(RIEAS Senior Analyst & Eurasian Liaison)
As it stands today the nuclear situation in Iran is still not crystal clear. There isn’t a clearly mapped transparent report of the nuclear sites of Iran. But that’s not because intelligence forces are hiding the information from international public eyes, nor because they do not have complete intelligence on Iran’s Nuclear Program. The issue is that even all the existing and so far declared nuclear achievements of Iran are covert. Which might make it difficult for forces to pin point the sites before bombing. So one of the obstacles is that bombing might bring major civilian loses.
Any attack has to be justified. Unfortunately there isn’t any intelligence agency, which could or would want to provide solid proof that Iran has a nuclear bomb. Some of these agencies assess that Iran might have their nuclear bomb ready by 2013-2014, meaning that an attack cannot be justified in 2012. Without defining a ‘Coalition of the willing’ there isn’t any conventional possibility of attacking Iran. If Israel attacks Iran, justifying its moves through diplomatic or verbal promises would not be enough. Even with the silent blessing of the international community it still does not appear clear-cut militarily. As international law articulates, unilateral engagement in war can be justified only if nations are using their forces to defend themselves. Thus, if there isn’t a possible threat until 2013-2014, how can a military attack on Iran can be justified? (1)
For one, the decision-making, religious elite of Iran are not spread around the country. Instead “the religious-political power” is concentrated in Teheran. Teheran in chess parlance is the “Queen”, a player intent on freedom of movement throughout the board leaving no options or “Gambit” for Iran’s opponents.
Besides bombing nuclear sites, bringing stability to the country is another difficulty that will come as part of the strategic package. Even if bombing forced the acting government to fall the question arises - is there truly strong oppositional power, which is reasonable and able to react promptly to stabilize the country? Even to form a new government over time? Or is the Iraq scenario in danger of repeating itself? If there was already strong oppositional power in Iran, the revolution would have already happened.
What does a destabilized Iran mean? A destabilized Iran will become a more transit friendly environment to smuggle illicit drugs, human beings, weapons and nuclear materials, which is yet another obstacle that will burden the entire region. Organized Crime Groups will be free to operate in the territory of Iran, even though for now they prefer to bypass it by going through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. In short, what defines success may not be the absence of challenges but instead its replacement. Iran as a direct route for any smuggling remains a great threat to Europe and their already full plate of fighting organized crime. (2)
To date even Teheran is not denying that their fight against drug trafficking is a challenge for them. While expressing hopes for Russia’s cooperation in fighting against drug trafficking, Minster of Interior of Iran Mustafa Najar said during his visit to Moscow that Iran is directly on the drug trafficking route from Afghanistan to Europe. (3) With destabilization and an incapable interim government taking over power it will be very difficult to fight organized crime with smuggling spiraling further out of control.
The issue of energy access and safety is even more problematic. With a military attack, who in the region can still obtain access? That question alone means that several powers cannot keep their positions silent on the matter. Only the United States and Russia will be able to engage in special operations together or separately in order to assure the safety of oil fields. This requires cooperation with the Azerbaijani and Turkmen governments given their proximity. Even Israel itself will have to ensure the safety of the oil pipelines from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan so that the flow to the Eastern Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan continues to supply it. This means that the relationship between Turkey and Israel relationship will have be reassessed. Turkey cannot possibly block the pipeline from Ceyhan Terminal to Israel since international companies through neutral maritime routes conduct transfer of oil. But again through destabilized Iran, the flow of oil through these Mediterranean pipelines can become jeopardized. (4)
Knowing these possibilities, Teheran might seek assistance from the outside in order to defend itself. If so the power in the best position to assure the status quo is China. China with its increasing hunger for energy is a strong candidate but in return, Teheran will have to offer enormous resources as a concession. (5) At the moment, the relationship between Moscow and Teheran is the most unpredictable. Russia already has its hands full with issues around the region. The latest analysis that concerns Moscow is that war in Iran will re-open the regional conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia to which Russia will be forced to. Although Azerbaijan stated that it has no intentions of reopening the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, the migration flow would exacerbate security along its borders. (6)
This also affects Turkey. Turkey will support Azerbaijan regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh issue however Russia moving en-route to Iran through Armenia further complicates matters. This means that Turkey would be burdened with keeping the Kurds in check not only in Northern Iraq but from displaced persons and refugees all along its Southern and Eastern borders. The only country that is loyal to the Kurds is Iran. Turkey will secure its borders, but the flow of refugees will nonetheless impact the overall security of the country. The impact is that Turkey might eventually become a bridge of migrants to Europe. This means that Europe now has a vested interest in not only energy but also what goes on at the borders of Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece.
When Israel attacked the Turkish Vessel “Mavi Marmara” on May 31st, 2010, the outcry was that the ship carried humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip. To date, an account of what the ship was carrying has not been fully disclosed by Turkey but given the diplomatic row that ensued it is fair to say that Turkey is hardly in a position to reverse course and endorse any action taken by Israel. (7)
This brings us full circle to where we started. With no one ready to take over the functions of government in Iran, the best anyone can do is to box in the queen leaving the option of the queen’s demise to that of its own action.
1)International Law and the United Nations: The Use of Military Force Keynote Address by Gareth Evans to Heinrich Boll Foundation, 5th Annual Foreign Policy Conference, The Role of International Law and the United Nations in a Globalizing World, Berlin, 24 June 2004
2)Terrorist Routes in Central Asia, Trafficking Drugs, Humans and Weapons –Rustam Burnashev-2005.
3)Ino TV, June 17, 2011, Россия и Иран активизируют борьбу с наркотрафиком [online] Moscow, Russia. Available at URL: http://inotv.rt.com/2011-06-17/Rossiya-i-Iran-aktiviziruyut-borbu [Accessed February 12, 2012]
4)Day.Az, September 8, 2011, Повлияют ли отношения Турции и Израиля на экспорт азербайджанской нефти? [Online] Baku, Azerbaijan, Available at URL: http://news.day.az/economy [Accessed February 12, 2012]
5)Ariel Farrar-Wellman, Robert Frasco, July 2010, China-Iran Foreign Relations [online], Available at URL: http://www.irantracker.org/foreign-relations/china-iran-foreign-relations [Accessed February 12, 2012]
6)Caucasus Online, February 11, 2012, Россия перешла к антиазербайджанским действиям [online]. Available at URL: http://kavkasia.net/Azerbaijan/article/1328943603.php [Accessed February 12, 2012]
7)Steven A. Cook, September 6, 2011, The end of Turkey-Israel relationship. [Online] Published at : CNN World
Available at URL: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/06/the-end-of-turkey-israel-relations/ [Accessed February 12, 2012]