Comment: Iran, nukes, Ahmadinejad… What is to be done?


It’s funny how history tends to repeat itself. Ten years ago, the west was under threat from a brutal and unfriendly regime in the Arab world. Our leaders spoke of weapons of mass destruction, sanctions and war. We all know the rest. Almost a decade has passed since the US-led invasion of Iraq, and again the west and its allies finds themselves faced with another great threat in the Middle East. This time it’s the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

Mahmoud-Ahmadinejad-Iran-nuclear-weapon-threatAgain, our leaders speak with great certainty about weapons of mass destruction. In Iraq, they were never found, and probably, never existed. But even before the war, the IAEA, the UN and the Iraq survey group, had all made it quite clear – there was no hard evidence of WMDs in Iraq.

The invasion went ahead anyway, and in the decade that passed, the country was devastated by war. According to an Oxfam report, Iraq’s child mortality rate reached as high as 125 per 1,000 children in 2007, four points higher than the country with the world’s current highest child mortality rate, Afghanistan.

Nobody wants another Iraq. But a decade on from Operation Iraqi Freedom, the same script is being followed over Iran. Israel has repeatedly threatened the Iranian regime with a military attack if they continue to move towards developing nuclear weapons.

Just as Saddam Hussain did a decade ago, the Iranians promise retaliation, but make no threats of an unprovoked attack on Israel; evidently, a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran would greatly increase the chances of Iran then retaliating against Israel.

According to the former chief of Mossad, it would start a “regional war”. It has even been claimed by scholars and military experts an attack by Israel would speed up Iran’s move towards nuclear capability. And yet, despite these inherent risks, even the White House refuses to rule out a pre-emptive strike against Tehran. So what exactly is the nature of the Iranian nuclear threat, and should it have our leaders contemplating war?

If reports into the country’s horrendous human rights record are anything to go by, the regime is certainly a threat to its own people. But the notion Iran intends to launch a military attack against Israel if it successfully develops a nuclear weapon is not supported by western intelligence agencies. This year’s official Pentagon report claims Iran’s military doctrine is “designed to slow an invasion… and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities”.

The regime’s security strategy “remains focused on deterring an attack”. A more detailed Pentagon report in 2010 concluded Tehran’s first priority is “the survival of the regime” and its “military strategy is designed to defend against external threats from the United States and Israel”.

That same year, a US Department of Defense report declared Iran’s nuclear programme was “a central part of its deterrent strategy”. This implies a nuclear strike on Israel would not be the purpose of Iran developing atomic weapons. Instead, the report claims the programme would be designed to deter a US or Israeli attack. And this is far from just Iranian paranoia – both countries have threatened to attack Iran in recent months, violating Point 4 Article 2 of the UN Charter.

It should, of course, be noted the reports do point out Tehran’s reprehensible record of support for Shia terrorism. Their overall message, however, is clear: Iran is a hostile country, but its core military objective, including that of its nuclear programme, is defensive. This is not to say Iran would be justified in developing a nuclear bomb, but if US intelligence is accurate, and the programme is in fact designed as a “deterrent” to invasions, then a nuclear Iran would not pose an existential threat to Israel.

The same conclusions have been made by Israel’s former military intelligence chief, Zeevi Farkash. He believes the regime has no interest in using the atomic bomb against Israel; it would serve simply to deter a US attack. Such is the view of the acclaimed Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, who argues  an atomic weapons programme in Iran would bring stability to the region, “just as nuclear weapons kept the peace between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War”.

The threat of mutually assured destruction would, in van Creveld’s view, deter war and encourage diplomacy between the two countries.

Current Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, has also stated a nuclear Iran would not pose an existential threat to Israel. His predecessors, Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, argue the same. Halevy even accused his government of exaggerating the Iranian threat in order to win the support of the international community.

So where, one might ask, does president Netanyahu get his intelligence from? If a nuclear Iran really would pose a threat to Israel’s existence, why do the leaders of Israel’s top intelligence agency refute this so strongly?

Netanyahu has even warned of a second Holocaust. But again, there is little basis for such a claim. The Iranian leadership has never called for genocide, or tried to exterminate the Iranian-Jewish population, so why do we assume the regime would even want to launch a nuclear attack on Israel if it got the chance? Undoubtedly, Iran’s leadership is grossly anti-Semitic and authoritarian. But to claim it would want to carry out a second Holocaust is a big leap; and, not to mention, completely at odds with the reports of the Pentagon and the US Department of Defense.

