The Iranian Alternative: connecting the dots

An approach to the dilemma introduced by the government in Tehran, examined from the perspective required by the geopolitical reality. War chances, the involved timing and the implications for regional forces’ balance. The possibility of an ¨Islamic nuclear bomb¨ returns to take its toll.

02 de Diciembre de 2011

On November 2 of this year, the British newspaper The Guardian published a headline that clearly sparked interest from the international community: UK military steps up plans for Iran attack amid fresh nuclear fears (

In short, Nicholas Hopkins, the article’s writer, leaked comments arising from the Crown Ministry of Defense referring to Washington´s true haste in order to explore the potential degree of cooperation between London and the Pentagon. Obviously with a view to using the military option in order to handle Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ¨dilemma¨. So, military action appears imminent.

The pre-war scenario in Iran is worthy of study, as it leads to a scheme in which almost all classic war alternatives interact (military force, espionage, terrorism, diplomatic pressure from allied governments and international agencies through their respective committees), combined with less classic ones (cyber-attack, or ¨infowar¨ in connection with the role performed by the computer worm Stuxnet to the detriment of Tehran´s regime uranium centrifuges).

There is general agreement in Washington DC: mainstream media in the U.S. capital (including major newspapers, regardless of their ideology) report insistently that war against Al Qaeda has finished and that the terrorist organization no longer represents a major problem, except for, maybe, some exceptional attacks of limited range. Liberal or center-left publications like the Washington Post opportunely accounted for details regarding the war against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, focusing not only on the seemingly overrated use of force by American troops in places as diverse as Yemen, Iraq or Afghanistan, but also on the CIA and other agencies such as the CTC (Counterterrorism Center) work. After the events on occasion of the Iraqi conflict and then on Afghan land, the military doctrine raised on Potomac River banks quickly transitioned from a stage based on saturation of the battlefield -with the complementary work of special forces- to the current one, mounted on the effective manipulation of Predator unmanned aircrafts to achieve the neutralization of very specific targets in small areas. Assault rifles start -not so slowly- being replaced by individuals controlling joysticks thousands of kilometers away from the operations theater. Task forces role is limited, while increasing importance is given to those trained in Emergence theories, pattern recognition, swarm intelligence, flocking, etc. It is neither more nor less than the expected recovery of large portions of the old systems theory, aiming at being able to predict chaos from patterns and simulation. Al Qaeda forced an adjustment in the traditional structures of military strategic thinking: how a group of people –terrorists in this case- is organized to face an army which is superior in number and technology? The XXI century enemy, whatever his name is, has adapted his silhouette, which today is no longer perceived as planned from the well-worn system of the leader adopted by Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Nowadays, organizations formed on the basis of multiple nodes operating independently are sticking out and, as noted in many cases, without knowing the other's existence. That would be the cells’ operational response to the torture that the ¨infidel¨ coming from the West used in the battle field. The ammunition and missiles will finally give way to the weapon systems which concentrate destruction in fewer square kilometers –and meters. And if geopolitical George Friedman is right, the future will witness the shifting of command and control centers from geography into Earth orbit and space. Today, it is impossible for any conventional army to cope with a power which has its tactical sand tables away from the conflict scenery. The criterion of planned obsolescence and improved weapon systems are above ethical prerogatives: U.S. soldiers’ diseases attributable to the use of depleted uranium ammunition in Iraq (implemented for drilling the reactive armor of Saddam’s Soviet tanks) and severe burns suffered by British military personnel in Malvinas (Falkland Islands) due to the use of ¨inappropriate fabrics¨ (on occasion of Argentina´s Air Force bombing against the Royal Navy vessels) proved that. Aspects that could never pierce even the professional fighter spirit, since he knows he is there ¨for that¨ although, from time to time, he thinks about his degree of dependence on R & D (Research and Development) departments.

Assad and AhmadinejadAs it occurred in due time with ¨smart bombs¨ in Iraq, the Iranian scenario will involve new alternatives and perspectives, as aforementioned. The new conflict dynamics incorporates such an alienating speed that there is little room to back up the task’s moral explanation. The United States has succeeded in neutralizing the ethical debate that caused so many headaches during the previous phases of the incursion into Hussein´s Baghdad. And –truth be told-, Ahmadinejad has been of great help, thanks to his call for Israel to be ¨disappeared off the map¨. On his side, Syrian president Bashar al Assad –Ahmadinejad’s ally- behaves like a cornered madman, killing dozens of opponents daily.

