Iran’s Nuclear Game

For the Iranian regime, the nuclear program serves a number of purposes. Obviously self-defense is one, but Israel’s been pointing nukes at Iran for many years. A more urgent reason is political stability, since a showdown over nukes will help the government portray its opponents as weak on America and bolster its profile in the Islamic sphere.

Khamenei’s stepping into the foray by threatening the US is just another part of this game. Khamenei knows damn well that attacking US interests will result in increased global sympathy for the US, especially if the attack is big. The idea is not to provoke a war, which will endanger the regime, but to shift national attention from domestic issues to security.

But many in Iran say they fear attack. Iranian media and websites have almost daily commentaries on a possible U.S. attack — some of them blaming hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the deteriotion in the already bad U.S.-Iranian relations by his provocative rhetoric against America and Israel.

Possibly the most neglected part of realist international relations is the role of domestic politics. It was in the United States’ interest to declare war on Germany together with Britain and France in 1939, but because of isolationist sentiment, Roosevelt had to wait until Germany declared war on the US. It was in Israel’s best interest to wait out the Hezbollah standoff last summer, but due to political pressure Olmert had to bomb in order to look tough.

That holds true regardless of how democratic a country is. In Iran, making sure the thoroughly disaffected people don’t revolt is the regime’s top priority. Like Bush, Ahmadinejad has become so unpopular that even when he does engage in saber-rattling, the people no longer rally around him.

Edwards tried explaining the situation by totalizing economic progress. That’s partly true, but part of the progress people in Iran are looking for is democratic progress. The most dangerous moment for an authoritarian regime is when it starts a process of reform and then abandons it. That happened in the early years of this decade under Khatami; since then, the people have entered a state of strong disapproval of not only the current administration but also the basic regime.

Many Iranians have said they feel under siege and fear an attack despite U.S. denials of such a plan. U.S. President George W. Bush has ordered American troops to act against Iranians suspected of being involved in the Iraqi insurgency, in addition to sending the second carrier to the region.

The best thing that could happen to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad is a war. The US and Israel aren’t going to do anything serious to Iran unless Khamenei’s brain short-circuits and Iran nukes someone. The only thing that could happen is a low-brow war, which would set Iran’s level of development back a little but ensure that the people rally behind the regime as their sole protector.

Bush has been supremely lucky in that he’s gotten a second chance, not to rescue his irrevocably tarnished legacy but to do good in global politics. He could have been serious in the War on Terror and made sure Afghanistan developed into a liberal democracy. But even after squandering that and tearing Iraq apart, he has a second chance with Iran.

He alone can deescalate the situation in order to make sure the regime has no cover with which to crack down on dissent or to shore up support at home. Iran won’t have a nuke for at least five years, but the US or Israel may go crazy and authorize a military strike way earlier.

Unfortunately, Bush is still Bush. Instead of defusing the situation and helping democratize Iran, he’s escalating it and helping the authoritarian regime sustain itself. I’m not sure whether it’s out of a misguided belief that engaging in warfare is more important than defeating an anti-American theocracy or out of a sincere desire to prop up Ahmadinejad, but either way, it’s not helping.

30 Responses to Iran’s Nuclear Game

  1. muppt says:

    Ahmadinejad sure is smart

  2. Ran Halprin says:

    “Obviously self-defense is one, but Israel’s been pointing nukes at Iran for many years.”

    Ah? What are you talking about?

    First of all, the only country ever to have a war with Iran was Iraq which is obviously no longer a threat, so there is no self defense claim here. Israel and Iran had never had ANY clash, apart from Israel’s constant request for Iran to stop funding terror groups which operate against Israeli civilians (Hamas, Hizbullah etc.), and Iran’s constant demands to destroy Israel.

    Second, Israel’s official policy which has been restated many times, is that they will not introduce nuclear weapons into any situation (i.e.: keep it for retaliation option only), and they abided to that rule for the app. 40 years in which they hold these capabilities, even when they endured a surprise attack from three fronts in 1973 in the middle of a holy day.

    Iran doesn’t even CLAIM that they will keep the nukes for self defense…

  3. Ran Halprin says:

    “Iran won’t have a nuke for at least five years, but the US or Israel may go crazy and authorize a military strike way earlier.”

    1. Are you an internal Iranian expert on nukes? How do you know when and what nukes they have? Maybe they will have nukes in 1 year? Maybe they already have nukes ready?

    2. Do you Israel “went crazy” when they destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, or do you think the Gulf war of 1991 would have been much more humane if Iraq had nukes?

