Iran end-game

The world will look different after a messy armed conflict


Iran end-game
by Robert Grenier

Talk of war is in the air. In the US, one can hardly pick up a newspaper or magazine, or tune in to a public affairs show without encountering speculation about hostilities with Iran. The conservative right is fairly clambering for conflict, and even parties not normally associated with them - the Washington Post comes to mind - are just a step or two behind in demanding clear "red lines" to trigger the first salvo.

Those to the left of centre are notable for their hand-wringing passivity. They whine about the daunting risks and pallid potential gains of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but lack the moral conviction to make any compelling counter-argument.

Most prominent in the latter ranks is the Obama administration itself. It clearly has no taste for war with Iran, and just as clearly fears what the Israelis might do, but cannot say so, for fear of crippling itself politically. And so it assumes a seemingly safe middle ground, posturing, in coded language, that "all options are on the table", while hoping against hope that increasingly stringent sanctions and the thinly veiled threat of a conventional military strike will induce Iran to change course before Israel acts.

One reads the stories of firm messages supposedly being passed in private to the Israeli government, warning them against precipitate action - most recently, we are told, by General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What precise messages General Dempsey or others may have delivered we do not know, but it is implausible that anyone in the Netanyahu government, caught up in geo-political hysteria, would heed them. Why should they? What possible credibility can Obama have in making an argument in private that he fears to make in public? With a majority of the US electorate heavily convinced that Iran poses an imminent and mortal threat, and having done as much as anyone to promote this canard, how precisely would the US government sustain a policy of leaving Israel to its own devices after striking a blow ostensibly in its own defence? It could not; and Israel knows it.

Again, no one believes the US will strike Iran first. Observers instead wait to see whether and when Israel will touch off the conflagration.

Such observers are a bit slow on the uptake. In fact, the war between Israel and Iran is already underway, even if the methods employed on both sides are subterranean. No one doubts an Israeli hand behind the recent assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists; Israel itself will not deny it. And only the willfully naïve could doubt that recent terrorist incidents involving Israeli diplomatic personnel in India and Georgia are connected with Iran, particularly after the highly damaging evidence of direct Iranian complicity in similar, subsequent attack preparations in Thailand.

It is easy to see the motivations behind these actions on both sides, which are reminiscent of the war of assassination which took place between Israel and the PLO in various western capitals in the 1970s. It is harder to see their point, however, as nothing remotely productive or decisive can come of them. The question now is not whether there will be war, as we can already see its wasteful effects, but whether it will expand into the conventional realm, and draw in new participants.

It is prudent at the outset of any form of violent conflict to have some idea of one's objectives. In virtually all wars, the point of resorting to military means is to arrive at a more favourable, or at least more lasting and stable political arrangement. With Israel and Iran already in violent conflict and perhaps soon to expand the scope of the battle to involve the US, it might be worthwhile, at this early stage, to consider what such a new political arrangement might look like.

Any conventional war involving Israel, the US, Iran and perhaps other regional powers would be a limited one. Military efforts to degrade Iranian nuclear capabilities and defence infrastructure will surely not include an attempt at occupying the country, nor at forcibly removing its government. Even the US would not be capable of doing so, even if it were so inclined. Nor is war likely to induce either the Iranian regime or its people to capitulate on their nuclear programme, regardless of its ultimate intent. Instead, armed intervention is far more likely to swing the Iranians more solidly behind their government and its nationalist agenda, even if that agenda were temporarily set back.

Thus, if the point of conflict from the perspective of Israel and the West were to remove the eventual threat of Iranian nuclear arms, and military means on their own will not be sufficient to achieve such an end, what sort of political arrangement might armed conflict help to precipitate?

It seems reasonable to suppose that an Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear weapons capability would have at least three ends, in probable descending order of importance: To have the asymmetric means to counter overwhelming US conventional armed superiority in the Gulf; to achieve a greater degree of regional prestige and hegemony over the Gulf Arab nations; and to counter the Israeli nuclear threat. Thus, a new political arrangement in the region designed to achieve strategic balance without resort to nuclear weapons, and to win broad regional support would need to include a firm political governor on the unfettered employment of unilateral military means by the US; mutual assurances against internal interference and subversion designed to allay Arab fears of Persian dominance; and a comprehensive regional denuclearisation regime - which would perforce include Israel.

None of these might seem feasible or palatable now. But the world will look different after a messy armed conflict in the Gulf, and what might once have seemed unthinkable might well become imperative. Thus, if Israel and the US, the former actively and the latter passively, are willing to contemplate armed conflict with Iran in order to counter its nuclear intentions, they would do well to plan now for the eventual political adjustments which such a programme will necessarily imply, and to consider, while there is still time, whether they can live with them.

