Gulf confrontation a battle of nerves
With assaults, tanker hijackings, threats to navigation and drone attacks, it is not easy to keep your cool in such a tense atmosphere, but this is the game and its rules of play. What is happening in the Gulf is a battle of nerves.
Confronting Iran is like playing a Rubik’s Cube — solving it requires many attempts before getting the correct final form. Wrong steps are easier and more numerous than the right ones. A military confrontation with Iran seems easier too; however, it may destroy the military power of the regime but not necessarily eliminate it, creating a bigger problem for the region. The coalition may also win the war, but the war could destroy the economic capabilities of the Gulf states.
Furthermore, the crisis could start small with a step like rescuing a hijacked oil tanker, but it may then get out of control and develop into a wider war. There are also other possibilities to take into account, such as the positions of the other major powers. China and Russia have their own different calculations. Russia has several differences with the West in its former sphere of influence, which it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it dearly wants to restore its old capitals, from Kiev to Prague. China also has its own differences with the US in the East China and South China Seas, as well as their trade disputes. Thus, in the event of a complicated and prolonged Iranian crisis, which is not resolved swiftly militarily or politically, these countries will intervene for their own aims, as Russia has done in Syria.
Indeed, this is not limited only to the two big players; there are the Iranian militias too, which are trained to fight the street battles of Tehran. They cannot win the war, but they are capable of spreading chaos throughout the region. Then there is the counter-front, where different countries may have different aims. Israel’s main issue is to eliminate or prevent Iran’s nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia’s top priority, on the other hand, is to stop Iran’s threatening project, which includes taking over its neighbors Yemen and Iraq. This difference in purpose will surely be reflected in the nature of the confrontation.
Once Iran becomes a nuclear power, no one would ever confront it militarily due to its danger to the world
Well, some may say that “as long as the picture seems full of risks and differences, why not go back to what the situation was a year ago,” i.e., before the economic sanctions were applied or even before Washington announced its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, and thus avoid another war? This is an idealistic approach, but it will not end the problem. The fact is that “for free” peace only postpones the war until it becomes harsher and more dangerous later.
Iran continues its drive to dominate Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which is a public policy proudly declared by senior leaders in Tehran. It will continue in its drive until the delayed war occurs.
Moreover, many reports confirm that Iran is, indeed, close to building its nuclear weapons. The British believe it is only a year away from achieving that aim. Washington says Iran has never stopped working on its nuclear program, despite its claims and signed pledges. This means that, once Iran becomes a nuclear power, no one would ever confront it militarily due to its danger to the world; thus, the big powers would have to accept the status quo that Tehran would impose.
Therefore, the timing of decisive action is a fundamental factor, whereas postponing it is not in favor of Iran’s opponents, whatever today’s calculations and the risks of confrontation are. This, again, does not mean that anyone wants war. In fact, no one wants it. US President Donald Trump’s plan is blockading Iran and forcing it to agree to stop its aggressive policy. Trump’s goals may take one to four years to achieve. Until then, the difficulty lies in maintaining nerves and not getting dragged into a major war, and convincing Tehran that the war will destroy it, without the need to prove it on the ground.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed