As new sanctions loom, Iran’s vile rhetoric may cut its own tongue.
In the late 1970s, long before North Korean nukes and the Iran Nuclear deal, two military allies launched “Project Flower,” an oddly named, surreptitious alliance to develop nuclear weapons. The countries swapped oil for arms to fight a common enemy and non-military trade boomed too.
Today this partnership could only be happening in the multiverse, because the two nations are Israel and Iran. Now the runaway train of Iran’s global ambitions are set to collide with unmovable objects: Israel’s will to survive, and the will of American Conservatives to defend it.
When President Trump exited the Iran nuclear accord, leftist media cherry-picked Middle East experts and former Obama administration officials who would say Trump had set the table for an all-out war between Israel and Iran — one that could ensnare Russia, the United States and other Arab nations.
Iran, they argued, only showed restraint against Israeli air strikes in Syria because it dared not jeopardize the sanctions relief that came with Obama’s nuclear deal. The theory will be put to the test beginning August 6, when the U.S. reimposes those sanctions. Any government or entity that buys Iranian oil could be barred from doing business with U.S. companies, or accessing the U.S. financial system.
In the meantime, Iran already started a war of words.
Last week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani publicly declared that Iran would unleash “the mother of all wars” if the United States tries to cut off Iran’s oil exports. In Iranian-war speak, this grand hyperbole means attacking Israel too.
For some reason, Liberals never seem bothered when tens of thousands of whooped up Iranians gather to burn American and Israeli flags, while chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America!” But as we learned with North Korea, threatening words from enemies do bother the president.
“Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before,” Trump tweeted back in all caps. “We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death.”
Naturally, the same cherry-pickers blasted Trump’s bombastic response as reckless and incendiary rhetoric, replaying their recorded-message that the president’s words could help trigger war in the Middle East.
To no one’s surprise, a powerful Iranian general threatened Trump too. “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” said Major-General Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. “Quds” is the Arabic name for Jerusalem. “If you begin the war, we will end the war. This war will destroy all that you possess.”
It sounded like the Iranians hired Kim Jong Un’s speechwriter. Because if you peel back the layers of hysteria, a war of words is the only type of war Iran is really positioned to fight.
Iranian leaders’ calls for the destruction of Israel are like their version of “Coke Adds Life.” The whole world has heard it a million times, and the target audience drinks it up. “The mother of all wars” against America is just Cherry Coke.
The truth is that since President Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord, and Israel unleashed large-scale attacks against Iran in Syria, Iran’s leaders have learned that Trump barks, and Israel bites. All the parties involved — including Vladimir Putin — understand that with Conservatives running U.S. foreign policy, attacking Israel is not just a Barack Obama redline.
That said, Bashar al-Assad crossed that chemical weapons redline many times — even after punitive air strikes from the U.S. and its allies. All appearances are that Russia, Syria’s guardian, knew the regime was using the banned weapons. Is Iran, Russia’s junior partner in Syria, feeling emboldened to test Trump’s resolve too?
There is no doubt that Iran and its proxies could grievously wound Israel. Attacks could involve Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza and Iranian-backed paramilitaries spread along Israel’s borders. They could simultaneously fire thousands of rockets at Israel from many directions, possibly overwhelming Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense shield. Thousands of Israeli civilians could die.
Iran could target U.S. forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf too. In Afghanistan, which shares a 582-mile border with Iran, the Iranian military helps fund and train the Taliban. Iran could ramp up those attacks and further destabilize the country. Then there are Iranian-financed terror cells operating worldwide. The could be activated to attack soft targets owned, operated or frequented by Americans. Iranian leaders have also threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which 10 percent of all the world’s oil is shipped. The Iranian Navy recently simulated “swarm attacks” there, using dozens of military speedboats they believe are too fast for U.S. Naval forces to repel an attack from.
The reality check for Iran is what retaliation might look like.
In Iran’s “mother of all wars,” the Israeli military would reduce Iran’s presence in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza to sand. On Iranian soil, Israel would wipe out much of the Iranian government, obliterate swaths of critical infrastructure and bomb Iran’s military back to 5th Century Persia. That would be without the U.S. military even firing a shot. If the U.S. were involved, the damage to Iran would be orders of magnitude greater and faster.
Unlike a strike against North Korea, which was strongly opposed by its neighbors, any confrontation with Iran would be privately cheered on by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and much of the Sunni Arab world. The Saudis and Israelis both fought Obama’s nuclear deal and have lobbied the U.S. to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities for years.
Iran’s mullahs might be radical, but probably not suicidal.
Everything To Lose
These war scenarios are just hypotheticals. The facts are that Iran – not the U.S. – is the largest occupying power in the Arab world. They have paved a road from Tehran to Damascus. Their fingerprints are on just about every conflict in the Middle East. They are also heavily invested and involved in Venezuela, right in America’s backyard.
