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What is going on with Iran?

arab spring geo-politics iran middle east nuclear power politics Jan 03, 2012

During the holiday slow-down at the end of 2011 I was asked many times, "What is going on with Iran?" Well, that is a complex question;one that requires a long answer. Iran is playing the geo-strategic board game of posturing and positioning. Hard-liners within the government are going forward with objectives to achieve what is believed to be the respect that has been denied them. The goal for Iran is to become a powerful presence in a region that has been dominated by U.S. military presence. Iran sees itself as surrounded by the United States. Until U.S. fighting forces withdrew from Iraq, there was a sizable military on its western border. On its eastern borders there are ISAF forces in Afghanistan and there is a visible presence in the Gulf where U.S. Naval ships patrol the oil corridor in the Strait of Hormuz. While playing the nuclear card will be counterproductive, it seems that Iran is willing to roll the dice in the hope that leverage can be gained. Deeper sanctions are sure to follow, but the elite will be able to continue without consequence. It will be important for the United States to maintain a steady hand as Iran plays its cards. However determined the hard-liners are to raise Iran's prestige, it is improbable that they will play the card that will guarantee a military retaliation from the U.S. And so, the international relations game in 2012 continues. 


Previous comments made:

C. Davis  

I agree with this perspective, and I’d like to add a comment about military engagement with Iran. I am speaking from a US-centered perspective.

The “old” wars, the “cold” wars, and the “post-Cold” wars may not be economically viable tools in the 21st Century. Even with all the advances in counterinsurgency and stability operations over the last decade, the results of war have been found unsatisfactory by contemporary standards. It’s too expensive. I’ve run across the concept of using “targeted killing” as a tactic, which means that assassinations would be used as a sort of preventive action for conflict management. I think this has been done a lot over the course of human history, but these days such a policy is tantamount to openly-acknowledged state-sponsored terrorism. Of course, the incidents themselves may not be acknowledged. Indeed the actors may not even realise what interests compel them.

Would you consider “targeted killing” to be a new facet of warfare? There have been a lot of deaths in the Iranian nuclear industry lately. Like all acts of terrorism, it may not matter who actually did the killing or why: interested parties will use media and public opinion to leverage events for their own interests. Is it possible for citizens of representative governments, as individuals without privy access to the secrets of statecraft, to recognize war when they see it?



The landscape for the U.S./Iranian relations have taken a dramatic change as a result of the assassination of the nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan on January 11. While it remains unclear “who” is responsible for the killing, what is apparent is the “why”. The threat of a nuclear weaponized Iran is driving the agenda in the Middle East and strategic interests are dictating the tactical game plan.

Would I consider targeted killing a new facet of warfare? No, only because it is not new. Targeted killing has been a central aspect of every governments security apparatus for centuries. What is different about today is the rapid availability of information, examination, and scientific analysis. Given the rapid response, the media and public opinion ARE becoming actors in the war game.

You are correct in your inquiry about whether citizens who do not have access to secrets of statecraft can well interpret the events as displayed on television or through the internet. Which is why the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made his public statement of indicting the United States for the killing. It was theater for public consumption.

The danger now is whether Iran will deploy a terrorist cell in retaliation. If such a move is made against an Israeli target or a U.S. target, the tensions could become uncontainable. And that is a serious threat to global security on a number of fronts. Heightened conflict between Iran and the U.S. would certainly bring about regional instability and economic consequences that could jeopardize the fragile economic recovery that is essential to international progress.

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