Our leaders appear to have their own intelligence. Obama doesn’t buy the claims of Mossad or the Pentagon – he told the UN this year a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel. Nor would he appear to have much faith in the IAEA, UN or CIA, none of which have found any hard evidence of an atomic weapons programme in Iran. Sound familiar? Saddam’s weapons were never found, but to our leaders, it would appear Iraq is nothing but a distant memory.

Yet if we learnt anything from the chaos of that conflict, it’s that diplomacy should never be sidelined and our leaders should always be questioned. But as evidence on Iran is ignored, and talk of war intensifies, we are in danger of making the same mistake again and thus fulfilling the age-old cliché – that those who do not learn from history will be condemned to repeat it.

See also:

‘Nuclear War Games’ – what would happen if Israel bombed Iran?November 6th, 2012

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  • Octavio

    There is no correlation between Russia and the US back in the cold war where the two countries nuclear threats cancelled each other out. We are dealing with a culture that does not care if they blow themselves up in the name of Allah. Amahdinejad has said many times how he wants to and is planning to wipe Israel off the map.

  • Octavio

    There is no correlation between Russia and the US back in the cold war where the two countries nuclear threats cancelled each other out. We are dealing with a culture that does not care if they blow themselves up in the name of Allah. Amahdinejad has said many times how he wants to and is planning to wipe Israel off the map.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Claude-Boels/100003523722862 Claude Boels

    the consensur among the pentagon, military, expert, that think tank. is

    1 – iran is a rational actor they have never attacked anyone FIRST

    2 – regardless bombing or not… iran will at somes point succeed in building the ultimate deterrence.

    so…. war is needless… the only victime of a nuclear iran… is israrli nuclear hegemany in ME

    are the US doomed to fight until the end of time ME countries to maintain the israeli monopoly? very doubtful…. neither the will, nor the means !

  • Daniel Wickham

    Jihadists in Iran probably no more fanatical than Bolsheviks in USSR, both put their vile ideologies ahead of human life, with tragic results

  • Daniel Wickham

    Jihadists in Iran probably no more fanatical than Bolsheviks in USSR, both put their vile ideologies ahead of human life, with tragic results

  • Daniel Wickham

    Jihadists in Iran probably no more fanatical than Bolsheviks in USSR, both put their vile ideologies ahead of human life, with tragic results

  • Daniel Wickham

    Jihadists in Iran probably no more fanatical than Bolsheviks in USSR, both put their vile ideologies ahead of human life, with tragic results

  • Daniel Wickham

    Jihadists in Iran probably no more fanatical than Bolsheviks in USSR, both put their vile ideologies ahead of human life, with tragic results

  • Daniel Wickham

    Jihadists in Iran probably no more fanatical than Bolsheviks in USSR, both put their vile ideologies ahead of human life, with tragic results

  • Daniel Wickham

    And can you link me an article/document in which Ahmadinejad threatens/talks of plans to actively destroy Israel.

  • Daniel Wickham

    I fear that the US will do anything within their power to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons, and risk another war in the ME to do it.

  • Daniel Wickham

    For that matter I don’t think the US were that rational during the cold war, they risked nuclear war over Cuba and basically drove the Cubans into the hands of the Soviets, and the world nearly paid an enormous price

  • http://www.facebook.com/simon.birnstingl1 Simon Birnstingl

    What isn’t mentioned is the concern that Iranian nuclear technology could find it’s way into the hands of the terrorists Iran supports. The notion of an Iranian proxy using Iranian weapons for a terrorist spectacular is what, I suspect, drives White House policy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/simon.birnstingl1 Simon Birnstingl

    What isn’t mentioned is the concern that Iranian nuclear technology could find it’s way into the hands of the terrorists Iran supports. The notion of an Iranian proxy using Iranian weapons for a terrorist spectacular is what, I suspect, drives White House policy.

