The Iranians are insisting on their right to enrich uranium and in the process are continuing to ignore increasing international concerns that they might be doing so in an effort to develop a nuclear capability. Should they succeed in deploying such a capability, at a minimum they will have created a nuclear stalemate with Israel and the U.S. in the Middle East, which would effectively provide them with an umbrella under which they would be able to engage in low-level and mid-level intensity operations aimed at destabilizing U.S. allies and transforming the region into a solidly anti-western bloc. This would in turn make Iran the major power in the Middle East and deconstruct the current global order from U.S. hegemony into a multi-polar balance of power system. Since the latter is exactly what the Russians and Chinese want as well, don’t look for either of them to work with the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council to stop the Iranians.
As for the Europeans, while they wish to balance U.S. power, they wish to do so in such a way as to create a U.S.-E.U. global hegemony, not a balance of power system that will only water-down their own claim to a share in global management. Furthermore, the Europeans have too much experience with the Middle East to lead them to desire a nuclear balance of power game in that region.
Given this, we can expect to see the Europeans and the U.S. work slowly to build international consensus against the Iranian nuclear program while simultaneously making the case for military intervention should international pressure fail to persuade the Iranians. Should military intervention become necessary, it is likely to be similar to the NATO air war against Kosovo, in which the U.S. and its NATO allies would systematically dismantle the Iranian government’s command and control, intelligence, military, and nuclear production capability. While a NATO-led ground operation is highly unlikely and probably unnecessary, a further important aim of the air war would be to isolate Tehran from regions dominated by Kurds, Azeris, and others in order to provide them with the opportunity to seize control of the oil resources in their regions and establish permanent independence. An air campaign might also induce the country’s disgruntled youth, who are thought to yearn to break out of the global isolation they find themselves trapped in by the country’s fundamentalist regime, to rise up against a government under increasing duress. In either event, the final outcome of an air war is likely to be a down-sized and far less dangerous Iran at a minimum.
Should the air campaign succeed, one more major supporter of terrorism in the Middle East will have been removed from the map. That would leave Hamas in a seriously weakened position, isolate Syria, and force the Egyptian regime to show its true hand.
The only resource that the Iranians have is Western resolve, which has been seriously undermined by the perception of chaos in Iraq. However, rising oil prices associated with continuing instability related to Iranian great power ambitions are likely to help change all of that. The optimum timeframe for an air campaign is spring 2007. By that time public impatience with oil prices is likely to have forced Western governments to act.