Bible Commentator

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Rabbi Moshe Reiss



Should Israel bomb Iran to prevent it from getting the bomb? Or would the cure would be worse than the disease?

In the New Republic magazine (Jan. – Feb. 2007) , Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren noted that Iran's nuclear program, paired with its increasingly apocalyptic religious rhetoric, has Israelis feeling deeply frightened and backed into a corner. They noted that, in the end, the Israeli government could not--and would not--tolerate a nuclearized Iran.

Larry Derfner, who writes for The Jerusalem Post and US New & World Report disagreed and said that Israel's defensive crouch isn't really necessary.

Possible Results:

The National Security Network, a group of national security experts, estimates that the Bush administration's policy of bluster, threat and intermittent low-level actions against Iran has already added a premium of $30-$40 to every $140 barrel of oil. Then there was the one-day $11 spike after Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz suggested that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was "unavoidable".

Given that, let's imagine, for a moment, what almost any version of an air assault - Israeli, American or a combination of the two - would be likely to do to the price of oil. When asked recently by Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News about the effects of an Israeli attack on Iran, correspondent Richard Engel responded, "I asked an oil analyst that very question. He said, 'The price of a barrel of oil? Name your price: $300, $400 a barrel'." Former CIA official Robert Baer suggested in Time Magazine that such an attack would translate into $12 gas at the pump. ("One oil speculator told me that oil would hit $200 a barrel within minutes.")

Let's take a moment to imagine just what some of the responses to any air assault might be. The list of possibilities is nearly endless and many of them would be hard even for the planet's preeminent military power to prevent. They might include, as a start, the mining of the Strait of Hormuz, through which a significant portion of the world's oil passes, as well as other disruptions of shipping in the region. (Don't even think about what would happen to insurance rates for oil tankers!)

And that's without even taking into consideration what spreading chaos in the oil heartlands of the planet might mean, or what might happen if Hezbollah or Hamas took action of any sort against Israel, and Israel responded. Mohamed ElBaradei, the sober-minded head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, considering the situation, said the following, "A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything possible. It would turn the region into a fireball ..."

A report authored by respected military analyst Anthony H Cordesman of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think-tank, entitled "Iran, Israel and Nuclear War"

The accurate and bigger Israeli nukes, the report speculates, would inflict a far greater toll on Iranian cities - in between 16 million and 28 million in just "prompt" fatalities. The report says that that an Israeli recovery from its damage would be "theoretically possible in population and economic terms", whereas an Iranian recovery would be "not possible in normal terms"; in essence, the Iranian nation will be destroyed.

The lower yield and less accurate Iranian volley, sparing Jerusalem due to its centrality to the Moslem faith, would inflict between 200,000 to 800,000 Israeli fatalities along the coastal plain in the first 21 days. These are called "prompt" casualties; it's who dies before people start dropping from longer-term radiation exposure. Any surviving residents of the central core of urban Tel Aviv would still be exposed to 300 REM (roentgen equivalent man) of radiation 96 hours after the blasts, as opposed to an exposure during an average dental X-ray of about .010 REM.

For further discussion of the Persian Gulf and the West see Biblical Commentator

Why Israelis are afraid — very afraid

By Yossi Klein Halevi & Michael B. Oren

The Jewish State's worst nightmare

The first reports from military intelligence about an Iranian nuclear program reached the desk of Yitzhak Rabin shortly after he became prime minister in May 1992. Rabin's conclusion was unequivocal: Only a nuclear Iran, he told aides, could pose an existential threat to which Israel would have no credible response. But, when he tried to warn the Clinton administration, he met with incredulity. The CIA's assessment — which wouldn't change until 1998 — was that Iran's nuclear program was civilian, not military. Israeli security officials felt that the CIA's judgment was influenced by internal U.S. politics and privately referred to the agency as the "cpia" — "P" for "politicized." 

The indifference in Washington helped persuade Rabin that Israel needed to begin preparing for an eventual preemptive strike, so he ordered the purchase of long-range bombers capable of reaching Iran . And he made a fateful political decision: He reversed his ambivalence toward negotiating with the PLO and endorsed unofficial talks being conducted between Israeli left-wingers and PLO officials. Rabin's justification for this about-face was that Israel needed to neutralize what he defined as its "inner circle of threat" — the enemies along its borders — in order to focus on the coming confrontation with Iran, the far more dangerous "outer circle of threat." Rabin's strategy, then, was the exact opposite of the approach recently recommended by the Iraq Study Group: Where James Baker and Lee Hamilton want to engage Iran — even at the cost of downplaying its nuclear ambitions — in order to solve crises in the Arab world, Rabin wanted to make peace with the Arab world in order to prevent, at all costs, a nuclear Iran. 

Now, more than a decade later, the worst-case scenario envisioned by Rabin is rapidly approaching. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb as soon as 2009. In Washington, fear is growing that either Israel or the Bush administration plans to order strikes against Iran . In Israel, however, there is fear of a different kind. Israelis worry not that the West will act rashly, but that it will fail to act at all. And, while strategists here differ over the relative efficacy of sanctions or a military strike, nearly everyone agrees on this point: Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran. 

For over two decades, since the era of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Holocaust was rarely invoked, except on the extremes, in Israeli politics. In recent months, though, the Iranian threat has returned the Final Solution to the heart of Israeli discourse. Senior army commanders, who likely once regarded Holocaust analogies with the Middle East conflict as an affront to Zionist empowerment, now routinely speak of a "second Holocaust." Op-eds, written by left-wing as well as right-wing commentators, compare these times to the 1930s. Israelis recall how the international community reacted with indifference as a massively armed nation declared war against the Jewish people — and they sense a similar pattern today. Even though the United States and Europe have finally awakened to the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran's calls for the destruction of Israel tend to be dismissed as mere rhetoric by the Western news media. Yet, here in Israel, those pronouncements have reinforced Rabin's urgency in placing the Iran situation at the top of the strategic agenda. 

One of the men most responsible for doing precisely that is Labor Party parliamentarian and current Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, whom Rabin entrusted with his government's "Iran file." Like most in the defense establishment, Sneh doesn't believe Iran would immediately launch a nuclear attack against Israel . But, he adds, it won't have to actually use the bomb to cripple Israel. "They would be able to destroy the Zionist dream without pressing the button," he says. 

In clipped tones that reveal his long military background, he outlines three repercussions of an Iranian bomb. To begin with, he notes, the era of peace negotiations will come to an end: "No Arab partner will be able to make concessions with a nuclear Iran standing over them." What's more, Israel will find its military options severely limited. An emboldened Iran could provide Hezbollah and Hamas with longer-range and deadlier rockets than their current stock of Katyushas and Qassams; yet, threatened with a nuclear response, Israel would have little defense against intensifying rocket fire on its northern and southern periphery, whose residents would have to be evacuated to the center. Israel already experienced a foretaste of mass uprooting in the Lebanon war last summer, when hundreds of thousands of Galilee residents were turned into temporary refugees. Finally, says Sneh, foreign investors will flee the country, and many Israelis will, too. In one recent poll, 27 percent of Israelis said they would consider leaving if Iran went nuclear. "Who will leave? Those with opportunities abroad — the elite," Sneh notes. The promise of Zionism to create a Jewish refuge will have failed, and, instead, Jews will see the diaspora as a more trustworthy option for both personal and collective survival. During the Lebanon war, Israeli television's preeminent satirical comedy, "O What a Wonderful Land," interviewed an Israeli claiming that "this" is the safest place for Jews — as the camera pulled back to reveal that "this" was London. 

Even without the bomb, Iran's threat to Israel is growing. Working through Shia Hezbollah, Alawite Damascus, and Sunni Hamas, Tehran has extended its influence into Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories. As a result of Hezbollah's perceived victory in the Lebanon war and Hamas's ability to continue firing rockets at Israeli towns despite repeated army incursions into Gaza, Iran has proved it can attack Israel with near-impunity. Iranian newspapers are replete with stories gloating over the supposed erosion of Israel's will to fight and the imminent collapse of its "postmodern" army, as one recent article put it. Iran's self-confidence has been bolstered by Israel's failure to extract a price from Tehran for instigating the Lebanon war and for funding terrorist operations as far back as the early '90s, when Iran masterminded the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and, two years later, that city's Jewish community headquarters. Nor has Israel — to say nothing of the U.N. peacekeeping forces — managed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming. And, if Iran manages to overcome U.S. threats and U.N. sanctions and achieve nuclear capability, it will be seen throughout the Muslim world as unstoppable. 

A nuclear Iran will have devastating consequences for Sunni Arab states, too. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and, most recently, Jordan have declared their interest in acquiring nuclear power; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stated explicitly that Egypt may feel the need to protect itself against Iran's nuclear threat. Other Sunni nations could follow — including Libya, whose enmity toward the Saudis may draw it back into the nuclear race if Riyadh tries to acquire a bomb. A nuclear free-for-all, then, is likely to seize the Middle East. In this crisis-ridden region, any flashpoint will become a potential nuclear flashpoint. 

The reverberations of a nuclear Iran will reach far beyond the Middle East. Tehran could dictate the price of oil and even control much of its supply through the Straits of Hermuz. And Iran will be able to conduct terrorist operations through its proxies with greater immunity. Even without the nuclear threat, Iran succeeded in intimidating the Saudis into releasing Iranian suspects in the 1997 Khobar Towers bombing. Moreover, if Tehran goes nuclear, the pretense of an international community capable of enforcing world order would quickly unravel: After all, if a regime that has perpetrated terrorist attacks from Argentina to the Persian Gulf can flout sanctions and acquire nuclear weapons, how can the United Nations credibly stop anyone else from doing the same? 

And these terrifying scenarios exclude the most terrifying scenario of all: Iran uses its bomb. In a poll, 66 percent of Israelis said they believed Iran would drop a nuclear weapon on the Jewish state. Though defense experts are divided over the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear attack, every strategist we spoke with for this article considered the scenario plausible. "No one knows if Iran would use the bomb or not," says Sneh. "But I can't take the chance." 

