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Why a strike on Iran could amount to a suicide mission

By Jalal Nali

The failure of diplomatic efforts aimed at providing Tehran with incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment in exchange for a transparent civilian nuclear program under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision has the international community worried that Tehran can no longer be engaged in meaningful negotiations.

Suspicions are multiplying exponentially about Iran’s secret agenda of building nuclear weapons, suspicions that were confirmed back in May 2011 after UN inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from research centers linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Pragmatically-minded Sunni monarchies belonging to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates aren’t especially confident about Shiite Iran’s short-term plans for the region nor its growing influence, which destabilizes regional security. Israel is now threatening to unilaterally attack Iran’s uranium enriching facilities.

Yet on the basis of my research on geostrategic repercussions of short term military action against Iran, I believe that all these allegations are based on non-realistic calculations.

First, it is inconceivable that Israel would undertake an armed clash against Iran without informing the White House of the exact timing. This is mainly because none of Israel’s allies or United States allies will gain any short or medium-term benefits by initiating a war in a region on the edge of conflagration. With many countries in the Middle East occupied with restructuring themselves and balancing their economies, the region is too explosive.

Second, the United States in an unenviable position. It must deal with the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict and coordinate international efforts to tackle the financial crisis, while designing strategies to deal with radical changes of the Arab spring. At the same time, it must search for consensus with Russia and China in the United Nations to find an antidote for Iran and avoid any surprises such as a nuclear bomb test.

There are other reasons why the Obama Administration is unlikely to act militarily, including caution surrounding the 2012 elections; the uncertainty of relying on traditional Middle Eastern allies due to the Arab spring; America’s sensitive situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its attention devoted to the nuclear threat of North Korea (despite a recent major breakthrough), and economic competition from China.

Involvement in another war will be interpreted by American society as leading towards another economic crisis and possibly national bankruptcy. It would also look bad for a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

And yet, for Israel to position itself like David, and attack the Iranian Goliath unilaterally is opening a huge Pandora’s box. In fact, it may be a suicide mission, for the following reasons:

  1. A unilateral Israeli strike will give the Iranian Revolutionary Guards wider support even its among local opponents.
  2. Iran could deploy its influence over Hezbollah to sabotage Israel straight away after an initial attack, to distract it from carrying out further attacks – by forcing Israel to focus on immediate Hezbollah and Hamas threats.
  3. Syria is looking desperately for a diversion to avoid the implosion of Assad’s regime; and Syrian secret services might have a prepared plan to insert themselves into the conflict as a distraction to unite Syrians against Israel, but also to honor their alliance with Iran.
  4. Iran could incite Iraqi Shiites to undermine the fragile peace process in Iraq and destroy America’s efforts by destabilizing the whole region. Iran supporters will target American and Saudi Arabian interests in the region (and the interests of their regional allies), tightening the circle of protection around the Ayatollah’s rule.

Thus, an attack is highly problematic for both the United States and Israel.

A third and final factor to consider is Turkey, another big regional player that might have a role to play in its desire to maintain its good relations with America and keep up the image of a modern open Muslim country. But Turkey is more likely to watch than act, to avoid  public opinion wrath at home.

Turkey will never launch a face-to-face confrontation with Iran, mainly because Iran can threaten to expel its Kurdish population to Turkey. It could even pressure its ethnic Kurdish nationalists to join forces with Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish Kurds destabilize Turkey and its economic success.

Instead of looking to those countries for military action, a better approach might be to compare Iran to an octopus. The way to weaken an octopus is to cut off support for each tentacle: economic sanctions to hurt its finances; deepening the wedge with Syria, securing Iraq, and keeping a close eye on Russia. Finally, no one has yet tried the magic approach: giving Iran guarantees against future hostilities against it or helping Tehran to achieve the regional respect it has been seeking for a long time. Without considering these alternatives in a comprehensive way, Iran will surely refuse to renounce what it refers to as “the Iranian civil nuclear program.”

Dr. Jalal Nali is a Moroccan national based mainly in Brussels; he has a PhD in management and negotiations, and he studies global terror, world trade and science.

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    1. Piotr Berman

      I am not sure on what planet Dr. Nali wrote his article. It is even hard to discern particular bias except everything is “off” or out of date.

      The strategy of forcing Iran to do something has obvious limitation if you go beyond consensus with China and Russia. Sanctions can bite only so much if the largest creditor nation and the largest exporter does not join them. And big Asian countries perceive American expansionism rather than Iranian threat.

      Economic competition with China is of course not help by forcing Iran to sell oil to China at a big discount.

      About cutting the tentacles, the first stop is Iraq. Iraqi government is convinced that Iraq was on the receiving and of Salafi terrorism and insurgency, EXACTLY like Syria and will aid Syria. It already does. There is no “fragile peace process in Iraq”, Iraq is quite independent. “Securing Iraq” is something that could be considered a few years ago.

      Turkey is not afraid of Iran expelling Kurds to Turkey — it is really beyond realm of possible. Iran could aid PKK, although right now rumors have it that Israel does. For Turkey Iran is both partner and competitor and surely not an enemy.

