Not too late on Iran

Israel must stop playing role of satisfied bystander and take more action.

Ahmadinejad 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran claims it has reached the magic number of 3,000 centrifuges, the level often cited in the West as the one at which Teheran's mullahs could enrich enough uranium to produce one or two nuclear weapons a year. "We have more than 3,000 centrifuges working and every week a new set is installed," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on Sunday. To some, Teheran's boasts in the face of two UN sanctions resolutions, with a third ostensibly in the works, might seem foolish. Iran's brazenness certainly does reach bizarre extremes, including dancers performing while holding capsules of uranium hexaflouride, the gas produced by the centrifuges, during a ceremony in Mashhad, Iran's holiest city, earlier this year. This behavior is no mystery, however, when seen in the light of Teheran's clear strategy: to convince the West that it is already too late to stop an Iranian bomb. The mullahs evidently think that the moment such a conclusion is reached, complacency toward the inevitable will set in, and the West will focus on how to accommodate, rather than prevent, the reality of a nuclear Iran. It is likely no coincidence that Iran stepped up its attempt to present its nuclear drive as a fait accompli just days after President George Bush unleashed a string of articulate speeches defending his policies, further detailing the case against Iran, and tying together the Iranian threat with the war in Iraq and other attacks on Western interests. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 22, Bush did not mention Iran, but devastatingly quoted expert opinion from just after World War II, which overwhelmingly held that a democratic Japan was an utter impossibility. They were wrong, Bush said, quoting one historian who later observed: "Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage." Bush also pointed out that it would have been disastrous to have abandoned South Korea to the northern invaders, as many Republicans suggested at the time, and said those who argued that Vietnam and Southeast Asia would benefit from American withdrawal failed to anticipate the humanitarian catastrophe, including the Cambodian genocide, that quickly ensued. In his speech to the American Legion on August 28, Bush dealt with the Iranian threat directly: "Iran... is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hizbullah, who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. "Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan... [and] has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust." Most pointedly, Bush pledged: "We will confront this danger before it is too late." This brings us back to Iran's strategy, which is to show that it is already too late. It is not too late, but Iran is right that Western complacency is its principal ally in paving the road to nuclear-backed hegemony. It is such forces of resignation that Bush is belatedly fighting, essentially single-handedly, with his recent string of speeches. Not only are many key European governments unconvinced that they need to sacrifice commercial interests to confront Iran, but it safe to say that even the US State and Defense departments are not adverse to contemplating deterring Iran rather than confronting this threat "before it is too late." In this climate, Israel must stop playing the role of satisfied bystander. We must instead constantly project and elaborate on three messages: First, deterrence will not remove "the shadow of a nuclear holocaust," stop the nuclearization of the region or prevent the immediate expansion of Iran's terrorist proxies and regional influence; second, the measure of sanctions is not whether they have any impact, but whether they are sufficient to force Iran to back down; and third, an international solution is much preferable, but Israel can and will act if the international community does not. While Israel volunteering to address a global problem might seem to reduce the impetus for international action, Israeli action obviously presents both higher risks and lower chances of success than serious international economic or military measures. Israel's message should be that the choice is not between preventing a nuclear Iran or living with that scenario, but between better and worse ways of confronting the Iranian threat.