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Walter Rodgers

War with Iran? Consult history.

It sounds like war drums. Tehran says it will execute an alleged US spy and threatens to block the Strait of Hormuz. GOP presidential candidates talk of regime change and military strikes, and Obama is not cowed by Iran. But wars do not often turn out as envisioned.

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Iranian threats to close the strait are probably disingenuous, certainly illegal, and most likely counter-productive. Their consequence may turn potential allies like China – which relies on Iranian oil – against them.

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Iran’s warnings to a US Navy nuclear aircraft carrier not to return to the Gulf are foolish. The US is not cowed, and for a period of time – extendable if desired – the US will have three aircraft carriers in the Fifth Fleet area near Iran. Surely the Iranians know this is an election year and, were they to provoke the president to military action, that might do much to assure President Obama’s reelection.

Iranians are neither crazy nor stupid, although they often have a grossly inflated view of their place in the world, seeing themselves as heirs of the once proud Persian Empire. There is method in what Israelis like to portray as the mullah’s madness.

Ali Alfoneh, a leading scholar of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, believes Tehran’s growling is for domestic consumption. Iran has been acutely weakened by economic sanctions. Its leaders want to convince their public that despite cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, mysterious assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, and what is believed to have been an attack on an Iranian missile factory, the country is still strong and capable of acting against its perceived enemies.

Iran’s strategic thinkers need to hit the reset button. They have to warn their ruling councils, religious and military, that there already exists a constituency for war with Iran in conservative political quarters in the US.

Worse for Tehran, for a decade Washington’s ally Israel has been pressuring US presidents to go to war with Iran. On the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in a private conversation with me, said, “We are pleased you [the United States] are eager for war with Iraq, but we would prefer instead you attack Iran.”

Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also eager for an American assist in taking out Iran’s nuclear installations. As Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute notes, Mr. Netanyahu may soon find himself in the position where he must decide if he is to become the Israeli leader who allows Iranians to get the bomb.

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