Escalating Tensions

By Hakim Joe

A new shooting war is on the verge of starting and this might turn out to be the modern Mother of all Conflicts. It will make Operation Desert Storm look like a picnic and the Afghan War child’s play.

On Tuesday the 11th of October 2011, the United States alleged that Iranian government agents plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States using explosives. Two suspects were charged in New York City, one man, Gholam Shakuri, has previously been identified as an operative of Iran’s special foreign actions unit (Quds Forces) and the other, Manssor Arbabsiar, a car salesman who holds a U.S. citizenship and who is also holding an Iranian passport. The Justice Department says the men tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out a bombing attack on Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir while he dined at his favorite restaurant, and unbeknownst to the suspects, the Mexican was a paid DEA informer and meetings between the informer and Arbabsiar were actually monitored and recorded by the DEA, the Secret Service, the Homeland Security, and the FBI. 

Also accused were Abdul Reza Shahlai, Arbabsiar’s cousin who is a high ranking member of the Quds Force; Qasem Soleimani, a Quds commander who allegedly oversaw the plot; and Hamed Abdollahi, a senior Quds officer who helped in the coordination of the attempted assassination. Shahlai ws previously identified as the deputy commander of the Quds Force that planned the 2007 attack in Karbala, Iraq, that killed five American soldiers. 

Arbabsiar was arrested on September the 29th at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport while Shakuri, Shahlai, Soleimani and Abdollahi are all believed to be still inside Iran. 

That this alleged assassination attempt has been foiled is not the quintessence aspect here. Members of the U.S. Congress were quick to condemn Iran over the plot and have actively called for harsher sanctions against Iran even after the latter has vociferously denied any involvement in the assassination plot. The raising of stakes by both nations followed by potentially another few incidents between the two countries might spark a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf. That this attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador is not in question here but the uncertainty lies in the fact whether the Iranian government possesses prior knowledge of this plot, and not whether it is a rogue operation outside the Iranian government’s sanction or a sting operation by the FBI. 

Iran is no walkover like Iraq. It is about four times larger than Iraq and has more than twice the number of residents. More importantly, Iran is suspected to possess nuclear weapons and the necessary delivery vehicles. During the Army Day last year, the Iranian military forces paraded the new Ghadr-1 ballistic missile system that has a proven 2,000 km operational range and is in the process of manufacturing a longer range air launched cruise missile (KH-55) of over 3,000 km range. Incidentally the distance between Teheran and Washington DC is over 10,000 km but the already-deployed Ghadr-1 is certainly capable of hitting targets within the Persian Gulf. 

There is no evidence that Iranian scientists have actually manufactured nuclear weapons but uranium is being frenetically enriched at the Iranian Special Weapons Facility located in Natanz with over 5,000 centrifuges being fed with uranium hexafluoride 24 hours a day non-stop. According to the IAEA Director General’s report submitted to the Board on the 23rd of November 2010, Iran has accumulated an estimated 3,183kg of low enriched uranium (LEU), though not weapons-grade as yet. The Iranian LEU is graded between a level of 5% to 7% U-235. In comparison, advance medical research facilities in USA has an enrichment level of about 30% and weapons-grade nuclear weapons carry nuclear loads that has been enriched to levels above 65%, usually using P-239 (plutonium) instead of U-235 (uranium). 

Additionally, Iran reportedly possesses an estimated 9 operational submarines and over 200 naval crafts, over 350 combat aircrafts and over 1,200 main battle tanks supported by approximately 550,000 active personnel from its military, about 125,000 personnel from the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, over 100,000 active personnel from the paramilitary volunteer force (Iran claims a membership of over 3 million) and another 100,000+ security forces (mainly police personnel). 

Furthermore, Iran possesses a sophisticated and growing biotechnology sector and chemical industry that is already one of the most advanced in the developing world and with that comes the inherent capability of producing both biological warfare (BW) and chemical warfare (CW) weaponries. Although there is no evidence pointing to the existence of either BW or CW stockpiles, Iran has never denied possessing the “dual-capable” infrastructure, raw material and expertise to mass-produce them. 

However, similarly to Iraq, it is the will to fight that commands all regardless of the numbers or equipment one possesses and judging from the 8-year Iran-Iraq War between 1980 and 1988, Iran will be no turkey shoot like Iraq. 

The U.S. Advance Overseas Forces comprising of the 5th Fleet (based in Bahrain), 6th Fleet (based in Italy) and 7th Fleet (based in Japan) might all be involved if plans are underway for a major armed conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Additionally, all U.S. forces stationed inside Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be drawn into the fight with Israel covertly in support. If and when the shooting starts, Turkey and all the other Middle Eastern countries will be in a dire dilemma – either to act as a bystander or to take sides. Both Russia and China will definitely be drawn into the conflict, as major superpowers and almost unquestionably, NATO will be the medium used to initiate the conflict, with or without official sanction from the United Nations or agreement from Turkey, the only NATO member country that might stand up for Iran. Alternately, Turkey might take this advantage to become more influential in the Middle East when Iran is preoccupied with the conflict. Syria could possibly remain the only Middle East country to come out in support of Iran but then again, they are having internal troubles of their own at home. Libya is completely out of the picture at this juncture of time. 

Whether the entire world choose to believe that a car salesman in Texas was specifically commissioned by a select intelligence arm of the Iranian government to look for anyone who looked remotely like a Mexican drug dealer, moustache and sombrero included, and then order them a US$1.5 million hit on the Saudi ambassador in Washington, or not, the confrontation between Iran and NATO forces, which will comprise of over 80% U.S. and U.K. troops, will be a brutal affair with lots of collateral damage. Going to war in a country with over 73 million people is a surefire recipe for disaster regardless of how accurate the intelligent bombs and cruise missiles are. Taking into consideration the numerous “places of worship” and “historical sites” that remains untouchable, the U.S. risk losing more that what could be gained in an armed confrontation with Iran but then again, curbing Iran’s ambitions at its roots might pose to be the only game in town.