Now that Israeli jets have been spotted on bases in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, the showdown with Iran seems close. Whether it will be helpful is another question.
The strike won’t hurt. For all its posturing, Hezbollah is unlikely to launch its 50,000 rockets on Israel after we attack Iran. The Hezbollah of fifteen years ago would have chosen the spectacular military show of launching tens of thousands of rockets at Israel, and to hell with the consequences. Hezbollah today is more a political organization than a guerrilla group. It won’t jeopardize the goodwill of Lebanese voters—goodwill it labored to rebuild after the devastation of the 2006 war—by starting a new war. If IAF were to bomb Hezbollah’s bases and launching pads simultaneously with a raid on Iran, Hezbollah would only welcome this excuse to abstain from launching a missile attack on Israel. Hezbollah failed to avenge the Mughniye assassination, and wouldn’t confront Israel over the Iranian issue.
And neither would Syria. Assad remembers that the ayatollahs did not help him when IAF flattened his nuclear reactor, and wouldn’t be eager to help them. He understands that launching SCUDs at Israel would cost him Damascus, and perhaps something more important—his throne. As the Arab saying goes, “Syria is ready to fight Israel to the last Egyptian soldier.” No way would Assad rise to defend Iran.
Turkey would love to see Iran humbled; one less rival in the Ottoman quest for regional dominance.
There may be an Israeli operation against Gaza concurrent with the strike on Iran. Ousting Hamas is the only way for Israeli peaceniks to continue the dialogue with Fatah. Since Fatah has a considerable police force by now, displacing Hamas does not appear impossible: after Israeli initial victory, Fatah police will move in to do away with Hamas remnants. Before Hamas resurges, Israel can sign some sort of accommodation with Fatah government. So we do not expect a major unrest in the West Bank or Gaza following the strike on Iran.
Iran would do nothing. Its ballistic missiles are still too primitive for a meaningful attack on Israel. Like Assad, the ayatollahs would fear military escalation because large-scale devastation might cause riots and bring about regime change. There might be terrorism, but nothing big; the ayatollahs seek international respectability and the Revolutionary Guards have evolved into mere businessmen.
The strike won’t accomplish much. Iran will be able import all the necessary parts of its nuclear program from North Korea and continue supporting Shiite and terrorist movements in the Middle East and Africa. Iran will both maintain its traditional sources of regional influence and reestablish its nuclear program. Though the US, Israeli, French, and German attackers will put boots on the ground in an effort to thoroughly demolish Iran’s nuclear installations, they will shrink from a full-scale invasion to remove the ayatollahs. It is even possible they would even approach them after the strike with political offers in order to mitigate any Iranian response. Saddam’s political standing did not suffer much after the Osiraq bombing, and neither would the ayatollah’s position.
It will be different with Israel. This will be the first time since 1956 that Israel has failed to solve her problems on her own. This will not be Israel’s victory, but a case of the United States doing its client’s bidding. Israel’s regional position will continue to deteriorate.
Saudi Arabia might suffer the consequences. Striving for regional dominance and gearing up for new confrontations, Iran cannot accept an American collaborationist regime in its soft underbelly. Iran will accordingly promote Shiite unrest in Saudi Arabia’s most sensitive spot—its oilfield region.
Iran will also take on Azerbaijan, another collaborationist country. Azerbaijan is dangerous to Iran in two ways: as an American and Israeli base and as a potential contender for Iran’s own Azeri region. Changing the autocratic regime in Azerbaijan would be a simple feat, especially considering that Iran enjoys Russian cooperation in acting against the Western-oriented dictator Aliyev.
Saddam quickly recovered after the Osiraq bombing, and in ten years had an advanced nuclear program. The ayatollahs are certainly no less persistent. Having surrounded themselves with a belt of anti-American states, having dug deeper into the mountains, having outsourced more development stages to North Korea, the ayatollahs will try again—and then they will certainly get the bomb.