The threat of a theologically motivated nuclear assault against Israel tends to be downplayed in the West; not so here. The former head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, has warned that an apocalyptically driven Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be willing to sacrifice half his country's population to obliterate the Jewish state. Military men suddenly sound like theologians when explaining the Iranian threat. Ahmadinejad, they argue, represents a new "activist" strain of Shiism, which holds that the faithful can hasten the return of the Hidden Imam, the Shia messiah, by destroying evil. Hebrew University Iranian scholar Eldad Pardo goes further, arguing that the ideology founded by Ayatollah Khomeini represents nothing less than a "new religion," combining Shia, Sunni, and Marxist beliefs and resembling Western messianic cults that have advocated mass suicide. And so Ahmadinejad's pronouncements about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam and the imminent destruction of Israel aren't regarded as merely calculated for domestic consumption; they are seen as glimpses into an apocalyptic game plan. Ahmadinejad has reportedly told his Cabinet that the Hidden Imam will reappear in 2009 — precisely the date when Israel estimates Iran will go nuclear. In a recent meeting with outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Iranian president predicted that, while the United States and Great Britain won the last world war, Iran will win the next one. And, two weeks ago, an Iranian government website declared that the Hidden Imam would defeat his archenemy in a final battle in Jerusalem. Notes one former top-ranking Israeli defense official: "We may not yet have located a clear theological line connecting the dots, but there are a great many dots." At least one ayatollah, though, has made that theology explicit: In 2005, Hussein Nuri Hamdani declared that "the Jews should be fought against and forced to surrender to prepare the way for the coming of the Hidden Imam." 

Defense experts readily acknowledge that Ahmadinejad is hardly all-powerful and must yield to the Council of Guardians. In recent elections, almost all the clerics allied with Ahmadinejad lost; and, in an unprecedented move, 150 Iranian parliamentarians signed a letter blaming the president for growing inflation and unemployment. But none of this reassures Israelis. That's because Ahmadinejad is hardly alone in conjuring doomsday scenarios. In February 2006, clerics in Qom issued a fatwa permitting nuclear war. And former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking at a 2001 "Jerusalem Day" rally, declared: "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. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality." 

Given these nightmarish scenarios, one would expect to find a mood of near-despair within the Israeli defense establishment. Yet senior officials believe that events are actually working in Israel's favor and that, one way or another, Iran's nuclear program can still be stopped. Partly, that is because Israel's assessments of Iran's intention to acquire nuclear weapons have finally been accepted not only by Washington but even by the Europeans. After years of isolation on the Iranian issue, Israelis are basking in a rare moment of international credibility. 

As a result, some in the defense establishment are convinced that the military option can still be forestalled, even at this late date, by aggressive economic sanctions, forcing the Iranian regime to choose between its nuclear program and domestic stability. To be sure, even the most optimistic Israelis believe that the recent U.N. decision to impose minimal sanctions on Iran will prove ineffective. Indeed, those sanctions — intended to prevent nuclear materials and know-how from reaching Iran and to stop its nuclear program from becoming self-sufficient — are uniformly dismissed as coming at least two years too late, since Iran is rapidly approaching nuclear self-sufficiency and, some here believe, may have already reached that point. 

But sanctions advocates do believe that, by formally placing Iran in the category of "threat to international peace," the United Nations has tacitly empowered the United States and its allies to pursue more aggressive sanctions that could trigger Iranian instability — such as the Bush administration's quiet efforts over the last year to force foreign banks out of Tehran. Combined with Iran's preexisting social and economic problems — massive hidden unemployment, widespread corruption, and growing drug addiction and prostitution — and hatred for the regime among students and the middle class, aggressive sanctions could, some Israelis believe, hasten regime change in Tehran by forcing the Iranian people to pay the price for their leaders' provocations. And, with regime change, of course, the threat posed by an Iranian bomb would ease: After all, the problem isn't the nuclearization of Iran but the nuclearization of this Iran. The very threat of additional sanctions has already led to drastic increases in food and housing prices in Tehran — and may have emboldened those parliamentarians who signed the recent protest letter to Ahmadinejad. "The Iranians are a very proud people," says one Israeli official with years of experience inside Iran. "They won't be able to bear being turned into pariahs, and that will increase their resentment toward the regime." 

Along with sanctions, some Israeli officials call for a robust but nonviolent U.S. intervention in internal Iranian politics — funding the Iranian opposition, transforming U.S. broadcasts in Farsi into "Radio Free Iran," reaching Farsi audiences through the Internet, and more aggressively challenging the Iranian government on its human rights abuses. Israeli advocates of regime change have been pressing Washington to adopt these policies for years and can't understand why even the Bush administration has demurred. "No one is saying not to plan for military action," says the official with experience in Iran. "But, given the devastating consequences of a military strike, why aren't we giving this a chance?" 

Skeptics of sanctions note that the time frame is too narrow and the stakes too high for Israel to place its hopes on long-term regime change. They insist that the international community is incapable of mounting effective sanctions, which would almost certainly be violated by Russia and China. Yes, they acknowledge, the ayatollahs' regime is in trouble and will eventually fall — but not soon enough. Indeed, optimists have been predicting imminent regime change for over a decade; and, when failed reformer Mohammed Khatami became president in 1997, some in the West declared that regime change had already begun. But Iran's leaders know how to defend themselves against opponents: When bus drivers organized a wildcat strike last year, the leader was arrested and his tongue was cut off.  

For those Israelis who are skeptical of sanctions, there is the option of last resort: a military strike. Experts readily acknowledge the complexity of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, since they are scattered over dozens of sites, many heavily fortified and deep underground. But an attack on three key sites — especially the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz — would set back Iranian plans by several years. It would not be necessary, the former top-ranking defense official says, to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities: By repeatedly hitting their entrances, the sites could be rendered inaccessible. At the same time, Israel would probably bomb key government installations, like Revolutionary Guard bases, to weaken the regime's ability to recover. While the Iranian people are likely to initially rally around the government, the combined effect of a military attack and economic sanctions could trigger an eventual uprising, suggests the former defense official. Periodic air strikes, he adds, would impede attempts to rebuild the nuclear sites. 

Defense experts downplay the possibility of secret facilities unknown to Western intelligence agencies. "If we can locate a suicide bomber as he moves from place to place, then we know how to locate static targets, even deep underground," says the former defense official. Nor are those facilities as impenetrable as some foreign news reports suggest. Noted Yuval Steinitz, former chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "The Iranians are signaling us that the nuclear project is vulnerable. Whoever spends several billion dollars just for anti-aircraft systems around nuclear sites is saying that those sites are vulnerable. There would be no need to invest those sums if their bunkers were deep enough [to avoid an air strike]." 

The Israeli air force has been actively preparing for an attack since 1993, enhancing the range of its bombers and acquiring the requisite bunker-busting ordnance. "Technically, we have the ability" to strike key facilities, a former commander of the air force told us. While the army's reputation was battered during the Lebanon war, the air force, by contrast, performed well, routinely destroying Hezbollah's long-range missile sites within less than five minutes following a launch. 

Despite a recent report in the London Sunday Times that Israel is planning a tactical nuclear attack on Iran's nuclear sites, Israel will almost certainly not introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East battlefield. The story, likely planted and then promptly denied, was probably part of an ongoing Israeli attempt to accomplish two objectives: to warn the international community that, if it fails to stop Iran through sanctions, then "crazy Israel" will be unleashed; and to prevent the Iranian crisis from turning into an Israeli issue alone. 

An Israeli assault could only delay Iran's nuclear program, not eliminate it. That's because Israel cannot sustain an air campaign against such remote targets for days on end. This can only be accomplished by the United States, perhaps together with NATO allies, by mounting an ongoing series of air strikes similar to the "shock and awe" campaign conducted against Iraq at the beginning of the war. Israelis, though, are divided over the likelihood of U.S. military action. Some experts believe President Bush will attack, if only to prevent being recorded by history as a leader who fought the wrong war while failing to fight the right one. Others speculate that a politically devastated Bush will leave the resolution of the Iranian crisis to his successor. 

If Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within the next 18 months. An attack needs to take place before the nuclear facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive civilian casualties. Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or NATO won't strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing: determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the international community has failed but before the facilities turn lethal. 

Israel will alert Washington before a strike: "We won't surprise the Americans, given the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against American troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East," says an analyst close to the intelligence community. U.S. permission will be needed if Israel chooses to send its planes over Iraqi air space — and the expectation here is that permission would be granted. ( Israel has two other possible attack routes, both problematic: over Turkish air space and along the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Persian Gulf.) Still, according to the former air force commander, if Israel decides to act, "We will act alone, not as emissaries of anyone else." 

Regardless of whether Israeli or other Western forces carry out the strike, Iran will almost certainly retaliate against the Jewish state. Experts disagree, though, about the extent of the Iranian onslaught and Israel's ability to withstand it. Some say that, though Iranian missiles will strike Israeli cities and Hezbollah Katyushas and Hamas Qassams will fall in massive numbers, Israel's anti-ballistic and civil defense systems, combined with its retaliatory capability, will suffice to contain the threat. Optimists also downplay Iran's ability to mount terrorist attacks in the West: September 11 has produced an unprecedented level of cooperation among Western intelligence services, and they are monitoring sleeper cells as well as Iranian diplomats, who are believed to have used their privileged access to smuggle explosives. 

The pessimists' scenario, though, is daunting. Not only could Iranian missiles — perhaps carrying chemical warheads — devastate Israeli cities, but, if the Syrians join in, then thousands of additional long-range missiles will fall, too. And, if Israel retaliates by bombing Damascus, that could trigger public demands in other Arab countries to join the war against Israel. The result could be a conventional threat to Israel 's existence. 

