Wednesday, June 09, 2010

An analysis - Iran sanctions

The United Nations Security Council have voted in favour of a fresh round of economic sanctions against Iran, the BBC reports. This set of sanctions have been watered down considerably and interestingly aim at stopping the delivery of weapons such as helicopters and missiles from being delivered to Iran. This is curious as Iran actually builds its own missiles, though perhaps the sanctions also cover components that are vital for manufacturing them.

Furthermore, Turkey and Brazil are not happy with these sanctions, earlier Robert Gates expressed "concern" about the collapse of relations between Turkey and Israel. China and Russia helped to water down the sanctions considerably whilst Lebanon abstained from the vote, naturally. Will this affect Iran? Unlikely, the report quotes Ahmedi Nejad as saying that the sanctions were like a dirty handkerchief that needs to be thrown away.

This is just another sign of the tightening grip that the United States has been trying to impose on the Islamic Republic. Only recently Obama approved the increase of the reserve stock of weapons that the Israeli state can rely upon when it wages one of its wars. From around $800 million, this is now around $1.1 billion or so, an increase of about 50%. Israel has also asked for more JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) modules which are apparently very useful for transforming cheaper, "dumb" bombs into precision guided bombs. Israel dropped many bombs,with devastating effect, in Lebanon (2006) and Gaza, more recently, using this technology.

It's also noteworthy that Israel just finished the fourth major nationwide exercise only very recently and Hassan Nasrallah made his clearest warning yet on the 25th of May 2010 that Israeli shipping will be a target throughout the Mediterranean as well as the Red Sea if a naval blockade of Lebanon is put in place in the next war the Israelis wage against that small country. These are powerful words and although the world media have generally ignored this warning, I'm sure that the people who need to know about this in Washington and Tel Aviv have taken note.

Will there be a war this summer? I think the decision for war has always been with the Americans and Israelis. We probably won't see any steps towards it by Iran or Hezbullah as that would give the pretext to their enemies to begin massive attacks and might affect public opinion. Then again, the Israelis do not want a war before they are absolutely ready. If they fight this time they have to fight to win. I think Damascus and many cities in Syria will also be bombed if there is a war this time. The chances of this happening are not certain but it is more than likely.

The role of Syria in arming and assisting Hezbullah has not gone unnoticed. I doubt the Syrian front will hold up as strongly as the Lebanese south though, and this might be something Hezbullah will have to factor in. In 1967, the Israeli army attacked and conquered the Golan Heights precisely by going around them via weaker (at the time) Lebanon and then attacking the positions from the rear. This time a similar plan might be a wiser move for the Israelis regarding the south of Lebanon. However, if Syria has a surprise for the Israeli air force, like it did in the opening days of 1973, then the Syrian Republican Guard might just about be able to face off the Israeli army using the same tactics Hezbullah did. In 2006 tank hunter teams with missiles inflicted a heavy toll on Israel's Merkava tanks and the Israeli airforce was unable to dent Hezbullah's heavily dug in defences and tunnels. It would be stupid if the entire front Syria has with Lebanon right up until Damascus isn't already a patchwork ant's nest of tunnels, defence positions and ambush holes. Still, Syria has excellent planners who are qualified in spite of their lack of resources, and they are very good at keeping secrets, so one can only hope they have enough tricks up their sleeves.

One thing that might be possible, and unlikely, is that Israel might attack Syria via Jordan. The Jordanian government, along with that of Egypt, are now firmly allied with the Israelis and a discreet approval for the Israelis to do so, it would be hard to see what Jordan can do if it rejected this, would allow Merkava tanks to cross into the entire south of Syria, push through past Damascus and straight into Lebanon, but that is ambitious and stretches Israel's supply lines. What they might do is use it to overcome Syria's defences and then clear a path straight into the East of Lebanon, but they might as well send a postcard to Hezbullah telling them that this is what they intend doing. Also there are very difficult mountains to cross between Syria and Lebanon, meaning that this wouldn't be a wise move for the Israelis.

Invading Lebanon from the sea is not an option either following Hezbullah's clear message that they have the ability to hit any navy ships blockading the Lebanese coast. Iran most certainly has what NATO calls the Sunburn surface to sea missile. This missile puts the entire sea between Lebanon and Cyprus within range of Hezbullah's defences, if they have that missile, as it has a range of about 110km.

Whenever the next war the Israelis and Americans want to wage actually begins, what is certain is that this will be a very, very different type of war to anything the region has seen since the fall of the Ottoman empire. Ad nauseum, I repeat again my firm belief that it is not if, but when, a new war begins in the Middle East. Any "reality" of peace agreements simply cannot be imposed on the Arabs as long as Hezbullah and Iran are major players in the region. This is not something obvious to many people, but Israel's existence as an entirely Jewish state centered on the Zionist ethos is depends on Israel being able to destroy Hezbullah and Iran. If they don't, then they really will have to follow Helen Thomas' advice to pack their bags and move back to Poland, Germany or America.


midwinterspring said...

Do you think this would change dynamics elsewhere in the Middle East? Would the people living under collaborationist regimes just stand by and watch the US and Israel cement their hegemony over the entire region? Or would this perhaps spur unrest in such countries?

I'm still wondering where Turkey would fall in all of this. Last week changed many things, but (sadly) I still don't think the Turkish military would be particularly interested in fighting the US and Israel just to defend Iran.

Maysaloon said...

Thanks Midwinterspring,
I think we are seeing an increasingly vocal population in many parts of the region. Egypt in particular is on the verge of exploding and what the result of that would be is still unclear. Maybe something like the Iranian revolution (at the most extreme scenario) or a more critical government under someone like Baradei. I think Gamal Mubarak as president will be extremely unpopular and there is a chance it won't happen. The (imminent) death of Husni Mubarak will make things clearer perhaps.

In other countries, Jordan perhaps, I doubt it. Then again I don't know that much about Jordan, except it has an enormous Palestinian population and now of course their Queen is Palestinian too. Not that this has made a difference.

Turkey - no chance of armed conflict with Israel. Not in the short or long term. The Turkish military establishment is hardcore Kemalist and secular and will do everything in its power to prevent Turkey's slide back to the east. In fact there might already be a tit-for-tat struggle taking place there already. Recently a coup attempt headed by retired generals and prominent personalities was disrupted and many were taken to prison. This secular group won't give up without a fight and I suspect we will hear more of such attempts in future.