There was a brief news flurry last week when the U.S. announced that Iranian aircraft – F4 Phantoms, as it happens – had bombed ISIS positions in Iraq.
The attack has far more significance than proof that a fifty-some year old airframe can still strut its stuff.*
No Sunni-dominated Middle Eastern country can fail to have taken note that Iran is projecting power beyond its borders. And while the F-4s would not have stood a chance against more modern aircraft, the simple fact that they were used at all underlines the threat Iran poses to countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Whether Iran proceeds with its nuclear bomb or not – and certainly if it does – the Sunni nations will seek to counterbalance its military. They don’t want parity; they want an overwhelming margin. And Iran will respond in kind.
Meanwhile in Iraq, many Sunni Iraqis interpret the Iranian attacks as more proof that the Iraqi government, despite its recent shakeup, is little more than a puppet of Iran. They don’t necessarily support ISIS, but they could support a break-away government that controlled the west, even one that was fairly repressive – ISIS Light. Iraq’s breakup seems more likely by the day, even if ISIS is defeated.
What does this mean for America and the rest of the West? Defeating ISIS is not going to make the situation any easier to deal with. The Sunni-Shia civil wars have the potential not only to simmer for a generation, but to turn into a nuclear confrontation within a decade.
* - (You do have to love the Phantom, though. Read Drone Strike for another fictional take on 'the Phantom flies again' meme.)