Will there be war on Iran?

Can't crippling sanctions coupled with small-scale warfare do the job?


Will there be war on Iran?
by Ali Fathollah-Nejad

In 2002 Iran was added to the neoconservative-designed ‘Axis of Evil’ and thus declared ripe for US military intervention. The threat of war in the ‘greatest crisis of modern times’ (John Pilger in the New Statesman, July 12, 2007) was at its height in 2006-2007. With President Obama assuming office in 2009, a great hope for peaceful change emerged. But still, Washington’s mantra of ‘all options are on the table’ looms over the ongoing US-Iran conflict.

The launch of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the first of its kind in the British capital city, last October featured a debate between two in-house experts – Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, who lectures on the politics of West Asia, and Dan Plesch, who directs the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) – on the literally explosive theme of ‘Is war with Iran inevitable?’ Their answers could not have been more different as they discussed the military, political and economic dimensions of a possible war.

Militarily, both agreed, the US could easily destroy Iran. Plesch stressed that there is a huge gulf that separates the US from Iran in terms of military capabilities. While Israel would be able seriously to damage Iranian facilities, it could not finalise a military campaign. Also, the US military is hardly overstretched in the Iraqi and Afghan war theatres, since the Air Force and Navy are ‘almost unused’, said Plesch. Key bones of contention emerged around ‘the politics preceding the war cycle’, as Adib-Moghaddam put it: the economic dimensions of war and the multilayered fallout from an attack.

Adib-Moghaddam agreed that in the US, ‘there is an organised, systematic movement for war on Iran, which should not be underestimated’. But the Obama administration is realistic enough to fear the fallout of an attack since Iran has emerged as the most powerful regional player after the neoconservative wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. There is now an understanding in Washington that military success does not necessarily translate into strategic gain. Today’s ‘buzzword’ is ‘smart power’, instead of the ‘war on terror’, mandating aggressive diplomacy but not military action.

Today, explained Adib-Moghaddam, the US is aware that a war would unleash at the very least a protracted, asymmetrical regional war. Iran’s retaliatory capabilities would span from Hezbollah’s firing of Scud missiles on Tel Aviv, the targeting of US interests in Iraq and Afghanistan and the destabilisation of Shia areas in US-allied Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. However, Plesch responded, all these retaliatory measures are already factored into Washington’s military planning. He added that the Persian Gulf Arab rulers would feel quite confident in containing any domestic turmoil. Also, in the wake of a vast bombing campaign against Iran, out of self-interest, neither Hezbollah nor Hamas would be willing to stand with an ‘imploded’ regional power, he claimed.

One might add that a future major Israeli war on Lebanon or Gaza, which many experts at the turn of 2010-2011 saw to be in the offing, could be part of a strategy to weaken Iranian allies there so paving the way for a future war on Iran. But what if Iran, as another retaliation to an attack, blocked the Straits of Hormuz through which the bulk of the world’s oil supplies is shipped? Based on 25 years of scenario exercises, the US would be able to destroy and take over that sea lane, said Plesch, who has an extensive background in researching the US military.

While Plesch assessed that the forces for a peaceful resolution are too weak as the lack of diplomatic success illustrates, Adib-Moghaddam emphasised that the power of civil society to organise anti-war movements should not be underestimated. While the former favoured the notion of ‘military Keynesianism’ to argue that waging war could serve as means to save the US economy, the latter held that after the $1 trillion Iraq War, ‘another protracted war is simply not financeable’ and would plunge the world into deeper recession.

On the political front, opinions also diverged. Adib-Moghaddam stressed that an Iran war would be a unilateral one without international support, further exacerbating the US’ reputation. But for Plesch, such calculations would not matter that much as ‘the Iraq experience can only encourage those intent, such as Tony Blair, on a military confrontation with Iran to think that they can get away with it because they did so already once’.

Due to time pressures, other issues could not be sufficiently explored. What about Israel? Can it tolerate Iran attaining a ‘nuclear weapons capability’ that would deprive it of its nuclear monopoly and hence potentially from its ‘special relationship’ with Washington in the context of a strategic re-alignment of US policy in the region? Would the power of the so-called ‘Israel Lobby’ and the military-industrial complex in the US be strong enough to lure Washington into a war on Iran if Israel struck first?

Moreover, is the comprehensive sanctions regime on Iran that very much weakens its economy not a satisfying replacement for military action? And as we know from the press, there is already an ongoing small-scale war, which has been waged for many years, which includes (1) the sabotage of Iran’s nuclear programme through the assassination of leading Iranian scientists and cyber-warfare and (2) US and Israeli support for terrorist separatist groups in Iran’s strategically important border regions. In other words, can crippling sanctions coupled with small-scale warfare not do the job of weakening and containing Iran without risking the unpredictable consequences of a war, while the alleged threat posed by Iran provides the basis of massive US weapons sales to Iran’s wealthy southern neighbours?

