The world is a powder keg. There are many potential flash points and it would be difficult for a betting man to make an accurate prediction as to exactly where the match gets lit, if it unfortunately happens. China is the loudest and one of the most craven and expansionist actors on the stage but the locus of Russia and the Ukraine is also an imminent threat. India and Pakistan are always a possibility. North Korea behaves so irrationally that one can never count it out in a desperate suicide strike against its perceived enemies.
Having said all that, I recommend that you read Robin Wright's excellent article in the latest issue of the New Yorker, The looming threat of a nuclear crisis with Iran. The Persians expansion of their military capabilities is terrifying and startling. Neither Israel or the United States will be able to withstand this behemoth in a full scale conflagration without a protracted battle and a near or total annihilation in the middle east.
The so-called “breakout” time for Iran to produce enough fuel for a bomb has plummeted, from more than a year to as little as three weeks.
The lesson of Al Asad, McKenzie told me, is that Iran’s missiles have become a more immediate threat than its nuclear program. For decades, Iran’s rockets and missiles were wildly inaccurate. At Al Asad, “they hit pretty much where they wanted to hit,” McKenzie said. Now they “can strike effectively across the breadth and depth of the Middle East. They could strike with accuracy, and they could strike with volume.”
Iran can fire more missiles than its adversaries—including the United States and Israel—can shoot down or destroy. Tehran has achieved what McKenzie calls “overmatch”—a level of capability in which a country has weaponry that makes it extremely difficult to check or defeat. “Iran’s strategic capacity is now enormous,” McKenzie said. “They’ve got overmatch in the theatre—the ability to overwhelm.”*
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general and a former sniper who heads Iran’s Aerospace Force, is known for incendiary bravado. In 2019, he boasted, “Everybody should know that all American bases and their vessels in a distance of up to two thousand kilometres are within the range of our missiles. We have constantly prepared ourselves for a full-fledged war.”
The Islamic Republic has thousands of ballistic missiles, according to U.S. intelligence assessments. They can reach as far as thirteen hundred miles in any direction—deep into India and China to the east; high into Russia to the north; to Greece and other parts of Europe to the west; and as far south as Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. About a hundred missiles could reach Israel.
McKenzie has analyzed how a conflict with Iran might play out. “If they attack out of the blue, it would be a bloody war,” he told me. “We would be hurt very badly. We would win in the long run. But it would take a year.” Or potentially more, as the United States has learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. And a full-scale military campaign by Israel or the U.S. would almost certainly trigger a regional war on multiple fronts. Iran is better armed and its military and political powerbrokers more hard-line than at any time in its modern history. The nuclear deal could be just the beginning—and the easier part of the Iran challenge for an eighth American President.
As much as I worry about Taiwan, I think Iran is the place where the shit finally hits the fan.