Trump and his Gulf and Israeli allies are winning the proxy war against Iran, which makes the next Iranian strike against America much more likely and more painful
Iran was undoubtedly high on the agenda of Trump’s talks with Vladimir Putin and other world leaders at the G20. The way these conflicts go, the Iranian one has several attributes that make it into a relatively safe way to answer some key questions about the new arms race between Russia and the US and test the cohesiveness and the endurance of the Israeli-Sunni-American coalition against the Russia-Iran-Syria-Turkey axis with China and its attack dog North Korea as the main spectators and not in the least disinterested ones at that.
With Putin barely back in Moscow where he has to deal with mounting criticism of his tardy, ineffective, and heartless response to the major and deadly flooding in the Irkutsk region of Siberia, Israel executed a coordinated sea and air attack on Iranian and Hezbollah interests located near the major Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs, both protected by the newly delivered state-of-the-art Russian-made S-300 surface to air missile system. The attacks were so successful that the Syrian media didn’t even bother broadcast its usual lie that its anti-aircraft defenses had successfully engaged enemy targets. Secondary explosions from Iranian munition dumps shattered windows in Damascus and at least sixteen people, primarily foreign fighters, were killed, according to various sources.
The most humiliating aspect of the attacks, however, was not its deadly accuracy and its proof of the ability of American and Israeli made armaments to destroy targets deep inside enemy territory even when it is supposedly well-protected by the best that Russian arms industry has to offer and do so with complete immunity. The utter humiliation for Russia came when, in an under-reported incident, a Russian made S-300 missile landed in Turkish occupied North Cyprus. As a veteran with many years of service in surface to air missile batteries, I can attest that such an event means not only that the missile was fired at a ghost target most likely generated by Israeli electronic warfare (EW), the fact that it did not self-destruct when its lock on target was broken suggests that both the missile itself and its ground-based control units were utterly fooled and had no measure of acquisition, guidance, or control throughout any and all phases of fire.
This is the equivalent of a hitter not only striking out at the plate, but being so fooled by a pitch in the dirt that he screws himself into the ground and ends up on his knees with his bat in the stands. As such, this is a horrible look for the Russian defense industry, the only industry outside of resource exploitation that Russia can rely on to bring in much needed foreign currency and exert diplomatic influence over its allies and adversaries alike. It is hard to imagine that this incident is not being studied by countries like India, Turkey, and of course, Iran, countries that are either considering the purchase of Russian air defense systems or are already relying on them to project their military power.
In an additional blow to the Russian-Turkish-Syrian-Iranian-Palestinian resistance axis, Israel’s strike on Syria did nothing to cool the ardor with which the Sunni Gulf countries are pursuing closer ties with Israel in the wake of the Peace to Prosperity economic workshop that was just completed in Bahrain under the auspices of President Trump’s Deal of the Century Middle East peace plan. Just yesterday, the foreign minister of Bahrain followed in the footsteps of the Sultan of Oman when he declared that Israel and Jews are rightfully from the Middle East and that Jews and Judaism deserve a rightful place in the region. This sentiment is beginning to be the expressed policy of many if not most Gulf nations, kingdoms, and principalities, making the intransigence of the Palestinian Authority so much more isolated and foolish.
With Iran admitting to having just exceeded the 300 kilogram limit of enriched uranium set in the JCPOA, Israeli PM Netanyahu wasted no time in committing once again to a policy of not allowing Iran to reach the status of a nuclear-armed nation and using all means available to make sure that this policy prevails. Last night’s strikes proved that Israel is both determined to stop Iranian and Hezbollah encroachment in Syria and capable of doing so. Iran, suffocating under the weight of the economic sanctions imposed on it by the US, is spending money that it does not have on placing military materiel close to the Israeli border only to have it blown to smithereens by the IDF.
This creates an unsustainable situation for the mullahs and one that will require them to invert their usual policy. It has long been their practice to bend the balance of power in their favor by using proxies like the Houthis on the Arabian Peninsula or the Hezbollah and the Hamas on Israel’s borders, including opening a new front against Israel in Syria. With these ventures all but frustrated by the American alliance with the Gulf Sunnis and with Israel and by the technological superiority of American and Israeli arms as time is running out before total economic collapse, the only course of action open to Tehran is direct action against America itself.
It is through this lens that the recent Iranian downing of the American Global Hawk should be seen and it is why refraining from retaliation against it was one of Trump’s rare errors in judgment. The main reason that the lack of direct response by the US against Iranian interests and Iran itself was a mistake is precisely the relatively mild nature of the Iranian action, a nature that Trump used to justify his lack of action. The lack of American casualties allowed Trump to choose from a wide variety of responses, including symbolic ones; the next Iranian provocation will not leave the American president with a similar luxury of choice.
Requiring a quick and surefire escalation, Iran’s next provocation will be designed to kill or more likely abduct American personnel, leaving Trump with few palatable choices and yet with the utter necessity of retaliation in force. Such a retaliation will have the highly undesirable side-effect of drawing Russia and possibly China into the conflict and internationalizing the American-Iranian confrontation. This may be a deleterious outcome for America, but it is precisely the goal of the Iranian leadership because it will place the Trump administration in the unenviable position of choosing a humiliating (albeit only tactical) defeat or an all out war during an election year and with the country divided as it had rarely been before.
Trump is, no doubt, a master at the game of chicken, but I doubt that he had ever played it against an opponent who has nothing whatsoever to lose; an opponent for whom swerving or stopping is simply not a an option any more than if his steering wheel had been locked in place and his brakes greased. Such an opponent has to be destroyed at a distance rather than allowed to keep barreling on towards you. Trump had the chance to do that when the Global Hawk was shot down. He chose to wait and trust that America’s vastly superior strength will make the other side reconsider. I hope he chose right; I believe that he did not.
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