Iran will decide sometime in the next few months whether it will risk war in the hope of becoming the dominant regional power, or whether it will accept national decline in the hope of a modest degree of prosperity.
It is running out of people slowly, but it is running out of Persians at an alarming rate: The fertility rate in ethnically Persian provinces including Tehran is barely above 1 child per female, a formula for demographic implosion within a single generation. I have warned since 2006 in this publication (and in a 2011 book) that Iran’s declinist mood makes it dangerous, but Iran now has to make an existential choice.
Iran will gauge carefully the likely response to its decision from Washington, Jerusalem as well as Beijing, weighing the costs and benefits of a war whose outcome almost certainly would be disastrous for the countries of the Persian Gulf.
How damaging such a war would be to Israel depends on a set of unknowns, including the effectiveness of Israel’s three-tier layered missile defense system, the number and accuracy of Iran’s medium-range missiles, and the willingness of Hezbollah to deploy its 130,000 missiles in southern Lebanon under the threat of an annihilating Israeli retaliation.