Despite the fearmongering, war with Iran is still far off

While miscalculation by both sides can always spiral into a full-fledged conflict, as happened with the 2006 Lebanon war, this time around such an occurrence seems doubtful.

Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran
Menachem Begin once stated: “The difficulties of peace are better than the agony of war.”
By May 12, US President Donald Trump has to decide whether or not to pull America out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iranian nuclear deal. At this time, we don’t know which way he will turn. French President Emmanuel Marcon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both recently paid President Trump a visit at the White House to convince him that the best course of action is to stick with the deal, while many pundits interpret Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent unveiling of stolen Iranian nuclear documents as a call for President Trump to abandon the deal.
Many assume Netanyahu is playing checkers when in reality he has proven time and time again to be a cunning chess player when it comes to politics. Perhaps Netanyahu does want Trump to abandon the deal, or perhaps his speech was mere theater designed to allow Trump room to demand a strengthening of the terms of the nuclear deal to include anytime, anywhere inspections and a curb on the Iranian ballistic missile program.
After creating an “echo chamber” to sell the nuclear deal to the American people, Obama administration staffers and loyalists have lashed out wildly at the mere mention of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the possibility of the deal unraveling. The scars clearly run deep.
Obama’s National Security Council spokesperson, Tommy Vietor, claimed that Netanyahu had “cooked up” the documents he recently unveiled, while former Obama deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, who is credited with creating that “echo chamber,” maintains that leaving or changing the JCPOA deal would be a “dangerous escalation.”
Is the fear-mongering really warranted though? While miscalculation by both sides can always spiral into a full-fledged conflict, as happened with the 2006 Lebanon war, this time around such an occurrence seems doubtful.
Unlike prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2006, Netanyahu is known to be risk averse, despite all his bluster and hawkish rhetoric, whether negotiating a peace settlement with the Palestinians or engaging in major military operations, as pointed out by Yael Aronoff, author of the book: The Political Psychology of Israeli Prime Ministers: When Hard-Liners Opt for Peace.
Anshel Pfeffer, the author of the new biography Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, echoed these sentiments. In a recent article for Haaretz, he stated that: “For all his tough rhetoric, Netanyahu doesn’t want to go war with anyone. He is Israel’s most risk-averse politician,” preferring the status quo.
While the Israeli army will continue to conduct pinpoint attacks in Syria to prevent any Iranian buildup or transfer of advanced weapons, it has maintained a stoic silence after each such attack so as not to publicly embarrass the Iranians.
As for the Iranians themselves, after spending millions of dollars in Syria to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran doesn’t want to risk its foothold and hard-fought reclamation of the country. Iran is trying to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, in addition to consolidating a Shi’ite crescent in the northern Middle East and supporting the Houthis in Yemen as a proxy force on Saudi Arabia’s southern border. Last week we saw Israel bomb sites near Hama in Syria, destroying 200 missiles and killing at least 11 Iranians, yet there was no response from Iran for fear of escalation that they weren’t prepared for.
In Iran itself, thousands of protesters took to the streets recently as the Iranian currency, the rial, has lost a third of its value over the past 10 months and is down to around 61,000 rials to the dollar; it was around 30,000 rials to the dollar in 2015.
One of the protesters’ biggest complaints is all the money wasted abroad on foreign adventures, while Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, holds a $95 billion asset fund that was recently disclosed by Reuters.
With Khamenei supposedly suffering from prostate cancer and no successor in place, Iran is not looking to go to war; especially knowing its armed forces’ capabilities are vastly inferior to Israel’s. Not to mention the last time an American president had such a fixation on a Middle Eastern country, the regime was removed from power within days. America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 might have been enough impetus for Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program in the first place.
Hezbollah is in no more of a hurry to fight a war against Israel. While proving a capable fighting force, it is fatigued from years of fighting in Syria and its March 8 Alliance is seeking to gain more political power; the Lebanese parliamentary elections were held earlier this week. It doesn’t look eager to squander its victory on a devastating war against Israel – it was blamed by many Lebanese for bringing unnecessary destruction to the country the last go-around. Hezbollah has also been able to procure all sorts of advanced weaponry as payment for helping to prop up Bashar Assad that it doesn’t want to lose, but rather use to consolidate their own power at home and abroad.
As for America, Trump has been adamant about pulling out the scant 2,000 troops that still remain in Syria – and his supporters, and likely a majority of Americans – have no interest in seeing more American forces on the ground in Syria or Iran. Meanwhile, so long as Russia maintains a large presence in Syria, it is unlikely that we will see anyone launch a full-scale war there. It’s not smart to poke the bear.
Meanwhile other players in the region (Turkey, Jordan, Egypt) aren’t keen on a war either, for fear of destabilization in their own countries, save for the Gulf States that would love for Israel to smack the Iranians in the mouth while they remain safely on the sidelines.
So what’s the likely outcome if Trump does pull out? It will probably be the status quo for the moment, with the Europeans, Chinese and Russians unwilling to go along with him until sanctions make the whole deal no longer practical.
It’s not a friendly or quiet peace, but to all involved, it’s still better than war.
The author is an attorney and member of the Creative Community for Peace, an entertainment-industry organization that represents a cross section of the creative world dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel.