If a war begins in the neighborhood of the Persian Gulf, it will likely have less to do with a slugging match between Israel and Iran, than a simmering Sunni-Shiite war that is about to flare up into regional violence through a combination of factors dating back decades and recent events in the region.
The fall of Saddam put Iraq up for grabs and raised the prospect of a Shiite superstate with a vast military and massive oil reserves. It also tipped Syria and its leftover Baath Party run by a variant Shiite sect directly into Tehran's paws. Add nuclear weapons to the Iran-Iraq-Syria trinity and you are looking at the worst nightmare of every Sunni Arab prince living in polished oil mansions near what he still insists on calling the Arabian Gulf.
A Shiite superstate will checkmate the Sunni oil monarchies and leave them no choice but to beg America to garrison them with so many troops, air bases and nuclear missiles that they might as well be the 51'st through 59th states. Using foreign soldiers to protect themselves isn't all that objectionable to the fat lazy oil monarchies who already use armies of foreigners to do everything for them. But the American troops who saved the Saudis and Kuwaitis from Saddam also gave Bin Laden a pretext for trying to overthrow them.
The Gulf Sunni Arab princelings know that a massive infusion of American troops will bring out more Bin Ladens, and even the American military hierarchy which knows to salaam to the princes will lose patience fast when the Khobar Towers bombing repeats itself enough times. Americans fighting Gulfies will quickly turn their countries into another Afghanistan. On top of that the Americans won't stay there forever.
The Gulfies could develop competent armies, but no Muslim state trusts its own military. If all those billions and billions in state of the art American military equipment were put into the hands of competent generals, instead of the cousins and nephews of the royal family, then very shortly the generals would be running the country. And even if they could trust the generals, the locals have no reliable military tradition except as caravan raiders and have gotten a little too used to the good life to fight for any other reason than an outburst of Koranic fanaticism by the third son of the family.
The Persians have a long proud military tradition. The Egyptians and the Syrians picked up something from their European colonizers. But the Gulfies are not good for much except beating their Filipino maids and getting high on hashish before blowing themselves up to get to paradise. The Iranian military even in its current state would clean their clocks faster than you could say Alakazam and they know it.
What the Gulfies lack in military skills, they more than make up for in underhanded cunning. If they can't import an infidel army and they can't build a worthwhile military of their own that's good for something besides intimidating Shiite protesters in Bahrain, then they will find a counterbalance to the enemy. The Gulfies have been nurturing the Muslim Brotherhood and funding Al-Jazeera. Combine the two with an American administration eager to win over the Muslim world by reforming American foreign policy and the Gulfies got their own Arab Spring.
The real purpose of the Arab Spring was to create a Sunni Islamist superstate or regional alliance to counter the threat of a Shiite Islamist superstate. With the Muslim Brotherhood sweeping across North Africa all the way to Egypt, the harvest includes semi-secular states with competent armies and if Syria can be tipped into that camp, then Iran will lose its puppet and the Sunni superstate will have a military tipped with top of the line American and Russian equipment, funded by Gulfie oil money and backed by the lunatic fanaticism of Islamist fighters.
With America in decline, the Gulfies touched off the Arab Spring to create Janissary armies, but this time composed of devout Muslims, to keep the Shiites at bay. Iran pushed back contesting Saudi influenced territory in Bahrain and the Emir of Qatar is demanding that his slaves in Washington get cracking and "liberate" Syria for membership in the Sunni Caliphate.
That just leaves one wild card. Not Libya, which has been swung into the Sunni Islamist camp the hard way with NATO jets and Libyan Islamic Fighting Group terrorists. Not Turkey, which has repressed the last of its secular military and is pushing for Sunni regime change in Syria. The regional wild card is the only non-Muslim state in the area. Israel.
The Sunnis tend to be more patient. They want Israel gone, but they also recognize it as a valuable pawn in their own games. Rather than being a disruptive influence on the region, like Iran, it's a unifying force that gives Muslims a common enemy and a common aspiration. Israel is a theological enemy, but useful in practice. And whatever happens they cannot allow the Shiites to wipe it out. Like comic book supervillains, they have to be the one to kill the superhero or their existence is meaningless.
Whoever is blowing up Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities, it isn't likely to be roving teams of Mossad agents, most likely it's Iran's own internal divisions being exploited by some combination of Western intelligence, Israeli intelligence and the intermediaries between the locals carrying out the attacks and foreign intelligence agencies who are almost certainly Iran's own neighbors.
Israel may not even be involved in the attacks. It suits the Sunnis to have their Zionist boogeyman and it suits Israel to be the boogeyman. The Sunnis get their conspiracy theories about Jewish power and Israel gets the deterrent effect of being seen as able to strike anywhere at any time.
For all the noise recently coming out of Tehran it is doubtful that the regime really believes Israel is responsible. The traditional Iranian response to Israeli domestic activities is to round up and string up members of the local Jewish community. That hasn't happened yet. For that matter if the regime really believed that gangs of Israeli agents were freely roaming its streets and wiping out key personnel then heads would be rolling within its own security forces on a daily basis. That hasn't happened either.
Who is actually carrying out the attacks? The list of suspects is endless because the Iranian regime has plenty of domestic opponents and is internally divided against itself. Paranoia is routine in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, some of whose commanders might profit from making the nuclear program more expensive to develop. Between ethnic minorities, political opponents and internal traitors, the list is nearly endless.
If the Gulfies are involved, directly or indirectly, then the explosions serve their purpose. They fear an Iranian nuke as much as Israel does and they also want to avert a direct war. A massive Israeli operation will turn Iran into the victim and fingers will be pointed at Sunni Arab states which will be forced to explain how Israeli jets were able to overfly their territory. An American strike will require them to lend their bases to an assault on a Muslim state, which will lead to even more of a backlash.
With the Arab Spring becoming an Islamic Winter the Gulfies are playing for time. On the one hand they want the United States to hold back any Israeli attacks until they approve, on the other they want to sabotage and undermine Iran long enough for a Sunni Islamist coalition to be strong enough to hold back any Iranian threats. If Iran is to have nukes, the Gulfies want them first and they want them in the hands of people that even Tehran's Ayatollahs will be afraid of. Not the Israelis, who are fairly liberal, but Wahhabis who view Shiites as infidels and would have no problem pushing the button.
A nuclear stalemate between two fanatical branches of the same religion is bad enough, even if you think that nuclear winter might be a myth, but Muslim states often divert themselves from direct armed confrontations by competing for status in wars against fully authentic infidels.
The first act of mass destruction carried out against Westerners was done by a Sunni terrorist group. The next one might be done by a Shiite group, just as a matter of competitiveness and because the United States is closely aligned with the Saudis and the rest of the Gulfies. While a nuclear standoff might result in a repetition of the Iran-Iraq War, it is more likely to result in another September 11 but on a much more massive scale.
War in the Gulf might still come, but the Gulfies have a history of fighting a different kind of war. That war can be seen in the No Go Zones of European cities, the economic sabotage and terrorism. For the moment they would like to avoid that direct confrontation and they might succeed, but the long term costs of standing by while a Sunni Shiite nuclear arms race takes off may be more than we can even begin to imagine.