  4. Al says:

    President Ahmadinejad’s real views are summarized on this website: ahmadinejadquotes.blogspot.com

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Ran, there’s no point in bringing up Iraq in response to a post that shows how the political situation in Iran now is different from the one in Iraq 30 years ago. Khamenei is not Saddam; the Iranians aren’t the Iraqis.

    That, and Iran’s never threatened to use nuclear weapons against anyone. Ahmadinejad, who’s powerless in the grand scheme of things, said Israel should be wiped off the map. He’s never mentioned nuking, in contrast to Israel, which threatened Iran with a tactical nuclear strike a few weeks ago.

    The five year estimate comes from the IAEA.

  6. neko says:

    “In contrast to Israel, which threatened Iran with a tactical nuclear strike a few weeks ago.”

    Never heard of such a thing, furthermore – Israel is:
    1. Abiding by the rule I mentioned.
    2. Hadn’t even admitted to holding nuclear weapons.

    so it makes no sense such a threat would be used.

  7. neko says:

    OK, I hope u r kidding… Damn, your view here is so twisted, its hard to even point out what’s wrong with it…

    First of all, training for destroying a nuclear reactor in Iran is NOT threatening to nuke it. I’m sure the US has practiced launching nuclear assaults again the former USSR in the cold war. Does this mean they “threatened to nuke it”? I don’t see any threat, I see preparation, and training for such a strike is not only reasonable, but mandatory considering the fact that an enemy of yours is openly pointing their nukes toward your civilians.

    Second, the article doesn’t prove that these trainings even occurred, and even if it did occur, they don’t prove that the training has anything to do with Iran.

    Third, a bunker buster is not a “nuke” in the normal sense. It’s not a weapon of mass destruction, and it’s not used against civilians.

    I really can’t understand how and why you dig up anything that might make Israel look a little bad, then twist it around to make Israel look even worse.

  8. SLC says:

    Re Levy

    Iranian president Amadinejad has said clearly and unequivocally that the State of Israel must be removed from the map (despite what his apologists like Juan Cole and Gordon Packard claim). Now how does Amadinejad expect to accomplish this feat without attacking with nuclear weapons?

    Re Neko

    Mr. Levys’ attempts to make Israel look bad because he believes that Israel is bad. Actually, his current Israel bashing jeremiads are rather tame compared to those he used to engage in before coming the the US.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    First of all, training for destroying a nuclear reactor in Iran is NOT threatening to nuke it.

    Training to nuke Iran isn’t threatening to nuke it; training to nuke Iran and then leaking it to the same newspaper Israel leaks everything it doesn’t want to announce explicitly is.

    Third, a bunker buster is not a “nuke” in the normal sense. It’s not a weapon of mass destruction, and it’s not used against civilians.

    How big do you think Iran’s first nuclear bomb is going to be?

    Mr. Levys’ attempts to make Israel look bad because he believes that Israel is bad.

    And I believe Israel is bad because it keeps 3 million people subjugated and bombs civilian targets in the Middle East with impunity.

  10. Ran Halprin says:

    1. Iran threatens Israeli civilians, Israel threatens (if we take this as a threat) Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Hardly equivalent, not to mention Israel’s “threats” are a result of Iran’s.

    2. Israel doesn’t keep 3 million people subjugated. The Palestinians have their own leadership and territories which Israel has NEVER claimed ownership to. Israel only operates within Palestinian soil in response to terrorist attacks, which started BEFORE Israel existed. In times of no terror, e.g. 1996, there was no Israeli military in the territories.

    Re bombing civilian targets – Israel never bombs civilian targets. It is a liberal democracy, and a leader who bombs civilian targets will be thrown out of office very fast. You are probably just ignoring the international law which states that a civilian infrastructure used for military purpose is a valid military target. This means that any house harboring a terrorist, and any office in Lebanon used by Hizbullah, and any school harboring long range missiles – are all valid military targets. It’s not Israel’s invention, that’s the international law, and if the Lebanese or Palestinian people are stupid enough to let terrorists convert their schools and homes into military targets, they shouldn’t be surprised when its bombed.

    3. I hear you ranting and ranting, but I hear no solutions. I’m giving you the stage now, really. You have been elected the PM of Israel, what would you do to solve this conflict?

  11. SLC says:

    Re Halprin

    “I hear you ranting and ranting, but I hear no solutions. I’m giving you the stage now, really. You have been elected the PM of Israel, what would you do to solve this conflict?”

