I’m up early today so, although I’d have preferred my first post to be something more thoughtful, I’m just going to go ahead with it. As people with only a minimal amount of understanding of terrorism or guerrilla warfare know, often the attacks are strategically aimed at provoking a overreaction from the enemy. Indeed, the FLN in Algeria once brutally murdered an entire village of Europeans in the country in hopes of getting the French to respond with indiscriminate violence on the Algerian population, which they did. No doubt ONE of Al-Qaeda’s goals with the 9/11 attack was to plunge the United States into the Middle East indefinitely. The logic in this is that the enemies response will win over new recruits to the guerrilla/terror movements, by alienating their target population (native Algerians for FLN and the Arab and wider Muslim world for AQ). The FLN was extremely successful at doing this during the French occupation; many disparate groups allied together around hatred of the French mainly because of these indiscriminate attacks. Once the French left, they returned to fighting each other. AQ was less successful in Afghanistan at least initially, presumably because most Muslims could see our initial response was justified, but once we went into Iraq this certainly was the case.
Which brings me to Iran, unlike the two examples above, a state actor. As has been adequately covered elsewhere (don’t know how to link look at Jim Lobe, March Lynch, Steve Walt, and other blogs along with original pieces), the chorus calling for military action against Iran. As with Iraq (h/t Walt, Lobe), parts of the moderate FP establishment, such as CFR via Haass, Takeyh, and Simon, have begun calling for action. Around two weeks ago, reports started coming out from news sources such as Newsweek that cited annoymous Obama Administration sources saying military action was back on the table. JCS Mike Mullen then confirmed this last Sunday on Meet the Press.
This got me thinking that the Iranian regime, especially certain influential parts of it, would (privately) welcome, perhaps even try to provoke, surgical air strikes by the U.S. or Israel. Note, they certainly do not want a U.S. invasion as this would certainly result in the end of their regime. Air strikes, on the other hand, by even the rosiest estimates, wouldn’t have disastrous effects for them. At most they’d set the nuclear program back a few years.
At the same time, as many including the U.S. Secs. of State and Defense have both noted, Iran has increasingly become a military dictatorship, a product of the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war who know hold much sway in the regime. An attack on Iran would enable them to accelerate this process. It would also silence the growing domestic opposition from all corners of the country. In fact, everyone would rally around the regime (as almost all nations do after they’ve been attacked think of people still mad about 2000 election and then 9/11 happened), and allow the regime to blame all their shortcomings on the “great Satan,” the regimes favorite pastime.
Moreover, it would make it harder for the leaders of the Arab States to balance the growing Iranian power because their domestic audiences would be even more sympathetic to Iran and even more anti-Israeli and/or U.S.. Support for enforcing the U.N. sanctions or even stronger unilateral ones, as some notable states have signed on to do in the past few days, would disappear. Numerous states that had agreed or might have otherwise agreed to enforce them would surely refuse to do so. Finally, as noted elsewhere (don’t know how to link stuff yet any help would be great), Iran would surely want to acquire nuclear weapons after they’d been attacked. Furthermore, it would be impossible to try and convince the international community (or Iran for that matter) that they were acquiring them for aggressive reasons. Surely they’d seem justified in the eyes of most if they had recently been attacked.
So, in final analysis, it seems that it would work in Tehran’s favor if Israeli or the U.S. attacked its nuclear program. Paradoxically, this may the only issue where the hardliners in all three countries are in agreement on.