No let-up on Iran

With new forecasts pushing back the date for a nuclear-capable Iran, the sense of urgency in thwarting the Islamic Republic might dissipate.

Iran Reactor 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Iran Reactor 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Recent revelations point to significant delays in Iran’s nuclear program. Two weeks ago, outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan told a dozen senior reporters that Iran was not likely to have the bomb before mid-decade, which he later qualified and modified slightly, apparently under pressure from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Foreign reports over the past few years have pointed to a series of “setbacks” to the mullah regime’s weapons drive, from nuclear scientists disappearing or being assassinated, to the mysterious damaging of nuclear equipment, to labs going up in flames, to planes with classified Iran-bound cargo crashing.
In recent weeks, reports in The Jerusalem Post and elsewhere have speculated on the far-reaching damage inflicted by the Stuxnet computer virus. It has been suggested that the highly sophisticated and fiendishly destructive virus had managed to infiltrate the computer operating system, and caused about a fifth of the centrifuges used to enrich uranium to spin out of control and destroy themselves. Last weekend, The New York Times tied the covert cyber-warfare to Israel.
WHETHER OR not Dagan’s 2015 forecast is overly optimistic, Iran’s nuclear ambitions have apparently been humbled, and the time frame for a nuclear breakout has been pushed off. As a result, the question has been raised whether a reevaluation of sanction policies is in order.
Some are calling for more efforts to engage the Islamist regime. “The cyber worm may have set back Iran’s nuclear program, but it is unlikely to alter its nuclear ambitions,” Ori Nir, the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, told JTA. “In order to introduce real change, the US and its international allies must change the manner in which they deal with Iran and start to comprehensively engage with Teheran.”
No longer in quite as frenzied a rush against the clock, perhaps the international community can redouble efforts to woo Iran away from the nuclear option through dialogue, engagement advocates argue. Military brinkmanship or ratcheting up sanctions might have the unwanted result of pushing an embattled Islamic Republic toward an increasingly intransigent and extremist position, they claim. Collective punishment of the Iranian people might arouse the sympathies of the Muslim world against the West. And judging from the South African, Iraqi and North Korean precedents, sanctions have proved to be highly ineffective.
But while there might be some truth to some these claims, it would be incredibly naïve to expect a nebulous “engagement” policy to convince Iran to abandon a nuclear program that has earned it popularity domestically and heightened diplomatic influence internationally.
Hizbullah’s domination of Lebanon, Hamas’s tightening grip on Gaza, a Shi’ite resurgence in Iraq, as well as improved Iranian relations with Turkey and strengthening ties with Syria – these are just some of Iran’s foreign policy successes in recent years in the Middle East. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s incessant battle cry that the West is weak and in retreat has a ring of truth for the Muslim extremists in this area of the world who look up to him. Continued defiance in the face of sanctions would only provide additional proof of the West’s inability to stop bold and brave Iran.
The West has precious little to zero chance of succeeding in engagement with a regime that enjoys widespread popularity in the Muslim world specifically because of its defiance of the West. It is popular despite the blatant abuse of its own citizens’ human rights, its recurring threats that Muslims who support Israel will “burn in the umma of Islam,” and its stubborn pursuit of the most destructive weapons that could lead to the deaths of millions in the Middle East – Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths alike.
THE CONCERN now, indeed, is that in light of the recent revelations on Iran’s nuclear difficulties, the international community will lapse into complacency. With new forecasts pushing back the date for a nuclear-capable Iran, the sense of urgency in thwarting the Islamic Republic might dissipate.
This must not be allowed to happen. Iran is bent on obtaining the bomb. That the danger may have been delayed by a year or two does not make it any less of an existential threat. The apparent achievements of sabotage, indeed, should provide new encouragement that Teheran can be thwarted. And the imperative to do so is as profound as ever.
As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, “I don’t know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the Gulf, or who is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy, that it’s a one-year or a three-year time frame.”