Confronting Iran: What’s next?

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The hotheads in Tehran have done it again! After attacking four oil tankers off the coast of the Emirates near the Strait of Hormuz and oil installations in Riyadh and Yanbu, their militias have bombed the US embassy in Baghdad. Large amounts of Hezbollah-made illegal drugs have been found in pilgrimage buses coming from Lebanon.

What’s next? It is not a secret that the Revolutionary Guards command hundreds of thousands of followers in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, in addition to hundreds of sleeping and active cells in the Gulf states.

As usual, the mullahs avoid direct confrontation. In the last four decades, they have built powerful bases inside Arab neighbors. These include Sunni and Shiite terrorist organizations and groups like Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Al-Nusra, Al-Jihad Al-Islami, Hezbollah, Anssarallah (also known as Houthis) and countless others in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

In its proxy wars with the US and its allies, as well as in supporting Bashar Assad in Syria, Iran has largely avoided human loses of its own. Instead, they put Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis in the line of fire. In this way, they can also disclaim responsibility. Host countries take the punishment instead. When Hezbollah attacks Israel, the Israelis attack the militia in Lebanon or Syria. When the Houthis attack Saudi Arabia, we attack them in Yemen. The Iraqi militias attack American bases in Iraq, so the US attacks them in Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi. Iran wins either way and its homeland stays out of harm’s way.

No more! This time, US President Donald Trump seems to have had it. He has warned Tehran that they will be held accountable for their militias’ actions. I hope this means that America will avenge any attack on its soldiers and interests inside Iran. If that’s the message, Tehran is not listening! Its leadership has been escalating aggression without immediate response.

Why? It could be a trap! America and its allies might be waiting for more incriminating acts. Or maybe we are simply not ready, yet.

The US Fifth Fleet has just arrived in the Gulf. Gulf states have just given American troops full accommodation. Three summits are to be held next week in Makkah for the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. High on the agendas are Iran’s misbehavior that has been condemned during previous summits.

In addition, the holy month of Ramadan is not the time for conflicts. Diplomacy may not yet have run its full course. Cool heads in Washington and Arab capitals might still hope against all odds that wisdom will prevail in Tehran. Trump’s invitation to Persian leaders is still valid. Seeing how serious he is, they could choose the North Korean way and give him a call.

They did it before, when Ayatollah Khomeini accepted a UN peace initiative to end the eight-year destructive war with Iraq in 1988. After a million deaths and injuries, in addition to hundreds of billions dollars in cost, it finally dawned on the Supreme Mullah that he could not win that one! He cut his losses and ceased fire ... and then died!

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in the same corner. He cannot win this confrontation. His project to gather the Middle East under his wings has been met with powerful resistance. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates have forged a military alliance with ten Arab, African and Asian countries to spoil his grand project. They are joined by more than 40 Arab and Muslim countries in the Islamic Military Alliance, led by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Hopefully, Khamenei will follow his predecessor the Supreme Leader and quit.

For all of the above reasons, the US and its allies might be waiting for such a move, while getting ready for Plan B. That is, if Iran chooses the hard way, then it makes sense to wait for the right moment to teach it a good lesson, once and for all.

In my opinion, we need to do what we did during the first phase with Saddam’s forces in 1991 - a full aerial attack that neutralizes Iranian military ports and airports, missile bases, radar, air force, marine fleet, command centers, as well as all nuclear facilities. At the same time, we must hit all the nerve centers of Iranian militias in the region, avoiding as much as possible collateral damage.

This is specially a tough call, since terrorist groups mingle with people and hide among them. Hideouts of leaders and arms storage and manufacturing facilities in Lebanon and Yemen are situated inside cities and towns. Onsite media groups and Western liberal press and organizations are more than happy to report any causalities - civilian or otherwise - demanding immediate ceasefire. The UN will show its concern and send its emissaries to short-circuit our response before the conclusion of any attack.

Hopefully, this time we will finish the job, regardless of naive objections, turning Iran into a peaceful, normal member of the world community. Then, we will help them focus on rehabilitating their nation into the civilized force that its people and the world need it to be.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi


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