Dr. Wael Shadid
Strategist & Researcher
2nd June 2019
A war with Iran … or not a war with Iran
Recently, the region was caught up in the escalation between the United States and Iran. Some analysts reached the expectation of a war between the two sides, while others ruled out the war between them and each opinion has its own explanation. The recent US military moves in the Arabian Gulf have Stir up a whirlwind on the real geostrategic scene. This article attempt to analyze the situation from the strategic dimension and from several angles including Iran and the West, what America wants from Iran, the angle of US strategy to ignite a war with it, and the Iranian position towards the war? The basic engines driving events in the region and their weight will be discussed to predict the trends and prospects of war between Iran and the United States of America.
Keywords: Iran, strategic drives, political Islam, American hardliners, Shiite revolution, economic interests, strategic gains, minorities, Western support
In general, there is a Western attitude toward political Islam. This position has developed clearly in the Arab Spring period and is still a reality in the West’s dealings with the Arab Spring and its revolutions, and the recent attempts to transfer to democracy as per the West culture. The west always talks about democracy but when political Islam wins the election in any Arab country, the west will stand against that. The west implicitly and on the ground did not mind the coop in Egypt against President Mohamad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood background. The west did not welcome Al Nahda party when it won the election in Tunisia. In addition, the west is not able to swallow elected President Erdogan of Islamic background, and previously, the west stood against Hamas when it won the elections in Palestine. Accordingly, the public opinion in the Arab and Islamic countries has developed a perception that the West, headed by the United States of America, stands against the arrival of political Islam, and cooperate with those local forces in the region who take the same position in order to establish that fact.
However, it is remarkable that the West and the United States did not take this hostile position against the Iranian Shiite Islamic revolution when Imam Khomeini moved from Paris to Tehran without any reluctance but the West facilitated the trip. Iran also raised the slogan “exporting the revolution abroad” and worked on it, especially in neighboring countries such as Iraq and the Gulf states. The West did not take a firm stand against it, as it did with the Sunni Arab Spring. Iran has also infiltrated Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, and has supported its arms in these countries with weapons and money without stirring the West or stirring up anger as it against the Arab Spring and against Sunni political Islam. Moreover, the West appeared to be economically cooperative with Iran, especially Germany, France and other European countries since the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran. It is true that America imposed sanctions in the past decade, especially after the Iranian nuclear program, but the West remained sympathetic and cooperative with Iran in circumventing US sanctions.
On the other hand, the Iranian was able to implement intelligently to the Arab region under the umbrella of supporting the resistance against the Israeli occupation, whether the Lebanese or Palestinian resistance. Iran provided enormous assistance to the Lebanese Hezbollah, which stood up to Israel in the 2006 war and did so in support of the Palestinian resistance Hamas without any serious hostility from the West. All this put Iran in a position that appears to be a contradiction between Western support for economic interests with Iran and Western acceptance for Iran’s political position in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. It seems that the West does not stand firm towards Iranian penetration in the Arab world and does not show thoughtful objections.
So, what is the area of focus that makes the Western position and the Iranian position seem contradictory and at the same time seem cooperative?
Iran’s relationship with the West and the United States intersects in a common space composed of four ruling engines: the minority, economic interests, geostrategic gains and relations with Israel. These engines interact with each other but with different weights. Sometimes the weight of economic interests is higher than other ruling engines, while in other cases, the geostrategic gains are the highest weight and so on. Of course, there are internal drives in each country that interact internally, but ultimately become one of the four ruling engines. For example, the hardliners in America (American extremists) are pushing for a military strike on Iran because of religious motives to install Israel in the region according to a Christian Zionist outlook; however, this internal engine is eventually within the fourth ruling engine, the relationship with Israel.
The behavior of the colonial powers is characterized by the exploitation of religious or ethnic minorities in the spread of discrimination in order to tighten their control over States. This does not mean that every minority or a member of a minority is cooperating with the forces of colonialism, but they are targeted by these forces more than others. As Shiites are a religious minority in the Muslim world, they have become the target not only of the colonial powers but also of Iran itself under the pretext of defending them. Iran is also a target for colonial powers to blackmail other Muslim countries through fearing them from Iran.
