BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Iran – the next 6 months

26 June 2010
Rehovot, Israel

What are the next six months going to bring on the question of Iran’s nuclear development? This brief essay attempts to answer this question from an American geopolitical perspective.

After seven months of painstaking effort, the US built the most tenuous of coalitions and succeeded in passing yet another round of sanctions against Iran. Critics have decried these sanctions as meaningless because they did not target the main source of Iran’s economic power: oil. Having invested the time and effort in building this coalition, the US is not about to undertake any military action, unilaterally or with Israel. Neither is it going to “green-light” independent Israeli action. All other things being equal, the US will work to solidify and strengthen the new sanctions regime. The next six months will see the “Iranian question” pass with relative quiet.

President Obama was not able to build consensus around sanctions targeting the Iranian petroleum industry because tampering with the world’s oil-based economy would have resulted in a tremendous setback to the world economy. This would be more a result of psychological over-reaction in the markets, rather than economic reality. Iran is becoming a progressively weaker player in the global petroleum industry, due to the cumulative affect of previous rounds of sanctions.

However, the US and Europe are still struggling to emerge from the recession that has gripped them since late 2008. Although Iranian oil and natural gas exports (and imports) are a mere fraction of the global petroleum trade, the psychological affect on Western economies would have been severe. In addition, the US (and to a lesser extent, Europe) have non-economic stakes in not pushing the Iranians into a corner too quickly.

The US wants as smooth as exit from Iraq in August, just two months from now, as possible. Sanctions with any more teeth would in all likelihood have prompted the Iranians to activate its proxies in Iraq, making the US withdrawal bloody and domestically disastrous for the Obama administration. With Congressional mid-term elections in November – and the Republicans already likely to win at least one house of congress – a foreign policy debacle in Iraq needed to be avoided.

Likewise, the US and NATO need time to deploy additional forces to Afghanistan and implement new policies there. The resignation of General McChrystal notwithstanding, these policies will take time. Again, if pushed to the wall too soon, Iran would be prompted to up its support for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces. Although these Sunni fundamentalist movements are anathema to the Shi’ite regime in Tehran, the old dictum, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” applies.

Iran could certainly attempt to apply pressure elsewhere in the Middle East. It is allied with Syria, and has proxy forces in Lebanon (Hizbullah) and Gaza (Hamas). However, none of these regional players are likely to respond to an Iranian call-to-arms, if pressed by the US. The facts are simple.

• Hizbullah was bloodied by Israel in 2006, although politically the war was seen as a “loss” in wide segments of the Israeli public. In fact, the northern border with Lebanon has been quiet for four years now.

• Hamas was bloodied by Israel over a year ago. Although Israel is still fighting the diplomatic repercussions, it is clear that Operation Cast Lead was an Israeli military victory.

• The conventional thinking on Syria is that if faced with the inevitability of an Iranian defeat at the hands of the US, it too will sit on the sidelines. Noisily, yes, but as long as Israel does not take any action to disturb the status quo the Syrians will loudly decry “American imperialism” in the UN, then hunker down in Damascus.

This brings us to the end of the year. President Obama will be preparing for the 2011 State of the Union address. He will face a Congress whose Republican ranks will have swollen. The applause will be decidedly less deafening than during 2010’s address.

The US will have exited Iraq, although the future there will still be in doubt. More American troops forces will be engaged more deeply in Afghanistan than ever before. The economy will still be in neutral, at best. In January 2011, President Obama will have a choice in front of him. He will either ask the American people (i.e. the business community and Congress) for more time to allow sanctions against Iran to work or tell the American people that they must prepare for a third war in ten years in the Muslim world.

June 26, 2010 - Posted by | Middle East

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