The chief commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard said Friday that the biggest threat to his country is a "soft war" launched by enemies to force the Islamic Republic to give up its nuclear program.
In comments posted on the Guard's website, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran is in a "sensitive and fateful period" in its history.
The assumption is that "soft war" means sanctions, computer viruses, and sabotage (including assassination of nuclear scientists).
If true--and not misdirection to keep us on a soft war track that Iran might think it can endure long enough to go nuclear--it might seem odd that Iranians think that escalation can save their program. If it comes to a shooting war, we could make it open season on Iranian nuclear, Revolutionary Guard, leadership, and missile targets. How would this be better than even a slow loss in a "soft war?"
The interesting part is that the commander said Iran is at a "sensitive and fateful period." If Iran is close to nukes, escalation might be seen by Iranian leaders as a way to give us a bloody nose and scare us off for a while as we recalculate our options. That time might then be enough for Iran to go nuclear and deter a bigger conventional clash.
Given that we have threatened to use force for years without doing so--while others within our country resisted such threats--Iran could easily believe that we wouldn't respond to some level of force against us. Indeed, we didn't react to Iranian efforts to bomb targets in Washington, D.C. We didn't react much to Iranian efforts to kill American soldiers in Iraq.
Or escalation by Iran could be to attack Israel, in an effort to play the Jewish card and narrow the options that Sunni Arab states might have to cooperate and help with an attack on Shia Persians in Iran. If that keeps us from attacking even if it leads Israel to make a less effective attack (which Iran may assume--rightly or wrongly--can't be effective), that too might buy Iran the time it needs to finish their nuclear program.
There is a tendency in America to assume that only we are an actor on the international stage and anything anyone does or doesn't do is a reaction to our actions. But other nations and actors take decisions, too. This might be one of them. Iran could decide to launch a preemptive strike to protect their nuclear program.