By baiting Israel into launching a military attack -- in front of television cameras -- the Khomeinists seek to divert attention from the Arab democratic rebellions. They also seek to affect the course of those rebellions by providing militant Islamists with an immensely powerful propaganda weapon and emotionally inflammatory imagery. They also see a domestic payoff. An Israeli attack on an Iranian warship would ignite Iranian nationalists. This would stymie (at least temporarily) the regime's internal opposition.
Those are the Khomeinists' goals. The results, however, are not guaranteed -- not in the extraordinary spring of 2011.
Still, the Israelis face a predicament. Given the regional unrest, just observing the fleet's Syrian and Lebanese activities may be the wisest of bad choices. Offloaded rockets can be dealt with later.
That's not the case if the fleet chooses a riskier port of call: Gaza. If the Khomeinists really want to bait the Israelis into reacting, the fleet could reprise the May 2010 Gaza aid flotilla gambit, this time upping the ante by employing warships.
Would the Israelis stop a Gaza foray by Iranian naval vessels?
The outcome? Iran will get headlines. As for the crews of the Alvand and the Kharg? Khomeinists will tout them as martyrs. Old salts will be more pragmatic: They got a permanent trip to Davy Jones' locker.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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