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(photo credit: AP)
In one of the more bizarre vignettes that diplomacy sometimes produces, Iran announced Sunday UN inspectors had been summoned to remove the seals their agency placed on some Iranian nuclear facilities more than two years ago. The seals were placed after Iran voluntarily committed to suspend nuclear research.
Seals are a form of enforcement, but what did they enforce? Now that Iran has decided to openly renege on its pledge, the regime has no need to suffer the indignity of having to break the seals itself; rather, the UN inspectors have dutifully arrived to remove them. Why did the UN inspectors agree to do this and what did the seals accomplish? Did they prevent Iran from engaging in nuclear research? If the international community trusted Iran not to secretly transfer its research program somewhere else, why were the seals necessary in the first place? In reality, the seals did nothing to shackle Iran, but they did shackle the international community, in that the seals gave the impression that Iran's nuclear research had been halted and there was no urgent need for further action.
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the cabinet that Iran's latest brazen act indicates that the world is failing to stop Teheran's nuclear drive. There should be no misunderstanding what the consequences of such a failure would be.
While much attention has been paid to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denials and desire to "wipe Israel off the map," the world seems to have forgotten that Iranian ayatollahs have been no less explicit in years past. Four years ago, Hashemi Rafsanjani said at Teheran University: "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything... It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality." And Rafsanjani was the "moderate" in the recent Iranian election.
However unmoved the international community may be regarding these threats to Israel, there also should be no illusion that Israel is the main, let alone only, target in Iranian sights. As the former president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, wrote exasperatedly in the Wall Street Journal on December 30, "Imagine the impact of a single nuclear bomb detonated in New York, London, Paris, Sydney or LA! What about two or three? The entire edifice of modern civilization is built on economic and technological foundations that terrorists hope to collapse with nuclear attacks like so many fishing huts in the wake of a tsunami."
The former leader of the largest Muslim country continued regarding the Iranian threat, "We cannot afford to continue 'business as usual' in the face of this existential threat. Rather, we must set aside our international and partisan bickering, and join to confront the danger that lies before us."
It would seem superfluous to recall that the last time the world's democracies dismissed similar threats as mad ravings, the result was a world war that left tens of millions dead - and Hitler was not equipped with nuclear weapons. The world cannot build its security on the baseless hope that the mullahs are bluffing.
The unspoken European notion is that the Iranian regime would not use nuclear weapons, but like other nuclear powers, simply possess them as a form of deterrence. This prospect, even if it could be relied upon, should not reassure anyone. Iranian nuclear weapons, even if never detonated or passed on to terrorist groups, would allow the regime to increase its support for terrorism with impunity.
Last week, an Italian news agency reported that the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, warned Europeans on state television "not to force the Islamic Republic to cut short the dialogue process and to opt for another scenario... If we lose, the same will also happen to [Europe] and they will have to prepare themselves to live in a hell." This is a transparent threat to unleash terrorist attacks against Europe.
But if the E-3 - the UK, France and Germany - continue to appease Iran it will not avoid such attacks, but invite them once the Iranian regime has managed to protect itself with a nuclear umbrella. As envisioned in the UN Charter, the full economic, diplomatic and - if necessary - military power of the West must be brought to bear on Iran in a classic case of collective self-defense.