil would spike $20 dollars or more. The oil shock would hit the world at a time of economic weakness and fiscal crisis, aggravating US standing in the world – even among longstanding allies. Oddly, the price rise would bring increased revenue into Iran.

Responses against Israel would be more difficult. Hizbullah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon, would be a likely agent of retaliation, but Israel’s devastating airstrikes on Lebanon in 2006 has reduced Hizbullah’s willingness to absorb more punishment. Hamas, Iran’s Palestinian partner, has little military capability, despite Iranian training and arms. Their militias showed little effectiveness in the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza, and the ease with which Israel targeted Hamas leaders suggests numerous informers.

The difficulty in retaliating in Israel will not lead to Iranian quiescence, it could lead to retaliation against Jewish targets outside the country and American ones as well. Palestinian groups, seeing a de facto annexation of the West Bank taking place, might rejoin the deadly effort they began forty years ago.

* * *

Containment and diplomacy, despite uncertainties, offer attractions over tension and attack. Easing tensions would lead to greater cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid reformist momentum inside Iran. The US must recognize the appeal of political reform in Iran, or at least the disruptive effects of western youth culture there.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

 

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of  The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com (Copyright 2015 Brian M Downing) 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail