Interesting Times: Israel is not alone

The Jewish state may prove more Iranproof than the rest of the West

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Israel is not alone. Not because America's top general came to hold our hands, and not because President George Bush is arriving next month. And not because, as Daniel Pipes intriguingly argues, the US intelligence community's delusional reversal actually makes a US military operation against Iran more likely. Israel is not alone because Israel is the most Iranproof country in the world. Taking the most likely rather than the worst-case scenario, a nuclear Iran will actually have a greater negative impact on the lives of Europeans and Americans than on those of Israelis. In the popular subconscious, the Iranian threat, to the extent that it exists, consists of a nuclear missile strike against Israel to carry out Ahmadinejad's genocidal dream of "wiping Israel off the map." However disconcerting this may be on a moral level, in practice this is seen as "Israel's problem." No country, including the US, will preemptively hit Iran simply to protect Israel - especially since Israel has shown the will and ability to defend itself. Israel must certainly take the missile scenario seriously. But this and other worst-case scenarios, such as Iran using terrorists to deliver a nuke, should not blind anyone to the fact that other scenarios are much more likely, judging by decades of Iranian behavior. The mullahs' first choice is always hits without fingerprints. Moreover, Iran has perfected a system of incremental aggression: its objective has been attacks that rise in magnitude, but never so quickly that they spark massive Western retaliation. The National Intelligence Estimate's claim that Iran stopped its covert "military" (as if building thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium is "civilian") nuclear program in 2003, if true, is a prime example of Iran's incrementalist strategy. The US had just toppled Saddam Hussein. Perhaps, the mullahs reasoned, this might be a time to lie low. A new threshold had been set and the Iranians were wary of crossing it. This is hardly a new pattern. In October 1983, Iran is presumed to have ordered the massive suicide bombings against the American and French multinational forces in Beirut, killing 241 American marines. The following February, after initially declaring "we will not be cowed by terrorists," the US withdrew its forces from Lebanon. Emboldened, by 1987 Iran began to disrupt the flow of Arab oil through the Persian Gulf by firing at Kuwaiti oil tankers. The Reagan Administration responded by putting Kuwaiti tankers under American flags, sinking nearly half of Iran's navy, and destroying over $1 billion worth of Iran's offshore oil facilities. Consequently, Iran halted its offensive and accepted a UN Security Council resolution ending its eight-year war with Iraq. Iran may or may not be patient enough to wait until Bush is safely out of office to increase its support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Afghanistan and elsewhere. But there is no doubt that it will read the NIE and the Democratic presidential field falling over each other to advocate negotiating with Iran as signals to accelerate its nuclear program and its support for terrorism. THIS IS clear if one considers why Iran supports terrorism in the first place. It is not because the regime enjoys killing people ("infidels," as they put it), though it may. It is because this is a regime that sees terrorism and nukes, in the words of the NIE, as advancing its "key national security and foreign policy objectives." When terror forces Western retreat, as in 1983, the regime logically concludes that more aggression is warranted. When terror results in an unexpectedly harsh Western reaction, as in 1987 (Kuwaiti tankers) and 2003 (Saddam deposed), Iran equally logically decides to pull back. Along the way, many bright minds have perennially suggested short-circuiting this process by simply identifying Iran's objectives and attempting to fulfill them. "From an Iranian perspective, serious engagement would start with American willingness to recognize Teheran's legitimate security and regional interests as part of an overall settlement of our differences," write Flynt and Hillary Leverett in Tuesday's New York Times. "From the American side, any new approach must address Iran's security by clarifying that Washington is not seeking regime change in Teheran, but rather changes in the Iranian government's behavior.... To that end, the United States should be prepared to put a few assurances on the table." Iranian aggression, in this view, is a function of insecurity. If only the US could convince the mullahs that America is completely OK with whatever repression they wish to engage in at home, then the mullahs would agree to drop all their paranoia-driven trouble making. The only problem is that the mullahs don't see things this way. American security guarantees would be seen, understandably, as the ultimate evidence that jihad works and should be accelerated. As to the Iranian assurances the US would ostensibly receive, the failed North Korean deal, resulting in that country developing the Bomb, is a telling example of what such commitments are worth. As it happens, Israel is well prepared for a world characterized by Iranian resurgence and Western retreat. We already have guards at the doors of all our restaurants, theaters and malls. These guards, the security fence, and the daily military pressure imposed by the IDF against the terrorists will likely continue to be effective. We have the most elaborate missile defense system in the world, a top-notch air force, and the will to use it. Finally, we reportedly have a nuclear deterrent, including a sea-based second-strike capacity. A resurgent Iran would scuttle any prospects for peace with the Arab world, but Israel has no peace now, so that would not be a setback from the status quo. THE US and Europe, by contrast, have much more to lose. The "Great Satan," not Israel, after all, is Iran's wide open and ultimate target. The Islamification of Europe is already proceeding nicely, from an Iranian perspective, and would accelerate. Iran would see to it that oil prices rise in response to carefully nurtured crises, and that Sunni Arab regimes become satellites of Teheran, along the Damascus model. The US would be kept busy trying to put the nuclear genie back in its bottle, as Arab regimes start pursuing their own bombs. Israel has never seen itself as a world power, or the center of modern civilization, but the US and Europe do. Hunkering down would be unpleasant for Israel, but hardly unfamiliar. By contrast, the West as a whole would have to adjust to shrinking influence, increasing insecurity and a deteriorating world economy that enriches oil producers such as Russia, Iran and the Arab states. The NIE sets the West on a course of relying on little Israel to do its dirty work and save the world from such a scenario. But what if Israel never finds the right moment, or judges that the risks of an unsuccessful or incomplete strike are too great? Israel may be alone in the sense of being thrust forward to confront a global and, for itself, existential threat. But Israel will be far from alone in suffering from, and will likely be among those most able to adapt to, the consequences of a still reversible Western decision to abdicate even the non-military means necessary to its own defense.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11