The Obama Administration reflects a groundswell of opinion in liberal, academic Washington circles — about which I have been warning for more than a year — that views Iran as a rational actor and a potential partner for America. Here I review Prof. Steven David’s important new BESA Center study, which warns that a ‘rational’ Iran is still a major threat to Israel and the West. “There are circumstances in which it is all too easy to see how an Iranian leadership – rational, cost calculating, reasonable and prudent as it may be – would still present a very real possibility of using its nuclear weapons against Israel.”
The main problem with the emerging Geneva accord between the P5+1 and Iran is that the agreement will effectively legitimize Iran’s nuclear threshold status.
Up until now, Iran has been considered by the world an illegal and illicit nuclear threshold nation. But by allowing Iran to keep its centrifuges and its heavy water reactor, even for what is supposedly to be a temporary period, the Obama administration is signaling that it is coming to terms with Teheran’s nuclear weapon threshold position.
It is simply “not realistic” to expect that the Iranians will completely give up and destroy their capabilities to enrich uranium and manufacture plutonium, The New York Times editorial board and other pro-Obama voices are now lecturing us. And since this is the case, America has to cut a compromise deal with the Iranians, says the Times, since “the alternative is war,” and Obama’s America has no stamina for that.
Besides, NYTimes columnist Tom Friedman tells us, America has other interests – more important interests – at stake, like ending the US-Iran cold war. That trumps the curtailing of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.
In other words, Obama is seeking to cut a grand civilizational bargain with the nuclearized Iranians, to mend fences with them; and not to block Iran’s incipient weaponization or to crush the fanatical regime.
This position completely ignores the existential threat to Israel and the significant threat to the West posed by a resurgent, emboldened, un-isolated, nuclear Iran. It reflects a groundswell of opinion in liberal, academic Washington circles – of which I have been warning for more than a year – that views Iran as a rational actor and a potential partner for America.
To counter this warped and wooly thinking, Prof. Steven R. David, one of America’s most respected international relations scholars, this week published a comprehensive study through the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies entitled “Armed and Dangerous: Why a Rational, Nuclear Iran Is an Unacceptable Risk to Israel.”
Prof. David argues that for a whole host of reasons there is a real possibility that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would use them, even if its leaders are as rational as the leaders of the US and the USSR were during the Cold War. ”There are a range of circumstances in which it is all too easy to see how an Iranian leadership – rational, cost calculating, reasonable and prudent as it may be – would still present a very real possibility of using its nuclear weapons against Israel in the face of credible threats of retaliation. Most important (and often ignored) is how deterrence could unravel if Iran’s leaders, armed with nuclear arms, faced the prospect of imminent overthrow.”
”It is easy to imagine a situation in which, following massive domestic unrest, the Iranian leadership found itself on the brink of being toppled from within. Facing the end of their rule, and possibly their lives, Iranian leaders, fully rational but with nothing to lose, might choose to lash out against Israel in a parting shot for posterity.”
Prof. David is Vice Dean for Undergraduate Education at Johns Hopkins University and former chairman of the university’s political science department, its international studies program, and its Jewish studies program. In the best tradition of rigorous academic scholarship, he compares how other leaders, especially those with access to weapons of mass destruction, have acted in the face of threats to their rule. ”Studying Fidel Castro during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War, and Bashar al-Assad’s current stand in Syria, can open our eyes to the seemingly irrational behavior that can occur when powerful people who are used to having their way begin to believe their days are numbered.”
“The Iranian leadership is close to meeting all the requirements for unleashing disaster: waning power, unbridled hatred, and capability. Should the Iranian regime teeter on the brink of oblivion, all that would stop it from carrying out its murderous threats against Israel and perhaps the United States is lack of capability. When you add this to the real dangers of unauthorized launchings, accidents and miscalculations, and consider the region – where distances are short, tempers hot, and disputes plentiful – the possibilities of nuclear war become unacceptably high.”
Prof. David writes that new Iranian President Rouhani’s softer tone changes nothing “unless and until Iran matches Rouhani’s rhetoric with actions that deprive Iran of the capability of producing nuclear weapons.” At the moment, “the threat of a nuclear armed Iran behaving recklessly remains.”
Israel has few attractive policy choices, according to Prof. David. “Regional disarmament is an utopian fantasy, diplomacy shows few signs of yielding results after ten years of trying, economic sanctions have yet to bring Iran to its knees, and a military strike promises only to leave Iran with the ability to make more nuclear weapons later while unleashing catastrophic consequences in its wake. Coping with a nuclear Iran is hardly better. Israel is unable to bring about a favorable regime change, defense offers limited protection against a determined nuclear attack, while preemption or an effort to disarm the Iranians are not likely to be fully successful leaving Israel open to horrific Iranian retaliation.”
In such a dire situation, what is Israel to do? His conclusion: “Israel must be prepared to launch a military strike to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, because in the not too distant future, Israel may confront a nuclear armed Iran whose leaders find themselves with nothing to lose and everything to destroy.”