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The Iranian Threat

The Iranian Threat

Only severe sanctions backed by military threat will have any impact.


Defying both history and logic, the idea that the West should diplomatically engage with Tehran still commands an important following.

Despite the massive waves of demonstrators across Iran who charged their government with rigging the June 12 presidential elections, there still are officials in the Obama administration who seem to believe that engagement with the Islamic Republic should "remain on the table," as columnist Roger Cohen put it in the New York Times Magazine this week. Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, agrees: "We would like very much that soon we will have the possibility to restart multilateral talks with Iran on the important nuclear issues," he said on June 24.

But they're wrong, just as they have been from the start. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about sticking to engagement. The main one is that it has already been tried -- and utterly failed. Iran has consistently used the West's willingness to engage as a delaying tactic, a smoke screen behind which Iran's nuclear program has continued undeterred and, in many cases, undetected.

The Islamic Republic has already proved it only uses talks with the West as a delaying tactic as it relentlessly pursues nuclear arms.

Back in 2005, Hassan Rowhani, the former chief nuclear negotiator of Iran during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, made a stunning confession in an internal briefing in Tehran, just as he was leaving his post. He explained that in the period during which he sat across from European negotiators discussing Iran's uranium enrichment ambitions, Tehran quietly managed to complete the critical second stage of uranium fuel production: its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan. He boasted that the day Iran started its negotiations in 2003 "there was no such thing as the Isfahan project." Now, he said, it was complete.

Rowhani's revelation showed clearly how Iran exploited the West's engagement. Moreover, the Iranians violated their 2004 agreement with the EU and brilliantly dragged out further negotiations that followed. Equally important, they delayed Western punitive moves against them, keeping the U.N. Security Council at bay for years.

Mohammed Javad Larijani, a former deputy foreign minister and brother to Rowhani's successor as chief negotiator, admitted the logic of diplomatic engagement from the Iranian side: "Diplomacy must be used to lessen pressure on Iran for its nuclear program."

Advocates of engagement with Iran often use an unfair argument to advance their case: Their cause, they claim, is opposed mainly by Israel, which is pushing its own narrow agenda. True, Israel is a target of Iran, whose leadership calls for the "elimination of Israel from the region" -- to quote the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said this years before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So that there would be no confusion about Iranian intent, Khamenei's words were hung from a Shahab 3 missile in a military parade in 2003.

But Israel is not Iran's only target. If that was the case, the Iranians would have had no reason to develop missiles that fly well past Israeli territory to Central Europe and beyond.

Israel is not Iran's only target.

In fact, the greatest engagement skeptics today are the leaders of the Sunni Arab states from Morocco to Bahrain. The Gulf states in particular have repeatedly been the targets of Iranian subversion operations. Bahrain was called the 14th province of Iran earlier this year by one of Khamenei's key advisors. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been attacked by Iranian-backed Hezbollah operatives in the past. Iran still occupies islands belonging to the United Arab Emirates, close to the oil tanker routes that go through the Strait of Hormuz.

And Cairo just cracked a large Iranian-supported Hezbollah cell that was planning attacks on key economic centers in the Egyptian state.

For these reasons, Arab officials don't need prompting from Israel. Their common fear is that a nuclear Iran will embolden groups such as Hezbollah, which will feel it enjoys a nuclear sponsor protecting it from any retaliatory action. Unlike their Western counterparts, these Arab officials are savvy enough to distinguish between status quo states that just want to assure the security of their borders and ideologically driven revolutionary powers like Iran with expansive aims.

An Iran with hegemonial aspirations will not be talked out of acquiring nuclear weapons through a new Western incentives package. Only the most severe economic measures aimed at Iran's dependence on imported gasoline, backed with the threat of Western military power, might pull the Iranians back at the last minute. Until now, U.N. sanctions on Iran have been too weak to have any real impact.

It is critical to understand that an Iran that crosses the nuclear threshold after repeated warnings that doing so is "unacceptable" would be even less likely to be deterred in the future. It would provide global terrorism the kind of protective umbrella that Al Qaeda never had back on 9/11, including Hezbollah cells located at present in Central Europe and Latin America. Some Arab states, like Qatar, have already been largely "Finlandized," to borrow a Cold War term for states that make their foreign policy subservient to the wishes of a powerful neighbor. But as Iran's nuclear program continues unopposed, more Arab states will follow, changing the Middle East entirely.

Halting the Iranian nuclear program is a global imperative; acquiescing to a nuclear Iran in the hope that it will pragmatically understand the limits of its own power would be a colossal mistake.

Dore Gold's new book, "The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West," will be published next month.

This op-ed originally appeared in the LA Times.

August 8, 2009

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 8

(8) WA Ford, December 1, 2010 3:36 PM

I pray that our brothers in Eretz Yisrael do not attack Iran. They would have no chance and we can not afford to loss so many of our coreligious.

(7) Sim, August 14, 2009 12:23 AM

Dor Gold is right on target

Iran is using the bomb to gain political muscle in the middle east. It does not have any intention of suspending their program. The Iranians know that the UN Security Council is made up of spineless leaders who demonize Israel every day. Israel needs to go in and destroy those reactors. It should not give a rats atut about what other countries say. The longer it waits the harder it will be to take the reactors out. Some say there are over 1500 nuclear underground plants throughout Iran

(6) Linda J. McArtney, August 11, 2009 3:18 AM

Israel Vs, Iran

I am trying to reason with myself that regardless if Iran does have a nuclear weapon some day, it dare not use it against Israel not only for fear of retaliation, but also the wrath of neighboring countries, Syria, Jordan, etc.that will also bear the brunt of nuclear contamination, not to mention the number of Palestians that would be killed outright along with israelis. No, I sleep better hoping I am right.

(5) Anny Matar, August 10, 2009 3:56 PM

I am afraid Mr. Gold's words fall on deaf ears

Who would listen to an American / Israeli? Who would believe and support him? Anti Israeli Europe or the Muslim President Obama? Rare and far between were the Presidents who supported Israel as Bush did I honestly don't remember one. During and shortly before W.W.II the Americans reduced the number of Certificates to the U.S. by half and many a hope was shattered when, in 1956 France, Britain and Israel tried to stop the takeover the Suez Canal, America voted against it hoping to be loved by the Egyptians. Nasser like Iran now (no matter whom you call by name - so many leaders, so miserable a support for their policy) spat into America's face and approached Russia for arms and support !!! They'll do the same to Mr. Obama however hard he tries, Mr Obama just falls for their promises. Obama wants to tip the scale into the Arab world, as far away as possible from Israel, but they only laugh at him, they might give him chains of gold but they don't want him, they want the world and they hope to get it through him. When the Americans - black; white; jelow;brown - all colours and religions voted for him they all believed HE COULD do it and keep his promises and they desperately needed HOPE, ( as we all do) but I never thought that lack of experience means A BAG FULL OF TROUBLE, no one cared what Hitler did, they were ONLY Jews, but times have changed AM ISRAEL CHAY !!! and WE ARE HERE TO STAY!!!! Even if no one heeds Mr. Gold's warnings, WE WILL SURVIVE AGAINST ALL ODDS!!!

(4) misterb, August 10, 2009 4:19 AM

Iran's power?

Iran's theocracy is losing power. It can not keep this farce going too much longer. Internatiional pressure and sanctions along with internal strife will bring this regime to it's knees in the near future. The nuclear threat is a smokescreen for their crumbling government.

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