‘One of the great unresolved questions of Barack Obama’s presidency,” says Time
magazine, “is whether he can peacefully resolve America’s conflict with Iran
over its nuclear weapons program.”
One of the great
unresolved questions of Barack Obama’s presidency is whether he can successfully
resolve America’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear weapons
Time continues that the Obama- Rouhani handshake “would be the
most important... handshake since the historic grip between [Yitzhak] Rabin and
Remember that while it has still
not been admitted by the United States, that event, 20 (!) years later, has
proven a costly failure. Israel now must satisfy seemingly monthly American
demands by releasing terrorists who murdered Israelis.
The handshakes of
prime minister Neville Chamberlain with Hitler (the Munich agreement) and of the
Nazi foreign minister and Stalin (the Nazi-Soviet pact) were also historic,
peaceful gestures – but ultimately unsuccessful ones.
Time continues, “It
would only be a symbolic act, to be sure. But when it comes to international
diplomacy, symbolism can go a long way.”
Alas, it is not a mere symbolic
act, but the start of a foolish deal that Iran will break.
SO IS Iran a
lunatic state or a rational actor? Well, it’s a hell of a lot more rational than
US foreign policy is today. After all, the UN just elected Iran Rapporteur for
the General Assembly’s main committee on disarmament and international security,
without Tehran having to do anything in return. And Obama will blame Congress
for diplomatic failure if it increases sanctions. In fact diplomats doubt Iran
will actually do anything anyway.
That’s not “moderate,” but radical –
the smart kind of radical.
Put more politely, Iran is a rational actor in
terms of its own objectives. The issue is understanding what Iran wants. Policy
is always best served by truth, whether or not people like it: Iran is an
aggressive, rational actor.
Remember: The problem is not that Iran is
eager to use nuclear weapons but that the Obama administration is not going to
apply containment properly and credibly. And that encourages Iran’s non-nuclear
aggression and terrorism.
The hysteria over Iran, however, had also
better be gotten under control, without belittling the real, very threatening
situation developing regarding the Islamic Republic.
The fact is that the
history of the Iranian Islamic regime does not indicate suicidal recklessness. A
key reason for this is that the leaders of Iran know they can be reckless
without risking suicide. If apparently suicidal rhetoric does not result in
suicide but serves a very specific purpose, that rhetoric is not in fact
What, then, does Iran want? Its basic goal was and is to be as
powerful a regional hegemon as possible – including control over Syria and
Lebanon. It would like to take leadership of all Muslims in the area. Today,
however, it is clear that the Sunni Arabs reject Tehran’s leadership and will
fight against it.
In other words, the ultimate extent of Iran’s zone of
influence could only include part of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, southwest
Afghanistan, Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. That is the
maximum, and Iran is far from achieving that goal. And it will probably never
Iran’s influence is limited by the location of Shia Muslims.
Not all Shia Muslims favor Iran, and pretty much all Sunni Muslims oppose it.
Therefore, whatever the outcome is in Syria – in other words if the regime wins
– Iran will at most keep its current levels of influence.
But if the
regime wins, the Sunnis will hate Iran even more and will fight against it
So Iran still wants to get as much power as it can, while
minimizing the associated risks. Nuclear weapons are thus for Iran primarily a
defensive shield enabling it to carry out conventional aggression with
As I’ve insisted for many years, it is increasingly clear that
Iran will get nuclear weapons. We should start discussions in that
The recent brilliant decision of the Iranian elite – which is
not only more ruthless but strategically smarter than Western leadership – to
make President Hassan Rouhani its representative to the West guarantees it. The
only question is when Iran will get them.
The evidence seems to show that
this is several years away. (It will be interesting if that development comes
too late to affect Syria’s civil war, and such will probably happen.)
Iran certainly get nukes? First, the West isn’t going to take strong enough
action to stop it, because the alternatives are deemed – perhaps accurately so –
too risky. No surgical Israeli strike is going to stop it, and President Barack
Obama will never support such a strike. Of course, there is also lots of money
at stake. The sanctions may seem tough, but have more holes than Swiss
After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there is perhaps a better moneymaking
climate. His successor Rouhani will further soothe Western willingness to battle
on this issue. Of course, no one really cares that much about potential genocide
Second, with international support at a low point, the
logistical difficulties, and an incredibly reluctant US president, Israel is not
going to attack Iran.
What Israel should and will do is make clear it
will attack Iran if there is any reason to believe Tehran might launch nuclear
weapons. It will build up a multilayer defensive and offensive
This is not mere passive containment, but assured massive
Note that there is more than one potential victim of Iran’s
nuclear weapons. People, including the Israelis, talk a lot about Israel, yet
the Sunni Arab states are increasingly involved in shooting situations with
Iranian proxies. Unlike Israel, they won’t do anything and perhaps can’t, except
to beg the US to take strong action. But the US won’t.
And of course
everyone can just hope everything will turn out all right.
words, against Israel, the Tehran regime talked a big game but did relatively
little. On other issues, too, Iran did not act like a country bent on
Against its Arab enemies, it did not take considerable risks.
Iran could wage a proxy war against America in Iraq because the US let
All of the above in no way discounts an Iranian threat. Yes, of
course, Iran sponsored terrorism and sought to gain influence and spread
revolution. Yet it did not attack a single country in terms of open warfare.
Remember, Iran was invaded by Iraq. And when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself
was persuaded that the US was entering the war against him, he quickly ended it,
though he said that doing so was like eating snakes and scorpions, but was
necessary to preserve the regime.
Iran is the kind of aggressor once
described by Winston Churchill as a thief who went down the street rattling
doors to find one that was open.
Second, Iran sought to defend itself by
threatening antagonists with total destruction and by obtaining the ultimate
deterrence: nuclear weapons. This does not mean one should sympathize with
Tehran since, after all, it sought nuclear weapons to ensure its defense while
it continued aggressive policies.
Iran can also complain about American
encirclement, but there wouldn’t be a US motive for such efforts without Iran’s
aggressive policies. The point, however, is that the claim Iran is seeking
nuclear weapons so it can destroy itself by attacking Israel is just not
supported by the facts.
Thus, Iran is not a demonic, crazed, kamikaze
country. It is simply a typical aggressor that wants insurance against having to
pay the price for such activity. North Korea and Pakistan sought nuclear weapons
for the same reason, and it is working for them.
The use of nuclear
weapons causes the loss of the security the mere possession of nuclear weapons
The problem is not that Iran is eager to use nuclear weapons but
that the Obama administration is unlikely to apply containment properly and
credibly. And then its version of containment might fail.The author is
director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA). His
forthcoming book is called Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle
East (Yale University Press).