Iran Gets Nukes – This is one of the most likely outcome due to the weak action by the Obama administration and the international community. With Russian and Chinese backing, along with suspected North Korean technological advice, Iran will be able to create its first nuclear weapon before this new decade is out, most likely by 2015. Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons will be one of the most drastic geopolitical changes in the Near and Middle East since the Iranian Revolution 30 years ago. No longer just a regional superpower, Iran will be able to start dictating terms and spread its influence farther with a deserved credibility of a world power. Israel would be under a new, constant threat of attack by Iran's anti-Semitic leadership, probably driving it to push the US and Europe for extending its missile shield into the Middle East. If European leadership doesn't chance, it will most likely attempt to increase its standing with the new player with trade deals and other political gifts. The United States would try to increase the sanctions on Iran, at minimum. If hawks have the ear of the White House, a blockade or some type of physical show of power may be considered. But with Iran's oil industry, its ability to strike at almost any Western target in the Middle East and its increased conventional military, the world will probably have to learn to live with a new, radical and imperial-driven nuclear power.
Israeli Strike – It is my opinion that this is the most likely of outcomes if the current path is kept. Israel had shown over its history that its willing to do whatever it takes to defend itself from threats physical and potential. It came out around President Obama's inauguration that President Bush had repeatedly denied the Israelis any material or moral support for a strike on Iran. There are stories from as far back as 2005 that the Israeli Air Force is practicing flying the 1200 miles it would take to strike the main Iranian nuclear sites. It's almost guaranteed that the Israelis are ready to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites into oblivion on the first sign of a successful completion of a nuclear warhead. The aftermath of a strike are uncertain, but it can be reasonably guessed that Iran will, at minimum, order Hezbullah and Hamas to strike at Israeli targets en mass. It's less likely that Syria, Iran's military and political ally, will get involved, but it does not mean that it won't. The weaker the retaliatory position of the United States at the time of an Israel strike, the more likely Iran will take the opportunity to cripple Israel as much as it can. The success of any Israeli strike will be based on its human intelligence within Iran, which I believe, based on Israel's much more ruthless intelligence service, to be much better than that of the CIA's.
Iran Backs Down – On a scale of 1 to 10, from most likely to least likely, I'd give this resolution a 3.5. While it's not impossible for the Iranian leadership to recognize that their pursuit of nuclear arms is harming their ability to interact with the rest of the political world, its not in the best interest of the radical Islamist and the Iranian military to give up on the prestige of having nuclear weapons. Iranian designs for the Middle East are based on Iran's ability to escape any catastrophic retaliation for their actions. For example, the Iranians have backed numerous terror groups and native Iraqi militias to harass and kill American soldiers in Iraq. The military has present tons of evidence to prove this, but even with the proof, Iranian assets were barely touched. There were sanctions, diplomatic punishments and the loss of some influence in Iraq, but overall, Iran has gotten much stronger and bolder in their moves. Unless there is a major change in Iranian leadership, like the purging of the Revolutionary Guard's interference in civilian matters, the Iranians will not back down from their goal of attaining nuclear arms.
Israel-American Strikes – While the Israeli strike is the most certain of all actions, America joining in on the strikes is not as likely. Depending on the political situation, America may abstain from participating military, but its almost certain (unless the President is a extreme leftist or a isolationist libertarian) that the US would provide some kind of logistical support. The ability of American participation in the strikes will be based on Israel's trust of the American government as well as the position of American forces. If the US has come to terms with Iranian nuclear ambitions, it will most likely have moved forces out of the immediate area (save support troops in Iraq) and be less able to participate without having to use long-distance bombing. If the US has kept with its current policy of isolation and military preparedness at the time of an Israeli strike, it will have at least once carrier in the area and be able to coordinate. Like most modern American military choices, it will come down to the resolve of the president and the political situation at home.
American Invasion – The least likely of all outcomes. America is currently in no position to mount an invasion of Iran. The American public is tired of occupations and would quickly resent an occupation of Iran, even if it is based on years and years of evidence of Iranian nuclear wrongdoing. Iran is twice the size of Iraq with more difficult terrain and a much larger and stronger army. Even with the backing of its Iraqi invasion allies (including all 49 members of the Coalition of the Willing), the ability of American troops to successfully occupy Iran is pretty low. America does not have enough troops, the political backing nor the reinforcement ability to hold Iran longer than a year or more without having significant problems with its allies. Such a short time span would not lead to a successful nation-building mission unless a miracle shadow government is already planned by the Iranian dissents, waiting for the US to topple the mullahs.
Green Revolution – While there is much hope for revolution in Iran by the democratic dissents of the Green Revolution movement, a lack of true international support has left them with little ability to take hold of any Iranian institutions without being beaten back and executed. This outcome is above the likeliness of an American invasion, but well below Iran backing off its nuclear ambitions. There simply isn't enough political momentum at the moment for a successful overthrow of the theocracy or a chance for reformists to take power, although that is more likely than a political overthrow. In fact, the more likely internal political scenario would be a total transition from the semi-democratic structure of the Islamic republic to a straight out military dictatorship run and enforced by the Revolutionary Guard and blessed by hardline mullahs.
Total Regional War – Around a 4.5 to a 5 on the likely scale, this worst-case scenario comes in the aftermath of an Israeli strike. If American influence and power is waning to the point of out-and-out weakness, Iran will take the opportunity to strike hard at its mortal enemy with all it has. Its Syrian ally, along with its connected terror groups in Lebanon and Palestine, would expand its retaliation to cripple Israel's ability to project its power in the region. Air and ground-to-ground missile strikes, terror attacks and a possible invasion attempt would sent a strong message to other Western powers as to the willingness of Iran to take on its enemies. Like other scenarios involving America, the political atmosphere will be a major factor in dictating its actions. Unlike the invasion scenario, America is better equipped to fight a defensive war than an offense one. Forces in the Mediterranean area could strike fast and hard at Syrian and Hezbullah targets while Iraqi and American forces would be able to resist any Syrian attempt to invade. While Iran could try to invade Iraq, that would put its position as big brother to the Shia in jeopardy as not every Shia is keen on seeing Iranian overlords rule its new, hard fought liberal democracy. The possibility of American air strikes and naval strikes on Iranian forces both on the sea and in Iranian territory would depend on the strength and military advantage of the Iranians and the actions of the Iranain proxies near Israel. The war would be devastating to Israel with military losses reaching at least 1000 if Syria attempts an invasion. Civilian losses would be almost as large, if not larger, due to the choice of Iranian proxies to target civilian areas. If Iran-Syria achieve an upper hand and America is unable or unwilling to bring a large amount of force to its defense, Israel may be forced to unleash its hidden nuclear arsenal and the world would witness its first nuclear attack since Nagasaki. We can only hope that this scenario, no matter how likely it may be, never comes to pass because the use of nuclear weapons on Arabs and Muslims, no matter how legitimate the use, would put back the ability for peace between Western civilian and Muslim-led nations back to the starting point.
ICYMI: Jeffrey Ostler, The Lakotas and the Black Hills - At Amazon, Jeffrey Ostler, *The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground*.
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