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January 04, 2006

How an Israeli Attack would further Iran's Nuclear Intentions
Guest Author: Nema Milaninia

Picture courtesy of BBC.

An attack by the Israeli's, or by US forces, will likely result in the death of hundreds of thousands if not millions of Iranians. And while I recognize the significance of Iran's nuclear progress coupled with its president's horrific statements, one cannot view Iranian politics or foreign policy from a superficial perspective. The president, Ahmadinejad, has no military authority nor any real political power. One needs only to view former president Khatami's failure to actualize reform policies as the barometer of Iranian presidential weakness. Ironically, the Iranian president is more a weapon of mass destruction to his own people, than to foreign nations. The question is, whether the powers underlying the negotiations and nuclear planning are guided by "ideological imperative and nationalistic determination" such that the program can never be negotiated away. To begin with, it is clear that Iran is treated and negotiated with differently than other states, authoritarian or not. The significantly different treatment between the "haves" and "have-nots" is essential in characterizing Iran's fear. Generally, a number of variables have been looked at to explain why a country would go nuclear. Two of the most prominent which have emerged in the Iran "nuclear discussion" are prestige and territory (or geo-political stability).

Prestige: every country which possessed nuclear weapons at the time the UN Charter was drafted is now a permanent member on the Security Council. Many scholars have postulated that "hegemony" requires nuclear weapons. Thus, for a country to reach the status of a regional hegemon, it must possess nukes. I don't think this argument is that persuasive. A number of countries, including Germany and Japan, have successfully become regional hegemons by becoming economic powerhouses. However, what every "strong" country possesses is a nuclear infrastructure. It goes without saying that every major global and regional power is capable of creating and running its own nuclear cycle. It is enough to say, therefore, that if Iran wishes to be viewed as a global, or regional, player it must be capable of exploring nuclear technology. However, to postulate that prestige motivates Iran's design to acquire nuclear weapons is both insincere and dangerous. While the Iranian people are highly prideful, particularly to their technological and scientific progress, the vast majority of Iranians have clearly indicated that they desire nuclear technology and not its military uses. There is pride in possessing nuclear technology because it reflects the advanced character of science in Iran. There is a clear distinction, however, amongst Iranians between the character of science as reflected by knowledge and possession of nuclear technology, and militarization of nuclear devices. Subsequently, at least on the grassroots level, it is inappropriate to think that "prestige" is motivating the Iranians to "go nuclear" in the military sense.

Territory: The second and more important reason why countries go nuclear, is because of territorial threats. The more a country views its territory to be threatened, the more likely it is to develop nukes. The US, Russia, France, Britain, and China in reaction to WWII and the Cold War. India in reaction to China. Pakistan in reaction to India. Israel in reaction to the Arab states. South Africa in reaction to Angola and international pressures against apartheid. North Korea in reaction to South Korea and growing international pressures. Even alleged programs are reactionary. Iraq, under Saddam, in reaction to Iran. Argentina and Brazil in reaction to each other. Egypt in reaction to Israel. And so on.

With the removal of both the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran faces no territorial threat. In fact, it faces two governments which are highly favorable, if not inspired, by its existence. The question is whether the looming American presence is enough to constitute a territorial threat. I don't think it is and I don't think the Iranians think it is either. Generally, territorial threats are tangible. For one, the Iranians know that the Israelis do not possess the capacity or the desire to overthrow the Iranian regime. Secondly, the US administration is so entrenched in its own war in Iraq and Afghanistan, that it simply lacks the manpower or popular sentiments to engage in a full war with Iran.

The Calculus: There is one fundamental issue to keep in mind. The pursuit of nuclear weapons is a highly costly venture, both in monetary and political terms. Post-NPT nuclear states spend billions of dollars, are politically isolated, and are closed off from global markets for decades. In the vast majority of cases where states have sought to acquire nuclear weapons, or possessed nukes by virtue of dissolution, the pressure imposed by the international community has generally succeeded in stopping completion of their objectives or continued possession of weapons. Subsequently, every state that pursues nuclear weapons must generally determine through some political calculus that the deterrent capability far outweighs its political, economic, and structural consequence. That being said, an Iran which is attacked is far more likely to weaponize its nuclear program then an Iran which is negotiated with. Now put other variables in perspective. Iran currently faces an economic crisis wherein its unemployment rates probably near 25%. Its leaders understand the political consequences of economic problems. In fact, every presidential candidate made the economy the focal point of their campaign. In all real terms, the vast majority of the population was sympathetic to a candidate which promised to make Iran an "Islamic Japan," clearly drawing reference to Japan's economic power. An attack against Iran does nothing more than draw attention away from its economic problems and burgeoning democratic movement. In other words, an attack on Iran does more to further Iran's nuclear ambitions, than lessen it.