    Mr. Levys’ approach to solving the Israeli/Palestinian problem would be to agree to each and every demand made by the Palestinians.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    In theory, it’s Israeli policy not to kill civilians. In practice, check the civilian death counts of Israelis and Palestinians in the Intifada. In Lebanon, Israel went further and bombed actual civilian targets; usually it used the leaflet excuse, which fortunately was greeted with the same cynicism as Bush’s DIY evacuation of Katrina, but at times it didn’t even do that.

    The “They support terror” crap can be applied both ways. Israel bombed ambulances in Lebanon. Where were the lynch mobs of Israeli citizens outraged enough to call for Halutz’s head?

    As for the “What’s your solution?” thing, there’s nothing the PM of Israel can do that’s politically feasible, which puts him in the same situation as the PM of Palestine. The President of the US can do something, but if Israel keeps threatening nuking Iran, the only option might be to make a public statement making it clear that countries that derive about 4% of their national income from Uncle Sam don’t generally get to have their own foreign policy.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Mr. Levys’ approach to solving the Israeli/Palestinian problem would be to agree to each and every demand made by the Palestinians.

    It’s not about which country gets to have a bigger dick size at the end. It’s about having a solution that on the one hand won’t cause large numbers of Israelis to begin terrorizing Palestine, and on the other will disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad and integrate them into a Palestinian Defense Force.

  14. Ran Halprin says:

    “check the civilian death counts of Israelis and Palestinians in the Intifada.”

    So what you are saying is that Israel should wait until 100 Israeli civilians are dead, and only then start shooting back? That’s a stupidest fighting strategy I ever heard of.
    It’s also a result of the terrorists using civilian structures to mount attacks, and in Lebanon we’ve seen them not allow evacuations before bombing, specifically to increase death tolls.

    “Israel went further and bombed actual civilian targets”

    No, Israel bombed civilian targets only if they were used by Hizbullah. The fact that the paper you read says “Israel bombed civilian area” instead of “Israel bombed Hizbullah headquarters” is indeed a problem, but not Israel’s fault.

    “usually it used the leaflet excuse”

    Israel was nice enough to let the Hizbullah know they were coming, so Hizbullah packed their things and left the civilians there. Again, not Israel’s fault. What would you do, just not bomb anything that Hizbullah were smart enough to put near civilians?

    “The “They support terror” crap can be applied both ways.”

    Nobody used that stupid claim.

    “Israel bombed ambulances in Lebanon”

    Either wrongfully (with apologies) or when the ambulances were used for weapons delivery.

    “but if Israel keeps threatening nuking Iran”

    you have yet to show such a threat. Again, the only threats officially made were by Iran.

  15. Ran Halprin says:

    “It’s not about which country gets to have a bigger dick size at the end. It’s about having a solution that on the one hand won’t cause large numbers of Israelis to begin terrorizing Palestine, and on the other will disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad and integrate them into a Palestinian Defense Force.”

    No solution exists before the Palestinians realize that Israel exists, and will not return parts of its territory. That is the first step towards solutions, but no Palestinian leader would do that, so there will be no solution.

    Re Israelis terrorizing Palestine – The only terror attacks were against Israelis, Israeli civilians who tried to attack Palestinians either did it alone with little success (Goldstein and another one are the only cases I remember), and always in response to a terror attack that killed members of their family. I can’t see how a political solution would bring about more vengeance from Israelis then murders of their relatives.

  16. Alon Levy says:

    No solution exists before the Palestinians realize that Israel exists, and will not return parts of its territory.

    That’s fine with the Palestinians, territorial exchanges notwithstanding. But is it fine with Israelis, who are split evenly on returning East Jerusalem?

    Re Israelis terrorizing Palestine – The only terror attacks were against Israelis, Israeli civilians who tried to attack Palestinians either did it alone with little success (Goldstein and another one are the only cases I remember), and always in response to a terror attack that killed members of their family.

    Well, there were talks of violent resistance to removing settlements, so it could turn to terrorism. Obviously it’ll be best if it doesn’t, and Israel has a stronger government than Palestine and hence an easier time preventing its right-wing fringe from killing civilians, but it might happen.

  17. SLC says:

    Re Levy

    Okay Mr. Levy, which demand which the Palestinians are making would you not agree to?

  18. Ran Halprin says:

    Returning east Jerusalem? To whom should it be “returned”? Unlike the rest of the disputed territories, East Jerusalem has become a part of Israel, and the Arab Muslims who live there are Israeli civilians.

