Obsession With Iran Has Reached a Boiling Point
At this point, everyone and anyone that follows developments in the Middle East pretty much understands that the Iranians are willing to do anything for a nuclear capability. As I have written many times in the past, Tehran has provided the world with a unified message; possessing nuclear weapons is a far more useful tool than forging a positive relationship with the world at large. In fact, for all of the differences between Iranian moderates and revolutionaries, both camps have come together to protect what they deem as their “god-given” right to nuclear technology.
In December of 2009, the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear ambition is perhaps at its lowest point since 2006. Despite three rounds of economic sanctions- and a fourth round inevitably coming up in the next month- the Islamic Republic continues to operate with virtual impunity. Economic sanctions have hurt the Iranian population as a whole, evident in the rise of gasoline prices across the country. Relying on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has proved to be a complete failure, and a targeted strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has the potential of destabilizing an already tumultuous region. With all of these complications, how is a country supposed to respond?
Well if you are the Israelis, the response has been- and continues to be- a combination of intelligence work and preemptive action. Mossad in particular- Israel’s elite intelligence unit- has been working especially hard on this effort, pouring tens of millions into its Iranian task force in the hopes of deterring Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Plans for a quick and decisive Israeli air-victory over the skies of Iran are becoming ever more prevalent throughout the Israeli Government. P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and other hawkish politicians have promised to do whatever they can to prevent a nuclear bomb from falling into Tehran’s hands. And with an Iranian refusal to the latest U.N.-backed negotiation, the possibility of a preemptive strike is only bolstering in significance.
Of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran has traditionally been enemy number one for the Israelis. A majority of Israelis view Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government as the greatest threat to peace in the world, much as President George W. Bush viewed Saddam Hussein in the same light. The fact that the Iranians continue to enrich uranium and improve their nuclear program on a day-to-day basis only gives the Israelis more cause for concern.
Israeli worries aside, a couple of questions need to be asked. With all of the external threats that Israel faces in the 21st century, is Iran really the country that is the “be all and end all” of Tel Aviv? Will a successful operation against the Islamic Republic really make Israel all that safer in the long run? More importantly, is there any evidence that Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Israel?
First and foremost, for all of Iran’s anti-Semitic remarks in the past, we have to remember that the ayatollahs are not exactly credible in what they say. Sure, these remarks and press releases are disturbing- and I am sure tons of people around the world cringed when Ahmadinejad uttered his famous “wipe Israel of the map” phrase- but these declarations are anything from realistic. Ahmadinejad’s extreme rants against Israel, as well as his denial of the Holocaust, are two illustrations of how illegitimate his government has become in the developed world.
Currently, Iran cannot compete with the Israelis in any way, shape or form. The Israeli Army is second to none in the Middle East, its air-force is powered by the latest American technology, and Tel Aviv receives approximately $5 billion a year from the United States in military assistance. What conventional arms does Iran have besides a small stockpile of medium-range ballistic missiles and a few anti-aircraft installations?
Interestingly enough, it may be accurate to conclude that a combined resistance from the Syrians, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al’Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad would have much more of an effect on the Israeli psyche than a conventional Iranian attack. Constantly obsessing over Iran and engaging in a one-tract security policy does nothing to mitigate these other external (and internal) threats, some of which have terrorized the Israeli population far longer than the Islamic Republic and in a much more direct fashion.
Secondly, there is no reason to believe that an Iran deprived of a nuclear capability will make Israel safer in the long-term. Iran’s program may be destroyed by a few air-strikes, but this would hardly solve the problem. As a response, the clerical regime could simply withdraw from the NPT and resume their nuclear work from scratch, both as a sign of protest against an attack and as a graphic demonstration of Persian nationalism. This time, Iranian scientists would have the knowledge and determination to rebuild their program from the ground-up, without looking over their shoulders and absent the fear of doing something illegal under global law. The technical difficulties that have often plagued the Iranian program since 2002 would most likely be eliminated as well, given the eight years of nuclear experience Iranian technicians have already acquired. With all of this said, even a 100 percent destruction rate by Israeli aircraft would not accomplish the goal of completely disarming Tehran for good.
Last but certainly not least, it is quite hard to believe that the Islamic Republic would actually use a nuclear device against Israel in the event Tehran was able to produce a bomb. The ramifications to such an attack- both in physical and psychological costs- would be enormous for the Iranian regime, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could kiss his political survival (and perhaps his life) goodbye. A single nuclear explosion in an Israeli city would mean the absolute destruction of Iran as both a country and a society; a consequence that Ahmadinejad certainly wants to do without.
If the Islamic Government in Iran has demonstrated anything to the international community in the past thirty years, it is their innate passion for self-preservation and legitimacy. Self-preservation is precisely why Ayatollah Khamenei decided to crack-down so hard on Iranian protesters this past summer; he wants to remain in firm control over both government policy and Iranian society. A nuclear attack on Israel would do nothing to help the Ayatollah succeed in his main objective. To the contrary, such an act would not only generate more heated protest from Iranian citizens- most of whom are educated, moderate, and tolerant- but would also signify the beginning of the end for the Islamic Revolution.
With the logic of the Iranian nuclear dilemma exposed in short order, one would think that the Israelis would devote as much time and energy to other security challenges. Here is a note to Israel; Iran is not the only danger that you face in the 21st century. Remember the Syrians? Remember the war you just fought with Hamas in the Gaza Strip? Remember the quagmire against Hezbollah in 2006? These are the challenges that should warrant the attention of Israel’s best and brightest, not just a state with a nuclear motive.
-Daniel R. DePetris