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Friday, September 21, 2007

Sanctions won't cap the nuclear volcano

In this morning's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer gives a frightening review of the simmering mess he terms the 'nuclear volcano.' Leaving aside for the moment my continuing belief that what Israel hit was a North Korean chemical weapons plant and not a nuclear plant (as I noted last night, Syria has a nuclear program), the analysis is still valid.

Apart from the usual suspects -- Syria, Iran, Libya and Russia -- only two countries registered strong protests to the Israeli strike: Turkey and North Korea. Turkey we can understand. Its military may have permitted Israel an overflight corridor without ever having told the Islamist civilian government. But North Korea? What business is this of North Korea's? Unless it was a North Korean facility being hit.

Which raises alarms for many reasons. First, it would undermine the whole North Korean disarmament process. Pyongyang might be selling its stuff to other rogue states or perhaps just temporarily hiding it abroad while permitting ostentatious inspections back home.

Second, there are ominous implications for the Middle East. Syria has long had chemical weapons -- on Monday, Jane's Defence Weekly reported on an accident that killed dozens of Syrians and Iranians loading a nerve-gas warhead onto a Syrian missile -- but Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Syria.

Tensions are already extremely high because of Iran's headlong rush to go nuclear. In fending off sanctions and possible military action, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has chosen a radically aggressive campaign to assemble, deploy, flaunt and partially activate Iran's proxies in the Arab Middle East:

(1) Hamas launching rockets into Israeli towns and villages across the border from the Gaza Strip. Its intention is to invite an Israeli reaction, preferably a bloody and telegenic ground assault.

(2) Hezbollah heavily rearmed with Iranian rockets transshipped through Syria and preparing for the next round of fighting with Israel. The third Lebanon war, now inevitable, awaits only Tehran's order.

(3) Syria, Iran's only Arab client state, building up forces across the Golan Heights frontier with Israel. And on Wednesday, yet another anti-Syrian member of Lebanon's parliament was killed in a massive car bombing.

(4) The al-Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard training and equipping Shiite extremist militias in the use of the deadliest IEDs and rocketry against American and Iraqi troops. Iran is similarly helping the Taliban attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Krauthammer concludes, correctly, that what's behind Iran's behavior is its desire to stall for enough time to complete construction of a nuclear bomb, something which Krauthammer predicts will happen within two years (I'm afraid it will be less). With the bomb, he argues (correctly again), Iran would be "the regional superpower and Persian Gulf hegemon."

But Krauthammer's prescription is nowhere near strong enough:

The world is not quite ready to acquiesce. The new president of France has declared a nuclear Iran " unacceptable." The French foreign minister warned that "it is necessary to prepare for the worst" -- and "the worst, it's war, sir."

Which makes it all the more urgent that powerful sanctions be slapped on the Iranian regime. Sanctions will not stop Ahmadinejad. But there are others in the Iranian elite who might stop him and the nuclear program before the volcano explodes. These rival elites may be radical, but they are not suicidal. And they believe, with reason, that whatever damage Ahmadinejad's apocalyptic folly may inflict upon the region and the world, on Crusader and Jew, on infidel and believer, the one certain result of such an eruption is Iran's Islamic republic buried under the ash.

No matter how powerful the sanctions might be, countries like Russia, China, North Korea and the Arab world will not abide by them. If imposing 'sanctions' meant that Iran could be hermetically sealed, Krauthammer's prescription might make sense. But it can't and won't be. The time for sanctions has long since passed due to the weak-kneed Europeans and pernicious Russians and Chinese refusing for so long to adopt and abide by real sanctions.

Counter-intuitively, the continuing failure of superpowers like Russia and China to permit the adoption of 'powerful sanctions,' and the continuing failure of Europe to abide by them, are going to leave the Bush administration - which is unlikely to leave this problem to its successor - with a Hobson's choice: attack the nuclear installations and risk the consequences of a devastating war in the Middle East, or allow Iran to go nuclear and slaughter millions of people that would likely include much of Israel. I'd bet on the attack.


At 2:36 PM, Blogger felix said...

I am under the impression that if war breaks out, with the Hezbos, Syria, and Iran against Israel, with the USA possibly being drawn in with air attacks against Iran--that Syria may be the biggest loser in all this. Unlike the war with the Hezbos last year, where Israel could only conduct its air attacks in limited areas and had to carefully avoid civilian targets because it was not at war with Lebanon (but with paramilitary group that controls part of Lebanon), these self-imposed limits on targets would not apply in a war with Syria.

Because Syria--the sovereign country of Syria--would be considered the enemy. Further if Syria sent missiles at Israeli cities, then why wouldn't Israel retaliate in same. Israel could also destroy Syrian infrastructure throughout the country--bridges, power plants, etc. Why wouldn't Israel do that.? Without underestimating the damage to Israel in a war, wouldn't the damage to Syria be much worse?

So, if the above damage assessment is correct, you would think Syria would want to avoid war with Israel. Do you think the Syrians are aware of all this?

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Olmert will do all he can to avoid harming Syrian civilians. There is no way that they will bear the brunt of any war. It's much more likely that we will. God forbid.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Yishai said...

Do you think Sadaam was aware that we'd thoroughly destroy his country and army? No. He was a paranoid delusional. As the no-chin ophthalmologist is as well. They think they are stronger than God, and that no one can harm them.

I sure hope no war breaks out. If war does break out, I hope Israel and the US kick the bad guys hard, with little or no friendly casualties.


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