Concerns about 'the imminent threat'
of Iran are often attributed to the "international community"—code
language for U.S. allies. The people of the world tend to see matters rather
The January/February issue of Foreign
Affairs featured the article “Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the
Least Bad Option,” by Matthew Kroenig, along with commentary about other ways
to contain the Iranian threat.
The media resound with warnings
about a likely Israeli attack on Iran while the U.S. hesitates, keeping open
the option of aggression—thus again routinely violating the U.N. Charter, the
foundation of international law. As tensions escalate, eerie echoes of the
run-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are in the air. Feverish U.S.
primary campaign rhetoric adds to the drumbeat.
Concerns about “the imminent threat” of Iran are often attributed to the
“international community”—code language for U.S. allies. The people of the
world, however, tend to see matters rather differently.
The nonaligned countries,
a movement with 120 member nations, has vigorously supported Iran’s right to
enrich uranium—an opinion shared by the majority
of Americans (as surveyed by WorldPublicOpinion.org) before the massive
propaganda onslaught of the past two years.
China and Russia oppose U.S. policy on Iran, as does India, which
announced that it would disregard U.S. sanctions and increase trade with Iran.
Turkey has followed a similar course. Europeans
regard Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. In the Arab world, Iran is
disliked but seen as a threat only by a very small minority. Rather, Israel and
the U.S. are regarded as the pre-eminent threat. A majority think that the
region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons: In Egypt on the eve of
the Arab Spring, 90 percent held this opinion, according to Brookings
Institution/Zogby International polls.
Western commentary has made much of
how the Arab dictators allegedly support the U.S. position on Iran, while
ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the population opposes it—a stance
too revealing to require comment.
Concerns about Israel’s nuclear
arsenal have long been expressed by some observers in the United States as
well. Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, described
Israel’s nuclear weapons as “dangerous in the extreme.” In a U.S. Army journal,
Lt. Col. Warner Farr wrote that one “purpose of Israeli nuclear weapons, not
often stated, but obvious, is their `use’ on the United States”—presumably to
ensure consistent U.S. support for Israeli policies. A prime concern right now is that Israel will
seek to provoke some Iranian action that will incite a U.S. attack.
One of Israel’s leading strategic
analysts, Zeev Maoz, in “Defending the Holy Land,” his comprehensive analysis
of Israeli security and foreign policy, concludes that “the balance sheet of
Israel’s nuclear policy is decidedly negative”—harmful to the state’s security.
He urges instead that Israel should seek a regional agreement to ban weapons of
mass destruction: a WMD-free zone, called for by a 1974 U.N. General Assembly
Meanwhile, the West’s sanctions on
Iran are having their usual effect, causing shortages of basic food
supplies—not for the ruling clerics but for the population. Small wonder that
the sanctions are condemned by Iran’s courageous opposition. The sanctions against Iran may have the same
effect as their predecessors against Iraq, which were condemned as “genocidal”
by the respected U.N. diplomats who administered them before finally resigning
in protest. The Iraq sanctions
devastated the population and strengthened Saddam Hussein, probably saving him
from the fate of a rogues’ gallery of other tyrants supported by the
U.S.-U.K.—tyrants who prospered virtually to the day when various internal
revolts overthrew them. There is little credible discussion of just what
constitutes the Iranian threat, though we do have an authoritative answer,
provided by U.S. military and intelligence. Their presentations to Congress
make it clear that Iran doesn’t pose a military threat. Iran has very limited capacity to deploy
force, and its strategic doctrine is defensive, designed to deter invasion long
enough for diplomacy to take effect. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons
(which is still undetermined), that would be part of its deterrent strategy. The understanding of serious Israeli and
analysts is expressed clearly by 30-year CIA veteran Bruce Riedel, who said in
January, “If I was an Iranian national security planner, I would want nuclear
weapons” as a deterrent.
An additional charge the
West levels against Iran is that it is seeking to expand its influence in
neighboring countries attacked and occupied by the U.S. and Britain, and is
supporting resistance to the U.S.-backed Israeli aggression in Lebanon and
illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Like its deterrence of
possible violence by Western countries, Iran’s actions are said to be
intolerable threats to “global order.”
Global opinion agrees with Maoz.
Support is overwhelming for a WMDFZ in the Middle East; this zone would include
Iran, Israel and preferably the other two nuclear powers that have refused to
join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: India and Pakistan, who, along with
Israel, developed their programs with U.S. aid.
Support for this policy at the NPT
Review Conference in May 2010 was so strong that Washington was forced to agree
formally, but with conditions: The zone could not take effect until a
comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors was in
place; Israel’s nuclear weapons programs must be exempted from international
inspection; and no country (meaning the U.S.) must be obliged to provide
information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including
information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”
The 2010 conference called for a
session in May 2012 to move toward establishing a WMDFZ in the Middle East. With all the furor about Iran, however,
is scant attention to that option, which would be the most constructive way of
dealing with the nuclear threats in the region: for the “international
community,” the threat that Iran might gain nuclear capability; for most of the
world, the threat posed by the only state in the region with nuclear weapons
and a long record of aggression, and its superpower patron.
One can find no mention at all of
the fact that the U.S. and Britain have a unique responsibility to dedicate
their efforts to this goal. In seeking to provide a thin legal cover for their
invasion of Iraq, they invoked U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 (1991),
which they claimed Iraq was violating by developing WMD. We may ignore the claim, but not the fact
that the resolution explicitly commits signers to establishing a WMDFZ in the