That scenario leads some in the security establishment to call for renewed peace talks with Syria , aimed at removing it from the pro-Iranian front. The growing debate over Syria positions the Mossad — which says it's no longer possible to separate Damascus from Tehran — against military intelligence, which believes that President Bashar Assad wants negotiations with Israel, if only to divert the threat of sanctions against Damascus for its alleged role in murdering Lebanese leaders. 

There is no debate among Israelis, however, about the wisdom of negotiations between the West and Iran . That, defense officials agree, would be the worst of all options. Negotiations that took place now would be happening at a time when Iran feels ascendant: The time to have negotiated with Iran, some say, was immediately after the initial U.S. triumph in Iraq, not now, when the United States is losing the war. Under these circumstances, negotiations would only buy the regime time to continue its nuclear program. Talks would create baseless hope, undermining the urgency of sanctions. And resuming negotiations with the Iranian regime — despite its repeated bad faith in previous talks over its nuclear program — would send the wrong message to the Iranian people: that the regime has international legitimacy and that resisting it is futile. 

Hovering over Israeli discourse about a nuclear Iran is the recent Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran — and what Israelis regard as the scandalously inadequate international response. While the conference was condemned in the West, Israelis expected the international community to treat it as something more than a bizarre sideshow. Indeed, for Israelis, the conference offered the clearest warning yet on the true nature of the Iranian threat to the Jewish state. 

In denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad aims to undermine what he believes to be the sole justification for Israel 's existence. In the years before World War II, Nazi propagandists prepared Europe for the Final Solution by dehumanizing the Jews; now, Ahmadinejad is preparing the Muslim world for the destruction of the Jewish state by delegitimizing its history. And not just the Muslim world: Holocaust denial is also aimed at the West, which many Muslims believe supports Israel only because of Holocaust guilt. Strip away that guilt, and Israel is defenseless. "The resolution of the Holocaust issue will end in the destruction of Israel," commented Mohammad Ali Ramin, head of a new Iranian government institute devoted to Holocaust denial. 

The French philosopher André Glucksmann has noted that, by threatening to destroy Israel and by attaining the means to do so, Iran violates the twin taboos on which the post-World War II order was built: never again Auschwitz ; never again Hiroshima. The international community now has an opportunity to uphold that order. If it fails, then Israel will have no choice but to uphold its role as refuge of the Jewish people. A Jewish state that allows itself to be threatened with nuclear weapons — by a country that denies the genocide against Europe's six million Jews while threatening Israel's six million Jews — will forfeit its right to speak in the name of Jewish history. Fortunately, even the government of Ehud Olmert, widely criticized as incompetent and corrupt, seems to understand that, on this issue at least, it cannot fail.

Dear Yossi,

It's good to be debating you, and I enjoyed your piece. But I think Israel is much too scared of the Iranian nuclear threat; in fact, I think fear has completely closed the Israeli mind on this matter. The image of Ahmadinejad as a soon-to-be nuclear-armed Hitler seems to be in the forefront of most Israelis' minds, including those of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the rest of the country's leadership. Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing opposition leader, spelled it out perfectly in that horror show he performed before a pro-Israel crowd in Los Angeles: "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany." When you believe that, when you're convinced of that, there's no question about what Israel should do--it must do whatever it takes to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, even if that means a so-called "preemptive" Israeli nuclear attack, because, if Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons, then the clock is ticking down on a second Holocaust, this time for Israel. If Iran is Nazi Germany and it has nuclear weapons, a second Holocaust isn't a matter of if, only of when.

Unfortunately, this belief is the top-down Israeli consensus, and it points to an Israeli military strike, maybe even with "tactical" nuclear weapons, on Iran's vast, inscrutable network of nuclear facilities unless the United States decides to take on the challenge, which I think is highly unlikely given America's ongoing experience in Iraq. Olmert, Netanyahu, and other Israelis might insist that they first want to give sanctions a chance, but that's just paying lip service to diplomacy. If you're convinced Iran isn't deterred by Israel's nuclear arsenal, or America's, or England's, or anybody else's--if you believe Iran can't be brought into line by the prospect of its own annihilation, then you can't argue that it can be brought into line by economic sanctions.

  There are so many reasons to believe Iran would not nuke Israel first: because it really doesn't want to be annihilated; because even those nuclear-armed masters of genocide, Stalin and Mao, never went so far as to push the button; because Iran already has WMD and missiles that can reach Israel, but has not used them; because Iran's 25,000 Jews feel safe enough to stay there, even though they could leave; because it's one thing for national leaders to have apocalyptic religious beliefs, and a whole other thing for them to doom their ancient country and its 69 million people to sudden extinction for the sake of those beliefs. That, of course, is just a partial list.

Yet none of this can penetrate some Israelis' minds; for most of them, it's 1938 and Iran is Germany--period. I'll tell you what: If Hitler's enemies, including European Jewry, had had the nuclear power that Iran's enemies, including Israeli Jewry, have now, there would have been no Munich, no World War II, and no Holocaust. But when people are paralyzed with fear, how can they allow themselves to see anything but black? How can they step back and see that it's 2007, and Iran, in relation to its enemies, is no Germany and never will be?

I'm not saying Iran isn't dangerous; even if it wouldn't launch a first strike against Israel, it's pretty obvious a nuclear Iran would greatly exacerbate tensions in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Where I disagree with you is that 1) I think Israel can live with the risk of Iran launching a nuclear first strike because the chance of this actually happening, in my opinion, is nil, and 2) I think a preemptive Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities poses much, much greater risks.

For one, it's hard to see how Israel could knock out Iran's nuclear facilities--many of them are hidden, deep underground. They are well-defended and spread out across a country that is nearly 80 times Israel's size and far away. But, whether such an attack were successful or not, I expect Iran would retaliate by attacking Israel with missiles, and who knows what could happen after that? The Sunday Times of London quoted Israeli military sources saying the Air Force is training for the possibility of hitting Iran's underground nuclear sites--or at least the ones Israel supposedly knows of--with "low-yield nuclear 'bunker-busters'"; if that happens, there's no telling how many Iranians would die. And, in retaliation for an Israeli nuclear strike, I would expect Iran to launch missiles armed with chemical and possibly biological weapons at Israel. Then it's apocalypse now. The only question is how far the apocalypse would spread.

And, while there's a possibility that an Israeli military strike could result in catastrophe--and very little chance it could destroy the important targets--one thing it would destroy for sure is the chance that sanctions or any other diplomatic strategy could bring Iran to see reason. The hope that moderate Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia--acting out of fear of a nuclear, hegemonic Iran--might join the United States and Israel in this diplomatic campaign would be finished. The hope of drawing Syria away from Iran and into the moderate Arab camp would be finished, too. If Israel bombs Iran first, the whole Muslim world would rally around Iran, and no Muslim leader would be able to break ranks. Not a wise Israeli strategy.

 But, again, if you believe with perfect faith that Iran will nuke Israel as soon as it gets the opportunity, then there is no other strategy. And as long as Israel sees Nazi Germany whenever it thinks of Iran, and Hitler whenever it thinks of Ahmadinejad, then it's going to remain too petrified with fear to question this faith. Israelis are locked into an apocalyptic belief of their own. They have a fixed vision of the future, too. This is a grim time of nationalism and militarism for Israel, much of which is its neighbors' fault and some of which is its own fault. At any rate, there's a feeling here that the country's back is to the wall, that time is running out, that, if we don't lash out at Iran, we're doomed. So Israel has me worried. Not as much as Iran has me worried, but that's not much comfort.

Dear Larry,

Thanks for your piece, and for agreeing to debate me. So let's begin with the bottom line: fear of another Holocaust. You mention Netanyahu's "horror show" in comparing a nuclearizing Iran to Germany in 1938. The fear, as you surely know, cuts across political lines: It's too easy to invoke a supposedly hysterical Netanyahu when, for example, a recent essay by left-wing historian Benny Morris (published in The Jerusalem Post) easily outpaces the Likud leader in apocalyptic anxiety.

You dismiss sanctions as mere "lip service." Yet some experts within the Israeli defense establishment are genuinely convinced that it's not too late to stop Iran from going nuclear through forceful sanctions. The opposition now growing against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may well have been emboldened by the sanctions already implemented and the threat of greater sanctions to come. There's no reason, Larry, to free the international community from its moral responsibility to prevent a nuclear Iran; it seems to me that you've already accepted the inevitability of a nuclear Iran, and the word for that is defeatism. The nations that currently oppose substantive sanctions, ironically, will almost certainly be the very same nations who will protest most vociferously in the event of a military strike against Iran. Those nations, then, that could have helped stop Iran through peaceful means but opted instead for greed will bear a major part of the blame if military action is taken after sanctions fail.

None of the strategic thinkers and planners quoted in the article I co-wrote with Michael B. Oren said that if Iran gets the bomb it will definitely use it. Maybe Iran is, as you so confidently insist, capable of being deterred; maybe Ahmadinejad, who, after all, isn't the final arbiter of military force in Iran, will be reined in by more self-interested, less theologically driven conservatives. All possible. But it's also possible that a theocratic regime maddened with apocalyptic fantasies will be tempted to wipe out the "evil" that is blocking the return of the Hidden Imam. It's possible that Iran will provide a bomb to one of its terrorist allies--or else create a new, previously unknown terrorist group without traceable links to Tehran and arm it with a bomb. I don't know what the odds are, Larry. But neither do you. What odds are you willing to live with that Iran may go berserk and attack us: Ten percent? Five percent? One percent?

I marvel at your certainty that the chances of Iran launching a bomb against us are "nil." You fault Netanyahu for being so sure that it is 1938; yet how can you be so sure that, at least as far as Iran's intentions are concerned, it isn't 1938?