First published in

Robert Grenier is a retired, 27-year veteran of the CIA's Clandestine Service. He was Director of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center from 2004 to 2006.



Persian Gulf is the most important part of this article

by Siavash300 on

The guy can have the most intellectual discussion here but he is NOT allowed to change name of our Persian Gulf. It has been Persian Gulf and it will be Persian Gulf. It has to be said any time referring to our Persian Gulf. 

Payandeh IRAN 


The end game

by movazi on

This thing is all about change of regime and bringing Iran into the Western camp. That will complete the control of the Middle East by the Western powers (hence the objections by China and Russia). 

Any attack on Iran will be done only if it brings about such change, or they would have wiped out all of Iran's nuclear facilities by now.

Israel alone can do this in few days.  For those who say Iran is not Iraq, lets not forget that Iran/Iraq war had no winner, after ten years of fighting !!   And that fight was when Iran was flush with Shah's state of the art army.

Iran will eventually implode on it's own and the young generation will be pro western.  This is why also Russia nor China would like to see a nuclear Iran. 





by Abarmard on

What's wrong with you? The guy is saying that after a messy war (with Iran, killing people, murdering Iranians, destroying that country to diminish its rising power) and you are talking about a freaking name?

That's so sad that it's funny...


Mr. Robert Grenier, it is Persian Gulf

by Siavash300 on

But the world will look different after a messy armed conflict in the Gulf," Robert Grenier

The correct version of above statement is :  

But the world will look different after a messy armed conflict in the PERSIAN Gulf, 

Mr. Grenier please correct your statement whenever you refer to our Persian Gulf. Our Persian Gulf has a name and it is Persian Gulf, otherwise people thinking you're talking about gulf of Mexico.



maziar 58

by Abarmard on

Iran is not Iraq and Israel is no match for Iran. The issue here is whether US should allow Israel to continue on its mission to destroy nations around the region and where and when it will all end.

I will assure you that with mentality as such to have a strategy to war with those who are getting stronger, we are looking for a lot of wars in coming years and decades. Not acceptable policy and not sustainable strategy.

Israel is a liability not asset.


The USA is Morally and Financially Bankrupt,

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

Its entire US military budget of over $600 Billion is on loan, Its Goverment Prints money to run the country at unsustainable levels.  Its growth is so slow and its dollar so weak that the EU27 economies combined have surpassed the USA since 2008.  Today enjoying almost 9% larger economy and that is not going to change easily, if ever.  By 2014 the USA will be at a breaking point in terms of debt which will surpass the GDP significantly for the first time ever.  These are the fruits of a morally bankrupt system of government, one that doesn't abide by its own constitution, one that betrayed the late shah, one that supported extremists knowingly and chose put all her resources into working to spread extremism across the m.e. and n. africa for the last 33 years, one that still supports extremism and one that desperately needs a new direction to follow, yet does not have either the resources in terms of leadership or the power in terms of ideas, to make the necessary changes.  The US Military won't be able to fight the USA out of the difficulties it has and the only thing the USA has going for it at the moment is that at least the US government knows its military can't save it.  The next 5 years will tell us everything we need to know regarding the longevity of the US as the EU starts to dwarfs her financially.  I'm sure based on results at the highest levels the USA, they know perfectly well supporting extremism didn't work out equally well for the USA and EU who has used it to surpass the USA economically, using politics.

maziar 58


by maziar 58 on

Just picture........

If Israel did not destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor back then summer of 1980.

Where all this talks would've been all about?



There are exactly these kinds of views

by Abarmard on

That will take us to WWIII. If you think the war will finish Iran and Israel gets to live, you are miscalculating. Not to mention all the other uncertainties.

The interesting point about these kinds of thinking is that it originates from lack of political solution and diplomacy to make proper policies. And we thought that's why Israel is getting paid for.

With this mind set the wars will never end, as one enemy goes down the other pops up and we need to get to work to artificially lift Israel and down the others... It's neither sustainable nor realistic. This is simplistic at best.

Military power doesn't make a country powerful, its tactfulness, diplomatic strategies with innovation and information is what makes a country a super power. We may be able to diminish Iranian power but Iran is an idea rather than a country. The next day we have to deal with beasts bigger than Iran. Then what? That's why I think this mentality gets us to WWIII. Live by the sword and die by the sword.

No thanks.


Arash Kamangir

World is already messy!

by Arash Kamangir on

Since 1979 and khomeini's islamic revolution the world has been messy and now it is time to clean up the mess!