Quid Rides? De te Fabula Narratur

What are you laughing at? The joke's on you.

Eating Your Enemy?

Posted by Anthony on October 13, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was at pains last week to correct a comment that was misattributed to him by the Israeli Daily Haaretz. It seems that during a conversation with the paper the minister, speaking in English, said “I honestly don’t believe (a nuclear weapon) will give any immunity to Iran. First, because you will eat them before. And this is the danger.” One can see how, speaking in English with a French accent, one could mistake “eat” and “hit” although the reporter should have asked the minister to clarify his comments when presented with such a seemingly odd statement. Still, whatever word you choose to insert, the comment deserves some analysis.

It has long been one of the great open secrets of the Middle East that Israel has nuclear weapons, and further that most experts concede it is the only state in the region possessing them. Israel’s having nuclear arms is understandable to many: surrounded by states with whom it has either uneasy peace treaties or is still technically at war, a nuclear arsenal is the ultimate deterrent to the possibility, slim as it may be (though thirty years ago it was much greater) of several of these states teaming up to attack her. Today most experts if pressed would pretty much agree that Israel could engage in a war against almost all of her neighbors and be finished by lunch, so greatly has the gap between Israeli and Arab military abilities grown since the last major war in 1973. In a conventional war, there is nobody in the region that poses a significant threat. Nuclear weapons, however, do tend to change the equation since they have the ability to cause such massive destruction with the application of relatively few strikes. Couple this with Israel’s size and one can see how her leadership is loathe to allow any hostile powers in the region to gain access to such weaponry, for unlike larger states it would not take all that many strikes to reduce Israel to a radioactive wasteland.

Enter the current Iranian leadership which is, it appears, quite determined to produce nuclear weapons despite their best protestations that they are only seeking nuclear power for peaceful purposes. They have seen how states that do have nuclear capabilities (North Korea) are able to dodge international pressures much more easily than those who do not (Iraq), and thus one could conceivably argue that the Iranian regime in seeking nuclear weapons might well be doing so from a purely defensive standpoint. Fearing a future conflict with the United States, the possession of nuclear weapons would completely change the strategic nature of the situation as it would place the entire region under threat of retaliatory strikes. Given the current global energy situation, this could be catastrophic; it would therefore give Iran a much greater bargaining chip at the table since her neighbors would put extreme pressure on The United States to avoid such a potential apocalypse.

The west in general, and The United States in particular, have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as regards the power structure in the Middle East and therefore see Iranian attempts to change such a structure as antithetical to their desires for the region. There is good reason to fear such a change: the current regime in Iran is a known exporter of terrorism against her neighbors and is run by an eschatologically driven cabal who cannot always be relied upon to make rational judgments. Were they to acquire nuclear weapons, there is no way to remain assured that they would not see fit to use them; men are known to do radical things when they feel that God is on their side. The results of initiating a nuclear war with Israel in particular would be ruinous to both sides, but particularly to Iran: Anthony Cordesman of the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a report (Iran, Israel, and Nuclear War – revised 19 November 2007) that estimated the results of a nuclear exchange post 2010 would result in approximately 16-28 million Iranian dead within 21 days as opposed to 200-800,000 Israeli dead, mainly due to both the number and size of warheads both sides would employ. Iranian civilization, according to the report, would cease to exist.

These kinds of sobering thoughts make it all the more critical that the world does everything it can to forestall any nuclear conflict in the region since nobody in their right mind wishes to see the Iranian people annihilated. Israel will not tolerate Iran developing nuclear weapons, and has shown in the past (Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981) that she is willing to launch pre-emptive conventional strikes in order to prevent such a reality. In order to avoid such a scenario developing, earnest talks must begin with the Iranian government at the highest levels to both explain the consequences and offer ways out short of conflict. Nuclear weapons are not a right for states, and the current Iranian regime has shown that based on its beliefs and track record it cannot and should not be trusted with such awesome power.

Whoever wins the Presidency this coming fall must engage with Iran and make every effort to convince them to change their agenda. A nuclear program, overseen by an international agency, would offer Iran civilian nuclear power without the rest of the world worrying about them provoking Armageddon. That is one option, but the table must be left open in order to avoid both the political fallout of a conventional Israeli strike on Iran or the potential horror of an Israeli-Iranian nuclear exchange. Israel has thus far shown patience concerning the issue, but it is impractical to expect them to sit by idly while an avowed enemy attains the ability to cause such destruction to their state. The United States can, and must, take the lead in negotiations to avoid such a calamity.


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