The engine of economic interests is a very important factor in the area of intersection between Iran and the West, especially as Iran is an exporter of oil and gas and a consuming country for many Western products at the same time. Here, the separation between the West in the European countries and the United States of America in the area of economic dealings is considered. The West has strong economic relations with Iran, especially Germany and France, while America has been economically boycotting it for decades.
The third engine, the geostrategic gains, which creates a common area where the United States and the West do not boycott Iran. Instead, the United States and the West exchange the maneuver with Iran to achieve their own interests. This engine generates mistiness in the reality of the relationship between Iran, America, and the West. While the fourth engine, which is the relationship with Israel is led by the United States more than others are. This engine appears from time to time to the public and sometimes invisible, but it is a ruling factor in the Iranian-American relationship, where America seeks to provide protection and reassurance to Israel.
The examination of these four engines makes it easier for the analyst to infer the nature of the relationship and the expected results of each Western or American maneuver with Iran. The Western, American, and Iranian maneuvers should be separated in each situation to understand the foggy stance, where each maneuver has its own game rules and its own dominating engine. Thus, the engine of Israel’s defense may be active in a situation, and it seems to the viewer that it will complicate the situation with Iran, but in turn, the engine of intimidation of the Gulf countries with the stick of Shiite minorities and Iran’s power to complete multi-billion dollar weapons deals are the most active. This explains the blurry in the relationship; therefore, the most important point is to look at the most active engine among other engines in order to understand the situation accurately and to predict the direction of the maneuver closely.
By projecting this concept on the recent escalation in the Gulf, and the subsequent move of military parts and battleships, all four engines have worked together, creating a high haze in the scene’s expectations. However, since these four engines are acting at different weights, the analyst has to predict and determine the engine of higher weight and accordingly which engine will drive the scene. The engine of minority and intimidation from Iran has been activating for decades to create the atmosphere for formally seeking US protection to intervene and protect the oil routes. On the other hand, the United States has activated the economic engine to press the West to stop trade with Iran under the pretext of America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with it. In return, the economic engine has moved towards the Gulf States, which will pay the cost and complete more arms deals. While the engine of the relationship with Israel has been active to wage the war and wants to strike Iran supported by the American internal engine that associated with the Christian Zionism.
However, the weightiest engine is the geostrategic engine that does not push to bring the matter to the state of war. The financial extortion of the Gulf States is continuing and the minority engine is doing the job without entering into a war that does not know how it will end, especially since President Trump clearly declared in Riyadh that he would not fight on behalf of the Gulf States and that they have to pay for their protection. This escalation could bring Iran back to the negotiating table with the US, where Trump is expected to reshape the agreement as he sees it, not as the Europeans see, just as he did with the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico, and with the Europeans and China to change some trade agreements. Therefore, it is not in the interest of the US strategy until this moment to rush into a war with Iran. The United States is trying to optimism for geostrategic gains in the region to reshape the nuclear agreement with Iran and to put economic pressure on it to change the regime’s behavior according to the American expression; in other words new arrangements in the region. On the other hand, there is no Iranian interest in being drawn into a war with the United States, since the costs will be very high. As the Iranian leadership is maneuverable and has a deterrent power, it tries to manipulate with the United States using deterrence and its affiliates in the region to maintain a proper strategic position.
Finally, is the possibility of war exist? Undoubtedly, complex and turbulent environments can develop and slip into the worst as a result of a small event that may not seem important either because of misjudgments, recklessness or even by a third-party intervention. In addition, if the weight of Israel’s defense engine raises supported by the hardliners in the US administration who are driven by religious beliefs, then it is likely that the war will be possible. Especially that the areas of misjudgment or interference by a third party or providing the justification for the American hardliners (extremists) are available and abundant because of the multiple areas of overlap and friction from the Gulf and Yemen tension to Iraq complications, and to Syrian chaos. However, in all probability, whether war or non-war, the biggest loser is the Gulf States, particularly in the light of the current division amongst them.