The comparison with Mao and Stalin is facile: Introduce the element of religion--Islamist jihadism, a new strain of Shia apocalypticism--and you have an irrational apocalyptic motive. After six years of religiously inspired suicide bombings, how can you rule out the possibility that at least part of the Iranian leadership might be tempted to turn Iran into the world's first suicide bomber nation? Is that a likely scenario? I don't know. Is it possible? Certainly.

France's President, Jacques Chirac, has offered us his vision of deterrence: If Iran drops the bomb on Israel, the little that remains of the Jewish state will be able, in a second strike, to wipe out Tehran. Even a barely functional Israel can probably wipe out Tehran, and maybe that will act as sufficient deterrence. Or maybe, as Bernard Lewis told the editorial staff of your newspaper the other day, Iranian leaders regard the threat of destruction not as deterrence but incentive. It's possible that he's being hysterical, too; it's also possible that he's right, at least about Ahmadinejad and his circle. I, for one, have no interest in playing roulette with the Jewish state.

You rightly note that Iran has missiles that can reach Israel yet hasn't used them. But, even without its nuclear deterrence, Iran has gone very far in provoking Israel--from the terrorist attacks in Argentina against Israeli and Jewish targets, to this summer's Hezbollah provocations, to arming and training Hamas. What will an Iranian offensive against Israel look like, Larry, when they've got the bomb to back up their threats?

As for the risks of failure in a preemptive strike: Almost anyone in the security establishment will tell you that there is no guarantee of success. Still, let's not minimize the odds here either. The Israeli air force, after all, has been actively training for this possibility since the 1990s. And the Iranian sites aren't, as you say, "inscrutable": Western intelligence has a very good idea of what the Iranians have and where they have it. As for the vulnerability of the sites: In our article, we quoted one security expert who noted that the Iranians wouldn't be investing billions in air defense systems around their nuclear sites if they were so impenetrable. Those air defense systems, by the way, are penetrable by Western air forces.

As far as an Israeli nuclear strike against Iran: extremely unlikely. Israel, which has been unwilling even to admit possessing nuclear weapons, will almost certainly not introduce one into the Middle East battlefield. Still, your point about an Iranian counterattack is well taken. Here I incline to agree with you: An Iranian counterattack--and I believe it will come, regardless of whether Israel uses nuclear or conventional weapons against Iranian nuclear sites--will be devastating. The Katyusha attacks we experienced in the north this past summer will pale beside the devastation Iran is capable of inflicting on our major cities.

Why, then, bring certain, terrible war upon us when it is not at all certain that Iran will use the bomb? That's the question Israelis need to ask ourselves as we contemplate our options. One argument for a military strike was provided by our article: Merely by possessing the bomb, Iran may well trigger massive Israeli emigration and flight of foreign capital, as well as plunge the Middle East into a nuclear arms race. The deeper argument, though, is that, as the state created to offer refuge to the Jewish people, Israel simply has no choice. If the alternative is between certain conventional or even chemical war which Israel will survive, as opposed to possible nuclear war which Israel will not survive, it seems to me that no reasonable Israeli government can opt for the latter. Arguably no other country faces such a cruel dilemma.

Finally, a note about your comment that "nationalism and militarism" are supposedly rife in Israel today. True, suspicion against Arabs, and, most worrying, against Arab citizens of Israel, is dramatically on the rise, especially among young Jewish Israelis. At the same time, every poll I've seen over the last six years has shown that, in the event of a credible Arab proposal for peace (and not, for example, the Saudi plan, which would demographically destroy the Jewish state with an infusion of Palestinian refugees), a majority of Israelis would be ready to make precisely the territorial concessions that the Israeli left always advocated. Those same polls, though, show that a majority is convinced that, no matter what concessions Israel offers, it won't win peace in return. That indicates a deeply pessimistic society--but hardly a "militarist" nation blinded by "nationalist" ambitions. With that kind of misreading of its own people, it's no wonder the Israeli left can't win an election.



Dear Yossi,

For the sake of the debate, it's good that you made your position absolutely clear: If sanctions and diplomacy can't stop Iran from going ahead with its nuclear program, then Israel should attack Iran's facilities even though it would mean a "devastating" Iranian counterattack, possibly including missiles with chemical warheads. (I would add that Iran may have biological weapons to go with its known chemical ones.) But, while I appreciate your candor, I think the strategy you're advocating--which is also Israel's implicit strategy--is more than a little reckless.

You say Israel would survive even a chemical attack by Iran, yet, even if the war didn't spiral out to doomsday proportions, how many deaths and how much destruction might it mean for Israel? And for Iran? (In the Jerusalem Post op-ed you mention, historian Benny Morris estimates "millions" of Iranian deaths, because, he insists, Israel would need to use nukes to destroy Iran's underground facilities, and many of them are in or near major cities.) And wouldn't Israel retaliate if Iran was raining missiles on this country? And if those Iranian missiles were carrying WMDs, which I think they would be if Israel started bombing Iran's nuclear operations, wouldn't Israel hit Iran back with WMDs of its own?

There's no telling how far such a war would spread. There's no telling how the rest of the world would react. But remember: This war would have been started by Israel. By a nuclear-armed Israel that was willing to kill and die on a potentially massive scale, and to endanger the safety of who knows how much of the globe, for the sake of preventing another country from having nuclear weapons of its own. What would Israel's explanation be? That we can be trusted with the bomb but the Iranians can't because they're crazy?

Yossi, think of what the consequences of such an Israeli-initiated war against Iran would do to this country not only physically, but psychologically and spiritually. Think of the moral effect it would have on millions of Diaspora Jews. And, if you're worried that a nuclear Iran could cause "massive Israeli emigration and flight of foreign capital," imagine how the people and the dollars here might scatter as a result of a WMD-missile war.

This is the logical outcome of Israel's official refusal to tolerate an Iran with nuclear arms: If diplomacy and sanctions don't work--and everyone is at least skeptical that they will--then it's war. But why should Israel's intolerance end with Iran? Doesn't North Korea pose a threat if it were to give nuclear weapons and technology to anti-Israeli countries and terrorist groups. Are the leaders of North Korea not crazy? Shouldn't we think about bombing them? And what if Afghanistan falls back into the hands of the Taliban and Iraq falls to the likes of Moqtada Al Sadr, and they decide they want nukes, too. Should they become Israeli Air Force targets as well?

I don't believe that nuclear proliferation will end with Iran, and I don't believe the dangers in store can be neutralized by military assaults. That's just not a sustainable strategy.

Speaking of strategies, I'm afraid you misunderstood what I wrote about sanctions; I didn't pay lip service to them, I accused Olmert, Netanyahu, and other Israeli hawks of doing so. I wrote in favor of sanctions and other means of diplomatic pressure, and said one of the reasons I opposed a military attack on Iran was that it would end any chance for diplomacy and sanctions to work.

Yossi, you disagreed with my characterization of the Israeli mood as militaristic and pointed to the public's readiness to trade land for peace, if peace were on offer. I agree that Israelis have become much more reasonable about territory, but, when I speak of militarism, I mean something else. I mean, for instance, that, despite what happened last summer in Lebanon--when Israel's military failed to win the promised victory over Hezbollah, when it failed to shut down Hezbollah's rockets and destroy its bunkers, and when its air and ground assault couldn't wipe out the missile threat of a guerilla army with a few thousand fighters--Israelis remain ready to start a war against Iran rather than take a chance on nuclear deterrence (whose success rate over the last 50-odd years is 100 percent).

The American experience in Iraq hasn't dimmed Israelis' faith in military intelligence and power, either. They were more gung-ho for the U.S. invasion of Iraq than the folks in Texas were, and, even as that war was going to hell, they went gung-ho for victory in Lebanon, too. Now, without missing a beat, they're gearing up to go to Iran. If that's not militaristic, what is?

 But the pivotal disagreement between us is over the magnitude of the Iranian threat of a nuclear first strike at Israel. I said I thought the threat was nil, and I'm willing to live with it. You seem to think it's substantial, and you're not willing to live with that--but would you be willing to live with the threat, to forgo war, even if you thought the threat was nil? Do you see these as relative risks that have to be weighed, or would any Iranian nuclear threat at all outweigh the certain "devastation" and threat of catastrophe inherent in an Israeli attack on Iran? I get the sense that you take the latter view, and it's an inflexible one.

You say it's "facile" of me to use Stalin and Mao to argue that even crazy, bloodthirsty leaders aren't likely to use nukes, because I'm disregarding the new element of apocalyptic Iranian religion. But, when I'm trying to anticipate what somebody's going to do in the future, I put a lot more store in his deeds than in his texts. I think Stalin's and Mao's purges of tens of millions of innocents augur much more for nuclear insanity than the Shia doctrine of the Hidden Imam. For all its violent repression at home and aid to Islamic terrorism abroad, post-revolutionary Iran has never started a war with another country. It has never used its WMD on anybody, either. It has never trafficked in genocide.

The reason, I believe, is the power of deterrence. It has worked on Iran, too. It has worked on everybody--no exceptions. And, while there is, of course, a theoretical possibility that it won't work on a nuclear Iran, I think Israelis have to weigh the results of nuclear-age deterrence against the predictable and unpredictable results of a war against Iran--and to choose hopeful moderation over its fear-induced opposite.

All the best,


Dear Larry,

Benny Morris may well be right that only nuclear weapons can permanently destroy Iran's nuclear program, but, as I indicated in my previous response to you, I don't believe Israel will use nuclear weapons. That still allows for credible conventional military options to set back the Iranian program, creating domestic instability and buying time--both prerequisites for a popular revolt against the ayatollahs' regime.

Yes, Israel's argument for a military strike would be precisely as you put it: "that we can be trusted with the bomb but the Iranians can't, because they're crazy." Israel's nuclear arsenal has been the Middle East's worst kept secret for decades; yet it hasn't provoked an Arab nuclear arms race--unlike the Iranian nuclear program. The reason is that the Arab world knew that we wouldn't use the bomb unless we ourselves faced imminent destruction. The Sunnis appear to be no less "paranoid" about a nuclear Iran than the Jews.