  • Daniel Wickham

    a fair point, but Israel would probably treat an Iranian-provided nuclear attack by Hamas or any other group the same as they would treat a direct Iranian nuclear attack- by retaliating against Tehran. They’d know exactly where the weapons came from, so I don’t think Iran would be so stupid as to use it for proxies. And anyway, Pentagon reports and Zeevi Farkash suggest Iran going nuclear is a deterrent, and not part of an offensive strategy.

  • Newsbot9

    1. So terrorists don’t count? Really, I think the USA disagrees.

    Keep claiming a “consensus”. Your evidence is?

  • Newsbot9

    But it would mean Iran could freely provide funds to terrorist proxies without needing to worry about invasion. Moreover, you’re depending on continuity of policy in a quite unstable state.

  • Daniel Wickham

    True, but they currently fund and arm terrorist groups without being invaded- war would only be an option if Iran directly attacked Israel or developed nuclear weapons. Incidentally Saudi Arabia is one of the region’s principles proponents of islamic extremism and terror but the West continues to arm and support the kingdom

  • Guest

    I take your point that while Iran’s current leadership might not want to use weapons against Israel, future governments, say from a coup, might take a different position. But the same is true of Pakistan, who have around a hundred nuclear weapons and are a Western allied, armed and funded

  • Daniel Wickham

    Should we therefore go to war with Pakistan because their nuclear weapons could fall into the hand of jihadists committed to Israel’d destruction?

  • Newsbot9

    They are basically immune to external leverage on the matter as nuclear weapons guarantee, though.

    And yes, well, I’m not exactly a fan of the Saudis either.

    edit: Ironically, though, they do need to worry about the population and they’ve gone along with the Arab League’s offering some important concessions to Israel. Neither the Israeli or the Palestinian leadership is in a position to deliver peace as things stand, mind you :/

  • Daniel Wickham

    take your point that a different government in Iran might not have the same policy, but it’s unlikely due to fear of US-Israeli retaliation. But same is true of Pakistan- they have around 100 nuclear weapons and lots of jihadists committed to Israel’s destruction, so should we impose sanctions/go to war with Pakistan to stop them falling into the hands of (worse) extremists?

  • Daniel Wickham

    That’s another way of reducing Iranian hostility towards Israel- implementing the international consensus on a 2 state solution. Iran don’t want Israel to exist but their official policy is to peacefully accept whatever the Palestinians accept. 2 state solution would seriously reduce any threats to Israeli security

  • Newsbot9

    Except, bear in mind, it’s not in the interests of Iran to accept any peaceful solutions, not least because it would free the hands of the Arab League in dealing with majority-Persian Iran.

  • Daniel Wickham

    Maybe so, I honestly don’t know enough about Iran-Arab League relations. But I think if there was a 2 state solution (a withdrawal from occupied territories) there would be relative peace. Iran and Hamas thrive politically in times of war and hostility, so there influence would both decline with a 2 state sol

  • Newsbot9

    No, because it gives them no reason to cease operating – look at the statements Hamas have made recently about not recognising any two-state peace deal!

    Moreover, even the Arab League is willing to recognise that the 1967 borders are only a starting point.

  • Daniel Wickham

    Hamas will never recognize Israel’s right to exist- an abhorrent position. But their official policy is to be peaceful towards Israel if granted statehood on 1967 borders, whilst retaining overall policy of gaining more land. Furthermore their political prominence would surely decline as they thrive during war- Palestinians, polls show, want peace and would accept 2 states

  • Newsbot9

    No it’s not! Hamas’s position is that Israel must be destroyed. Moreover, the 1967 borders are not something which anyone except Hamas insists on, for good reason!

    And there is a difference between polls and the elected government.

  • Daniel Wickham

    Firstly I want to make clear I consider Hamas a vile organisation; I’m not defending or apologizing for them, just correcting falsehoods:

    1) Hamas’ position is long-term peace with ’67 borders http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=293084 (he’s said this time and time again)

    2) there is an international consensus that ’67 borders are a just settlement- it is even the official policy of Israel’s biggest supporter, the US. The occupied of the territories is illegal under international law and amounts to an act of war

    3) Hamas don’t have a democratic mandate to represent Gazans- no election for seven years, plus they took full control of Gaza undemocratically and by force in 2007 by kicking out Fatah (which amounts to a coup)

  • Newsbot9

    1) No, their aim is destroying Israel. Their leader said it again recently.
    2) Again, not even the Arab League is insisting on it. And arguably it’s an act of war against Jordan and Egypt, yes. Both of whom don’t take it so.
    3) Yes, that’s why pushing too hard now is only going to lead to a three-state soloution!

