An ancient Israeli tradition says that when discussions about the budget approach, the IDF calls up into reserves the Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran. But Israel does not have an exclusive monopoly over the "Iranian element." The Iranian threat casts a magical charm over everyone who deals with it. For Israel, it has opened American pockets; for America, it justifies nearly everything that the U.S. does in the Middle East; for Europe, Iran provides a strategic role; and it gives Russia the status of an American competitor.
Yet those who should be most "pleased" about the Iranian threat are not out dancing in celebration. No less, and perhaps more than Israel and the United States, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, as well as Iraq and Egypt, are hoping for the success of the diplomatic move that would at least freeze the Iranian uranium enrichment efforts. That's because the last thing those Arab states want is another war by the West against an Islamic state in which they will be "forced" to defend the honor of a Shi'ite state.
The Israeli (and American) bemusement with the military option against Iran has quite naturally rendered irrelevant the diplomatic option. However, to the dismay of the trigger-happy types, the diplomatic option, meanwhile, has frozen the continuation of uranium enrichment. Their working assumption, of course, is that Iran will lie and continue developing a nuclear option in secret. But one can even assume further that Iran will indeed develop a nuclear bomb and in another three to five years will have a bomb. That should be the working assumption.
The military option must recognize that the Iranian nuclear industry is not at all like the Iraqi industry of 1981. It is dispersed over dozens of sites, including University of Tehran, a nuclear center near Mashad, Nantaz, the reactor at Bashar, and elsewhere. And there are some facilities that are assessed only as nuclear facilities. Attacking those sites would mean war against Iran and all 70 million of its citizens. Of course, it is possible to claim that the cost is worthwhile, but it is also possible to examine whether Iran is really an insane state ready to destroy itself on the condition that Israel is destroyed with it.
Iran is not Iraq of 2003. It is a state where most of the population is not happy with its economic circumstances, but not necessarily opposed to the governmental regime. Reformists are no less nationalistic than the conservatives, and the ayatollahs are not just whippers of women. It is a regime hungry for legitimacy, both domestically and externally. And can anyone say which country is crazier: Iran or Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, India, which threatens Pakistan with the use of its nuclear weapons - and is now conducting talks with it - or maybe North Korea, with whom the United States is ready to negotiate?
It is also possible to ask, before Israel or the U.S. uses the ultimate weapon against Iran, why it is impossible to pressure China to cancel its $100 billion gas deal with Iran; to force Turkey to cut off diplomatic ties with Iran or at least not buy natural gas from it; to tell India to avoid reaching an agreement with Iran for a $3.5-billion oil pipeline that will go through Pakistan; and maybe even to tell Russia not only to stop building the reactor at Bashar, but also to cease its civilian investments as a punishment. And interestingly, all those countries are also friends of Israel and buy high technology from it. Even more interesting is that Iran has not minded for years doing business with friends of Israel. It even is begging for the renewal of diplomatic relations with Egypt, relations that Iran cut off in the wake of the Camp David accords.
Iran is not the isolated country the U.S. wanted it to be when it imposed sanctions on it. It enjoys close ties with most of the countries of the world, and the ayatollah's regime is not made up of suicide bombers. It is a regime that is not happy with the existence of Israel and would like to see it disappear, but not at the price of its own disappearance.
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