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Monday, June 23, 2008

What does Tehran think of Israel's 'exercise?'

On Friday, it was reported that Israel conducted a massive training exercise to prepare for taking out Iran's nuclear weapons. Since then, several reports have given further indication that Israel is in fact preparing for such a scenario. It is clear by now that the Israeli government actually wanted Iran to know about the training exercise so that it would get the message that Israel is not going to cower in fear of the Iranian onslaught. But what does the Iranian leadership think about the media reports from Israel? Meir Javedanfar follows the Iranian media in his native language, and reports that not everyone in Tehran shares President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's desire for (or at least indifference to) war.
However, other more pragmatic figures among the conservatives, such as Majles Spokeman Ali Larijani are becoming more concerned, about the increasing talk from Israel regarding the possibility of an attack. While warning that Israel could suffer more from the consequences of such an attack against Iran; Larijani and others have a right to be worried.

Iran’s recent refusal to accept the EU’s newly offered incentives package to halt uranium enrichment is convincing more countries that Iran is not interested in any kind of a deal over its nuclear program. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s continuous threats against Israel are persuading more people and officials in the West that a nuclear Iran would be a grave danger to stability in the Middle East. Unlike Ahmadinejad, Larijani has extensive experience in dealing with foreign affairs. This has enabled him to understand that such an atmosphere could provide justification for an attack against his country. This view is being supported by some of Iran’s news agencies, such as Tabnak, who tried to calm frail nerves in Tehran, by translating an article published in Haaretz into Farsi, in which it is said that the recent simulations do not necessarily mean that there is going to be a war soon. The message of the Haaretz article is so important to Tabnak, that it tried its best to give the newspaper full credibility by calling it a “credible” newspaper. This is a change from the norm. Iranian press usually label Israel’s press as “Zionist propaganda.”


The more Iran stonewalls the international community, and continues to threaten Israel with elimination, the more it encourages those who believe that Iran’s current behavior has no clear political goal. It is only military, thus war is the only option. This is especially true when it comes to Israel. Tehran’s recent behavior towards Israel is convincing more Israelis that the political reality of a nuclear Iran is something impossible to live with, and impossible to resolve through dialogue with any party. Although Jerusalem must do its utmost to support international talks with Iran, nevertheless it doesn’t hurt to remind president Ahmadinejad that a country whom he has called a “germ” can stand up for itself.

Sending 100 planes to stage maneuvers in the Mediterranean is one way of doing this.

Ahmadinejad may not care, but many pragmatists in Iran have taken notice of such a gesture, and an unnecessary war with Israel because of Ahmadinejad’s reckless talk is something they want to avoid. Ahmadinejad has already ruined Iran’s economy. They don’t want Iran’s nuclear program in ashes as well.
So there are pragmatists in Iran and that is a good thing. While it is not clear how much power they currently have, if Israel were to destroy Iran's nuclear program and what is left of its economy, the World (including much of the Arab world) would stand up and cheer (silently in the case of the Arab countries) and the pragmatists would likely gain power. But for the time being it's not clear that they have power.

Over at The Atlantic, Matthew Yglesias thinks that both sides have their pragmatists and war mongers and that Sunday's statement by John Bolton that he expects Israel to attack is war mongering.
But somewhere in Iran will be the Iranian John Bolton, explaining that the West and Israel are too weak and frightened of Iranian retaliation to counter-attack, so they may as well come at us with all guns blazing. As I've said before our American hawks think and act exactly like the irrational madmen they imagine to be running the show in Teheran.

Countries can either interact with each other in cooperative ways, that make the population of both states better off, or else they can engage in negative-sum conflicts that make both populations worse off. Once you're engaged in a cycle of negative-sum conflict, as the United States and Iran have been since the Revolution, it's very hard to pull out of it. Something like a direct military attack on Iran would clearly be a substantial escalation of that cycle. The rational thing faced with that would be to pull back from the brink, but it's been the case for decades that it would be better for both sides to pull back from the brink -- it's just a hard think to accomplish in the real world and it would become much more difficult in the context of an unprovoked military attack. But what's needed aren't speculations about the Iranian response to bombing, but a good-faith attempt to make a diplomatic breakthrough.
Yglesias might be correct if we were discussing normal interaction between sovereign nations. But Ahmadinejad is not a normal leader and Yglesias is not going to make him one by ignoring his statements. Ahmadinejad's threats - including his indifference to the number of Iranians his actions may kill and his desire to bring about an apocalypse - have to be taken seriously.

While it's always good to avoid a fight against the neighborhood bully, sometimes the only way to do that is to stand up and show him that you won't back down. And the only way to do that is to be ready, willing and able to follow through if your standing up doesn't call the bully off.


At 10:30 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Exactly. I think humbling Ahmedinejad and the fanatics around him will ground them in reality or if it doesn't, the shock of defeat will lead them to be replaced by people who will be more prone to recognizing that taking on the Jewish State in the future is not in Iran's best interests since historically Iran and Israel are countries that have never had a quarrel. They did have friendly relations during the days of the Shah and may again some day. As long as Ahmedinejad and his band of fanatics lead Iran, Israel is going to have to show she has teeth. Something that lead Iran to respect the Jewish State. And that means using force at some point down the road to terminate Iran's nuclear ambitions.


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