However, Iran president has not only interpreted the course of events, but also has decided to act accordingly: after scoring an emphatic victory favorably manipulating the time factor and the IAEA officials’ visits, he was able to accelerate nuclear development. In parallel, he welcomed the joint proposal from Turkey and Brazil to get nuclear fuel for his plants, in exchange for promises about the future of his program. That diplomatic stage surprised Washington, and the Pentagon is now caught in a dispute with the White House and the Capitol politicians to ¨agree¨ on the ideal date to start the attacks. American intelligentsia faces a great dilemma: if the first set of bombings is delayed, Tehran would have enough time to move the critical mass of its nuclear infrastructure to bunkers frankly inaccessible for Tomahawk missiles. By itself, this alternative would extend the conflict´s duration, while Americans would be forced to split efforts: first, the mission would be to find the hidden Iranian nuclear weapons and, secondly, to invest effort in defeating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Tehran could, in that case, accurately strike American intentions to put a quick end to the conflict.

Beyond the issues involved in the military force balance, the political alternative always plays an important role. In this regard, the possibility of carrying an attack against the Islamic Republic not only would involve an operational problem (little time for planning, analyzing and interpreting of SIGINT or signals intelligence), but also a diplomatic one. This is due to the fact that United Nations resolution incorporating Palestine -against American and Israeli objections- still emerges as a fresh fact in newspapers, diplomacy and public opinion view. Someone might suggest that the United States fiercely reacts against an Islamic nation, out of pure spite (as Dr. James Carafano, Heritage, suggested). In either case, now rush comes from -naturally- Israel, which does little to hide their need to eliminate the penultimate obstacle to its survival / supremacy in the region. A judgment that leads to strengthen Syrians’ chances as Tel Aviv’s maxim target. Hawks from the Middle East only democracy lay hold of technical logistic assistance resources that Ahmadinejad's regime provides for rebel forces in Iraq (which is intended to thwart Allies operational efforts), driving Americans to speed up their war planning. We can safely assume that Iran represents a problem for Israel on the grounds that, in little time, the Islamic Republic could become a regional nuclear power and, thus, be guaranteed impunity. On the other hand, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is investing time and effort to turn his country into a new kind of Arab leader who can be a counterweight to the West intentions. This is not a minor detail, because that prerogative collides head-on into the fifth geopolitical term of the United States that consists in blocking any regional attempt to form a political front that could jeopardize its circle of global influence.

It is precisely the glass of geopolitical analysis that makes losing sight of the initial trigger of any war business. In this case, it could be argued that the Iranian regime reserves the right to defend itself (or to have nuclear weapons, if you like). But we must also refer to the right assisting the U.S. and Israel to hinder attempts of arms development from a nation representing a threat to the Middle East balance and that, therefore, threatens the availability of energy resources which are also exported to Europe. Subsequently, the implications for each of the players involved will be fundamentally different. Europeans -already in the midst of a lethal economic crisis- could have their economic recession scenarios worsen. For the U.S., in contrast, war efforts could significantly contribute to their economy development, from the well-known relationship between means of production and conflict scenarios. A highly probable result that will also affect Barack Hussein Obama electoral chances (if the Iranian conflict increased before presidential elections in November, 2012). Anyway, U.S. president credibility is so reviled that it is extremely difficult for him to gather any political advantage from an early resolution of an operation against Tehran.

Meanwhile, U.S. diplomatic conglomerate seems to confirm the above plans. The State Department has been especially devoted to commit supporters in face of what might happen in the Middle East, and not surprisingly, much of that pressure begins to take place in Latin America. Ahmadinejad manages time in his favor, though now he fully understands that time spent in Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela in order to use that nation as a nuclear triangulation point is gone. Iran no longer has the years required to count on technological support that Argentine engineers could have provided through Caracas –with the green light from Fernández de Kirchner administration. To make matters worse, the Bolivarian referent is harassed not only for his advanced cancer, but also for the ¨Flights of Terror¨ of Conviasa State Airline.

In Washington D.C., the Department of Defense operators made Argentine president’s dream come true:  being portrayed with the White House chief. But what Buenos Aires touts as a political battle is actually part of a much better configured initiative by highly influential people from the U.S. capital: in exchange for a photograph with a devalued president with no chance for re-election (Barack), 50 Balcarce should give their vote of confidence to the sanctions that international forums may impose on Tehran. As part of this chapter, official Thomas Countryman (Assistant Secretary of State for International Security) recently arrived in Argentina, precisely to discuss the Casa Rosada position regarding the Iranian Alternative. Any novice in the world of international relations could interpret this information as a thinly veiled ultimatum.

Strictly regarding Iran's scenario and its probable development and outcome, it is worth reviewing considerations belonging to Geopolitics and its essence. It very often happens that presidents or leaders, once they are fully engaged in executive tasks- end up throwing their principles and campaign promises to the dump, when they acknowledge the narrow margin they have to operate freely. Their personal agendas are set aside, replaced by axioms inherent in the DNA of the nation they represent. Conflict is an essential component in the Middle East dynamics, while the West has too many interests there to let the problem fall on deaf ears. The European leaders -through their vote or with supports yet to be specified- and the U.S. President will proceed according to the protection of those interests.

* English translation by Debbie Gravano (

Matías E. Ruiz, Editor

Matías E. Ruiz, Editor