'Containing Iran will cost untold blood, treasure'

Expecting to defer military action through containment is to misunderstand the concept, says Iranian-American researcher.

By OREN KESSLER
March 18, 2012 21:04
2 minute read.
Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran

Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

Containing Iran will be an arduous, protracted endeavor entailing massive investments in military and financial resources, according to a report released last week by a London-based think tank.

“The idea that containment is somehow a low-cost option, or that containment doesn’t involve war, is a huge mistake,” Sohrab Ahmari, the report’s author, told The Jerusalem Post from Washington.

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“There is a clear conceptual difference between deterrence – whether Iran would risk annihilation with a nuclear first strike against its Arab rivals or Israel – and containment – namely making sure Iran can’t spread its influence through overt and covert means,” Ahmari said.

“Typically people conflate deterrence and containment. Deterrence is one element of containment, but it’s not everything,” he added.

A native of Tehran, Ahmari has lived in the United States for over a decade and is currently is a third-year law student at Northeastern University in Boston. His study, titled “The Costs of Containment – The Mechanics of Restraining Iranian Expansionism,” was released by the Henry Jackson Society, where the author is a non-resident associate research fellow.

Ahmari said the monograph aims not to prescribe a particular course of action but to clarify the terms of debate. “You could infer from the report that rather than containment, other options – including support for democratic forces seeking to topple the regime, or a military operation that doesn’t just target nuclear sites but topples the regime – might be a quicker way to deal with the problem once and for all,” he said.

Still, he said, even if the regime is overthrown by internal or external pressure, Tehran would likely remain the Middle East’s chief source of instability for the foreseeable future.

Writing in the cover piece of this month’s Commentary magazine, Ahmari warned that the power struggle following the collapse of the Islamic Republic could destabilize the region for a generation or more.

With some 663,000 battle-ready personnel – including the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia – Iran far outranks its Arab rivals in military manpower, and in addition to its suspected nuclear-weapons program owns vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Over the three decades since the country’s Islamic Revolution, Iran has actively supported militant Shi’ite movements in Lebanon, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and South America and, more recently, Sunni extremist groups in the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan.

The report said successful Western containment would have to treat Iran’s destabilizing activity in each of those arenas as a red line, and respond with force if necessary.

“The possession of nuclear weapons on both sides of the Cold War did not mitigate the violence of these outbreaks of armed conflict; it merely increased the likelihood of catastrophic outcomes,” he wrote. “Imposing a containment regime on the Islamic Republic of Iran – a state far more insecure than the Soviet Union was through most of its history – will yield similar outbreaks of armed conflict.”

Ultimately, Ahmari told the Post, confronting Iran is a matter of choosing between a number of potentially dangerous alternatives.

“We’re in the world of bad options,” he said.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat


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