 You're right about the effects of a Iranian-Israeli war on foreign investment and Israeli emigration. Yet those consequences would likely be temporary. Not so the consequences of an Iranian bomb, which would place a permanent question mark over Israel's viability. As for Diaspora morale: Would you or I have left our homes in the United States, as we did, and raised families in a Jewish state whose right to exist is constantly challenged by a nuclear power?

You rightly note that nuclear proliferation won't end with a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. But each threat needs to be handled as it comes, and not every situation will require a military solution. The precedent of a military strike against Iran could help focus the attention of the international community on peaceful means, such as sanctions, that would avert another preemptive attack on the next nuclear menace.

As for your support for sanctions: Thanks for the clarification.

You write that force failed last summer against Hezbollah. What failed last summer, Larry, wasn't force but the Olmert government's hesitation to use adequate force. The Katyushas could have been stopped had Olmert ordered a ground invasion. And barely one-tenth of Israel's air power was sent into battle. Even Haaretz, Israel's most leftwing newspaper, was demanding that the government widen the war. The Lebanon war, then, is hardly adequate precedent to judge the possible success or failure of an Israeli strike against Iran.

 Yes, the core disagreement between us is over the seriousness of the Iranian threat. How is it that, aside from a cursory mention, you've ignored the Iranian government's obsession with Holocaust denial? What that obsession means, to me and to most Israelis, is that we are dealing with a pathological regime that may not be responsive to nuclear deterrence. How can you ignore the statement by former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani that it is "not irrational" to contemplate a nuclear war that would destroy Israel but would only damage the Muslim world? Or the statement by Ahmadinejad to Kofi Annan that a third world war is coming and Iran is going to win it?

Where we differ, then, is over the significance of language. When an enemy of the Jewish people adopts the rhetoric of genocide--and genocide denial--should he be taken at his word? One doesn't need to go back to the 1930s for an answer. After all, Israeli society debated a version of that question during the 1990s. At the time, skeptics of the Oslo process noted that Yasser Arafat's speeches calling for jihad and denying Israel's right to exist were proof enough that the peace process was a lie and would end in war. Leaders of the Israeli left countered by dismissing the significance of mere words: What mattered, they insisted, were Arafat's deeds--his signature on a succession of agreements with Israel and his readiness to negotiate an end to the conflict. We now know that what mattered wasn't what he did but what he said.

All my inherited survival instincts tell me that this is another one of those moments when Jews need to believe the rhetoric of their enemy.




A report authored by respected military analyst Anthony H Cordesman of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think-tank, entitled "Iran, Israel and Nuclear War" [1].

I have always enjoyed Cordesman's informed, educated and enlightening commentaries on matters strategic and military, particularly his take on the military and political situation in Iraq. In no way do I think of him as a sort of Dr Strangelove-like figure, from the 1964 Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name, warped in both mind and body from a lifetime of contemplating mass death. But, just as we have extensively studied and documented the effects of nuclear weapons when they detonate, perhaps this is an under-investigated line of inquiry - what happens when they don't.

Remarkable - just the presence of nuclear weapons among them turns even the best of men at least a little bit mad.

The 77-page report is formatted in the US Pentagon's current dominant lingua franca, the ubiquitous Microsoft Powerpoint - my goodness, you'd almost think that it was destined to be shown there! How foolish it was for Osama bin Laden to think he could take down the entire US military with just one plane, or even a dozen, slamming into the Pentagon; a virus or bug that disabled all the Powerpoint software the US Department of Defense runs would have brought the world's most powerful military to its knees. In slide after slide, the report catalogs the weaponry, tactics, targets, contingencies, most importantly the results, that would occur should everybody in the Middle East with a button, perhaps simultaneously, perhaps in sequence, push it.

The first and core scenario of the report involves a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran, some time between 2010 and 2020. It is speculated that during this period, the Iranians would have about 50, mostly minimum-yield, nuclear weapons at their disposal. Thirty would be in the form of missile warheads to be emplaced on their Shahab 3 and 4 intermediate range ballistic missiles, 20 in the form of bombs that would be carried on the now antique F-14 Tomcats bought from the US by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, along with a few on the old Russian SU-24s, and the more modern SU-37s, that Iran has recently purchased during shopping trips to the world's global arms swap meet.

Israel has been a nuclear-capable power since at least the mid 1960s; it is speculated in the report that by 2010 it will have over 200, higher-yielding nuclear warheads in its arsenal, deliverable by both Jericho 3 ballistic missiles and American-supplied F-16 and F-15 fighter bombers.

The differing technological capabilities of the two countries would dictate their respective strategies once the missiles and bombs started flying. Israel has access to America's super-sophisticated satellite reconnaissance and targeting technology. Besides knowing just where to point their nukes, Israel also possesses the technology that assures that its weapons will fall where desired.

Thus, if Israel decides to commence the war with a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear research and production facilities, shown in the report as lying in a northwest/southeast axis from Lashkar A'bad on the southwestern shores of the Caspian Sea to Gachin, just west of the Strait of Hormuz, it could do so without inflicting the massive casualties of a nuclear strike on Teheran.

Included in the report are satellite images of the Iranian nuclear facilities at Arak and Isfahan; to me, they look a lot like what an Israeli pilot in his F-16, or maybe an American pilot in his F-22, would tape to the canopy of his cockpit in order to provide a visual verification that he was bombing the right target.

The Iranians lack the ability to precision-target their weapons in the same manner in which the Israelis can, so the report postulates that the main targets for their nukes would be the core coastal Israeli metropolis, from Haifa in the north to Ashkelon just north of the border with Gaza. Haifa, the report notes, is surrounded by hills, which means that the destructive force of any nuclear device detonated over the city would bounce off the mountains and double back onto the city, greatly amplifying its damage. Tel Aviv is on a long, flat coastal plain, but it is a very densely populated city, with an estimated 7,445 of population per square kilometer.

Of course, if the war commenced not with the "limited" Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear production facilities (this attack would be classified as "counterforce" by the nuclear cognoscenti ), but with a full-blown "countervalue" Iranian strike against Israel's cities, it is doubtful that the Israelis would feel obligated to limit their retaliatory vengeance to just Iran's military targets.

From out of their hardened silos would fly the Israeli missiles and bombers, with their primary target being Tehran, along with Iran's other population centers. With over 7 million people just within the bounds of Tehran itself, 15 million in the surrounding metropolitan area, the city contains over 20% of Iran's population and is the center of the nation's communications, production, educational and cultural infrastructure.

Casualties from this exchange would be nightmarish, horrific, incalculable - except by Cordesman and his CSIS team.

The lower yield and less accurate Iranian volley, sparing Jerusalem due to its centrality to the Moslem faith, would inflict between 200,000 to 800,000 Israeli fatalities along the coastal plain in the first 21 days. These are called "prompt" casualties; it's who dies before people start dropping from longer-term radiation exposure. Any surviving residents of the central core of urban Tel Aviv would still be exposed to 300 REM (roentgen equivalent man) of radiation 96 hours after the blasts, as opposed to an exposure during an average dental X-ray of about .010 REM.

The more accurate and bigger Israeli nukes, the report speculates, would inflict a far greater toll on Iranian cities - in between 16 million and 28 million in just "prompt" fatalities. The report says that that an Israeli recovery from its damage would be "theoretically possible in population and economic terms", whereas an Iranian recovery would be "not possible in normal terms"; in essence, the Iranian nation will be destroyed.

Thus, what the report is saying is that one day next decade you might wake up with an Iran, after almost 6,000 years as a national entity and still there at sunrise, would be wiped off the map by sunset.

The rest of the report speculates on various other assorted scenarios for Mid-East Armageddon. Syria, generally assumed to be many years away from possessing a nuclear capacity, might, for some reason, decide to launch a CBW (chemical, biological weapon) missile strike on Israeli population centers.

Israeli dead under this scenario would once again be between 200,000 and 800,000. Recovery, however, would be quicker, since this type attack spares civilian buildings and infrastructure. Syria, with 80% of its population concentrated in just 11 cities, would suffer between 6 million and 18 million dead in a counterattack; the higher number would represent about 95% of its estimated 2007 population. Not since the Roman destruction of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC would one nation have made another suffer so dearly as punishment for losing a war.

The report does not speculate as to why this might happen, but if Egypt got drawn into all this the results would be pretty dammed bad for the Western world's cradle of civilization on the Nile as well. From Alexandria in the north to Luxor in the south, with Cairo in between, just a few rounds from Israel's nuclear clip could devastate Egypt's Nile River-based population centers; over 12 millennia of human civilization in the Nile Delta would end.

Once again, not speculating as to why this would happen, the report games out the results of a possible Iranian nuclear strike against the six Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Iranian strike could maybe kill 2 million to 8 million of the 40 million population of the GCC; once again, Iran would suffer many times what it wrought from the inevitable US nuclear retaliation.

Feb 1, 2007 


Israel mixes rhetoric with realism

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared last week that his country could not risk another "existential threat" such as the Nazi Holocaust, he was repeating what has become the dominant theme in Israel's campaign against Tehran - that it cannot tolerate an Iran with the technology that could be used to make nuclear weapons, because Iran is fanatically committed to the physical destruction of Israel.

The internal assessment by the Israeli national-security apparatus of the Iranian threat, however, is more realistic than the government's public rhetoric would indicate.

Since Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005, Israel has effectively exploited his image as someone who is particularly fanatical about destroying Israel to develop the theme of Iran's threat of a "second Holocaust" by using nuclear weapons.

But such alarmist statements do not accurately reflect the strategic thinking of Israeli national-security officials. In fact, Israelis began in the early 1990s to use the argument that Iran was irrational about Israel and could not be deterred from a nuclear attack if it ever acquired nuclear weapons, according to an account by independent analyst Trita Parsi on Iranian-Israeli strategic relations to be published in March. Meanwhile, the internal Israeli view of Iran, Parsi said in an interview, "is completely different".

