The atmosphere surrounding Iran is getting heated up.
Last Sunday’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine has warmed the temperature further. Israeli writer Ronen Bergman concludes that Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities this year.
“I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” he writes.
“We have an expression in Hebrew: ‘Hold me back,’ ” he adds in a web interview with the New York Times (akin to a DVD extra). “Like in a street fight: Hold me back so I don’t hit that other guy. Israel is trying to send a message like this to the United States and Europe: ‘Do something to Iran otherwise we will do it.’
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta affirms Bergman’s assessment, telling the Washington Post that he also thinks Israel will likely launch military action within the next some months.
For the sake of all of us, I hope Bergman and Panetta are wrong.
“Attacking Iran would not destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity and its military installations,” prominent Canadian- Iranian dissident Professor Ramin Jahanbegloo told me a few months ago. “It will kill many innocent Iranians, who, for the most part, are against Iran’s political ambitions in the Middle East.” Plus, Iran is likely quite a bit further away from a bomb than is often thought.
Professor Jacques Hymans, the author of a forthcoming book on nuclear weapons, writes in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that much of the analysis of Iran’s nuclear program is hyperbolic.
“The persistent tendency to overestimate Iran's nuclear capacities reflects the broader conventional wisdom that today, more than six decades after Hiroshima, it just isn't that hard to build the bomb anymore,” Hymans states. “That belief, however, is fundamentally mistaken. Nuclear weapons are extraordinarily complicated technical instruments, and nuclear weapons projects require the full-hearted cooperation of thousands of scientific and technical workers for many years.”
And then there’s the obvious case of double standards, by which it’s OK for other countries to have hundreds of weapons, but not for Iran.
“Existing in a parallel universe to international law is an unspoken rationality index, according to which even those states that have already developed nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (India, Israel, Pakistan) are allowed to keep them because they score higher on the index (marginally in the case of Pakistan),” writes Russ Wellen at Foreign Policy in Focus. “In other words, they're allies of the West.”
The “special” case of Iran is largely due to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s erratic views—particularly his millenarian belief in the coming of the Mahdi (messiah)—and his threats toward Israel. Now, Ahmadinejad is a bit nutty, and his pronouncements about Israel and the Holocaust are repulsive. But Ronald Reagan also had millenarian notions. In 1971, he proclaimed to a dinner companion, “For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ." In 1980, he told evangelist Jim Bakker on his television program, “We may be the generation that sees Armageddon.” We all got through having such a man’s finger on the nuclear button.
The best approach is to offer a grand bargain to Iran that includes a nuclear-free Middle East.
The Iranian regime has shown signs of toning down its belligerence, having recently cooperated with U.N. weapons inspectors. We need to build on that and chart a better course forward.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Anniversary of Egyptian Uprising Occasion for Cautious Optimism."
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