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Middle East

The past two weeks have led to some paradigm revisions here at the Library You See In Dreams.

Turns out there is no Roomful of Dust, ready to ignite. There is instead a large pile of wet newspaper.

The United States assassinated one of the highest ranking Iranian military leaders. And in return…the Iranians gave advance warning they were going to bomb an American airbase, so any Americans could be cleared out of the way.

Not exactly Pearl Harbor.

Last year Pakistan and India got so far as to actually carry out airstrikes on each other. No war. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been carrying out a proxy fight in Yemen for some time now. No war.

So this requires some thought. All conclusions must hang tentative.

My developing hypothesis is that war no longer works for the purposes of the modern nation-state. It’s too expensive and risky. Self-preservation is the name of the game. Make one error and Syria, now a fractured, war-ravaged mess dependent on outside powers, is your best case scenario.

The trick is, of course, that if this ceased to be true—if any one nation decided that the possibilities of gain were worth the risk—they wouldn’t say so. They’d just go and start the war. It would only be visible in hindsight.

But for now, it doesn’t look like that moment is anywhere near.

There’s a roomful of dust

And there’s some idiot flicking his Bic.

We’re at war, if the Iranian government wants it. There’s few casus belli clearer than assassinating a high-ranking general. Although if anyone in the Middle East wanted a line war, we’d have had about eight of them in the past two years.

Iran is not a superpower. A few years back, I looked it up: the Iranian defense budget was roughly equal to that of the United States Coast Guard. The theocracy is shaky. The economy is shot.

But therein lies the problem. The more desperate the Iranian ruling class feels, the more willing they will be to forget what the smart move is, and try to do something wild. To drop a dirty bomb on the Ghawar oil field. To spread nerve gas over one of our aircraft carrier—or an Israeli city. To carry out 9/11 scale attacks on American soil. To do something we won’t know they had the capability to do, until it’s too late.

Twice in my lifetime, the United States has unleashed major military offenses in the Persian Gulf region. Twice, the worst has not happened—although what did happen was pretty damn bad. Still, though, chaos did not run wild.

Yet it could have. Have we gotten too secure? Are we going to keep poking the rabid dog until we get well and truly bit?

Only a fucking idiot would try. Unfortunately, we have just such a fucking idiot for a president.

All I know is this. Around the world, in Iran, in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, in Israel, in India & Pakistan, in China & Russia, and certainly right here in the United States:

We need more hippies.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have formed what I’ve come to refer to privately as “The Aqaba Connection” (after the Gulf of Aqaba, on which both nations border) What, exactly, that connection consists of is hard to say. There is some loose diplomatic co-ordination. There are signs of outreach, like the new economic zone Mohammed bin Salman wants to establish across the Gulf from Israel. I guess the extreme theory would be that they are official secret allies, but I don’t think that’s the case—yet.

The force bringing them together is Iran. Iranian extension of force into Iraq and Syria has made historic dislike into active opposition. For the first time, the Islamic Republic has a line of communication to the Israeli border, through Iraq and Syria. A shaky one, to be true, but it’s there. If the Iranians want to attack the Golan Heights, they can.

Israel will not allow this situation to continue. For a while in April I honestly thought they might launch a ground offensive. They did not, and in retrospect that seems a little off. A ground offensive would be far too risky a proposition, and Israel has other avenues of attack.

For instance: it now seems that Israel and the Saudis have successfully brought Donald Trump onto their side. Maybe they’re bribing him, maybe they’re blackmailing him, or maybe they just have the Republican-stimulating juice he wants. The Aqaba Connection seems to have lobbied Trump to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions. At the same time, they’ve apparently been urging him to lift sanctions on Russia, in hopes that Russia in return will squeeze the Iranians out of Syria.

John Bolton this week said regime change in Iran is not a U.S. goal. I doubt that. Certainly, neither of the Aqaba Connection will feel 100% safe until the Islamic Republic is replaced. All three parties are hoping the resulting economic decline from the reimposed sanctions topples the regime. The trick is what happens afterwards. Will Iran become another Syria? The Saudis might wish they had stayed with the ayatollahs.

So I don’t expect open warfare at this point, with one hitch. If the militant wing in Iran becomes convinced they could lose either their foothold in Syria or their power at home, they might decide, out of desperation, launch an offensive against Israel. Like the Japanese in 1941, withdraw would be psychologically impossible, so attack is the only option. But that is unlikely to happen.