Why Iran is pivotal

The final three months of this year could send the world spinning in a quite different direction. As goes the Iranian crisis, so goes the world.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, events are taking us into new territory. The rising confrontation with Iran has taken centre stage as a conflict with global participants and global consequences. As the final quarter of the year dawns, representatives from the world’s major countries are meeting in Geneva with their Iranian counterparts. The official goal is to see if sufficient international safeguards can be placed on the Iranian nuclear program. Failure could well lead first to sanctions against Iran, and should those fail, possibly a US-Iranian military confrontation.

At its core, the brewing crisis is this: Israel is too small a territory to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, and too militarily weak to guarantee that it can deal with the problem on its own. However, an Israeli strike would certainly generate Iranian retaliation against shipping in the Persian Gulf, which in turn would force the United States to act against Iran directly. So the big question is whether or not any concessions Iran grants on its nuclear programs will be sufficient to satisfy Israel’s security concerns. The Obama administration is obviously a player, and the onus is on the Americans to act, but the decisions that truly matter will be made in Israel, not the United States.

As goes this crisis, so goes the world.

Russia is attempting to lock down the United States in the Middle East so that Moscow can extend and deepen its efforts to re-create its Soviet-era sphere of influence, particularly in the former Soviet Union. Thus Russia is funneling various forms of assistance, primarily technical cooperation on weapons, energy and nuclear industries, to Iran. It is also making apparent its intent to do an end run around any sanctions the West might impose on Iran. An Iran strong enough and independent enough to keep the United States preoccupied is just what Russia wants.

After the worst recession in a generation, the global economy is on the mend. The ending recession was primarily financial in nature, meaning that it evolved primarily into a crisis of confidence. Confidence requires time to rebuild, and as such the recovery is both shallow and extremely uneven, with some regions as likely to descend back into recession as return to real growth. It is a recovery very vulnerable to disruption. A military confrontation in the Persian Gulf would send shock waves through the system, at a minimum interrupting the flow of Iran’s 2.4 million barrels of daily oil exports. That alone would be more than enough to break the recovery’s back.

This article is the introduction to a longer forecast report published by Stratfor.com

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