      Where Dr. Nali hits nail on the head is the “magic approach”. In the region known for jars containing jinns, flying carpets and magic lamps magic is the most realistic option. We want something, so we offer something that Iran may want. Sometimes it works like a charm. But it may be easier said than done.

      Cartographers in North America cannot decide if Iran is Persia, whose king Cyrus let the Jews return from Babylonian exile or Gog and Magog, from whence the armies of Forces of Darkness will depart toward Megiddo. Some even claim that Iran is Germany (and that it exists 60 years ago). There is even no agreement where Iran is — at is surely close to a large body of water, but is it Persian Gulf, Arab Gulf, or some anonymous Gulf, so just in case we dispatch navy to Persian Gulf, Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Guinea. This is why we need three aircraft carrier groups to find Iran. Encouragingly, each Gulf is rich in oil.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Natan Brill

      How do you choose people to write on subjects? Who is this guy? He’s not Israeli, not Palestinian and not Iranian. He doesn’t give any citations. There aren’t any hyperlinks (this is a blog, isn’t it?) His academic background is unrelated. Why should we listen to him?

      Does 972 have a content supply problem? You won’t solve it by destroying your brand.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      The David with 300 nukes vs the Goliath with none? Someone has his head upsidedown.

      Why assume that Iran needs to have its tentacles chopped off? Do you routinely torture poor innocent cephalopods, to adopt this metaphor? Iran has the right to defend itself against its nuclear enemy.

      What the world should do is attempt to normalize relations with Iran, as far as Iran will allow, instead of demonizing and attacking a state that has attacked no one since it was founded. And finally accept that Iran’s oil belongs to Iran.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      Natan, this is a vacuous criticism, and wrong. This is a short essay, citations etc. are not customary. Academic background in NEGOTIATIONS is related, and actually, the last paragraph which is the best relates to that background.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Aaron Schnienwer

      this relevant intervention Made by Dr. Nali (who has Jewish Moroccan origins) by the way! is accurate and clear, it is hard to accept the truth coming from an outlander, on the other hand it shows that other countries are interested in not turning Israel into an easy target.

      Thank you +972 for bringing different opinions on Israel national security issues.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ted shmecker

      To some smart guys around here?
      Hey Folks you should know that the problem is not simply Iran but his close allies (Syria,Lebanon Hezbola,Hamas) we are surrounded 🙂
      Be realistic and lets face it! we most look into it as described : ”Octopus plan”
      ++ Octopus sounds like some kind of CIA TopS project isn’t it.. ?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Natan Brill

      On citations, Piotr: Welcome to world of blogging.
      On the identity of the author, Aaron: This is isn’t part of a series. There’s not much coverage of Iran here. Why not relate Israeli opinions and analysis, or independent Iranian for that matter. If you’re doing one, stand-alone, why this one?

      The criticism, BTW, is not at the author, but at the editors. It’s like, ooh we haven’t done anything on Iran this week, let’s just pick up the first random piece we find out of the thousands out there.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Aaron Schnienwer

      I still thinking that the author approached brilliantly the topic and certainty this is not a ”random piece we find out of the thousands out there”
      + Thanks to you Natan I satisfied my curiosity Googling Dr.Nali he seems better know in western Europe and North Africa.
      I do like the way he behave.
      + I am happy to discover +792 magazine, I will talk about it to my Czech friends.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Piotr Berman

      Natan, you have a point. One point made by Nali is non-standard, and deserves a citation. I traced a citation, and it seems that Nali’s interpretation is misleading at best.

      New York Times, 2006
      Highly Enriched Uranium Found at Iranian Plant

      VIENNA, Aug. 31 — The global nuclear monitoring agency deepened suspicions on Thursday about Iran’s nuclear program, reporting that inspectors had discovered new traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian facility.

      Inspectors have found such uranium, which at extreme enrichment levels can fuel bombs, twice in the past. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that at least some of those samples came from contaminated equipment that Iran had obtained from Pakistan.

      But in this case, the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples, an official familiar with the inspections said, raising questions about their origin.

      In a six-page report to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, the agency withheld judgment about where the material came from and whether it could be linked to a secret nuclear program.


      Clearly, if equipment came from Pakistan, the easiest explanation is that the Pakistani lab that used the equipment before handled uranium samples from more than one ore source.

      Another explanation can be that this piece of second hand equipment actually is third hand, and it was also used in North Korea.

      Another explanation is that there are yet more participants in what appears to be a flea market of lab equipment for handling uranium samples.

      Interpreting minute specks of dust on second hand equipment does not lead to categorical conclusion that “suspicions that were confirmed back in May 2011”. NYT article from May 2011 contains quite different kind of suspicion:

      “In 2009, senior staff members of the I.A.E.A. concluded in a confidential analysis that “Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device” based on highly enriched uranium.

      The new report includes some of the technical evidence behind that charge. It describes the sources of the information as “many member states” as well as its own efforts. Nuclear experts assume that much intelligence comes from Israel, the United States and Western Europe, though the I.A.E.A. in total has 151 member states.”


      Again, this is pretty thin gruel. I am not sure if we can base our policy on what Iran knows. Particularly if one of the alleged sources of knowledge is a computer laptop passed by CIA to Iranian agents. There was some story that CIA wanted to plant fake info about nuclear bombs and someone discovered that correct info was loaded instead.

      Reply to Comment