The controversy proved to be refreshingly stimulating and contributed to a richer understanding of the ongoing crisis, helping us in the effort – shared by both panellists – to avoid another cataclysmic war in the region. In that vein, Adib-Moghaddam finally called on everyone to work towards dialogue and reconciliation, as ‘no war is inevitable’, thus making ‘a “cold peace” between the United States and Iran viable’. Plesch’s focus on the military prowess of the US as well as the Machiavellian sphere of politics is a valuable reminder of the utterly destructive potential of a war that would not limit itself to the bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities but would extend to a whole range of military and civilian infrastructures. The annual CISD conference on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is an indispensable element for a way towards regional peace and security. However, as was pointed out in a lively discussion that followed, wars are often kicked off accidentally. Indeed, that an incident in the heavily militarised Persian Gulf could be utilised as a casus belli by war profiteers who have overcome obstacles on the political scene is certainly not a matter of sheer fantasy. Urgent action is therefore required to lower the temperatures

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, author of

The Iran Conflict and the Obama Administration (in German, University of Potsdam Press, 2nd edn., 2011), is a PhD candidate in International Relations and Graduate Teaching Assistant at SOAS. Website: fathollah-nejad.com

* This article was first published in The Middle East in London, London: London Middle East Institute (LMEI), School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Vol. 7, No. 7 (February–March 2011), pp. 16–17.


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more from Ali Fathollah-Nejad

jahanshah why r u tolerating these attacks?

by Anonymous8 on

u have banned people for much less, but you are making special exception to fred and masoud. they are not saying anything about the subject, just a PERSONAL ATTACKS. read the libel, the PERSONAL ATTACK, it says the author "participates in iri propaganda gatherings" that means SPY!!! has penalty of death. why are you hypocrisy about this?

Jahanshah Javid

Part of the picture

by Jahanshah Javid on

Thank you Mr. Fathollah-Nejad for your thoughtful analysis. War/military action against Iran is unnecessary. It would unify the people against foreign aggression and strengthen the Islamic Republic.

However, one important aspect missing in anti-war literature is the behavior of the Islamic Republic itself. This is not a conflict that can be simply described as the Big Bad Western Imperialists against Innocent Iran.

The Islamic Republic has had many opportunities to reach a settlement without compromising its peaceful nuclear program. It still does. But instead of working towards a solution, it has simply decided to ignore international pressure.

We are dealing with madmen in the international community AND the Islamic Republic. Skipping the faults and weaknesses of the latter will not show us the complete picture.

By the way, if you are a member of CASMII, congrats. Fighting against war is a noble cause. But don't forget the enemy at home.


Ali must be telling the truth, nobody can even argue it

by Anonymous8 on

instead they attack the messager. that says all you need to know about "logic". the professor is shamelessly dodgin issue from libel toward blogger. he says "truth matters" but "assertions" about people dont have to be proven. double standard and hypocrisy. so sad for this site and new managemnt.




Same everything 3 years ago

by Fred on

Message & messengers

by Fred on

Quite recently I was reading a long speech on the benefits of democracy and how and why it is the most preferred method of governance and what a miserable system tyranny is.

Having had neglected to read who was the author; the thought of reincarnated Thomas Jefferson crossed my mind. Lo and behold the author was none other than one Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Bahremani.

In this day and age the messenger is as important as the message if for nothing else it gives some contextual property to the message.


Masoud Kazemzadeh

Evidence on Rape of Females in Iran's Prisons

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

Among the myriad forms of torture is the rape of young daughters of political prisoners as well as the torture of young sons in order to force confessions (and perhaps gather information). Helmut Szimkus, the German engineer who spent five years (1989-94) in Evin Prison on charges of spying for Iraq (which he later admitted to when freed) was witness to many such incidents of torture. In an interview he granted to the German magazine, Focus, Szimkus reported: "One time these guys (the torturers) raped a nine-year-old girl .... The parents had to watch ... the father shook and rattled so badly that he could no longer sign the espionage confession they put before him."1 Szimkus added, "Once they took on a boy. Do you know how an innocent child screams when he is tortured? His parents were right there in the next cell, it drove them up the wall."

A report published by the Human Rights Group of the British Parliament (House of Commons) quotes from Mr. Sarmast Akhlagh Tabandeh, a former prosecutor of the Revolutionary Guards in the city of Shiraz, as saying:

The general rule is that virgin girls have to be sexually raped prior to execution. The prison administrators write the names of the Revolutionary Guard members of the firing squad as well as the names of administrators present on pieces of paper and a lottery is held among these names.... The night before execution, a sedative drug is injected into the virgin girl and the winning Guard would rape her.... The day after the execution the prison Shariah judge sends a marriage certificate along with a box of pastries to the family of the girl.2


A good read... A highly credible assertion

by comrade on

I can't wait to see if IC's new management will be able to clamp down on the kindergartenish attitude of some commenters and their flagging (and suspiciously self-flagging) activity.

Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.



u need to take some classes urself PROFESSOR

by Anonymous8 on

u are missing some very basic brain functions.


just because YOU SAY IT, does not make it 100% right. its only as right as anybody elses UNPROVEN LIBEL ABOUT A SPECIFIC PERSON (this blogger). thats as good as anybody saying anything. this is why there are rules againt PERSONAL ATTACK. if blogger answer you or not, that not the point. many mental patients just want attention. you are still making PERSONAL ATTACKS WITH NO PROOF. it is against rules. you are too biased to see things from an even point of view. whever you don't like is "100% false", and whatever you like is "100% true". i cant believe u r allowed to teach people's young kids.

Masoud Kazemzadeh

Logic 101

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

Anon 8,

You lack basic logic. Let me teach you a few things about logic.

If I made a false assertion, then you need to make an argument based on logic and evidence. If instead of arguments and logic, you use fohsh khar madar, then you are making vulgar personal attacks. But if you call me a "liberal," or a "democrat," you are using adjectives.

The subject is this: Is the author of this article a member of CASMII? Either "yes," or "no." And does CASMII allow its members to participate in IRI’s propaganda gatherings? Either "yes," or "no." These are NOT personal insults. These are basic assertions which are either true or false.

The person who used the "flag as abusive" was ABUSING the feature. It is NOT the role of the administrator of this site to censor basic factual assertions.  The person who used the "flag as abusive" wanted to censor basic FACTUAL information.



deer professor logic,

by Anonymous8 on

what you and fred say is also 1000% false. but this doesn't matter to you. you say it's a factual assertion. ididnt know assertions are facts!
but that is a personal attack and against the site rules. u r fine with being attacked, so my attack on you can stay. but others may not be. r u "civil" enough to allow site rules to be equal application?

Masoud Kazemzadeh

What you asserted about me is 100% false. Period.

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

Anon 8,

1. I am a civil libertarian; therefore, I defend your right to make false assertions. For example, you can write that the earth is flat. You are 100% wrong. And as civil libertarian, I defend your right to write utterly nonsense and falsehoods.

2. What you asserted about me is 100% false. Period. Only an utterly ignorant person would believe your garbage.

3. Truth does matter. You lie. I defend your right to assert lies. And I correct your lies.

4. The readers of this site are smart and can judge for themselves. Censorship is not the solution. Free exchange of ideas is.

5. It is a FACT that the fundamentalist terrorist regime has engaged in mass rape of male and female political prisoners since 1981.



Masoud Kazemzadeh

“flag as abusive” should NOT be used to suppress truthful statem

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

"flag as abusive" should NOT be used to suppress truthful statements. The "flag as abusive" should only be used for personal attacks containing FALSE and vulgar insults.

Fred’s post contains 2 sentences:

1. It would have been the right thing to do to mention that this author is a board member of the CASMII lobby.

2. A lobby which many of its members do participate in IRR, the Islamist Rapist Republic propaganda gatherings

None of the sentences contain ANY vulgarities or false personal attacks. Fred’s sentences contain assertions which are either true or false. One should challenge the accuracy of Fred’s assertions instead of censoring those assertions.

Let me repeat:

1. Is it true or false that the author is a member of CASMII. If the author of the article is not a member of CASMII, then Fred’s assertion is false and we, the readers, should be made aware of the truth. If the author of the article is in fact a member of CASMII, why in the world this factual information should be censored???????????

2. Either members of CASMII have participated in IRI’s propaganda gatherings or they have not. This is a simple factual assertion. If CASMII opposes participation of its members in the IRI’s official gatherings, then this information is valuable for the readers of this site. If on the other hand, CASMII members participate in the official gatherings of the IRI, then why in the world this information has to be censored?????????

I do not think that ANY sane and honest person would challenge the FACT that the fundamentalist regime has systematically engaged in mass rape of female and male political prisoners since 1981. The rape of male and female political prisoners is a FACT and it is the duty of all those who care for human rights and basic human decency is to publicize these gross human rights violations of the Iranian people. Why in the world should the administrator of this site, suppress this FACT???????

In conclusion, the person who flagged this comment, has to present logical arguments and not demand censorship of what is or is not FACTUAL assertions. The "flag as abusive" should not be abused when a person lacks logic and evidence.



you're right fred....

by shushtari on

i figured that much....

when I read 'us and israel are killing iranian scientist and supporting terrorist groups...' I knew who was signing this guy's checks !


of course there is no mention of the mullahs' fault in all of this.....their creation of multiple terrorist groups as well as the brutal suppression of iran's people and their continued plunder of iran's wealth

I for one would never want iran to be attacked, however, no one should doubt the effectiveness of a single 1000lb bunker buster bomb on the top 100 mullahs and murderers!

maybe this guy is related to t. parsi LOL 


Thanks Fred for the info.

by vildemose on

Thanks Fred for the info.


CASMII lobbyist

by Fred on

It would have been the right thing to do to mention that this author is a board member of the CASMII lobby. A lobby which many of its members do participate in IRR, the Islamist Rapist Republic propaganda gatherings.