Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:35 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:35 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Tough with Iran?


Sam Roggeveen


17 July 2009 10:45

Vanessa Newby, a PhD candidate at the Griffith Asia Institute, writes:

Raoul Heinrichs' post on the potential for the US to get tough with Iran over the nuclear issue ignores a number of important points.

Post-election, Iran is still politically divided. The quiet on the streets is not necessarily indicative of the storm brewing at the top. Today, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will give a speech at Friday prayers in Tehran and Hossein Mir Mousavi is expected to attend. This action, along with many others which are simply not reported in the English language media (but can be found on the BBC Persian website, for example) indicates that the election issue has not gone away. 

To threaten Iran at this time would be incredibly counterproductive. If there is a chance that Iran can move towards political reform, however slight, Obama should take it. And thus far this has been his strategy. Note his swift response over Joseph Biden's comments on the potential for an Israeli attack on Iran.

In addition, irrespective of the current disquiet over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, there have always existed other reasons why Iran would be almost impossible to attack. Firstly, we don't know where to attack. US intelligence in Iran is widely known to be poor if not non-existent. The Iranian nuclear research program is highly decentralized so many of the air strikes would be little more than random attacks. Secondly, this would only serve to unite Iran against America and give Ahmadinejad the legitimacy within his own country that he currently lacks. Iranian nationalism is not something to be taken lightly — the events of the Iran-Iraq war clearly demonstrate this. Thirdly, Iran is protected by myriad mountain ranges and deserts making it almost impossible to launch a land attack without significant loss of life.

Raoul says Iran has no obvious targetson which to retaliate. But therein lies Iran's asymmetric strength in the region. The potential for Iran, with the assistance of Hezbollah, to wreak havoc on American interests in the Gulf and worldwide poses a significant threat. This threat includes the potential for attacking Israel from Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. Finally, let us not forget the risk that Iran may block the Gulf, threatening global oil supplies. Naturally, this would harm Iran as well, but we should not underestimate Iranian willingness to sacrifice its own interests to maintain its independence. We also don't know how Russia and China would respond. Russia has a long history of relations with Iran and Russian and Chinese support in these circumstances, covert or overt, could keep Iran defiant.

Last, but not least, with a destabilized Afghanistan and Iraq, the last thing the world or the US needs is a destabilized Iran. The Taliban is already using Pakistan for strategic depth in their military campaign. Should Iran allow it to do the same, this could lead to disastrous consequences regionally and globally for the US and its allies.