Prior to the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Gulf had never been the center of conflict hot spots, or the root of terrorism and limited or overall wars. But after the success of the religious revolution to take control of the authority in Iran, the Gulf and the Middle East turned into the world’s hottest spot, and the main exporter of terrorism.
Why the shift? The main reason lies in the expansion-focused mentality of Iran’s new religious leaders to build a Persian empire that controls the Middle East region, and then can sit and negotiate at the table with great countries. Iran’s new strategy focuses on two, sometimes contradictory, factors: The first is Shiite sectarian, which constitutes Iran’s military arms in some countries in the Middle East (Sunnis), and the second is the accusation of the Arab countries (Sunnis) to give up on the Palestinian cause.
After its bloody war (eight years) with Iraq, Iran shifted to operate its military arms in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gaza district; thus, the features of its desired empire were exposed in the form of a crescent that begins in Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea and ends in Yemen on the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb; centered in Tehran and its vanguards in the Gaza Strip, to surround the Arab world and control it.
Iran is trying to support this “dream” empire through possessing nuclear weapons, countering all international agreements that prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and by relying on terrorism around the world through a number of its military arms. This has clarified the danger of Iran’s expansionist thinking on Middle East peace and international stability. Hence, the Arab-Persian confrontation was over the Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Bahraini and Gaza arenas; it then has developed into an American-Iranian confrontation over the possession of nuclear weapons and terrorism.
The American-Iranian confrontation sought by the American president, Donald Trump, is economic, as it is the least expensive for the American and Iranian people and the most painful for the regime. So he imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran to force it to enter into direct negotiations with the U.S. administration, to reconsider the nuclear agreement, and curtail its role in the region based on military arms and terrorism.
The first Iranian response to the sanctions came from a military record under a reduced ceiling after its inability to face the sanctions, and it brought down a U.S. military drone in an attempt to elicit a proportionate U.S. military response it needs in front of its people. Thus, allowing it to float the regime after exhausting sanctions exposed it to the Iranian people. But the administration in Washington refused to give the regime this opportunity; it absorbed the issue of shooting down the drone without any response, and only tightened sanctions on Iran.
The second Iranian response came after the failure of the objectives of the first response, when it raised the level of military confrontation and directed a barrage of explosive drones and missiles to the facilities of the company Aramco, targeting Saudi Arabia and global oil stability. The United States continued to remain silent while strengthening the defenses of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as of early October.
Washington’s options are numerous. Starting at the far unlikely end with its war machine in the Middle East, it can incinerate and flatten Iran and return it to the Stone Age. However, Washington does not want to destroy Iran, but rather return it to its internal borders and force it to abandon the idea of building an empire based on force and terrorism by forcing it into negotiations that will inevitably return it to its internal borders.
After dropping this extreme solution, we see the United States swing between two solutions: either to accommodate the Aramco strike by strengthening the deadly blockade on Iran, or to launch a limited and painful military strike against Iran that would benefit the regime by floating it in the domestic arena. The Iranian regime will market this as an offensive military threat to the nation, further strengthening its grip on its people.
In my opinion, Washington cannot digest the drone downing and the attack on Aramco by Iran without a military response. But the U.S. military response, if it happens, will be a painful and limited surgical procedure, so that the regime is not given elements to float.
The scale of balance between the Iranian and U.S. armed forces in the Gulf is missing because this balance is completely blurred in favor of U.S. forces.
At the maritime level, U.S. forces are capable of sinking Iran's naval fleet in record time. Similarly, the Iranian Air Force is unable to take off from its air bases, or at least to reach the airspace of the Gulf. Fighting by land is out of the question because the Americans are not going to enter Iran by land.
The threat of Iranian missiles remains, though their accuracy, and hence effectiveness, are still a matter of doubt. And the overwhelming electronic control of the U.S. military would allow it to immobilize Iran and damage its armed forces’ spinal cord within minutes through a cyber strike, completely paralyzing the command, control and communications centers of Iran’s Army. This will either prevent the use of these missiles or at least reduce their accuracy and prevent them from attacking their targets if they were successfully launched. Indirect terrorism is the only tool left in Iran’s hands that cannot be directly invested in a limited war and whose fate will be linked to the outcome of this comprehensive confrontation between the two sides.
Finally, Iran’s economic weariness due to sanctions and the upcoming U.S. election opens the door to a new situation between Iran on one hand, and regional and international powers on the other, and thus to a new Middle East that ends its chronic tragedies, with a promising future for its people.
Wehbe Katicha is a member of Lebanon’s Parliament and a retired Army general.