By Barry Rubin
The Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2005
Reproduced at Zionism On The Web with permission of GLORIA Center
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. His co-authored book, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, (Oxford University Press) is now available in paperback. His latest book is The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.
The negotiations attempting to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons are on the verge of collapse. Unless some new pretended arrangement is developed soon to conceal the fact, it should soon be clear that nothing stands between Tehran and the possession of atomic bombs except for the final stages of technical development.
In one of the Monty Python comedy troupe's best routines, a man goes into a pet store to buy a parrot. The parrot is obviously dead but the store owner insists there is nothing wrong with him. No matter how the customer proves the parrot is dead--for instance, by showing he only remains upright because he's nailed to the perch--the store owner has a ready answer to deny the easily demonstrable truth.
The Middle East is full of parallels to this skit, situations in which the denial of the obvious wins the day through sheer persistence and a readiness to lie: such dead parrot arguments as Yasir Arafat really wanted peace, terrorism does not actually exist, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the region's most important issue, Saddam Hussein was an Arab hero, or the idea that democracies can make deals with radical Islamists. Denying or apologizing for Iran's driveto obtain nuclear weapons is one of the most outstanding such issues on the current international agenda.
Another Middle East pattern also fits Iran's behavior on the nuclear issue, in which a party demands concessions and hints that once these are given it will accept a compromise solution. But when the democratic counterpart--the West or Israel depending on the specific situation--gives up on most or all points, the other side--an Arab dictatorship, radical movement, or Iran--then ridicules the concession, fails to implement its own promises, and insists on getting more.
The recent history of Iran's nuclear program combines these two features. First, there are the dead parrot arguments to "prove" Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons. But it is doubtful that one of the world's main oil-producing countries believes it needs nuclear energy when this mode of power generation has been a costly, dangerous failure. Nor has Iran spent so much money to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons to distant targets to build an overnight mail delivery service to compete with Federal Express.
For those somewhat more attuned to reality, the first fallback argument is that Iran needs nuclear weapons because it is surrounded by enemies. This neglects the fact that Iran would have few enemies (the worst of the real ones, Saddam Hussein, is now an imprisoned ex-dictator) if it was not the world's main supporter of terrorism, subverter of Arab-Israeli peace, and official sponsor of anti-Americanism, while also sabotaging Iraqi stability and daily threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
The second fallback argument is that Iran has as much right to have nuclear weapons as other states, which neglects the regime's actual nature, ideology, and aggressive ambitions. If Iran had a democratic moderate regime, it would probably not be seeking nuclear weapons and if it was few would object. It is quite true that Israeli analysts and officials doubt Iran would immediately use nuclear weapons to carry out its publicly stated genocidal intentions against Israel.
The principal concern, however, is that Tehran would be able to do so whenever it wanted. The fact that much of the Western world is indifferent to that possibility shows how completely the last Holocaust has been erased from any practical effect, even as it is commemorated in formal, sterile ceremonies. But there are other dangerous implications of Iranian nuclear weapons which should make stopping Tehran's drive to get them a priority for many others:
--Such weapons would be far more likely to fall into the hands of terrorists than any other nuclear arms in the world, through carelessness or intention of even a small group of Iranian government extremists.
--The weapons could more likely be used in the likely event that the Iranian regime faces domestic instability or imminent overthrow.
--Possessing such power would give Iran tremendous strategic leverage. Who in the area would say "no" to a Tehran so armed? A Europe already too quick with appeasement would go even further in that direction, while U.S. ability to act in the region would be greatly reduced. The Gulf Arabs, freed from the menace of Saddam Hussein, would now face an equally or even more frightening threat.
--Such a development would be an inspiration to radical movements and terrorists to become even more reckless, believing Tehran would back them up or at least their enemies would be demoralized and the West too afraid to help their intended victims.
Western diplomatic efforts to stop or slow down Iran's program are quite complex but seem to be on the verge of collapse in the coming weeks. Concern over the danger has sparked some U.S.-Europe cooperation. Yet Iran is not bargaining in good faith but merely buying the time necessary so it can reach its goal and ward off further pressure by flourishing its new nuclear arms.
What will be the consequences when--not if--it is clear Iran has broken its pledges and openly rejected making a deal. Probably nothing.
Of course, much could be done to stop Iran if Europe were to join the United States in a serious program of economic and political sanctions combined with tough, credible warnings along with real pressures on Russia, China, Pakistan, and North Korea to stop any help to Iran. But Europe would not back such measures, fearing confrontation and the loss of both oil imports and profits from trade with Iran. The same point applies to any attempt to topple Iran's regime, which would not work any way.
Thus, despite all the talk of efforts to stop Iran's nuclear weapons' effort and gossip about someone attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, this is probably not going to happen. Thereafter, the only defense for Iran's intended targets will be deterrence and hope. The implications for the region's future can be summarized by the title of another Monty Python sketch: "And now for something completely different
Don't Put the Impossible First By Prof Barry Rubin, Gloria Center, March 22, 2007
Ahmadinejad's World By Dr Matthias Küntzel, July 20th, 2006
Radical Islam with sovereignty By Jonathan Spyer, Haaretz, January 27, 2006
Tipping point By Nir Boms and Reza Bulorchi, The Wall Street Journal (Europe), July 27, 2005
Monty Python in Iran with nuclear wepons By Barry Rubin, The Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2005
'NGO' of Terror By Nir Boms and Reza Bulorchi, The Wall Street Journal (Europe), July 7, 2004
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