Friday, October 28, 2005

What to Do about Iran

Tsk, tsk, tsk.... what a lovely mess we have on our hands in the Middle East. Just when we thought Iran was starting to come around, this happens. First, Iran's new hardline leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a conference in Tehran called "A World without Zionism" and gave a speech calling Israel a blot that needs to be "wiped off the map." Then, while Iran's diplomats were busy trying to downplay his remarks, Ahmadinejad held a large anti-Israel rally in Tehran and there described his prior remarks as "just" and that criticism of them from Western countries "did not have any validity."

Ahmadinejad's remarks under normal circumstances would be simply annoying. However, when you couple them with the fact that Iran has recently thumbed its nose to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and restarted its nuclear program, they become quite alarming.

Now, I admit that many Middle Eastern countries do not think highly of Israel, but even they realize that coming out with an inflammatory statement like this, a statement that could easily be interpreted as an open declaration of war, is not a good idea.

These remarks could not have come at a worse time for Iran. Just a week ago, Russia, a traditional ally of Iran, and one with a permanent seat (and veto) on the UN Security Council was actively resisting calls to sanction Iran for its pursuance of its nuclear program. Yesterday, this all changed: Russia joined the European Union, Canada, the USA, China, and several other countries in denouncing Ahmadinejad's remarks.

Which suggests the obvious question: what do we do about all this? Do we allow Iran to continue in its present path, developing nuclear technology while uttering warlike statements like the ones uttered by Ahmadinejad this week? Do we allow ourselves to go on wondering if sometime Iran will put its money where its mouth is and attack? Do we allow this to drag out until Iran develops a workable nuclear bomb and becomes a much more sizeable threat? Or, do we take action to put a stop to it first? I am sure these questions, or ones like them, are being tossed around this week in at least a few government offices around the world.

Unfortunately for Iran, Ahmadinejad's remarks seem to have severely damaged any credibility his regime might have, and has alienated many countries that would otherwise have been prepared to give Iran the benefit of the doubt. And so, it now seems quite possible that there is enough of a groundswell against Iran in the world community that any punitive action against Iran might be under the mantle of the United Nations.

Ahmadinejad has also opened his country up to the possibility of a preemptive strike by Israel - a strike aimed to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities. Israel has done this sort of thing in the past to stymie the nuclear ambitions of its neighbors: in 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak reactor to derail Saddam's nuclear weapons program. Until this week, fear of the backlash from the world community was perhaps the only thing holding Israel back. Now, after Ahmadinejad's ill-conceived remarks, a preemptive strike by Israel would not likely provoke much backlash at all.

All of which should leave Iranians asking one question: what the hell were we thinking when we elected this guy?