Nema Milaninia is the executive director of the International Studies Journal and editor of the Iranian Truth group blog.
An Iranian Student (AIS) at January 6, 2006 04:55 PM [permalink]:

I do not agree with the main premise of this article. All you say Nema is reasonable if we assume that the regime in Iran is following Iranian self-interests. I beg to differ.
You yourself posted an article befoe of how good relations with Israel is clearly in Iran's best interest. Do you see good relations?
This regime idfentifies itself as Islamist in its core not Iranian. As Islamist it considers Palestine to be its top priority, it sees itself as part of Islamic umma and thus having shared borders with Israel who has supposedly usurped "muslim" land. Iran is a commodity, a resource, nothing more.
Indeed since 26 years ago many of the leaders have become more and more pragmatic in dealing with the Iran-Islam duality, but nothing suggests that this is the result of any change in the core value system of the regime. It is rather a more efficient strategy in using this "resource" they have been controling since 1979. From this view almost none of your arguments need apply to the real situation.

Subcomandante Bob at January 18, 2006 09:46 PM [permalink]:

National Nitwit has the untold story of Iran's true nuclear aims.

Guaranteed at least 50% truthful.

Craig at January 23, 2006 07:42 PM [permalink]:

Why do you believe air strikes on Iran would cause "hundreds of thousands" or MILLIONS of deaths?

heydarbaba at January 23, 2006 08:45 PM [permalink]:
I agree with the main theme of the article that if Iran attacked or threatened to be attacked will go nuclear (militarily) and it would be very rational and logical to do so. Is Iran after the nuclear weapons? Should Iran posses nuclear weapons? From what I have read and been able to interpret about Iranian politics, I have to conclude that the mainstream Iranian leaders and public have concluded that Iran does not need nuclear weapons and when they say they are not after nuclear weapons I believe them. My line of reasoning and pretty much theirs would be something like this: 1.The immediate threats to Iran from Taliban and from Saddam not only have been disappeared but have been reversed in direction thanks to the naivete and inexperience of G.W.Bush and his neocon goons. Iranian government very successfully walked Bush into Baghdad after all they knew Iraqis more than anyone else in the region. Saddam and Taliban were not just two enemies of Iran, they were quite barbaric in their conduct and in their beliefs, especially Saddam , someone we remember well from his invasion of Iran and his behavior in those eight years of war. The situation in these countries are quite favorable to Iran and for a long time it will be IRREVERSIBLE if not forever. 2. Possession of nukes by Israel is not as much of a threat as they make it sound to be. If we judge Israel from its conduct, it is easy to conclude that Israel is the most openly barbaric government in the region. It has shown absolute disrespect for human lives and human dignity and for others' properties. But use of nuclear weapons by Israel is a bit different than the use of nuclear weapons by any other country for the following reasons. First of all Israel's widest section is less than fifty miles, it is a small country and it can be hurt and turned into a wasteland not just by nuclear but by other GOOD STUFF. So Israel will use nuclear weapons only if it has reached the conclusion that they have reached their end and knowing they wont see the day after the NUKING. Their undeclared nuclear policy is not so much territorial stability (because those territories will turn into wasteland and there wont be much of a territory to be made stable)but a simple thing : if I go down I might as well take a few with me. Even though Israeli nukes are under the control of some religious and secular fanatics but even they, in their limited brain, are aware of their limits and vulnerability. This coupled with the fact that Zionism is and has been on the run for sometimes now, their defeat in 1973, their great escape from Lebanon, their wonderful!! departure from Gaza with their tails between their legs, and construction of this apartheid wall is all signs of a Zionism on the run. The very same characters who had declared their dreams of stealing lands from Nile to Euphrates, are now happy just to cage themselves inside an apartheid wall; and the fact that Israelis know the difference between Iran and a helpless , defenseless refugee camp , and that Iran is much closer to them than they are to Iran and and ....all the above reasons make me not to worry about the Israeli nukes, they are useless nukes. 3.As it is Iran has everything needed (from machinery to software to hardware and the know how and the expertise) to make a nuclear bomb and it has the capability to throw it far far away where it can hurt the other side more than it would hurt Iran, so if really push comes to shove, Iran can easil ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Stan Kubrick at January 23, 2006 10:57 PM [permalink]:

