The stealth surveillance aircraft that fell to ground in Iran has been called “bat-winged,” but it looks more like a boomerang. It remains to be seen if it will boomerang, too, as did the famous U-2 flight over the Soviet Union back in the cold war.
It ought to be no surprise that the United States is spying on Iran. Gathering data on Iran’s nuclear program is pretty much a core mission of the CIA, the NSA and the other members of the intelligence alphabet. As John Pike points out, satellites are useful for many, many goals, but to maintain a close-up view of what’s going in and out of buildings and bunkers, a surveillance drone is better.
But the worrisome part of this, admittedly fueled more by the breathless media coverage of the downed drone, which was reportedly 140 miles inside Iranian territory, is the idea that the United States is escalating its covert war against Iran and, indeed, preparing to use the “military option.” It is, in fact, highly unlikely that the United States will go to war against Iran. Let us count the reasons: first, it would be catastrophically counterproductive, hardening Iran’s hardliners, undermining its Green Movement and other opposition forces and driving its nuclear program deep underground. Second, it might unleash a regional conflagration if Iran decided to strike back, overtly or covertly, against the United States and its regional allies. Third, it would be illegal and contrary to international law to launch an unprovoked attack against Iran, which would leave the United States isolated, bereft of many allies, angering Russia and China and pushing Iran into North Korea-like self-sufficiency and greater authoritarianism. Fourth, it would gravely threaten the world economy, with skyrocketing oil prices, removing Iran’s substantial exports from the market. It’s possible to add to this list.
In other words, it would be insane and self-defeating.
Many, many strategists in Washington have essentially given up trying to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, if that’s what it wants to do, and instead are busily developing plans to “contain” or box in Iran if it goes nuclear and to deal with it much as the United States dealt with the Soviet Union and then China when they joined the nuclear club.
But, quoting current and former US officials, the Washington Post tells us today that there is a “growing belief within the Obama administration that covert action and carefully choreographed economic pressure may be the only means of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.” It cites “the administration’s shift toward a more confrontational approach—one that also includes increased arms sales to Iran’s potential rivals in the Middle East as well as bellicose statements by US officials and key allies.”