    The only nation that exists today that ever had sobriety over East Jerusalem apart from Israel is Jordan, and they don’t want it back. Why should it be given to a new Palestinian nation, if it is created? It might as well be given to Zimbabwe or something.

    Re violent resistance, first of all it is violent resistance against removing the settlements, not after. Second, its violence against Israeli leaders, not Palestinians.

    I’m sorry, I tried to give you a chance to explain your ideas for the past few days, but I see you’re just a regular fanatic – won’t change your mind, and won’t change the subject. You focus on a single conflict around the world, on a daily basis, and bash only one side. You ignore facts when they don’t suit you, and you twist stories to make it seem like one side is evil (ignoring altogether the other side’s atrocities). You also make predictions on things you know nothing about, based on between absolutely nothing, and a single source that suits your own way of thinking. It feels like you’ve been totally brainwashed, and the fact that you are of Israeli origin makes it even weirder.

  19. Ran Halprin says:

    Re East Jerusalem – would you agree to let those who live there decide by voting if they want to remain part of Israel, or become a part of a new Palestinian nation?

  20. Okay, time to intervene on this Israelophile gang-rape of Alon…

    You also make predictions on things you know nothing about, based on between absolutely nothing, and a single source that suits your own way of thinking.

    MAN! The irony meter industry must make a killing off of people like you. You asked these rhetorical questions:

    1. Are you an internal Iranian expert on nukes? How do you know when and what nukes they have? Maybe they will have nukes in 1 year? Maybe they already have nukes ready?

    Without providing a single source to buttress the implicit claims. The 5-10 year figure is, by the way, not only from the IAEA but corroborated by our own CIA. The only source for the imminence of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the Bush Administration, which has a notorious recent history of fabrication when it comes to intel that supports war aims. And to further enrich big irony meter, you accuse Alon of being “brainwashed” and give us this pearl of wisdom: ” You [Alon] ignore facts when they don’t suit you, and you twist stories to make it seem like one side is evil (ignoring altogether the other side’s atrocities).”

    Now, I haven’t been reading Alon for his entire blogging career, but I hardly get the impression that he “ignores” Palestinian atrocities or thinks that Israel is universally evil. Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman might make such an extrapolation, based only on the fact that he dares to suggest wrongdoing on the part of Israel. You, on the other hand, make claims like this:

    No, Israel bombed civilian targets only if they were used by Hizbullah. The fact that the paper you read says “Israel bombed civilian area” instead of “Israel bombed Hizbullah headquarters” is indeed a problem, but not Israel’s fault.

    And this:

    Either wrongfully (with apologies) or when the ambulances were used for weapons delivery.

    In response to Alon mentioning ambulence bombings. I notice that you provide absolutely no corroboratory evidence whatsoever other than your “gut” feeling that Israel can do no wrong, and with a helping of the utterly unsubstantiated claim that “Israel never bombs civilian targets. It is a liberal democracy, and a leader who bombs civilian targets will be thrown out of office very fast.” Gee, wish this sort of claim was isomorphic to reality, Bush would have been thrown out of office in our democratic elections if it were. We bombed civilian infrastructure as part of our “Shock and Awe” campaign in Iraq, which was intended solely as a show of muscle.

    And it’s you who’s accusing Alon of being one-sided! Unbelievable.

  21. SLC says:

    Re Halprin

    One has to understand that Mr. Levy is of German Jewish origin. From the experiences of my paternal grandfather, originally from the Ukraine, I can testify that German Jews were among the biggest racists in the world in the early 20th century. When he left the Ukraine in 2003, he first went to Germany. The German Jewish establishment considered their cousins in Eastern Europe to be untermenchen, not fit to dwell amongst their German Jewish betters. He was denied the opportunity to stay in Germany (as it turned out, very much to his and his decendents advantage) and was sent on to England, Canada and eventually New York City and finally Los Angeles.

    Re DiPietro

    1. Both Mr. DiPietro and Mr. Halprin are ignoring the fact that Mr. Levys’ attitude toward Irans’ obtaining a nuclear capability is that it is no big deal. Thus, I fail to understand what difference it makes, from his perspective, whether Iran obtains such a capability in 6 months or 6 years, and thus why he is contesting the issue.

