Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Ocala, Florida, on October 12.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As Donald Trump assumes the US presidency in January, the rise of Iran will be a major issue for the Oval Office. Beyond last year’s treaty from which he may walk away, Trump wants to prevent Iran from going nuclear and extending its influence throughout the Middle East and beyond. This will make the upcoming Trump meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu important.
Iran is considered the world’s greatest source of terrorism, reaching into 15 countries. The role of Islamic fundamentalists is seen in Friday services that call for “death to America.” If it decided to violate the treaty, Iran could become a nuclear power within a year.
Iran has advanced Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems and Shahab medium-range ballistic missiles, probably of North Korean derivation, with a range of nearly 2,000 km. Iran’s ally Hezbollah has over 100,000 rockets in Lebanon. Iran also has the support of the Shi’ite Crescent including much of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen and is reaching into Latin America and Asia. Moreover, the Islamic Republic is one of the world’s greatest sources of oil and natural gas.
Iran is not invulnerable, however. It could not defeat Iraq in eight years, while the American did so in a 22-day campaign. Iran began its nuclear program in the mid 1980s and has yet to test a single atomic bomb. With a modest army, navy and air force, its best units are missiles and anti-missile defense systems.
Its economy at $5,000 GDP/capita is 94th in the world, ahead of Macedonia and behind Fiji. None of its universities rank in the top 400 of the world and the lesser universities don’t rank in the top 800. No Iranian scientist has ever won a Nobel Prize. Its intelligence services are rated modestly. It has no Silicon Valley and no experience in attacking nuclear facilities.
Iran is an authoritarian, Islamic fundamentalist regime with serious corruption.
Israel, by contrast, is a much more powerful country.
With nearly 700 planes it has an air force that the Institute for the Study of War has rated the best in the world plane for plane. It has an estimated 100-200 nuclear weapons. With five German-made, nuclear-capable Dolphin-class submarines and soon 31 American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets, it could attack Iran by air, land and sea. Its army is rated the best in the Middle East. The Israel Air Force destroyed the Iraqi Osirak nuclear facility (1981) and Syrian Al Kibar nuclear facility (2007). With American cooperation, Israel has developed three types of anti-missile defense systems: the Iron Dome (short range), David’s Sling (mid range) and Arrow 2 (long range). The Arrow 3 anti-missile missile (very long range) will be deployed in several years.
Israel has a strong economy, nearing $40,000 GDP/ capita. It is 24th in the world, ahead of Japan. Four Israeli universities are in the top 200 in the world with two in the top 100. Israelis have won eight Nobel Prizes, mostly in the sciences. Israel is a close ally of the United States and a friend of many European countries. It is the top global exporter of drones, second largest arms supplier to India and seventh-largest arms exporter in the world.
Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) are rated among the top five intelligence organizations in the world. Its Silicon Wadi is in second place globally for start-ups and third for companies listed on the NASDA Q exchange. Israel hosts 300 foreign companies and does over $20 billion in hi-tech sales.
Israel is a democratic, semi-capitalist country with rule of law and limited corruption. Only in Israel are top officials, such as former presidents and prime ministers, jailed for their misdeeds.
Israel has a smallish population (8.5 million) and any Iranian attack could focus on Haifa and Tel Aviv, leaving aside Jerusalem. Tel Aviv is only about 1,100 km. from Iranian missiles bases, meaning Iranian missiles could reach it in around 11 minutes.
Iran will pose a serious problem for the Trump administration. Only Israel in the Middle East can even contemplate trying to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons or expanding further. Whether Israel will be used or not will depend heavily on how Trump and his advisers see Israel and the world. Only time will tell.The author is a professor at the University of Denver and has written or edited 12 books.