Parsi, who interviewed many Israeli national-security officials for his book, said, "The Israelis know that Iran is a rational regime, and they have acted on that presumption."

His primary evidence of such an Israeli assessment is that the Israelis purchased Dolphin submarines from Germany in 1999 and 2004, which have been reported to be capable of carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. It is generally recognized that the only purpose of such cruise-missile-equipped submarines could be to deter an enemy from trying to take out its nuclear weapons with a surprise attack by having a reliable second-strike capability.

Despite the fact that Israel has long been known to possess at least 100 nuclear weapons, Israeli officials refuse to discuss their own nuclear capability and how it relates to deterring Iran.

Retired US Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Rick Francona, a former Pentagon official who visited Israel last November, recalls that Israeli officials uniformly told his group of eight US military analysts they believed Iran was "perfectly willing to launch a first strike against Israel" if it obtained nuclear weapons.

But when they were asked about their own nuclear capabilities in general, and the potentially nuclear-armed submarine fleet in particular, Francona said, the Israelis would not comment.

In fact, Israeli strategic specialists do discuss how to deter Iran among themselves. An article in the online journal of a hardline think-tank, the Ariel Center for Policy Research, in August 2004 revealed that "one of the options that [have] been considered should Iran publicly declare itself to have nuclear weapons is for Israel to put an end to what is called its policy of nuclear ambiguity or opacity".

The author, Shalom Freedman, said that in light of Israel's accumulation of "over 100 nuclear weapons" and its range of delivery systems for them, even if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons within a few years, the "tremendous disproportion between the strength of Israel and an emergent nuclear Iran should serve as a deterrent".

Even after Ahmadinejad's election in mid-2005, a prominent Israeli academic and military expert has insisted that Israel can still deter a nuclear Iran. In two essays published in September and October 2005, Dr Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former analyst for the Israel Defense Forces, wrote that Iran had to assume that any nuclear attack on Israel would result in very serious US retaliation.

Therefore, even though he regarded a nuclear Iran as likely to be more aggressive, Kam concluded it was "doubtful whether Iran would actually exercise a nuclear bomb against Israel - or any other country - despite its basic rejection of Israel's existence".

Kam also pointed out that the election of a radical like Ahmadinejad would not change the fundamental Iranian policy toward Israel, because even the more moderate government of president Mohammad Khatami had already held the position that the solution to the Palestinian problem should be the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the Zionist Israeli state. Furthermore, he wrote, Iran's basic motive for aspiring to nuclear weapons in the first place had not been to destroy Israel but to deter Saddam Hussein's Iraq and later to deter the United States and Israel.

Despite the existence of a more realistic appraisal of the actual power balance and its implications for Iranian behavior, Israeli officials do not see it as in their interest even to hint at the possibility of deterring a nuclear Iran. "They don't talk about that," said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in Tel Aviv, "because they don't want to admit the possibility of defeat on Iran's nuclear program. They want to stop it."

Occasionally, Israeli officials do let slip indications that their fears of Iran are less extreme than the "second Holocaust" rhetoric would indicate. In November, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh explained candidly in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the fear was not that such weapons would be launched against Israel but that the existence of nuclear capability would interfere with Israel's recruitment of new immigrants and cause more Israelis to emigrate to other countries.

Sneh declared that Ahmadinejad could "kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."

Israel's frequent threat to attack Iran's nuclear facilities is also at odds with its internal assessment of the feasibility and desirability of such an attack. It is well understood in Israel that the Iranian situation does not resemble that of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, which Israeli planes bombed in 1981. Unlike Iraq's program, which was focused on a single facility, the Iranian nuclear program is dispersed; the two major facilities, Natanz and Arak, are hundreds of kilometers apart, making it very difficult to hit them simultaneously.

In mid-2005, Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence issues for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz, wrote, "According to military experts in Israel and elsewhere, the Israeli Air Force does not have the strength that is needed to destroy the sites in Iran in a preemptive strike." He added that that the awareness of that reality was "trickling down to the military-political establishment".

Javedanfar, Melman's co-author in a forthcoming book on Iran's nuclear program, agrees. "There is no way the Israelis are going to do it on their own," he said.

That is also the conclusion reached by Francona and other air force analysts. Francona recalls that he and two retired US Air Force generals on the trip to Israel told Israeli Air Force generals they believed Israel did not have the capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear targets, mainly because it would require aerial refueling in hostile airspace. "The Israeli officers recognized they have a shortfall in aerial refueling," Francona said.

In the end, the Israelis know they are dependent on the US to carry out a strike against Iran. And the US is the target of an apocalyptic Israeli portrayal of Iran that diverges from the internal Israeli assessment.

Gareth Porter is a historian and national-security policy analyst. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.


 Iran and Nuclear Power.

What can we do about Iran becoming a Nuclear Power?

Iran is likely to be a nuclear power in several years. Is that a danger to the world and more specifically Israel? Brazil is going nuclear in almost precisely the same way as Iran (, May 18, 2006). No one need be concerned that Brazil would give nuclear weapons to terrorists; can the same be said of Iran?

Iran has influence from Afghanistan to the Mid East including Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Shi'a parties in Iraq.  It has oil wealth and thereby influence in China and India whose need for oil is significant. Russia no longer poses any threat and the war in Iraq only benefits Iran.

Should the West bomb and attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear power? To be successful it would require a more functional administration than the current American one.

A recent article in the Harvard Magazine (co-authored by Joseph E. Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel laureate in Economics) states that the cost of the Iraqi War is likely to be two Trillion dollars (that is two thousand billion) as opposed to the estimated $50-$60 billion (to be recovered according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, by oil revenues). Regardless of ones thoughts about the justification of Iraq War its execution is a colossal failure.

( . America (and others) seem to have forgotten a war begun almost a century ago and its unforeseen circumstances and unintended consequences. That six week planned war (by the Germans) ended four years later with millions of deaths and the destruction of Europe (Barbara Tuchman, ‘The Guns of August’).

Two authors below – Spengler and Mark Steyn (journalists) - believe the answer is to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Timothy Garton Ash (Oxford University) predicts that the result would be massive suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, London and New York. Brett Stevens of the Wall Street Journal (formerly of the Jerusalem Post) suggests a diplomatic alternative.

The EU’s big three (Great Britain, France and Germany) have been negotiating with Iran for two years with American approval. Recently President Ahmadinejad wrote Bush suggesting direct the possibility of direct negotiation. It was a theological oriented letter (reminiscent of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s suggestion to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 that communism convert to Islam) but what else would one expect of him? The point is their economy is in shambles and half the population were born after the revolution when the original Ayatollah designated America as the Great Satan. According to the International Crisis Group 75% of Iranians favor relations with the U.S. Did America lose when Nixon decided to talk to China? Negotiation can be seen not as a concession but (to quote David Ignatius) as a strategic weapon. Bombing of Iran would prove that the hardliners were right to be concerned about foreign western control.

Perhaps the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his President are willing to bargain thinking they are in a strong position to deal, but maybe George W Bush is actually in a stronger position.

The U.S. and Europe evaluate the importance of radical Jihadism manifested in global terrorism differently. Americans see it as an ideological and strategic threat to Western liberal democracy as Communism was in the Cold War. Europe, with the partial exception of the United Kingdom, still do not share the American "post-9/11" alarm of international terrorism and potential WMD’s; this despite the terrorist outrages in Madrid and London. Europe continues to believe in conflict resolution using logic and reason. Americans believe that when dealing with ideological fanatics western logic and reason simply do not apply.

Tom Friedman (N.Y.Times) a supporter of the War in Iraq said the only thing more frightening than Iran’s having nuclear weapons is America’s bombing Iran. That would raise the price of oil to over $100 a barrel. ‘We’re in a war on terrorism with people fueled and funded by our energy purchases.  We are funding both sides in the war on terrorism.  We’re funding the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps with our tax dollars; we’re funding Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda, and all their brother and sister organizations and the charities that fund them with our energy purchases’ (Tom Friedman, Foreign Policy Magazine, May-June 2006).

While the Clerics control Iran and President Ahmadinejad is quite abominable we should not forget that almost 25% of Iranians are Turkish speaking, almost 10% are Kurds, and another 10-15% are Arab and other non-Persian ethnic groups. The Turkish speakers are Azens ethnically related to Azerbaijan and the Kurds would probably join Iraqi Kurdistan given a chance. (Azerbaijan is a moderate secular Islamic country having diplomatic relations with Israel.) Azens, Arabs, Kurds and Baluchis, have all staged protests in the past year as political dissent in the Iran has risen. All Iranians know that Britain, Russia and the U.S. have ‘colonized’ Iran for a century and a half. It only ended with the Islamic revolution in 1979. The technology of nuclear power (despite the problems already noted) is an act of national empowerment.  American bombing would reduce the future potential for the dissident reactions against the Islamic State.


Given that the War in Iraq has had a questionable impact to both democracy in the Mid East and on the war on terrorism other options ought to be seriously thought about. 

War with Iran on the worst terms

By Spengler

Washington wants to avoid a small war in the Middle East today, and instead may set in motion yet another Thirty Years' War in the region.

Iran cannot be persuaded to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Its peasants and urban poor gave an overwhelming electoral mandate to a government with imperial ambitions. The government cannot be overthrown, and cannot be derailed. But it can be beaten handily. A few hundred, or at worst a few thousand, sorties by US aircraft at this juncture could put an end to the matter now.

Why is Washington unwilling to take expeditious action?

US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte spelled out in essence the scenario before the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 1. Negroponte accused Tehran of arming Shi'ite militants in Iraq, warning that Iran has the capacity to broaden the conflict into a wider regional war.

