This week the issue of the Iranian nuclear program built to a crescendo, not only in Israel (which has been preoccupied by the matter for 18 months now), but also in Iran. Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, publicly boasted that Israel would disappear from the “landscape of geography.”
Washington has also expressed its view on this issue. Are we witnessing the waging of psychological warfare? Is it media warfare? Perhaps this is just senseless, idle chatter?
All of the above are correct, but this does nothing to stop the centrifuges in Iran from continuing to spin. Nor does it stop the clock from ticking. The state of the Iranian nuclear program remains quite stable, which is good news for Tehran, less so for Jerusalem.
This week, the families of three Iranian nuclear scientists who were mysteriously killed in bombings over the past two years signed a well-publicized petition against “the Zionist regime,” whom they blame for the deaths. They also demand that Israel, the U.S., and Britain be brought before an international tribunal for what they claim is their complicity in the killings. Iranian television aired extensive reports on the issue, making sure to provide still shots of the three “martyrs.” Iranian commentators all agreed, obviously, that “nothing will stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
This was also the week in which one of Israel’s most popular newspapers devoted extensive space to a story that the state comptroller is considering probing Israel’s readiness for war, particularly the preparedness of the homefront. If one were to try to determine Israel’s preparedness for a conventional missile attack, then they would find that Israel is in good shape. But what that same newspaper forgot to mention was that it would be quite difficult for the ombudsman to gauge the homefront’s readiness to absorb a nuclear attack. We could make his job much easier and state with absolute certainty that the homefront will never be ready for a nuclear blow. And this is why there is so much concern over the Iranian nuclear program.
This was the week in which U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon that Israel has yet to decide whether to strike Iran. Sitting alongside Panetta was the head of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who stated his unequivocal view that Israel was incapable of completely halting the Iranian nuclear program alone.
“I might not be aware of all their capabilities, but I think it is a fair assessment that [Israel] can delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities,” Dempsey said. The Pentagon has now been enlisted in the administration’s campaign to ensure quiet until the presidential elections in November. Quiet at all costs.
Iran is not alone
This week, official delegations from the 57 member states — including the Palestinian Authority — of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation descended on Mecca for their fourth summit meeting. The delegation from Shiite Iran was received with great fanfare, even though the event was staged in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met with a number of other heads of state on the sidelines of the summit, including Tunisia’s new president, Moncef Marzouki. The new, democratic Tunisia, of all countries, has found a common language with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The uprising in the North African nation has brought these two countries closer together. During the meeting, both sides highlighted the importance of unity among the Muslim people worldwide, particularly in light of the threats Muslims around the globe are facing.
Ahmadinejad emerged from the meeting elated. The new Middle East that is now taking shape places the tenets of Islam above all else. Israel is not a party to this. As per usual, disagreement arose among the 57 delegations, particularly regarding the developments in Syria. Israel, however, played its usual role, bringing the consensus that has eluded the delegations on other issues. When Israel was discussed during the summit, Iran felt less isolated.
Perhaps this was why it was difficult to understand the statements made this week by Iranian General Gholam-Reza Jalali, who used the occasion of al-Quds, or Jerusalem Day (observed on the last Friday of Ramadan, as per the orders of the late Ayatollah Khomeini) to state: “[Al-Quds Day] is a reflection of the fact that no other way exists apart from resolve and strength to completely eliminate the aggressive nature and to destroy Israel.”
Jalali made these remarks at the same time as Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It seems, however, that Iran’s philosophy posits that attaining peace necessitates the destruction of Israel. If Iran keeps its promise, and Israel is destroyed, what country can be relied on in the future to create consensus in the Muslim world?
While the media here has been constantly preoccupied with the question of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, the consequences of an attack, and what the world would think if such an attack were to happen, the Iranian defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, made clear his view that “Israel does not have what is needed to stop us from reaching our goals.”
“The Israeli threats are a sign of weakness from thoughtless leaders,” he said. From Vahidi’s standpoint, the Israeli leadership is “lacking in brains,” which is evidenced by the very fact that it dares think of standing up to “Iran’s potency and will.”
“We see no basis for such actions and we don’t take these threats seriously,” the spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, said this week. He added that the Israeli speculation over a possible attack on Iran stems from “domestic troubles among the Zionists and the social crisis taking place there, and these attest to the fact that [the threats] are devoid of content.”
This week, Iran undoubtedly moved one step (one week) closer to the bomb, while Israel has been deemed incapable and ill-prepared for an attack, at least in the eyes of some of the Israeli press as well as the White House and Pentagon. Is it not clear where this dangerous game is heading? It is not just Israel’s military capabilities that are being cast in doubt, but also its ability to deter its enemies in the Middle East.
This was also the week in which the citizens of France, who flocked to the coastal areas and the mountains for their traditional “vacances,” read in the newspapers how Israel is liable to “ruin” their holiday. “Israel on the verge of attacking Iran,” read the headline in the important weekly newspaper Le Point. The article was based on the major news stories emerging from the Israeli press, which has marked this fall as the likely point when a strike could take place. The rest of the continent’s newspapers could not ignore the drums of war beating in our region.