So you are back, my dear Dr. Strangelove! I'd thought I'd see you on the other side of the line, but now I understand you survived that last scene after all. I just couldn't foresee you would resurface from the East! heydarbaba - sounds you just need a space ship with a sail and you'd be fully set for your next a-love :) Perhaps we could even collaborate on another film. What do you think?

An Iranian Student (AIS) at January 24, 2006 04:09 PM [permalink]:

ahh.. Heydrababa (the buddy) is too dumb to be Dr. Strangelove...but he is more of a psycho, I give you that much.

heydarbaba at January 24, 2006 05:47 PM [permalink]:

To AIS, (the keyboard Shaaban Bimokh, Shaaban the brain dead )'

In one of your later posts you wrote: "as a Popperian the main point of all my discussiona and efforts is to get rid of ideas so that we won't allow people to be get rid off. let ideas die and people live." is fair to say that "the main point of all your discussiona!! and efforts" just fizzled...

Joe Terry Jr at February 2, 2006 01:27 AM [permalink]:

It is very very sad that a great country such as Persia will tolerate such a totalitarian ruler and system of government. The people of Iran deserve much much better. Militant religious fanatacism is doomed. No matter if it is Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Islam, Hindu or whatever, extremist religion WILL NOT BE TOLERATED in this the civilized world.... The dark ages are long gone. Intolerance is absolutely long gone. America DOES NOT want war with Iran, or anyone else for that matter. Quite the contrary, America did not want the war with extremist Al Queda and/or Bin Laden. Americans do not want to die in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan. We want to live and prosper and continue to enjoy the freedoms of DEMOCRACY. But we have absolutely no choice but to attack the crazy militants who want to wipe us off the map!!! What choice do we have? Of course we must find out those who mitigated 9-11 on our innocent people and children. We have had to go into Afghanistan to root out & destroy the vermin who are mindless savages and murdering zealots of evil.
If the leadership of Iran continues to develope nuclear reactors etc., America and/or Israel will perform tactical strikes against the targets, I would assume. What choices do we and Israel have?? Sit back and wait for WWIII to start? That would be complete destruction of your fine country for sure!!! Why push America to this? It makes no sense whatsoever... Your great culture of Iran is spelled out in our history books. Why would Iran commit suicide like this? It is asinine to the extreme. Iran has enough oil to export and live well for many generations to come. what is the use of nuclear material for Iran? It makes absolutely NO SENSE. Why would the new leader of Iran commit his people to the potentiality of complete destruction??? I can not understand the logic of your present leadership. I am only a private American citizen, but I would bet that tactical air strikes would occur, if Iran continues with the nuclear build up. I quarantee that a large loss of life WOULD NOT OCCUR. You can take that to the bank as an accurate statement. Most of your nuclear construction is spread out & buried deep underground. These sites would be destroyed quite easily. It matters not much if the Russians, our good friends as usual, provide you with anti air missiles.
Meanwhile, it is time for the great country of Persia to awaken from its' long slumber to insist on civil rights for all citizens. A return to the civilized world is what all good people should insist on. You owe it to yourselves and your children.

Joe Terry
Guadalupe, CA

Iranian Freedom fighter at February 6, 2006 12:00 AM [permalink]:

We need a smart revolution. People of Iran need to oppose this oppressive government by staying at home and shout the word "Freedom" from their houses every night. It should start on Thursday 9th of February at 8 pm. And again on Saturday 11th Feb 2006 and every two days from then on. Pass this on to all your friends and relatives within Iran. With the help of the West and all decent human beings around the world, and the effort of the Iranians themselves, We as the community of decent humans around the world should be able to get rid of these murderers ruling Iran by force. Remember, Thursday Night, 9th February 2006 at 8 pm