    2. The issue of Israels’ attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip ignores the fact that the IDF has, in my opinion, been overly solicitous in attempting to avoid collateral damage. In this regard, one should consider the actions of the late and unlamented dictator of Syria, Hafaz el Assad relative to the events which took place in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982. If we compare the actions of the IDF and Assad, we find that the IDF are angels in comparison. In fact, no Arab government would have been as assiduous in avoiding civilian casulities as the IDF has been.

  22. Alon Levy says:

    One has to understand that Mr. Levy is of German Jewish origin.

    I’m actually of German-Lithuanian-Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Georgian Jewish origin. My maternal grandfather was born in Germany; my maternal grandmother had a Polish mother and a Georgian father. But I was never very close to my mom’s side of the family, which lived in a different metro area. On my father’s side, the grandparent closest to his origins is my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania (my paternal grandmother was born in then Palestine, so she has no traces of distinctly Russian or Ukrainian culture).

  23. 1. Both Mr. DiPietro and Mr. Halprin are ignoring the fact that Mr. Levys’ attitude toward Irans’ obtaining a nuclear capability is that it is no big deal. Thus, I fail to understand what difference it makes, from his perspective, whether Iran obtains such a capability in 6 months or 6 years, and thus why he is contesting the issue.

    Personally, I do not either. I think if traditional MAD can work between India and Pakistan, which have been perpetually at each others’ throats for decades, it can work between any hypothetical conflict between Israel and Iran a decade from now. I agree with Alon that what we should focus on are diplomatic avenues and empowering secular and liberal democractic movements in Iran. But that is beside the point I was making, which is that Halprin made the ridiculous claim that Alon selectively quoted sources for the number, when what are possibly the two most authoritative agencies on international nuclear activities do not reflect the current administrations alarmism.

  24. SLC says:

    Re DiPietro

    In writing about a MAD scenario as between Iran and Israel, Mr. DiPietro, like Mr. Levy makes the assumption that the whackjobs currently running Iran will agree to such a standoff. I have posted elsewhere on this blog a link to two talks by Prof. Bernard Lewis, whose expertise on the subject of Islam is at least equal to Mr. DiPietros’ or Mr. Levys’. Prof Lewis is far less sanguine in this regard then the latter two gentlemen. Although, as Mr. Levy has pointed out, Prof. Lewis is not in favor of an immediate attack on Irans’ nuclear facilities, the latter has concluded that a MAD scenario may not work with the current Iranian government.

  25. Ran Halprin says:

    Re German Jewish origin, I don’t see how this has anything to do with anything, I am actually also from this origin (and half Polish).

    Re DiPietro, India and Pakistan are fighting over something, a piece of land – but Iran says Israel should be “wiped off the map”. It’s a completely different situation, we have an obvious open threat here. Pakistan never said India should be wiped off the map or vice versa.

    Re “Without providing a single source to buttress the implicit claims” – I gave no implicit claims, I just tried to understand why Alon is so sure of his claims that Iran is far from nuclear capabilities.

    Re “I notice that you provide absolutely no corroboratory evidence whatsoever other than your “gut” feeling that Israel can do no wrong” – First of all I can provide to you my word as a former IDF Sergent first class, whose best friend is a fighter pilot (captain) in the Israeli Air Force: No Israeli commander will EVER issue an order to harm civilians, and any Israeli soldier is required not to follow such an order. In fact, civilian lives (even enemy’s civilians) are to be saved even at cost of endangering our own troops. See this Lebanese woman’s story for an example:
    http://www.shaveh.co.il/story.php?title=—1081&fulltitle=%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%AA

    The problem is that terrorists, being terrorists, will stop at nothing. They see that Israel lets injured Palestinian civilians come into Israel for hospital visits, so they use the ambulances for transporting bombs. They see that Israel lets pregnant women in more easily, so they strap bombs on women to make them look pregnant.
    They know Israelis are easy on children, so they strap bombs on them as well:

    Hizbullah saw that Israel warns civilians, so they fled themselves, and prevented civilians from leaving:
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3278026,00.html
    In order to later show a nice civilian death toll:


    Just Lebanese version of Pallywood:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallywood

    BTW: Both me and this friend (and other friends who served in the IDF) are extreme left-wing liberal activists in Israel. We all believe in a solution ASAP, and vote for parties which call for immediate negotiations with Hamas and immediate withdrawal of forces, even at the cost of Israeli lives. Problem is, the other side gives us nothing to work with…

    BTW, was there any conflict or war in the world with as few civilians casualties vs. number of attacks from their side as Israel as provided in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon?

  26. Ran Halprin says:

    Fixed link for the Lebanese woman’s story:

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