Much as Washington complains about Iran's efforts to arm militant Shi'ites in Iraq, it cannot do anything to hinder this except to deliver and execute a military ultimatum. The longer Washington dallies, the more resources Tehran can put in place, including:

* Upgrading Hezbollah's offensive-weapon capabilities in Lebanon.

* Integrating Hamas into its sphere of influence and military operations.

* Putting in place terrorist capability against the West.

* Preparing its Shi'ite auxiliaries in Iraq for insurrection.

The problem with postponing war is that the belligerents gain more time to prepare for war. Russia could not abandon the Central European Slavs without losing faith in its own mission, and Austria-Hungary could not accommodate the Slavs without destroying a multi-ethnic empire. Germany could not permit Russia to walk over Austria, for it might not be able to defeat Russia a generation later; France could not let Germany defeat Russia, for it would lose its last chance to prevent German domination of the continent. War might have broken out a half-dozen times prior to August 1914. Postponing war allowed France to cement its alliance with Russia, and France and Russia to ensure Britain's support in the event of hostilities with Germany. A perfect balance of power gives each armed camp assurance if there is no ultimate motivation for war, but in the event of war, it ensures that war will be prolonged and thoroughly destructive.

Today's Shi'ites are the Serbs of the Middle East. Emerging from a millennium of oppression into majority power in Mesopotamia and Persia, the Shi'ites have their first and only opportunity to exact compensation for the humiliation of centuries. They have the misfortune to enter modern history at a point of maximum disadvantage for the peoples of the Middle East, who have few means to compete with the economic powers of East Asia. In Iran re (Demographics and Iran's imperial design, September 13, 2005), they face a devastating economic and demographic decline one generation from now. That is why these choose leaders such as Mahmud Ahmedinejad in Tehran and Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad.

Washington does not wish to fight but will if necessary. The Europeans, and even the Saudis, will fight rather than allow Iran to become a nuclear power, although they wish to fight much less than Washington.

If Washington were to deliver a military ultimatum to Iran tomorrow, the results would be a painful jump in oil prices, civil violence in Iraq, low-intensity war on Israel's northern border, and a wave of anti-Americanism in the Arab world - not an inviting picture.

But if Washington waits another year to deliver an ultimatum to Iran, the results will be civil war to the death in Iraq, the direct engagement of Israel in a regional war through Hezbollah and Hamas, and extensive terrorist action throughout the West, with extensive loss of American life. There are no good outcomes, only less terrible ones. The West will attack Iran, but only when such an attack will do the least good and the most harm.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)


Facing Down Iran: Our lives depend on it.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

Most Westerners read the map of the world like a Broadway marquee: north is top of the bill--America, Britain, Europe, Russia--and the rest dribbles away into a mass of supporting players punctuated by occasional Star Guests: India, China, Australia. Everyone else gets rounded up into groups: "Africa," "Asia," "Latin America."

But if you're one of the down-page crowd, the center of the world is wherever you happen to be. Take Iran: it doesn't fit into any of the groups. Indeed, it's a buffer zone between most of the important ones: to the west, it borders the Arab world; to the northwest, it borders NATO (and, if Turkey ever passes its endless audition, the European Union); to the north, the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation's turbulent Caucasus; to the northeast, the Stans--the newly independent states of central Asia; to the east, the old British India, now bifurcated into a Muslim-Hindu nuclear standoff. And its southern shore sits on the central artery that feeds the global economy.

If you divide the world into geographical regions, then, Iran's neither here nor there. But if you divide it ideologically, the mullahs are ideally positioned at the center of the various provinces of Islam--the Arabs, the Turks, the Stans, and the south Asians. Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there's going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate.

In the Holy City of Qom [the Mullahs] has ruled that "the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to sharia."

If we'd understood Iran back in 1979, we'd understand better the challenges we face today. Come to that, we might not even be facing them. But, with hindsight, what strikes you about the birth of the Islamic Republic is the near total lack of interest by analysts in that adjective: Islamic. Iran was only the second Islamist state, after Saudi Arabia--and, in selecting as their own qualifying adjective the family name, the House of Saud at least indicated a conventional sense of priorities, as the legions of Saudi princes whoring and gambling in the fleshpots of the West have demonstrated exhaustively. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue--though, as the Royal Family has belatedly discovered vis-à-vis the Islamists, they're somewhat overdrawn on that front. The difference in Iran is simple: with the mullahs, there are no London escort agencies on retainer to supply blondes only. When they say "Islamic Republic," they mean it. And refusing to take their words at face value has bedeviled Western strategists for three decades.

As a geopolitical analyst the ayatollah is not to be disdained. Our failure to understand Iran in the seventies foreshadowed our failure to understand the broader struggle today. As clashes of civilizations go, this one's between two extremes: on the one hand, a world that has everything it needs to wage decisive war--wealth, armies, industry, technology; on the other, a world that has nothing but pure ideology and plenty of believers. (Its sole resource, oil, would stay in the ground were it not for foreign technology, foreign manpower, and a Western fetishization of domestic environmental aesthetics.)

For this to be a mortal struggle, as the cold war was, the question is: Are they a credible enemy to us? For a projection of the likely outcome, the question is: Are we a credible enemy to them?

Four years into the "war on terror," the Bush administration has begun promoting a new formulation: "the long war." Not a reassuring name. In a short war, put your money on tanks and bombs--our strengths. In a long war, the better bet is will and manpower--their strengths, and our great weakness. Even a loser can win when he's up against a defeatist. A big chunk of Western civilization, consciously or otherwise, has given the impression that it's dying to surrender to somebody, anybody. Reasonably enough, Islam figures: Hey, why not us? If you add to the advantages of will and manpower a nuclear capability, the odds shift dramatically.

If you've also "recently acquired" a significant Muslim population and you're not sure how to "adjust" to it, well, here's the difference: back when my Belgian grandparents emigrated to Canada, the idea was that the immigrants assimilated to the host country. As Kofi and Co. see it, today the host country has to assimilate to the immigrants: if Islamic law forbids representations of the Prophet, then so must Danish law, and French law, and American law. Iran was the progenitor of this rapacious extraterritoriality, and, if we had understood it more clearly a generation ago, we might be in less danger of seeing large tracts of the developed world being subsumed by it today.

Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things:

1. Contempt for the most basic international conventions;

2. Long-reach extraterritoriality;

3. Effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;

4. A willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);

5. An all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action.

Yet the Europeans remain in denial. Iran was supposedly the Middle Eastern state they could work with. And the chancellors and foreign ministers jetted in to court the mullahs so assiduously that they're reluctant to give up on the strategy just because a relatively peripheral figure like the, er, head of state is sounding off about Armageddon.

Instead, Western analysts tend to go all Kremlinological. There are, after all, many factions within Iran's ruling class. What the country's quick-on-the-nuke president says may not be the final word on the regime's position. Likewise, what the school of nuclear theologians in Qom says. Likewise, what former president Khatami says. Likewise, what Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, says.

But, given that they're all in favor of the country having nukes, the point seems somewhat moot. The question then arises, what do they want them for?

So the question is: Will they do it?

And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer. If, say, Norway or Ireland acquired nuclear weapons, we might regret the "proliferation," but we wouldn't have to contemplate mushroom clouds over neighboring states. In that sense, the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness--the first concession, regardless of what weasely settlement might eventually emerge.

Conversely, a key reason to stop Iran is to demonstrate that we can still muster the will to do so. Instead, the striking characteristic of the long diplomatic dance that brought us to this moment is how September 10th it's all been. The free world's delegated negotiators (the European Union) and transnational institutions (the IAEA) have continually given the impression that they'd be content just to boot it down the road to next year or the year after or find some arrangement--this decade's Oil-for-Food or North Korean deal--that would get them off the hook. If you talk to EU foreign ministers, they've already psychologically accepted a nuclear Iran. Indeed, the chief characteristic of the West's reaction to Iran's nuclearization has been an enervated fatalism.

Back when nuclear weapons were an elite club of five relatively sane world powers, your average Western progressive was convinced the planet was about to go ka-boom any minute. The mushroom cloud was one of the most familiar images in the culture, a recurring feature of novels and album covers and movie posters. There were bestselling dystopian picture books for children, in which the handful of survivors spent their last days walking in a nuclear winter wonderland. Now a state openly committed to the annihilation of a neighboring nation has nukes, and we shrug: Can't be helped. Just the way things are. One hears sophisticated arguments that perhaps the best thing is to let everyone get 'em, and then no one will use them. And if Iran's head of state happens to threaten to wipe Israel off the map, we should understand that this is a rhetorical stylistic device that's part of the Persian oral narrative tradition, and it would be a grossly Eurocentric misinterpretation to take it literally.

 Would Washington act? It depends how clear the fingerprints were. If the links back to the mullahs were just a teensy-weensy bit tenuous and murky, how eager would the U.S. be to reciprocate? Bush and Rumsfeld might--but an administration of a more Clinton-Powellite bent? How much pressure would there be for investigations under U.N. auspices? Perhaps Hans Blix could come out of retirement, and we could have a six-month dance through Security-Council coalition-building, with the secretary of state making a last-minute flight to Khartoum to try to persuade Sudan to switch its vote.

Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no "surgical" strike in any meaningful sense: Iran's clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country's allegedly "pro-American" youth. This shouldn't be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment--and incarceration. It's up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime--but no occupation.

The cost of de-nuking Iran will be high now but significantly higher with every year it's postponed. The lesson of the Danish cartoons is the clearest reminder that what is at stake here is the credibility of our civilization. Whether or not we end the nuclearization of the Islamic Republic will be an act that defines our time.

