Eiland: Iran leadership poses threat

Exclusive: Ahmadinejad would "sacrifice half of Iran" to wipe out Israel.

Ahmadinejad badass2  298 (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad badass2 298
(photo credit: AP)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, if he ever became the supreme decision maker in his country, would "sacrifice half of Iran for the sake of eliminating Israel," Giora Eiland, Israel's former national security adviser, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
At present, Eiland stressed, the ultimate decision maker in Iran was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 67, whom he said was "more reasonable." But, Eiland went on, "if Ahmadinejad were to succeed him - and he has a reasonable chance of doing so - then we'd be in a highly dangerous situation."
The 49-year-old Iranian president, he said, "has a religious conviction that Israel's demise is essential to the restoration of Muslim glory, that the Zionist thorn in the heart of the Islamic nations must be removed. And he will pay almost any price to right the perceived historic wrong. If he becomes the supreme leader and has a nuclear capability, that's a real threat."
In facing up to Iran's nuclear ambitions, Eiland said the United States had three possible courses of action, "all of them bad," and that a decision could not be postponed for too long, "since delay, too, is a decision of sorts."
The first option was "to give up" - to accept that Iran was going nuclear and try to make the best of it. By "making the best of it," Eiland said, he meant "isolating Iran economically, politically and internationally in the hope that this will eventually prompt an internal push for regime change."
This might also give other nations the sense that the political price of going nuclear was too high for them to contemplate, and might thus deter nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and others from seeking to emulate Iran and spelling the full collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation era.
Washington's second option was to launch a last-ditch effort at diplomatic action, he said. At this stage, a mixture of sanctions and bonuses would not be sufficient to deter Iran altogether, but it might seek to persuade Teheran to suspend progress for two or three years.
"In return, the US would have to open direct engagement with Teheran, with full recognition of the regime. This would boost the regime's credibility and standing at home and allow it to say it was voluntarily suspending the program for a while," he said.
The advantage for the Bush administration was that "Bush could then say, 'They didn't go nuclear on my watch, and it's up to my successors to keep things that way.'"
The third option, said Eiland, was a military operation - born of the sense that the diplomatic process would not work and that there could be no compromise with an axis-of-evil power. However, internal political realities and public opinion in the US were not conducive to this, he said, nor was international support readily available. Furthermore, said Eiland, "this would be action that would have to be taken within months.
If not, and if Iran continues enrichment, it will complete the research and development stage and have a proven ability which it can then duplicate at numerous sites. And at that point it could not be stopped by military action. Six months or 12 months from now would be too late, he said.
Tellingly, Eiland noted, it seemed to him that the difficulties facing the administration over that third course were growing.
As the crisis with Iran deepens, meanwhile, some Israeli sources believe the US has acted foolishly in spurning opportunities for international diplomatic cooperation against Iran in recent years, and that Israel mistakenly encouraged this course of action.
The US might have had more success isolating Iran two years ago, when Bush and French President Jacques Chirac were stronger, Iran was weaker and the situation in Iraq looked better, said the sources.
As recently as a few months ago, on a trip to Ukraine, which is a vital Russian sphere of influence, US Vice President Richard Cheney criticized the Putin regime's record on democracy, the sources pointed out. Against that kind of background, the US should not be surprised now, therefore, to find Russia less than willing to fully cooperate on its Iran strategy.
Israel, these sources went on, realized early the danger posed by Iran's nuclear drive but erred in supporting the US in hanging tough rather than pushing it toward cooperation.
As for Israel's military options, these sources spoke of an immense dilemma for the government. Declining to go into detail, they noted only that Israel was not as potent militarily as the US and mused about what might happen if a military action proved unsuccessful in thwarting the nuclear program. Iran might then complete its nuclear drive and, branding Israel a preemptive aggressor, claim legitimacy for a strike of its own at Israel.