The only reason Iran had made a deal to temporarily curb their military nuclear program in return for a partial lifting of economic sanctions is, clearly, because Iran already has what it wants: the infrastructure, raw materials, scientific know-how, manpower, resources and now, new trading partners and cash, to become a nuclear power virtually at the drop of a hat.
Possessing a military nuclear capacity is a cornerstone of this Iranian regime’s thinking.
They have starved their country and invested billions to get it. They want it for reasons of regional dominance, control of the Gulf and, primarily, to negate the world’s ability to tell it what to do. It gives them deterrence, incredible leverage on the international stage and strategic parity with the world powers.
Iran with a bomb is a lot less susceptible to bullying, than an Iran without one. A nuclear capable Iran is assured of regional hegemony; without it, it is just another country with massive internal problems, little direct outside power projection, a denuded Shiite leader in a world dominated by Sunni power and wealth.
A nuclear capable Iran is also less shackled in using terror and surrogates to do its dirty work. Retaliating, on the conventional level, against Iran with a bomb, and believed to be fanatical enough to use it, is a whole different kettle of fish from an Iran without a bomb.
This was the wrong Iranian regime to have made a deal with. The smiling, soft-spoken, savvy, team of negotiators, who seem to have swept the five plus one off their feet, are not the people who count.
The man pulling the strings is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, who has been in on the nuclear program and the thinking around it from the ground floor up, if not the basement.
Before assuming divine powers in June 1989, after the death of the first Ayatollah, Khomeini, Khamenei was president of the Islamic Republic for eight years, from 1981.
This places him at the center of the Islamic Republic’s decision- making process for over three decades and three years before the regime secretly decided on its quest for a nuclear weapon, which began in 1984, at the height of the Iraq-Iran war. He was at the table when Iran decided to go nuclear and has navigated the process ever since. For him to throw in the towel on this would be an admission of failure, something people who claim divine inspiration are not known to do. Khamenei will not throw his baby into the fire, of that you can be absolutely sure. He will do everything he can do to save it, even if requires a bit of duplicity alone the way to achieve it.
Israel attacked, and successfully destroyed, the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in June 1981. The Iranians had tried to do so a few months before and failed. The Iranian decision to go after a bomb, therefore, was not because they needed a counter balance to a nuclear Iraq, but because they understood what it means to have one.
If Israel had not intervened, ironically, on the side of the country that has become its worst enemy the end result of the Iraq-Iran war would have looked very different. A nuclear Iraq would have ultimately brought the fledgling Islamic Republic to its knees, and no one understood this better than the incumbent Ayatollah.
President Hassan Rouhani, with whom the West is now enamored, was put into power by Khamenei with this specific task in mind. It does not require analysts at the CIA to understand that he is imminently disposable and but a puppet on a string who, at this time, fits the Ayatollah’s strategy of supposed appeasement.
While the world was having a good laugh at the antics of the previous president, Ahmadinejad, Khamenei went ahead with the development of a bomb at full speed. Now that he has reached a point where he feels his program is essentially intact, the bomb secured, and the cornerstone of his strategy is accomplished, he has sent in Rouhani to lift the floodgates on sanctions, in return for an ostensible temporary freeze of Iran’s military nuclear ambitions.
No one doubts that Khamenei is a very astute and smart leader and he has made a smart move at a good time from the perspective of the Islamic regime: President Obama has three years left in office, which makes him a lame duck in about 18-months’ time, or about a year from when the current six-month “test” period is set to end. So, if a final agreement is not reached within the six month deadline, there will almost surely be an extension to “allow diplomacy to take its course.” Then there will be another extension, and another, until Obama is gone.
It will take months before a new American president begins to understand the issues on the table, and by then any semblance of the current sanctions regime, already breached beyond repair, will be near impossible to restore.
Khamenei has navigated toward this point because, for him, it is a win-win situation.
It had driven a wedge between Israel and its main ally, America; it has relieved the economic stranglehold on his country; it has made a mockery of UN Security Council resolutions and, above all, it has left him with the nuclear option that is as easy to unfreeze as a TV dinner in the microwave, be it in a secret facility somewhere, or its components spread in secret sites throughout the country, or lying dormant for a while, waiting to be kick-started, when the right time comes along.
America and the rest of the free world had waited for years for the yolk of the Ayatollahs to be lifted from the Iranian people. This move ensures that it will remain in place for a long time to come. The wrong people have won, come away strengthened and remain capable of unfreezing their program with a flip of the micro-wave.
This has not been a defeat for Israel. It has been a defeat for democracy and world peace. Netanyahu is right to be screaming blue murder. So would you, if you saw your best friend and ally taken to the cleaners by so obvious a conman, and a provably dangerous one at that.
Hirsh Goodman’s most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, received was first prize, history category, National Jewish Book Awards, 2012; and the Washington Institute’s silver medal for best book on the Middle East, 2012.