Worries of Israel striking Iran might or might not be overblown but across the region the largely hidden “cold war” between Tehran and its enemies is escalating fast, bringing with it wider risk of conflict. Speculation Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear program has been rife in the Israeli media and oil markets in recent weeks, with concerns that Tehran might retaliate with devastating attacks on Gulf oil shipments.
An increasingly isolated Iran alarms not just Israel and the West but its Gulf neighbors, especially longtime foe Saudi Arabia, and they are already fighting back. From proxy wars in Iraq and Syria to computer worm attacks and unexplained explosions in Iran – to allegations of an assassination plot in Washington – a confrontation once kept behind the scenes is breaking into increasingly open view.
“With Iran, you have a government that is increasingly isolated and acting in increasingly unpredictable ways,” says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and National Studies in Washington. “There is certainly the risk that a country will take the deliberate decision to attack Iran. But there is also the risk that something happens that provokes… a war that nobody planned and nobody wants.”
With the euro zone crisis still far from over and worldwide demand already faltering, such action and the resulting oil price surge could be disastrous for the global economy. Many such confrontations across the region appear escalating fast – and becoming much harder for Washington and its allies to control.