On Iran, pay no attention to mushy-headed “experts”

What else should the US and its allies consider to prevent the horror of a nuclear Iran? In considering that question seriously, Western leaders would be well-advised to ignore the advice of weak-kneed Iran watchers

Get serious: they're not playing games in Tehran, neither should we play them here
Lawrence J. Haas
On 19 January 2012 10:24

The West is entering a particularly dangerous period in its confrontation with Iran, but due less to rising tensions between the two sides than to a concerted push by mushy-headed “experts” on how to defuse them.

In its efforts to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons pursuit, the West remains in a race against time. Tehran continues to make progress, announcing recently that it is enriching uranium at a second site – one, by the way, that’s better protected from potential attack – while the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Tehran has conducted tests that suggest its desire for a nuclear weapons capability.

Western nations, meanwhile, have imposed new sanctions on Iran to squeeze its oil revenue and curtail its participation in the global economy. Tehran threatened to retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the United States made clear that it will not allow such action, and a growing number of experts now predict that a U.S., Israeli, or joint attack on Iran’s nuclear sites may not be far off.

With matters coming to a head, we should not be surprised that a band of worried Iran watchers have suggested paths to defuse tensions and avoid a larger confrontation. Their motives may be pure but, if taken seriously, their arguments could prove counter-productive – if not downright dangerous.

In a January 15th New York Times op-ed, for instance, the University of Maryland’s Shibley Telhami and Steve Kull argued that, rather than letting Israel choose between  accepting a nuclearized Iran or attacking Iran to prevent it, a more viable solution lies in convincing Israel to give up its own nukes.

“If Israel’s nuclear program were to become part of the equation, it would be a game-changer,” they wrote. “Iran has until now effectively accused the West of employing a double standard because it does not demand Israeli disarmament, earning it many fans across the Arab world. And a nuclear-free zone may be hard for Iran to refuse.”

Ah, yes, that’s the driving force behind Iran’s refusal to abandon its nuclear pursuit – global inconsistency.

The authors suggest that Tehran can be deterred from using nuclear weapons after developing them, that Iranian leaders would worry about the millions of Palestinian and Iranian deaths from an Israeli counter-attack, and that, consequently, a nuclear Iran is less of an “existential threat” for Israel than many war-hawks argue. Moreover, they argue that the Israeli-Iranian “stalemate” over nukes “could actually delay or prevent peace in the region.”

Thus, by loading one dubious assumption on top of another, the authors seek to transform a global concern about Iran’s nuclear pursuit – which most Arab states share – into a bilateral dispute between Tehran and Jerusalem in which the Jewish state is culpable. That’s breath-taking on almost any level.

But, if Telhami and Kull have silly new ideas about how to solve the Iran nuclear issue, a host of other Iran watchers have weighed in from the other end of the spectrum – arguing that potential success still lies in the well-worn approaches that have brought only failure to date.

On January 13th,  the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh took to the Washington Post’s op-ed page to disparage the recent murder of an Iranian nuclear scientist (presumably at Israeli, U.S., or joint hands) because “such actions are self-defeating in the sense that they do little to slow Iran’s nuclear program and [are] playing into the regime’s hands as it seeks to fracture the international community.”

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