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Analysis & Opinion

U.S.-Iran: this is not a chess game

11:40 19/04/2007

MOSCOW. (Anton Khlopkov for RIA Novosti) If the United States decides to take military action against Iran, it will primarily target its nuclear infrastructure facilities, first of all the Isfahan center.

But an air raid on that city will not only cause environmental damage. Isfahan is a major Muslim cultural capital, and destruction of its historical monuments will generate a conflict between the Muslim world and the United States. The cost of a military operation against Iran may prove to be enormously high for Washington.

The likelihood of a strike continues to be high. In 2006, I had an interesting meeting with an American expert of Iranian origin in Washington. He said this about the battle between the American and Iranian presidents: "This is not a chess game, this is a chicken game." This expression models two drivers, both headed for a single lane bridge from opposite directions. The first to swerve yields the bridge to the other and loses the game. If neither player gives way, the result is a costly deadlock. This is very similar to what is happening between Iran and the United States.

Both Bush and Ahmadinejad have been making one mistake after another, and are still on the collision course - the one who gives way will lose. If neither gives way, if this nuclear gamble continues, the consequences may be disastrous for the entire world. It is obvious that the Iranians are turning a deaf ear to everything and are crossing the pale. They are not flexible on suspending uranium enrichment although for them this is a political rather than technological issue. The centrifuges that are working now in Natanz (or may have even stopped) do not carry out any industrial enrichment because the Iranians only have a couple of thousand of them instead of the many thousands that are required to achieve the desired effect. The ambitious project of uranium enrichment is simply unrealistic in Iran today.

Tehran's statement about its intention to quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty merely strengthens the positions of its opponents - the United States and Israel - but does not help Russia and other countries that occupy a more reserved position on settling the Iranian issue.

Each statement in this vein (even if it's a mere declaration like the launching of additional centrifuges) is making it more and more difficult for Moscow to defend a more balanced approach to the resolution of this problem in the Security Council and other forums.

The longer the "chicken game" lasts, the more likely it is to end without any winners. For the Republicans, represented by George W. Bush, hostilities will lead to disaster because it will not be possible to win this war. As a result, the Democrats are bound to win control over the White House in the next presidential elections.

Tehran will not be idle in the event of an attack, and it is difficult to predict where it will direct its asymmetrical blow. Clearly, Iranian missiles will not reach U.S. territory, but which American bases will they hit? Which targets will Iranian missiles destroy in Israel?

The scale and character of environmental consequences of an air attack against Iran will depend on what targets it will hit and how powerful it will be. If the bombs hit the premises containing nuclear materials, particularly in the form of gas, the aftermath may be very serious. Radioactive materials will leak into the air and the wind streamline in the Middle East is such that it can take the deadly flow in any direction. It may reach U.S. allies or U.S. troops.

Also, Iran may use not only conventional missiles but weapons of mass destruction - chemical and biological arms. This is an unlikely extreme step, but the Iranians may take it in desperation, especially if the Americans start a ground-based operation. This will make a head-on car collision look like a minor accident.

Will the United States strike at Bushehr? Given the current U.S. Administration, it is not possible to predict anything for certain. I believe that Russia and the U.S. have an understanding that if a crisis develops and strikes against Iran become inevitable, Washington will inform Moscow about this, since Russian citizens may be working at some facilities. Otherwise, the United States will have to face a much bigger and more serious crisis in the Middle East.

Anton Khlopkov is a political scientist, deputy director of the Russian Center for Political Studies (PIR-Center).

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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