Monday, February 05, 2007

Attacking Iran?

Mitchell Plitnick in The Third Way

There’s a great deal of quite understandable hysteria in both Israel and the American Jewish community at the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime has, since the 1979 revolution, expressed quite a bit of hostility toward Israel, in both word and deed. Since it is a religious regime, people are even more fearful.

There’s no doubt that Israel wants a military strike on Iran to eliminate their nuclear capacity. There’s no doubt that the neocons want a military strike on Iran as well. Is that because of Israel? Well, that’s one reason, but it’s unlikely the most immediate or important one.

At this moment, Iran does not represent a major threat to Israel, though an Iran with nuclear arms could. That kind of Iran remains a long way off, and even if it came, it would not be the threat it is being made out to be.

Ironically, many of the same voices that are reacting with such hysteria to the foolish and often hateful rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad are the same ones who were so quick to point out that former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami had relatively little power in Iran. The structure has not changed. Ahmedinejad does not have his “finger on the button” and will not under any circumstances. Iran’s politics are rather complicated, more so than I can detail here. But the Iranian president is much closer in terms of power to an Israeli president (which is largely a ceremonial position) than an American president.

Moreover, while Iran is most definitely a major regional player which is using its power, money and influence to extend its prominence over the entire Middle East, it is not a fanatical, warmongering country. The descriptions at the end of Buchanan’s article are correct–Iran under the Ayatollahs has not instigated a war. Iran is very much opposed to al-Qaeda. It was one of the first Muslim countries to condemn the 9/11 attacks and did so in no uncertain terms and very much on moral grounds. Iran, despite its isolation by the United States since 1979, has been a vibrant and active player in the global economy. In all, it has generally been a very rational actor.

Incredibly, it does seem that the neocons have learned nothing from the failure in Iraq and neither have Bush and Cheney. But I continue to doubt that they will be able to overcome the political opposition they will face. On top of everything else, the United States has long avoided attacking any country that can fight back, something Iraq really couldn’t do (attacking is very different from occupying, where soldiers are subject to guerilla attacks), but Iran most definitely can.

An Israeli attack is more possible, but still unlikely, at this point, though that is much more subject to change. One thing that would change it very quickly would be new elections in Israel, because if Benjamin Netanyahu were to regain the Prime Minister’s office, the chance of an Israeli attack on Iran would increase greatly. Bibi has been beating a war drum about Iran since the late 1980s.

This also explains why Netanyahu recently urged a major push in the US, rather than in Israel, to build support for an attack on Iran. Bibi is a keen observer of American politics. This push is a good indication that he believes that there is not sufficient support in the US for an Israeli attack, much less an American one. And we should note that a great deal of long-term damage to Israeli interests could well be caused if Americans see US troops “forced” into combat in Iran by an Israeli action.

The entire essay...

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