“Unity is the cure to lots of ailments in our country.” -Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
The threat of U.S. military presence and western economic sanctions in itself seems unable to detour Iran from wrapping up its nuclear program. In fact they seem only to raise Iran’s ire even more. Therefore, I see U.S. moves as nothing more than running down the clock on non-military tactics. Meanwhile, this weekend Iran is starting new military exercises on the ground. What’s interesting about this exercise is that it involves Revolutionary Guards and not Iran’s navy. This suggests to me that Iran will employ asymmetric and non-conventional tactics to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian (and American) politics are also playing a role. In a stacked election coming on March 2, the new Iranian parliament (the Majles) will be made official. With its arrival, all remaining vintages of a moderate faction will be swept out. This is a power consolidation by religious Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to eliminate all opposition from Ahmadinejad, as well as any surviving moderates. In some respects, Khamenei makes Ahmadinejad seem a bit tame. He is convinced that the West’s political-economic system is decayed and is ripe for a fall, and he seems more than willing to put his theory to the test. He compares the West today to the crumbling Soviet Union of the late 1980s, which was “swept away” because it had “no logic.” ["Khamenei Won't Retreat"]
After the power consolidation, Khamenei will be more than willing to employ the more aggressive asymmetric tactics used by the Revolutionary Guard to try and bait Israel and the U.S. into some accident or retaliation, even before a strike against Iran’s facilities. Daring a strike would be a way of flipping a big middle finger and demonstrating to all that Iran’s nukes were buried safely underground. If that doesn’t work, he will provoke. After all, the U.S. was recently warned by Iran about its presence in its home court, the Persian Gulf. The U.S. responded by deploying three aircraft carrier groups.
Post March 2, Iran will become even more hardline and will literally bunker down. At this point, Iran and its nuke capability will become a central topic of U.S. elections. Republican presidential candidates are going to play to the idea that potentially secular and democratic voices are being suppressed by a tyrannical regime in Tehran and Obama is not lifting a finger. There are going to be saber-rattling calls in the U.S. to “support the Green Movement,” and for “regime change” in Iran. Once sanctions fizzle and this heats up, Obama will be more and more on the defensive politically.
As a variable to all this, Israel could strike before these March 2 elections in a somewhat wild gamble to rattle the cage in Iran and hope for a different internal outcome other than the table that is now being set. But for real opposition to materialize within Iran — and given that the Green Movement was hung out to dry by the world in 2009 — the U.S. would also have to be heavily engaged militarily, taking out the Revolutionary Guard, and the hardline cleric leadership in addition to the nuke facilities. That’s a tall order.
On the other hand, the huge dilemma for Israel is that the Iranians have enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon. Israel has serious doubts about that. The immediate tactical variable driving Israel’s apparent push toward strikes is the ongoing installation of centrifuges in the new enrichment facility at Fordo near Qom. [Iran nuclear work at underground bunker confirmed]. The Fordo facility is located inside a small mountain, making it very difficult to destroy from the air, at least not without using nuclear weapons. That would force Israel into using the dreaded and devastating “N” word against Iran, which would be far more disastrous in terms of worldwide opinion than a more conventional preemptive strike right now. Even if Israel used its conventional capabilities of precision bombing and Israeli commandos, this will be a difficult and possibly inadequate mission. Further, the odds of tactical success are dropping by the day.
The rest of this article describing the concept of deterrent edge as practiced by Israel, and the buildup, attack route and time line leading to the attack is posted in Russ Winter’s Actionable.