Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Obsession With Iran Has Reached a Boiling Point

Posted in Iran by Dan on December 15, 2009

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


5 Responses

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  1. Omaar said, on December 16, 2009 at 3:26 am


    But while the fuel swap deal that the U.S., Russia, France and the IAEA had negotiated with Iran in October called for Tehran to ship out some 75% of its enriched uranium stockpile for processing abroad, Manouchehr Mottaki suggested modifications to the deal today that the West has not accepted.

    ”We accepted the proposal in principle,” Mottaki told reporters at a security conference convened by the International Institute of Strategy Studies in Manama Bahrain, according to the AP. ”We suggested in the first phase we give you 400 kilograms of 3.5 percent enriched uranium and you give us the equivalent in 20 percent uranium.”

    ”We gave a clear answer and we responded and our answer was we accepted in principle but there were differences in the mechanism,” Mottaki continued, suggesting the exchange of the first batch of its 400 kilos of low enriched uranium for the more highly enriched isotopes take place on Kish island, in the Persian Gulf.

    The U.S. and France have insisted that while some modifications may be possible to the Tehran Research Reactor deal, as it’s known, that Iran must send the agreed 1,200 kilograms all in one batch out of the country by the end of the year.

    “Iran’s proposal today does not appear to be consistent with the fair and balanced draft agreement proposed by the IAEA in consulation with the United States, Russia, and France,” a senior US administration official said Saturday. “The terms of that agreement call for Iran to send 1200 kg. of its low enriched uranium to Russia in one batch, where it would be further enriched and then sent to France for fabrication into fuel assemblies.”

  2. JRichter said, on December 16, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Well Iran is already running scared. They just suddenly accepted the deal in princicple. Even if they are trying a trick, only fear makes you feel the need to resort to tricks. The Nobel lecture does also squeeze them into the periphery in terms or international opinion. The sanctions will come and come hard if they do not renege – Russia , and more recently China have been slowly moved and marshalled against them.

    • bighappy said, on December 16, 2009 at 3:30 am

      Iranians are scared, indeed. So scared, they promised lately to build 10 more nuclear facilities. They originally agreed on something, but then figured out that Obama, unlike Bush is a toothless doll and spat in his face. And what reason for Russia or China to back up? Their latest actions did not demonstrate a slightest respect for Obama, Putin said he would prefer to make deal with Bush, and Chinese openly and aggressively confronted Obama on ANY aspect. They will never allow tougher sanctions against Iran.

  3. Dan said, on December 16, 2009 at 3:31 am

    The key to success for a new round of sanctions against Iran is obviously going to depend on China. In the past, China has been rather quick to trade with regimes that are often categorized by the international community as “rogue” and threatening. In fact, to this day, China continues to trade with North Korea, Burma, and Sudan; three of the most autocratic states in the entire world. Unless China can be persuaded to change its behavior (which I personally think will not occur), a new sanctions regiment against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be nothing but a formality.

    There is no evidence to support the claim that China will cooperate in the first place. As long as economic growth remains Beijing’s primary objective, logic dictates that China will simply take advantage of the situation for themselves (not exactly a bad idea from the Chinese perspective). A western refusal to do business with Tehran simply translates into more economic opportunity for the Chinese. Now, instead of numerous oil companies competing for Iranian dollars, China will become Iran’s exclusive petroleum partner.

  4. Home412AD said, on December 16, 2009 at 3:31 am

    I can’t imagine who in the world would care that the Americans and the Jews are sabre-rattling yet again, ad infinitum and ad nauseum. Look at the military facts. Neither the Americans nor the Jews have the military forces to invade Iran and put boots on the ground. American is full up with wars on two fronts already, and the Jews don’t have the army for such a horrendous job. Iran is more mountainous than Afghanistan, for heaven’s sake. Even the American Feds concede that a bombing campaign (a) would result in an unacceptable, unjustifiably high number of civilian casualties — innocent men, women, and children who have no say or control over what their government does — and, (b), almost certainly fail to destroy every hidden military facility in Iran before their military struck back. Any attack on Iran, especially an air strike, would inexorably cause the deaths of tens, possibly hundreds of thousand of Jews occupying Palestine, and the destruction of a huge amount of urban property. Warfare against Iran is simply strategically and tactically impossible, utterly unrealistic and impractical, a wishful thinking fairytale.

    Please, demonstrate some IQ points, and forget that animalistic lust to kill. Accept reality for a change, because reality will not change to suit the convenience of the Americans and the Jews. Iran has the same sovriegn right and need to develop nuclear weapons as any other country, and as long as it is openly threatened on two sides by the US and the Jews occupying Palestine, Iran has all the motivation and justification it needs to do so in the eyes of the world. Although the Iranians will never say so, naturally, until they actually have the weapons to defend themselves with.

    The first cause of all the conflicts in the Mideast is the occupation of Palestine by the Jews. When that occupation ends, and the Jews leave Palestine, 90 percent of the justification for the conflicts will disappear. The Jews started this conflict, they are deliberately provoking this escalation to open warfare, and they are the only people who can end it. The ball is in their court, and it is their responsibility to the world to leave Palestine, before some country uses nukes to encourage them to accept their responsibility. They have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences of their own actions, and the Americans are fools to let the Jews manipulate them into dying to protect Jews. The world will continue to regard the USA and all Americans with nothing but contempt, as long as they let the Jews continue to use them as their servants and cannnon fodder.

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