Mr. Steyn is a columnist for Canada's Western Standard and Maclean's magazine, as well as for National Review and the Atlantic Monthly. This article appears in the Spring issue of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

Timothy Garton Ash

Thursday April 20, 2006

The Guardian

May 7 2009 will surely go down in history alongside September 11 2001. "5/7", as it inevitably became known, saw massive suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, London and New York, as well as simultaneous attacks on the remaining western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total casualties were estimated at around 10,000 dead and many more wounded. The attacks, which included the explosion of a so-called dirty bomb in London, were orchestrated by a Tehran-based organisation for "martyrdom-seeking operations" established in 2004. "5/7" was the Islamic Republic of Iran's response to the bombing of its nuclear facilities, which President Hillary Clinton had ordered in March 2009.

Despite massive protests across the Islamic world, and in many European capitals, the US-led military operation had initially appeared to be successful. The US, supported by British and Israeli special forces, had bombed 37 sites, including underground facilities in which Iran was said to be on the verge of making a nuclear weapon using its own version of P-2 centrifuges. The model for these had been originally supplied by AQ Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist. US forces had taken down Iran's air defences and destroyed much of its air force. Inevitably, there were civilian casualties - estimated by the Iranian government at 197 dead and 533 injured. A Pentagon spokesman insisted that "collateral damage" had been confined to "an acceptable level". He claimed Iran's nuclear weapons programme had been "knocked back to first base".

The US navy had also successfully broken an attempted Iranian naval blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, one of the main arteries of the world's oil supplies. A US gunship had been damaged by an Iranian underwater missile attack, but with no loss of American lives. In panic on the oil markets, the price of crude oil had soared to more than $100 a barrel, but the Bush administration had built up America's strategic oil reserves and the new Clinton administration was able to draw on these. European economies were worse hit.

As experts had predicted, however, the biggest challenge for the west was Iran's ability to wage asymmetric warfare through Hizbullah, Hamas and its own suicide-bombing brigades. The Islamic Republic had for years been openly recruiting suicide bombers through an organisation described as the Committee to Commemorate Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement. As early as April 2006, it had held a recruitment fair in the grounds of the former US embassy in Tehran, claiming it already had more than 50,000 volunteers for operations against "the al-Quds occupiers" (that is, Israel), "the occupiers of Islamic lands", especially the US and Britain, and the British writer Salman Rushdie. Recruits could also sign up through the internet ( While Hizbullah and Hamas provided the infrastructure for the Tel Aviv bombings, the key to the attacks on London and New York was the recruitment of British and American Muslims through this group. The man who detonated the dirty bomb at Euston station, Bradford-born Muhammad Hussein, had been secretly trained by the Committee to Commemorate Martyrs at a camp in northern Iran.

With hindsight, it appears that the turning point may have come in the spring of 2006. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, having proclaimed his intention to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, announced that his country had already successfully enriched uranium and hinted that it had the superior P-2 centrifuge technology. Whether true or not, these claims effectively destroyed the last hopes of achieving a diplomatic solution through negotiations led by the so-called E3 - France, Germany and Britain.

A long, tortuous diplomatic dance followed, with China and Russia eventually agreeing to minimal UN sanctions on Iran, including visa bans on selected members of the regime. These had little perceptible impact on the Iranian nuclear programme, but were successfully exploited by the regime to stoke up an always strong national sense of victimisation. Meanwhile, the exposure of the clumsy channelling of US government financial support through a California-based monarchist exile organisation to a student group in Isfahan was used as a pretext for a brutal clampdown on all potentially dissident groups. Several show trials for "treason" were staged despite international protests. This produced a further hardening of US policy in the last years of the Bush administration. In the 2008 US presidential campaign, the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, felt compelled - perhaps against her own better judgment - to use the Iran issue to demonstrate that she could be tougher than John McCain on national security issues.

When she came into office, she was already committed to preventing Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, by military means if necessary. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime had abandoned all restraint in its pursuit of that objective, calculating that its own best chances of survival lay in the swiftest possible acquisition of a nuclear deterrent. In February 2009, an alarming intelligence report reached Washington, suggesting that Tehran - using a secret cascade of its version of the P-2 centrifuge - was much closer to obtaining a bomb than had been thought. In a series of crisis meetings, President Clinton, her new secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, and her new secretary of defence, Joe Biden, decided that they could afford to wait no longer. Operation Gulf Peace, for which the Pentagon had long made detailed contingency plans, started on March 6 2009.

Washington claimed that it had legal authorisation under earlier UN security council resolutions sanctioning Iran for its non-compliance on the nuclear issue, but these claims were disputed by China and Russia. Most European countries did not back the operation either, producing another big transatlantic rift. However, under enormous pressure from his close friends among US Democrats, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, reluctantly decided to give it his approval, and allowed the token deployment of a small number of British special forces in a supporting role. This provoked a revolt from the Labour backbenches - led by the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw - and a demonstration of more than 1 million people in London. Even the Conservative leader, David Cameron, mindful that a general election was expected soon, criticised Brown's support for the American action. Brown therefore postponed the British election, which had been provisionally scheduled for May 2009. Instead of an election, the country experienced a tragedy.

Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad faced a presidential election in June 2009. Unlike Brown, he was riding high on a wave of national solidarity. Even the many millions of Iranians disappointed by his failure to deliver on his material promises, and those who despaired of their country's international isolation, felt impelled to rally round the leader in time of war.

Many prominent Americans criticised the US military action. Some claimed to know that the presidential spouse, Bill Clinton, was privately among those critics, although in public he was loyalty itself. But Dr Patrick Smith of the Washington-based Committee for a Better World, which had long advocated bombing Iran, demanded of the critics: "What was your alternative?"

How to Stop Iran (Without Firing a Shot)

Current diplomacy isn't working. Here's Plan B.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

What can the Bush administration do to persuade Iran's leaders that their bid to develop nuclear weapons will exact an unacceptable price on their regime? What can it do, that is, short of launching air strikes?

Begin by shelving the current approach. For three years, the administration has deferred to European and U.N. diplomacy while seeking to build consensus around the idea that a nuclear-armed Iran poses unacceptable risks to global security. The result: Seven leading Muslim states, including Pakistan and Indonesia, have joined hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to affirm his right to develop "peaceful" nuclear technology. China and Russia have again rejected calls for U.N. sanctions. The Europeans are again seeking to sweeten the package of technical, commercial and security incentives the mullahs rejected last year. And that's just last week's news.

Today, the international community is less intent on stopping Tehran from getting the bomb than it is on stopping Washington from stopping Tehran. That's something the administration may not be able to change. But there are steps it can take independently to alter Iran's calculations. Here are four.

• Take the diplomatic offensive. "Western countries must push the internal conflicts inside the Iranian government," says Mehdi Khalaji, an Iranian journalist and visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Mr. Khalaji proposes that President Bush write an open letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, specifying the conditions under which the U.S. would be prepared to negotiate. By addressing Mr. Khamenei this way, Mr. Bush would bypass and humiliate Mr. Ahmadinejad, aggravate the regime's internal frictions and explain to the Iranian people why theirs is a pariah state.

"The administration could say, 'If you halt enrichment, we can negotiate. If you stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, we can negotiate. If you release the following political prisoners, we can negotiate. If you stop meddling in Iraq, we can negotiate.' This would provoke a controversy inside the government. Some would say, 'OK, we can give up on these prisoners. We can back away from our relationship with Hamas. And so on.'"

Mr. Khalaji also urges the U.S. government to recast the content of its Farsi-language radio station, known as Radio Farda. The station's programmers, he says, "misunderstand the young generation of Iran, which is very political. The quality is not appropriate for a serious audience. The news isn't professional the way the BBC is." Offering a serious journalistic alternative to the Beeb ought to be an administration priority.

• Target the regime's financial interests. "In many ways, the Islamic Republic of Iran has become the Islamic Republic of Iran, Inc.," says Afshin Molavi, the Iranian-American author of "Persian Pilgrimages." Between 30% and 50% of Iran's economy is controlled by the bunyad, so-called "Revolutionary Foundations" run by key regime figures answerable only to Mr. Khamenei. Hard-line Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, considered to be Mr. Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, controls the sugar monopoly, while former President Ali Rafsanjani is said to be the richest man in the country.

Since Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power, these ayatollah-oligarchs have been running for financial cover: Capital outflows from Iran surpassed the $200 billion mark in the past year alone. Much of that money has made its way to banks in the United Arab Emirates, many of which have correspondent banks in the U.S. "We are preventing financial transactions going to the Palestinian Authority because banks are scared they'll be hit by U.S. terrorism-financing laws," says a source who closely tracks the Iranian economy. "Why can't we do the same thing with Iran?"

• Support an independent labor movement. On May Day, 10,000 workers took to Tehran's streets to demand the resignation of Iran's labor minister. And despite last year's $60 billion oil-revenue bonanza, the Iranian government routinely fails to pay its civil servants, leading to chronic, spontaneous work stoppages.

Workers' rights got a boost in January when Tehran's bus drivers went on strike to demand the release of their imprisoned and tortured leader Mansour Ossanloo. In a state that bans independent labor unions, the strike was an unprecedented event, calling to mind the 1980 Gdansk dock strike that became Poland's Solidarity movement. That movement succeeded largely thanks to the support of Lane Kirkland's AFL-CIO, which in turn received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. The same model needs to be energetically applied to Iran today.

"The neat thing about the labor movement is that wherever it goes, it's welcomed," says a source familiar with Iranian workers' groups. "It actually makes America look good."

• Threaten Iran's gasoline supply. Iran is often said to have an oil weapon pointed at George Bush's head. Rob Andrews, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, notes the reverse is closer to the truth: Because Iran lacks refining capacity, it must import 40% of its gasoline. Of that amount, fully 60% is handled by a single company, Rotterdam-based Vitol, which has strategic storage and blending facilities in the UAE. The regime also spends $3 billion a year to subsidize below-market gas prices.

From Freddie:

One picture is worth a thousand words.


Beyond the Facts

Cartoon by Robert Ariail, The State, South Carolina

Cartoon by Robert Ariail, The State, South Carolina

Cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen, The Jerusalem Post

Cartoon by Gary Varvel, The Indianapolis Star-News