Thursday, May 10, 2018

Iranian options after the US violation of the JCPOA

Iran is home to a very strategic culture, it is a very young country with a population of about 80M which is 10x the population of Israel. Historically it has been the dominant cultural force in the region and even today it has huge oil reserves and a vast pool of technically trained labor. While the Qom regime has stilted the economic development of Iran with its emphasis on Islam over innovation and economic growth, Iran has largely recovered from the dire straits that followed the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.

The Iranian decision to enter the JCPOA was based on the costs associated with scaling up enriched Uranium production via its existing centrifuge technology. Given the low MBTF on the rotors, there the likelihood of producing enough HEU to be a credible deterrent was limited especially against the backdrop of the unreliable propulsion systems and poor INS capabilities. The Pu route which was tentatively explored in Arak, posed its own set of challenges and the leadership in Qom and Tehran were dissatisfied with the technical solutions at their disposal. The JCPOA was their way of ridding themselves of the bad technical baggage.

Like the Israelis, the Qom leadership feels extinction pressures from Sunni neighbors. With largely Sunni Pakistan having a nuclear bomb, and Israel claiming nuclear weapons state level abilities (without actual proof) - the Iranian threat perception is heightened. In that context - Bibi derailing JCPOA is not a strategic surprise to them by any means. They would have expected this from the instant that Trump began campaigning.

Even if Trump went into this with his fly unzipped - Iran did not. The Iranian establishment is too deeply rooted in reality to be unsettled by Trump's "unpredictability". Perhaps the most ominous sign of this sense of preparation is the "we will outlive Trump" comment from the Iranian leadership. This suggests Iran has a deeper knowledge of Trump's health record than most Americans who voted for him. While that may seem insignificant, it is important to note how fragile Trump's ego is when it comes to the release of information that damages his public facade of strength *. This small comment by Iran - was IMHO - a way for the Qom/Tehran regime to flash one of the aces in its sleeve.

As with most international observers, Iran knows that Trump (like Bush before him) has no real support. They know that none of his voters can or want to fight a prolonged insurgency campaign in "American Occupied Iran". Having fed his followers with hatred of George Bush and his Iraq War, Trump can't now expect them to support his desire to occupy Iran and hold the land with the blood of his own followers. The Iranians of course are well versed in insurgency tactics, having used them  with considerable effect to keep Sunnis on the back foot in Iraq in the last decade. The Iranians therefore know that the US will be unlikely to involve itself in an air attack on Iran unless there is a strong provocation (such as a departure from Iranian commitments to the JCPOA or a departure from the NPT).

This IMHO creates a major problem for Bibi's provocation strategy. Given that the Israel cannot actually hit Iran directly without US assistance, Iran has relatively little to do to resist Israeli provocations. The IDFAF strikes on IRGC operators and any SRBMs they bring with them are ultimately counter-productive as they do more to raise Iran's stature in the Islamic World as "a deadly foe of the dreaded Zionist" than they do to actually further the improvement of the physical security of the Israeli coastal belt.

Given that Iran has an attrition reserve - which Israel does not, Iran can simply afford to play a waiting game. IDF can only maintain high alert status for so many days before it loses military effectiveness and as every Popeye, Delilah, etc... costs money which Israel does not have infinite amounts of either - the strain will tell on Israel relatively quickly. Those missile attack imminent alarms will take a deeper toll on Bibi's political capital than they will on IRGC conflict reserves even in Syria itself.

And then there is the Palestinian angle. I was surprised to hear Abbas suddenly make open ended statements about the Holocaust. It was odd for the Palestinian leader to such a thing when all of the West Bank and Gaza depend on Israeli desalinated water supplies. And yet - he did it. My only guess here is that pro-Iran factions of the Palestinian population are raring to help Iran reach its strategic objectives.

If Iran does not respond "visibly" to Bibi's provocative gestures in Syria and internationally - I suspect Bibi's entire strategy falls apart. By that I mean - Bibi will not be able to get a political rise out of getting IDFAF to drop million dollar munitions on $20 Iranian clones of old Russian missiles.

A "visible" Iranian response would involve any of the following

1) distancing itself from JCPOA
2) distancing itself from the NPT

An "invisible" Iranian response would be one where Iran

1) accepts IRGC losses in Syria and by doing so expresses direct support for the Assad regime (which would be more than what Russia is currently doing for him).
2) continues to maintain low level military pressure on IDF in the region and degrades IDF surveillance and electronic warfare capabilities while keeping the Israeli population on its toes with constant incoming missile warnings (basically have various parts of Israel feel like they are in Beaufort Castle every hour of the day**).

Maybe I am missing something - but is there some reason why Iran won't be able to implement this? Perhaps my readers from Tel Aviv can tell me why I have missed. Is there some reason why Bibi's support inside Israel for anti-Iran agendas is stronger than the Qom/Tehran regime's support for actions against Israel?

* Trump is the only guy I know who will admit to having AIDS because he is afraid that some people will think he might possibly have you know - AIDS?... or something like that...

** And since the average Israeli will have no way of knowing if Bibi just made up the Iranian missile threat or if there is actually an Iranian missile coming their way - they will not know who to blame. They will however know that the whole point of the JCPOA was to prevent exactly this sort of thing from happening right now - and that Bibi put a lot of effort and money into getting Trump to violate the JCPOA.


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