Factor in Iran’s military alliance with Russia, and this projection of power is indeed a global menace. It is exactly the scenario Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent eight years warning Barak Obama about. But endeavoring to recreate the Persian Empire has cost Iran dearly.
In addition to their military alliance, Iran and Russia share something else in common — both their economies have been strangled by American-led sanctions, low oil prices and plummeting currencies. Years of mismanagement and corruption have transformed both their governments into kleptocratic mafias at the expense of their own people. Neither country can afford another war.
Even after sanctions were lifted, and the Obama administration gifted Iran planes stuffed with billions in hard cash, the Iranian economy has remained in the tank. The sanctions that the U.S. is about to reimpose will make life worse in Iran — again. Most Iranians want nothing to do with a costly war against Israel. What they do want is accountability from their government as to why fortunes have been spent in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, while so many Iranians cannot afford the basic staples of life. Protests have broken out across the country as people desperately try to stockpile goods in advance of next week’s sanctions.
Permitting an all-out war between Israel and Iran in Syria would be unsellable to most of the Russian public too. There are an estimated one-million Russians living in Israel today, and a strong pro-Israel lobby exists in Moscow too. Putin already has declared that the war in Syria is ending, Russia and its allies have won, and Russian troops will be heading home.
Russians are proud of what has been sold to them on state-run media as a great victory in a war on terror. Many paid with their lives in Syria. It would be a risky proposition — even for Putin and Russia’s omnipresent media machine — to positively spin why Israel is relentlessly bombing, with impunity, allies in the country Russian soldiers fought and died for.
Domestic dissent scares the Iranian and Russian regimes more than missiles do. But Russia has another concern that Iran does not.
The Russian government relies heavily on revenue from foreign military sales. Its S-400 advanced air defense system is feared by western militaries. The S-400 now protects Russian assets in Syria. The Syrian regime’s current air defenses employ older Russian technology, yet still are very lethal. Some experts say Syria’s are the best in the region – even stronger than Iran’s. Yet Israel has annihilated Syria’s air defenses.
When the U.S. launched Tomahawk missiles at Syria in response to the chemical weapons attacks, Russia did nothing. Putin said Russia stood down to avoid escalating tensions with the U.S. However, some experts believe that either Russia’s air defenses failed to track the incoming missiles, or Putin ordered the stand-down to avoid humiliation if the systems fired and missed the Tomahawks.
Imagine if Israel, with its new American-made F-35 bombers, blew through Russia’s S-400 while striking Iranian assets in Syria. That is not a chance that Russia wants to take. A sustained conflict would make things even worse. Having the world watch Israel destroy Iran and Syria’s Russian-equipped militaries live on CNN would not be good for Russia’s business.
The real wild card in calculating the possibility of conflict lies in what Iran ultimately means to Russia. The two countries are not brothers in arms. Other than opposing the U.S. and wanting to kill Sunni extremists, they do not share a common ideology. Nor are they bound by ethnic ties or a long-standing alliance. In fact, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, enmity defined their relations. Putin has visited Iran just three times since he became president in 2000.
Russia’s partnership with Iran in Syria is a matter of expedience. Rescuing Iran from its failing effort to rescue Bashar Al-Assad was a bargain deal for Russia to regain a foothold in the Middle East. They supplied the air power and Iran did the dirty work on the ground. Now Russia has a permanent naval base in Syria and has reasserted its power in the region. Where the U.S. jibbed, Russia jabbed.
With an end to the war in sight, Putin is not comfortable with Iran’s potential role in post-war Syria. Like the U.S. and Israel, Russia is under constant threat from Islamic extremists. He wants to see a secular government ruling Syria – one that will give Russia free reign to operate within the country. Iran seeks to dominate post-war Syria as it has in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. This is where Israeli and Russian interests intersect. Israel would much prefer to deal with the enemy they know — Bashar Al-Assad — than play chance with an Iranian-controlled regime.
Syria, Iran and Israel were prominent topics discussed during the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit. Netanyahu has met with Putin eight times in Moscow since Russia entered the Syrian civil war. Putin is abundantly aware that Israel and the U.S. will not permit Syria to become a giant Iranian military base.
Taking a Machiavellian view, and it’s safe to say Putin might, Israel could do in Syria what Russia overtly cannot — neuter Iran. One prominent Arab analyst even suggested that Putin is angling with Trump to swap Iran for Ukraine and the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia. Syria is the infomercial for Russia’s global re-ascendance, and Trump has made it clear that the U.S. is not looking to be a long-term player there. If it serves Russia’s interests, Putin will drop Iran like a hot pierogi.
After eight years of Obama’s pacifistic policies, Trump and Netanyahu are really turning the screws on Iran. Putin knows that Trump’s Conservative base and advisors will not let him blink on this aggressive standoff. If he cannot bring Iran to heel, or its leaders provoke some form of war with Israel, Putin could very well decide his best option is to sell Iran and its drowning economy down the river.
Since the president took office, it seems as if Iran’s corrosive ambitions in the Middle East are fated to become like drinking too much Coke – you rot from within.