By Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, Canada:
Israel should hit Iran’s pipelines, refineries and ports, in addition to its nuclear facilities. Destroying its energy infrastructure would severely weaken Iran.
President Barack Obama recently provided Israel with a choice: Rather than bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities now, when success would be iffy at best, give diplomacy and “crippling” economic sanctions time to work. If crippling sanctions don’t work, Israel would still have the option to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities later, and with the promise of U.S. help.
But Israel, frustrated at the West’s tardiness in applying economic sanctions, has a third option that could have a high probability of success. In addition to attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel could unilaterally cripple Iran’s economy by bombing its commercial energy facilities. Doing so soon — rather than after the U.S. election, as Obama requests — might have added merits, too: For Israel, the likelihood of a shorter and much narrower war with far fewer Israeli casualties; for the West, less likelihood of a prolonged oil crisis that would trigger another global recession.
The Arab Spring provides a constellation of reasons that motivates Israel to act soon. Prior to the rebellions that broke out last year throughout the Middle East, Iran had one Sunni ally against Israel, the Hamas-run statelet of Gaza, and two Sunni-hating allies, the Allawite-led government of Syria and the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. In a war against Israel prior to the Arab Spring, at least two and possibly all three would have eagerly joined in the fight, presenting Israel with the dread prospect of a multi-front war.
Now, and for as long as the turmoil of the Arab Spring persists, many Israeli analysts believe Israel has partial immunity from attack. Syria’s Assad, who is winning his brutal war against the Free Syrian rebels, knows that his government could fall if he gives Israel reason to join the rebels, who have reportedly asked Israel for help in countering Assad. Syria, the most formidable of Israel’s direct neighbours, would almost certainly refrain from attacking Israel in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran.
Hamas, which broke with Assad over his brutality toward fellow Sunnis, which now supports the Syrian rebels, and which, as a result, lost its Iranian funding of $23-million per month, may also stay on the sidelines in a war between Iran and Israel. “Hamas will not be part of such a war,” a member of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza City told The Guardian this week. Even if Hamas does join the fight to maintain its anti-Israel credentials, it would be restrained, in deference to its new paymasters among the Saudis and other Sunnis — it is an open secret that the Saudis, who fear Iran as much as Israel does, are allied with Israel.
Even Lebanon-based Hezbollah would think twice about attacking Israel. For one thing, Hezbollah knows that Israel is unlikely to pull its punches in a new war with Hezbollah, as Israel did to its regret in their 2006 stalemate war. For another, Hezbollah’s Sunni neighbours within Lebanon have been increasingly vocal against Hezbollah’s support of Assad’s brutality, and may turn on Hezbollah should war between Hezbollah and Israel break out.
Israel knows that the fortuitous circumstances that it finds itself in could end abruptly. If Syria completes its crushing of its opposition soon, as many predict, the pre-Arab Spring status quo would have largely been restored. Iran would once again have Syria and Hezbollah as active allies.
The stars are also today aligned in Israel’s favour because of the U.S. election. In any attack by Israel on Iran, the U.S. government is sure to be supportive — Obama cannot afford to alienate the Jewish vote during his re-election campaign, even if, as most Israelis fear, he ordinarily works to undermine Israel.
Destroying Iran’s energy infrastructure — its oil and gas pipelines, its refineries, and its port facilities — would be relatively easy for Israel’s military and devastating for Iran, which depends on energy sales for some 80% of its export earnings and nearly 70% of its government’s revenue. Not only would Iran face bankruptcy without its energy economy, it would also face day-to-day chaos because Iran has a surprising dependence on natural gas and gasoline imports, making rationing a sudden necessity and daily life a hardship.
What might Iran do in the event of an Israeli attack? Prior to the Arab Spring, the West saw a high probability that Iran would attempt to close down the Strait of Hormuz, attack U.S. military installations in the Middle East, and launch terrorist attacks against Western targets. Israel prepared itself for a barrage of tens of thousands of missiles to be launched against it. But now, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the calculations may have changed. Without dependable allies, some believe Iran might be restrained in its response, launching its missiles in a long-distance attack on Israel and little else. Iran might now be far less likely to engage the U.S. overtly, making war short-lived and less disruptive to energy markets, and even if Iran did attempt to use the oil weapon by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. believes Iran would not succeed for long. While oil prices would rise, the Saudis and others promise to pump additional oil to minimize the disruption to world oil markets.
The upshot? Following an Israeli attack on Iran’s energy infrastructure as well as its nuclear installations, Iran would be weakened economically as well as militarily, possibly unable to rehabilitate the remnants of its nuclear program, certainly unable to finance the needs of its terrorist proxies. Even if Iran’s mullahs were able to hold onto power amid the chaos of war against their many political rivals, they would be in no position to rebuild their energy infrastructure without the U.S. first convincing Israel to refrain from future attacks. The price that Iran might have to pay for that U.S. intervention might be Iran’s agreement to finally sit down for meaningful negotiations with the U.S. aimed at dismantling Iran’s nuclear program.