The headlines scream of the recent activity in the Middle East. “United States assassinates high-ranking Iranian general!”
Iranian propaganda (and, strangely, the U.S. media) have lionized the now-dead Qassem Soleimani. (Never mind that most people…and a whole lot of Iranians…hated the man.)
Regardless of what people think about the wisdom of the attack (and a whole lot of people are voicing their thoughts on that), the deed is done. The die is cast.
(As an aside, we marvel that so many people are upset at the killing of Soleimani, but aren’t so worried about the thousands of deaths the man himself caused. Go fig.)
So now that the United States has acted, we must follow the Third Law of Military Thermodynamics: “For every action, there must be a reaction (not necessary equal or opposite).”
What are Iran’s options to respond to the U.S. attack?
1. They could do nothing. Sure. And Satan can celebrate the birth of Christ.
2. They can complain to the United Nations. They already said they were going to do that. And what will happen? A lot of nothing. It’s a diplomatic move in an attempt to swing world opinion to their side. Some countries may have misgivings, but no one is going to move against the U.S. on the diplomatic front. What? Are they going to sanction the U.S.?
Now here is where it starts to get problematic.
3. Attack U.S. allies through proxies. This has been the go-to model for Iran for the last number of years. So it really doesn’t change the dynamics. Iran has probable deniability. It lessens the risk of counterattack since it is another entity that carried out the attack. The problem is that the United States really isn’t buying this anymore. Anything done by an Iranian proxy is given full credit to Iran. So misdirection really isn’t making Iran safe from reprisal anymore.
4. Attack U.S. assets through proxies. Here it gets a little more dangerous. The U.S. is virtually required to respond if its own forces are attacked. And since Iran can not hide behind proxies anymore, it risks bringing military action down on Iran itself.
5. Attack U.S. allies directly. Why bother with proxies when Iran is going to be blamed anyway? Well, there still is something about deflection, especially if Iran plays the blame game and distances itself from the attack. But if Iran really wants to drive the message home, that they are a force to be reckoned with, they have to get their hands dirty or their message becomes muddled. This is the direction Iran may be leaning from recent statements. They’ve talked about retaliation at the proper time, and that a military attack requires a military response. That’s pretty direct. And Iran doesn’t want to look like a coward.
Of course, there are also a few other options.
6. Attack the U.S. directly through proxies. This is a most dangerous development. Forces are already in place, and the U.S. has some delicious targets. Soft, vulnerable, and will put a serious scare into Americans. In the past, attacking the U.S. directly was suicide. The people behind 9/11 were shellshocked by America’s reaction. They thought the U.S. public was too cowardly to respond. They didn’t know the American people would unite and go bat-crap crazy, resulting in the loss of not less than two countries from the terrorists’ hold.
Ah, but that was then. This is 2020, and the American public is (for lack of a better word) brain-dead divided, mindlessly standing for or against a political position solely because they like or don’t like the party it is associate with. If it plays to their political position, some people (too many people) are more than happy to stand against the United States if it furthers their political goals. And if it plays to their political position, some people (too many people) are more than happy to stand with whatever America does…right or wrong…if it furthers their political goals.
Look at the reaction when the United States is attacked. More and more, people come out in support of the attackers. Look at the reaction when the Iranian General was killed. People came out and apologized, protests erupted, and hated for the United States was spewed out.
Would the American public really rally together if the United States was attacked? Or would half the country sit back and say the U.S. deserved it? The latter is what Iran is betting on.
And a proxy attack could potentially shield Iran from a response, especially if Iran were to come out and publicly condemn such an attack.
The U.S. is frightened of war coming to its shores, and a war in the Middle East, a war which is unpopular with the public, would see little tolerance for American casualties.
Or course, there is also the final option.
7. Direct attack against the United States by Iran. A suicide move that would require massive retaliation regardless of public sentiment. The U.S. President recently said he had 52 Iranian targets in mind, symbolic of the 52 hostages Iran took in 1979. If Iran were to directly attack U.S. soil, you can bet that 52 symbolic targets would change to 444 targets, symbolic of the number of days the hostages were kept.
Iran must make some difficult decisions. It is in a vulnerable position. Iran’s economy is heavily dependent on oil, and those oil sites are wonderful targets for a U.S. missile. Take out Iran’s oil sites and Iran’s economy comes crashing down. Iran must weigh the chance that Americans could target those very tempting sites.
Of course, Iran suffers from a great amount of arrogance. They believe…wrongly…that the world (at least the Muslim world) will unite in happy harmony should the United States attack one of their own. Problem is, Iran was kicked out of that Kumbya club long ago, and the only ones that don’t understand that is Iran. Iran is virtually alone and vulnerable to a real attack. Will that reality make it into their calculus?
Whatever Iran chooses to do, it won’t happen tomorrow. They already said it will happen at the proper time, meaning they are going to wait. Wait until the U.S. election, hoping the current U.S. President is voted out? Probably not that long. But they are in a position to affect the election. But will an attack help or hurt the President they want to see removed?
The war room in Iran has a lot of thinking to do.
And so does the public. Are you ready for what happens next?