  • Daniel Wickham

    1) agreed, their AIM is destroying Israel. But if given 67 borders, Hamas vow to be then be peaceful in their approach, which is all that really matters to me

    2) correct, Arab league wants MORE than 67 borders. The rest of the world (except Israel), support 67 borders- see unanimous UN security council resolution 242

    UN resolution 3314 says occupaton, annexation or settlement of land not belonging to the state doing it amounts to an act of war and is illegal (it also makes clear whether or not the state under occupation is recognized is not relevant) – this is why the recent war with Gaza cannot be classed as a defensive operation

    3) 3 state solution more likely to be the case because of Israel’s breaking of Oslo Accords and breaking the contiguous Palestinian state.

  • Newsbot9

    1) There is a basic trust and belief issue. That is, there is absolutely none.
    2) No, this has changed in the last 18 months. The Arab League is willing to talk about adjustments from those borders. There appears to be a real movement there towards peace.
    3) Stop making excuses for Hamas’s actions. The settlements are wrong, but the likely cause of the 3-state solution is Hamas forcing things.

  • Guest

    Yes, you’re ignoring the evidence,of history, that we have to look beyond your narrow ideological claims and look at those on the ground – Iran refuses to stop enriching and buying dual-use components. Those are the facts.

  • Noah

    Iran actualy did threaten another holocaust saying “the zionist regime is a cancerous tumor that must be removed”

  • Daniel Wickham

    1) fair enough, but both Hamas and Israeli govt to blame for lack of trust- Fatah are the only moderates in power at the moment

    2) didn’t know, that’s good. Fatah also accept adjustments, Hamas accept UN-guided ’67 borders, but might go along with whatever Fatah accept. What’s Israel’s position on ’67 borders: that it refuses to consider them, that E. Jerusalem will always belong to Israel, that significant parts of the West Bank will remain under Israeli control. There’s Israel’s preconditions. It’s the only country in the world who do not recognize ’67 borders as reasonable.

    3) I’m not, I condemn Hamas. But it’s in Israel’s security interests to grant ’67 borders and give back East Jerusalem- they say they never will. In fact, it’s in likud charter to never accept a Palestinian state, just like it’s in Hamas’ charter to never accept Israel

  • Daniel Wickham

    Withdrawing from the territories is actually in Israel’s security interests. And furthermore, the ’67 borders is not in any way unreasonable, as unanimously passed international law states ALL land taken since ’67 is illegally occupied. Withdrawing should not be seen as giving into terror, but a service to peace and both Israeli & Palestinian national interests, and the upholding of int. law

  • Newsbot9

    1) Fatah are mostly corrupt, which is how Hamas got a look-in in the first place.
    2) Hamas and Fatah would, as things currently stand, have to agree. And neither will the Isralie right. If either tried, their governments would fall.
    3) No, it absolutely is not in their security interests to accept unmodified borders!

  • Daniel Wickham

    I’m aware of this, it’s not the same as saying “‘we’re going to destroy Israel” or “we’re going to attack Israel”. Anyway, intelligence suggests Israel not interested in carrying out direct attacks on Israel, least of all with nuclear weapons

  • Daniel Wickham

    Other facts, CIA says Iran has not yet taken the decision to begin a nuclear weapons programme. IAEA and Pentagon have found no hard of evidence of such a programme.
    And in what way is my position ideological? At the moment, nobody knows if Iran is trying to get a nuclear weapon; intelligence suggests if that if they did get hold of one, it would be to deter an invasion not to attack Israel. Intelligence also suggests they would not be capable of threatening Israel’s existence. If any of this changes (i.e. if intelligence starts to claim they are building weapons with the intention to hit Israel and they could destroy a city or worse), then my opinion on what to do about would change. This is not ideological, it is pragmatic

  • Reza

    Iran never plan to do so, what Ahmadinejad says is the regime that must be overthrown in israel. I sympathised for US citizens that is fooled by their government and also their media.

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