Does Iran want war?
We are told that Tehran wants to avoid provoking all-out conflict in the six weeks before Donald Trump leaves office, but Iran is so heavily invested in its war-making activities on so many fronts that it appears to have lost all perspective of how provocative its default regional posture is. The regime claims it wants peace, while firing rockets at Jeddah; it is innately incapable of responsible behavior.
On both sides of the Lebanese border, all forces are mobilized for all circumstances if their leaderships order them to strike. Iran’s proxies in many states are ready to act in unison when called upon. This is a terrifyingly dangerous situation. The slightest miscalculation could plunge us into war. As one veteran Western diplomat told me: “When we are dealing with mad people in all directions, we must be ready for anything.”
Iran’s defiance of the entire world has brought it to the brink of bankruptcy and humiliation, even among Shiite populations throughout the region who have come to regard Tehran as an interfering menace.
Hassan Nasrallah warns that “the axis of resistance should be in a state of high readiness to respond twice as hard in case of any American or Israeli folly.” As the Hezbollah leader belligerently provokes Armageddon, there are rumors he’s already hiding out in Iran, knowing himself to be Israel’s No. 1 target, and aware that when he finally succeeds in provoking Israel, Iran’s proxies and the civilian populations around them would be annihilated. Amid swirling reports about plots and assassination threats in Beirut, the British Embassy is evacuating families of diplomats and the US has removed half its staff in Baghdad in anticipation of threats.
Paradoxically, indications that the Biden administration could countenance a return to the 2015 nuclear deal could be a further destabilizing factor. Israel and the GCC states certainly don’t want a nuclear Iran, but Biden should acknowledge that signing a deal that doesn’t address Iran’s missile threat or its transnational paramilitary armies will only embolden Tehran and award it with billions of dollars more resources with which to wage regional warfare — particularly as key provisions limiting Iran’s enrichment activities expire around the end of Biden’s first presidential term.
With Trump discussing the targeting of Iranian nuclear sites, Netanyahu knows he will never again have as favorable circumstances for “bold” action than the final weeks of the slavishly pro-Israel Trump administration. Facing new elections and perhaps jail, could Netanyahu reinvent himself as a wartime leader as a final desperate throw of the dice? There are many occasions when I sincerely hope to be proved wrong.
Should we take Iran’s threats of retaliation for the killing of Mohzen Fakhrizadeh seriously? Iran threatened a “devastating response” to the killing of Imad Mughniyah. It threatened to hit back after previous strikes against nuclear scientists and military targets. We were promised that the world would tremble at the response to the killing of Qassim Soleimani. Is Iran the dog that barks and barks and barks, but is too cowardly to bite?
The Revolutionary Guards have become a domestic laughing stock after ludicrous claims that the attack on its scientist was conducted by remote control, even though eyewitnesses reported a gunfight involving possibly 10 assassins. The internet in Iran has been flooded with mocking memes about killer robots and psychotic Tesla self-drive cars. Iran’s defiance of the entire world has brought it to the brink of bankruptcy and humiliation, even among Shiite populations throughout the region who have come to regard Tehran as an interfering menace.
A phone recording has emerged in which a Kata’ib Hezbollah leader threatened a senior Iraqi army commander that he would cut of his hand if the army acted to implement the law and remove paramilitary banners for militias that are supposed to be integrated into the armed forces. Iran’s proxies see themselves as bigger than the Iraqi and Lebanese states, and outside of their laws.
In Israel, the West and the GCC, many political constituencies vocally argue that the only way to neutralize the Iranian threat is through decisive military action. Whether or not they are correct, this is manifestly an existential problem for Tehran, which — if it wants to avoid signing its own death warrant — must take urgent action to head off the prospects of such a strike.
In the fable, Leila falsely claims that the wolf is coming to eat her. Finally, everybody ignores her cries when the wolf arrives and devours her. After decades of Hezbollah and the ayatollahs saber-rattling about war with Israel, will we wake one morning to discover that Israel’s war machine has already devoured its prey?
There have recently been impressive efforts to make peace between neighboring states in the region, with a renewed focus on solving decades-old problems and prioritizing peace and development. Such moves leave Hezbollah and Iran more isolated than ever.
If the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and others are willing to countenance peace, is it not time for Tehran to recognize that the best means of defending itself is by not perpetually provoking conflict?