What conclusions are we to draw after such a tumultuous week despite the fact that not one shot was fired (save, of course, for what is taking place in Syria)?
The chatter surrounding a possible Israeli strike on Iran has already extended beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable. There have always been disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington, including those that have played out in the press. Who could ever forget former Secretary of State James Baker’s infamous statement, “When you are serious about peace, call us.” This time, though, red lines have been crossed. Officials in Jerusalem are pleased by the tremendous diplomatic feat of turning the Iranian nuclear issue into a global problem, not just an Israeli one.
Still, it is hard to argue that an Iranian atomic bomb would pose the same threat to Paris, London, and Washington that it would to Israel. Israel faces a clear and present danger. Anyone who talks about Israeli paranoia is more than welcome to leaf through United Nations protocols and read Iranian statements about the future Tehran envisions for the Zionist entity.
The entire international community, including Israel, hoped that the dialogue with Iran would succeed, and that sanctions would be intensified. The U.S. under the leadership of Barack Obama believed that a peaceful solution could be secured by shifting tack. Perhaps this is why he sent holiday greetings to the Iranian people on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian new year, shortly after he entered office. Perhaps this is also why he refrained from criticizing the Iranian leadership or intervening in the opposition’s favor during the Iranian Green Movement of 2009, the mass wave of protests launched following the rigged presidential elections there.
It is clear today that Iran exploited the negotiations with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1) just to buy time. In the period between Oct. 1, 2009 and the discussions held a few weeks ago in Moscow, the Iranians have exhibited an indifferent attitude. Iran’s ambassador to Paris made remarks this week about Iranian directness and honesty and the country’s adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, yet even those who oppose an attack on Iran wouldn’t dare quote the Islamic Republic’s propaganda.
If, heaven forbid, Iran does get the bomb, nobody is predicting that it would strike Israel the very next day. The consequences for the region, however, would be extremely negative. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt will also seek to become nuclear powers, while Israel, which foreign sources say is the only country in the region that currently has this capability, would instantly lose its deterrence capacity. Israel’s entire defense doctrine would change, and its room to maneuver would be minimized. Its ability to defend itself from terrorist organizations, whether in Lebanon or in Gaza, would suddenly be limited due to the nuclear umbrella these groups would receive from Iran.
One can claim that Israel would always have the ability to strike back — or even launch a preemptive attack — but one must remember that there are very different regimes in power today in Tehran and Jerusalem. Let us be mindful of the fact that Israel does not threaten the existence of Iran day and night, nor does it cast doubt on its right to exist. On the contrary, Israel has even shown great appreciation for Persian history and civilization.
Israel praises Iranian poetry and cinema; one of its films defeated an Israeli production in the recent Academy Awards. You cannot say the opposite is true. Besides, the eight-year long Iran-Iraq War proved how different the countries value human life. It is hard to understand those who try to find parallels between Israel and Iran, because they simply do not exist.
In order for Israel to refrain from attacking Iran, Tehran must understand that Israel is capable of attacking Iran. The problem is that we have run into an absurd situation, so absurd that if we were not talking about existential issues then we might very well be laughing.
On the one hand, Iran is growing stronger because as each week goes by it is taking one step further toward the bomb, or at least toward becoming a nuclear threshold state. On the other hand, Israel is given the “worrisome” treatment by the media and our American ally, thereby creating the impression that Israel is incapable of attacking Iran, or at least capable, but only with limited results.
President Obama could undoubtedly have solved this problem quite easily. Just imagine it: the American president wakes up one morning, calls a news conference and makes it clear to the Iranians that he will personally see to it that they do not obtain a nuclear weapon, and after all the chances they've received, he sets a timetable that extends even beyond the November elections. We would all come out ahead, except Iran. Instead, under the current circumstances, nobody comes out ahead, except Iran.
Israel is the country perceived to be threatening the stability of the region. Obama’s America is fearful that an Israeli attack will undermine the stability that is so vital in the period just before the elections. Europe is fearful of the economic consequences of an attack, and the Arab world, which is starving for stability, is petrified of the fall even more than it is of “spring.” Iran is the only country that is going about its business.
The threat of a nuclear Iran has hung over us for 20 years. The days in which the international community rejected Israeli warnings are now behind us. But now we're at a stage where we and the world are not watching the same clock. Tehran would have abandoned its nuclear project long ago if it understood that Israel is capable of attacking, and that the world would find it unacceptable for Iran to even be a nuclear threshold state. But one more insane week like the one we have just had and Khamenei may come to the conclusion that Israel is incapable of attacking, and the world is not prepared to do the job either. And this is the opposite of what should be happening.
After such an abnormal week, one in which nothing actually happened, I thought of a proverb I heard during one of my visits to Iran: “The one who does not know how to talk incessantly is the wise one, who unlike the others, draws the appropriate conclusions.”