Op-Ed

Iran Must Answer to America and the West

by Probir Kumar Sarkar.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini taking power in Tehran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan dominated world news in 1979. Both events are backdrops of continuing significance and have received renewed media attention over the years. Today, Iran again draws the world’s eye.

After Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s flight from Iran, Khomeini claimed the Iranian throne under the Popular Islamic Revolution. The event wrecked American hegemony in the region and posed an ever-increasing threat to Israel. But whether ruled by Shah or Khomeini, Iran’s strategy remained the same: to break from its constraints and achieve regional dominance.

In the face of this, experts and enemies both accuse Iran’s continued nuclear interest of being aggressive in nature while the country stalls for time by arguing the peaceful applications of its research. That Iran could possess offensive nuclear technology if allowed to continue is certain.

According to some experts in defense strategy, once Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Tehran is unlikely to be contained by Mutually Assured Destruction the way the United States and the Soviet Union prevented each other from launching nuclear attacks. If Iran is thus an ‘irrational’ actor, what would be the consequences of a nation armed with nuclear warheads straddling a strategic rim from Shatt al-Arab on the Iraqi border to the Strait of Hormuz?

The United States and Israel refuse to accept such a possibility and are set on preventing Iranian nuclear development. The two countries’ goals are common, but their methods are incongruous. Israelis have been threatening to attack Iran’s nuclear site, but the U.S. opposes, saying that such strikes are not warranted at this point as diplomatic efforts and international sanctions will dissuade Iran from enriching its uranium for weapons production.

Although Iran has survived sanctions for years, Tehran is now approaching brinksmanship. The U.S.-and E.U.-led sanctions and embargoes have pulled the noose tightly. The state of economic indebtedness, renewed domestic unrest, rattled money markets, and political instability have paralyzed Iran’s political-economic situation sharply and may have shaped the country for a new form of popular movement like an Iranian or a Persian Spring (if not Arab Spring).

This is not an indication of change in nuclear pursuits, however. The adversaries of Iran might be jubilant at the recent impact of sanctions against the nation, which effectively stalled the country’s economy, but the efforts have not necessarily altered Iran’s nuclear ambitions as seen by experts of international relations.

Elections are slated for the summer of 2013, but will only polarize the protest movements against the government. Blame for the hardships falls mostly on the economic mismanagement of the Ahmadinejad government and only partly on the West for its economic sanctions.

Ousting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his political opponent in Tehran would not reverse Iranian nuclear ambitions. The opposition makes no concessions on the country’s nuclear program. Regional and domestic support for nuclear weapons would galvanize after a change in government, and the world economy would jolt again into a spiral of spikes in oil price.

From the Iranian point of view, its nuclear program is extremely valuable and will bestow upon the country prestige and credibility as a global player. Even under heavy pressure, the present regime of Iran is reluctant to end its nuclear program, and a regime change in Tehran will make no difference.

Under strain of economic sanctions, popular dissidence, and fear of possible military attack, the present regime has softened its voice and agreed to sit for a talk with the United States, but it is hardly a sincere gesture of compromising its N-bomb program or dismantling its Shia terrorist networks.

Then what are the options for the U.S., Israel, and their allies? Although the United States and Israel agree that Iran should not be permitted to have nuclear weapons, they differ on how and when they may achieve that goal. Meanwhile, Tehran’s nuclear projects inch toward the final phase of weapons acquisition.

U.S. defense officials warn that if Israel alone attacks Iranian nuclear sites to delay Tehran’s march towards weapons, it would face massive retaliation and could even trigger catastrophic regional conflicts. The fallouts could bring severe penalties for Israel and a possible diplomatic isolation of the country disrupting the world economy.

The U.S. would not be free from blame in a lone Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, even without direct participation, and the credibility of the U.S. would also suffer. For the U.S., to be involved or not to be involved would incur the same result. This is the difficult scenario for the U.S. in the event of an Arab-Israel or Israel-Iran conflict.

The sum total of Iran’s threats to eliminate Israel from the world map, Israel’s hesitance to attack Iran while the U.S. is reluctant to aid, and the U.S.’s continued pressure on Iran through sanctions and diplomacy is a net zero. Meanwhile, inside Iran, common people have been going through economic hardship and difficulties.

Around the world, this long, warlike scenario undermines security and instigates hikes in insurance costs and other expenses which contribute to spikes in oil price and plunge the world into ever darker economic spiral. From skyrocketing commodity prices to the unabated sufferings of bystanders, no one is immune to this imbroglio.

Iran has not yet detonated a nuclear device, but according to reliable intelligence sources, Iranian nuclear facilities are not far off from weapons-grade uranium. Israelis bluff the world with repeated military threats to hit Iran’s nuclear sites yet have never acted on it. American rhetoric continues to undermine Iran’s credibility in the region to make Iran out to be a paper tiger.

So far, the foreign policy of Iran’s Mullahdom has proven more successful than that of the former Shah regime. Should they succeed in holding off foreign powers until nuclear weapons have been designed, it may come to a strategy of mutual deterrence to ensure world security. If it is to be used in the case of Iran’s nuclear weapons, one should explore the deterrence strategies that maintained stability in the Cold War era between the United States and the former Soviet Union and subsequently with Communist China.

Nuclear war is likely to result in Mutually Assured Destruction, and no one is interested in fighting such a war. Some analysts in international security have thus argued that if a deterrence strategy could stabilize the world for the second half of the 20th century, why couldn’t the same principle address Iranian nuclear bomb makers and bring peace and stability to the volatile Persian Gulf region?

If the Iranian regime were to acquire nuclear weapons and threaten with massive retaliation, however, the essence of containment and deterrence doctrine would be unlikely to have an effect. The Islamic Republic of Iran has a track record connected with many terrorist networks, showing aims to build its own hegemonic power in the Persian peninsula and in the Gulf region to stand up to the European-, Israel-, and American-backed international order. Iran is also an arch-rival of Saudi Arabia, which was once quoted as saying about Iranian nuclear weapons, “If they get them, we get them.”

If Iran is allowed to acquire an N-bomb, deterrence would spark a dangerous polarization in the Middle East strategic structure and many countries in the region would opt for nuclear strength. An Iranian N-bomb would also have a serious impact on OPEC’s oil price policy, which would in turn push the oil price higher and undermine American interests, which is thus decidedly against a deterrence strategy.

Iran has a hope that under the cover of negotiations, counter-negotiations, stalemates, skirmishes, and war hysteria, it will finally acquire its N-bombs, much in the way Pakistan, India, and North Korea managed to get nuclear weapons in the recent past.

Iran itself opened the opportunity for negotiations prior to the U.S. Presidential Elections. If it is sincere in this effort, it is welcome, but if Iran deviates from the path of reconciliation under American watch, it will face serious consequences. As Denis Ross, former adviser to Barack Obama warned, in an interview recently with The Atlantic: I am quite confident that if diplomatic initiatives fail, the president is prepared to use force.

Mr. Sarkar is a senior international journalist who studied U.S. Foreign Policy and International Security at Cambridge. He is the Executive Editor at The Global Intelligence.

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