Copyright © by Len Holman, 1/31/12
Passions run high when it comes to consideration of Iran and the probability of its obtaining nuclear weapons. Reason runs low, as indicated by the latest incident concerning this issue, which has a Jewish newspaper owner in very hot water. The owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times wrote a column suggesting that Israel, in defense of an existential threat from Iran, assassinate President Obama, presumably because he hasn’t ordered our military to turn Iran into a glowing spot visible from Mars. Yet. There have been five (so far) assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in the last few years, for which no one has claimed credit, and the Stuxnet virus which attacked the system which controlled Iran’s centrifuges, also for which no one has claimed credit, and the Obama administration’s attempts to get many of the world’s nations to ban all new oil contracts with Iran—all aimed at pressuring the Persian nation to do what we want or what SOMEONE ELSE wants.
Last week, an Iranian nuclear scientist and his bodyguard were killed when two men on a motorcycle rode up alongside the car they were traveling in, attached a magnetic bomb, and roared off. It was probably not Tom Cruise or Jason Bourne. This act has Mossad’s fingerprints all over it. In our President’s State of the Union speech, he spoke of Iran and our commitment to keeping them from getting The Bomb, and that “all options” were on the table. All the Republican candidates have verbally signed on to “do something” about Iran, including Rick Santorum’s statement that NOT to “do something” would be reckless. We have imposed heavy economic sanctions and continue to press Iran all around. So all this, as Daffy Duck used to warn, means war.
Iran has blustered that they would block the Strait of Hormuz, that it would be, in the words of their top naval commander, “easier than drinking a glass of water.” But the real, long-term, existential threat—as expounded by the media and politicians and the guy who came to fix my computer one day and was sorely exercised about Iran and nukes—is a nuclear weapon. As far as any intelligence operation in any country knows, Iran has no such weapons. But what if they did? What if, by methods straightforward, and devious, they developed the capability of creating a nuclear weapon and putting it on the nose of a missile? Suppose they had several of them? Some questions naturally come to mind. Would the Iranian state use these missiles to attack...well, say Israel? If it did, that would probably be the end of the Iranian state. Israel has a number of nukes (they’re too shy, I guess, to say how many. Maybe they don’t want to appear to be bragging) and would use every last one to retaliate, while the U.S. without too much urging from the Israelis would encourage NATO to do to Iran what it did to Libya—only quicker and harder. If it could.
“If it could,” because Iran is no Libya. It’s not Iraq with a costumed military and a rusted weapons infrastructure. Iran is muscular and has a real military, and if it had nukes, they would be real—and lethal, and not much of that part of the world would be the same or LOOK the same after the missile exchange. And after that deadly reciprocal barrage, there would be yet another generation, succeeding this generation, radicalized and with a long memory. If Iran does not have nukes, does it intend to have them? Their ambiguity in this matter is worse than a kid trolling the shelves in a toy store who is being coy about what she REALLY wants. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has demanded transparency from Iran and has not, so far, gotten it (stifle your surprise). They are presently in Iran to check on stuff, but if I were Iran, I’d put my stuff in a closet underground somewhere and not let the IAEA folks anywhere near it. The West has imposed draconian sanctions on Iran’s economy and expects that to build some sort of consensus in Iran for NOT trying to obtain them. No one, except maybe President Obama, believes this. In fact, few, if any, Iranians, believe they should be told by anyone NOT to have nukes if they decide to have them.
Looked at from their point of view, it’s not difficult to see their reasoning: if you have nukes you are safer than if you don’t have them. The whole Cold War is instructive in this matter. Mutually Assured Destruction was the phrase of the time, and it seemed to be the case that if two antagonistic countries had The Bomb, neither would risk losing millions in a nuclear strike-and-response scenario. Saddam had no nukes and where is he? Ghaddafi had some and we bargained with him and made a deal and he benefited from this country’s largess. But when the Arab Spring came to Libya he had nothing to bargain with—and where is he now? Al-Assad has none in Syria and he is not able to go outside his palace, while his country crumbles around him, and he risks some retaliation from outside forces. Would he be less vulnerable with some closeted nukes handy? Pakistan and India have them, not to mention North Korea, and they still exist, putting up with our frustration and rancor with apparently few ill effects. It’s not that Iran’s clerics are nice folk, but they are not stupid; they calculate with the best of them, but their threat to close the Strait of Hormuz is ridiculous on its face: it leaves them no maneuvering room should they attempt it. They could, of course, claim they have mined the waters and that would trigger a rocketing price for a barrel of crude, but since the Iranian economy gets about 65% of its revenue from oil exports, cutting off that cash stream would be like hitting themselves in the groin with a hammer.
Khameini, himself, has raised the issue of the survival of the Iranian Republic to a duty under Islam. But the threat to close the Strait does indicate their defensive, fearful, and hostile feeling toward the West, and is something to take into account. No one trusts Iran and that feeling overrides the idea that Iran is a sovereign nation, with a right to its own policies. Is it an ethical stance to tell such a country, “You MIGHT have nukes, and we don’t trust you NOT to have them, so bend over and kiss your Persian butts goodbye.” Bombing Iran outright—aside from the collateral damage, both physical and geopolitical—will do little more than slow Iran’s drive to get its own nukes. So, what can be done? Given that the computer viruses and targeted killings and even the attacks on a country’s central bank and economy might all be called acts of war, I can imagine the mullahs gathered at a table and considering what to do, how to retaliate. For retaliating is what they will consider, not just defending themselves. So, our government should say to Iran—as Joan Rivers used to say in her act—“can we talk?”
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