Iran and the Coming War

The possibility of military action against Iran's nuclear facilities is increasing every day: some even expect it could happen as early as the end of this year.

The strange thing is that Iran has been directing most of its recent rhetoric not against the most likely attacker -- Israel -- but against the United States.

On Monday, General Meer Faisal Baqir Zadeh of Iran's armed forces general command declared that Iran will be digging 320,000 graves in a number of provinces bordering Iraq and the Gulf to bury dead American attackers. One wonders: why Americans and not Israeli attackers?

The answer to this question -- and why the US is clearly worried about the threats -- becomes apparent after examining the likely scope and nature of such a confrontation that takes all of the potential actors into account.

The most likely starting point is a quick and intensive Israeli air strike targeting Iran's uranium enrichment plants and other nuclear facilities crucial to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. What would follow remains unclear right now. However, a logical path can be deduced from the initial action given the declared and implicit policies, fears, and ambitions of Iran.

According to the chief of the IRGC General Mohammed Ali Jaafari, Iran would seal off the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf if attacked. It will even attack any countries from which an American attack comes.

Iran has long wanted to believe that America can't take action against it because of America's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. public's distaste for opening yet another front. Iran is trying to use this presumed situation to deter an Israeli attack by threatening to force the U.S. to participate in a large-scale operation against it should such an attack occur.

Tehran is thus strategically threatening to expand the war beyond the presumed limits of a) the American public's tolerance or b) the price the U.S. is ready to pay to eliminate a threat to Israel, the Gulf, and maybe European -- but not American -- soil.

Iran has also threatened to use its surrogates in the Middle East to escalate operations against Israeli and U.S. troops. This means that Iran wants to have concerned countries apply pressure on Israel not to attack by threatening open war in the Middle East.

If Iran's deterrence plan fails -- and it most likely will since the threat is existential to Israel -- it will clearly still try to expand the conflict. Dragging the U.S. into a war that cannot be won would provide Tehran with a propaganda victory that could be used to relieve the pain of losing their nuclear program. Not a bad trade, especially that Israel is going to bomb it anyway.