The Perils of Striking Iran

In the winter of 2002-03, supporters of regime change in Iraq were upbeat in their vision of the post-invasion phase of the war. Anyone who suggested that what is happening today was a likely scenario was criticized as being a pro-Saddam appeaser, anti-American, or both. Yet a sober assessment of the difficulties ahead would have helped to avoid many of the mistakes that have proved to be so costly in terms of American lives and resources – not to mention the suffering of Iraqis.

Now some voices in the United States and elsewhere are proposing military action against Iran. So it is logical to ask: what are the realistic scenarios concerning the consequences of such an intervention? Are there any plans regarding how to handle the post-strike situation?

Without doubt, those willing to strike – either alone or in a coalition – have a range of options, ranging from naval and air blockades to targeted raids, sabotage inside the country, and massive attack from without. But the Iranians also have cards up their sleeve – some predictable, some wild.

They may become malicious and aggressive in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah militia may reinitiate hostilities. Terrorist groups, both old and newly created, may receive fresh funding and volunteers. A direct military showdown in the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, through which about 40% of the world’s traded oil is shipped, cannot be ruled out. As a consequence, oil prices would skyrocket.