While the mainstream western media has given extensive coverage to Iranian president Rouhani’s refusal to secretly meet with the US president— something that the US president must have been wanted to do to defuse crisis—there hasn’t been significant or even moderate coverage of some highly significant military moves that the Pentagon has recently made, moves that show potential steps towards preparation of direct hostilities, if not an all out war, between the US and Iran. Due to increasing tensions with Iran, tensions that primarily stem for US inability to make Iran submit on nuclear issue, the US has shifted its Middle East command and control centre from Qatar to 7,000 miles way at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The centre was established in 1991 in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war and, for the past 13 years, had been functioning in Qatar. But times have changed. And, the fact that Iran has the ability to hit the US means that this centre, in the wake of a military showdown, could have easily been targeted, crippling the US ability.
The Washington Post said in a report that ‘it doesn’t take a whole heap of imagination to look at it and think, if push came to shove and it was a full-blown conflict, it [the command centre] would be one of the priority targets’, and the one that cannot be defended. Such a big decision as to move an entire command centre can only come at a time when a country expects a war or aims to start one. In the context of US-Iran tensions, what this shift means is that the nuclear issue is inching towards an inflection point.
With no signs of US lifting its sanctions and the EU abiding by its commitments, there is every possibility that Iran will take yet another step in November to reduce its commitments under the 2015 deal. For the EU, the “forth step” that Iran is due to take on November 7, might mean a potential end of the nuke-deal and that it might be forced to withdraw from the agreement.
For the US, however, an EU withdrawal would accomplish what the US president has been looking to do ever since his decision to pull itself out of the agreement. In fact, according to the US increasing Iranian activity in the Middle East, such as the one shown through the attack on Saudi oil facilities, should be an “awakening” for Europe and a strong reason for it to change its policy.
This is not just a coincidence that an American ‘secret plan’ to attack Iran has only recently been leaked. The war plan, codenamed Theatre Iran Near Term (TIRANNT), is said to be the Pentagon’s strategy to do a crippling and devastating strike on Iran, one that would involve massive air-power (planes and missiles) and avoid a ground invasion. If such a plan is to be executed, the US would want to make sure that Iran doesn’t find any suitable target to hit and hurt the US; hence, the decision to move the command centre from Qatar.
However, while the US might, in the worst-case scenario, do such a strike, the countries most affected by a war are going to be those in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and its allies who are well within the range of Iranian ballistic missiles. It explains why the Saudis are not, after the recent air and ground attacks by the Yemenis and the Kingdom’s utter inability to thwart these attacks, too enthusiastic about war. Any war that starts on a big scale involving US and Iran will ultimately involve the Saudis as well, a situation that the Kingdom might not be able to control and cause it to collapse; for, they Saudis have never been so vulnerable as they are now.
That’s why, Saudia’s Muhammad bin Salman sounded ‘reasonable’ when he recently said in an interview that his country wasn’t looking for a war with Iran. A war with Iran will be devastating and cause global economy to collapse. At the same time, the Saudis continue to push the US for an even tougher position vis-à-vis Iran. MBS said in his interview, “If the world does not take a strong and firm action to deter Iran, we will see further escalations that will threaten world interests. Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”
War, however, is not desirable and a “political and peaceful solution is much better than the military one”, reasoned MBS. If Saudia is not willing to fight a war, neither is the US too enthusiastic.
The above-mentioned US move, coming in combination with deployment of more troops and F-35 jets in Saudi Arabia, is primarily meant to reassure its allies that the US remains the source of their security. The US credibility as a reliable security partner has been seriously challenged due to the US defence systems failure to check Yemeni air attack.
This is not to suggest that there is no anticipation of war. A more plausible explanation for a reluctant US and Saudi position about war is the increasing realisation that large scale war would cause devastation on a much larger scale, one that the Saudis might not be able to afford both politically and militarily. The Pentagon, meanwhile, continues to do advance planning for such an eventuality.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.