With the whole hoopla surrounding the Israeli prime minister’s planned speech before the U.S. Congress this coming week, the real debates and concerns are being drowned out.
Instead of worrying about whether Netanyahu should or should not give his speech, or if it’s politically motivated, or if it’s Obama’s way of meddling in an Israeli election he sorely wants Netanyahu to lose, or if the speech lacks basic nation-state diplomatic decorum, why aren’t we focusing on the real issue at hand — namely, that Iran is inarguably marching toward nuclear armament while the world is out to lunch? And if Netanyahu does go through with his speech, what will he say? What can he tell a non-veto-proof Congress that will change the current course of P5+1 capitulation? Why should it matter to us? What could we possibly do about the Iranian threat?
Before these questions can be answered, there are a few points to get aligned on.
That Iran aspires to be a nuclear power should not be debated, because we’d be arguing in the face of their own testimonies: “According to Ayatollah Khamenei, this [nuclear armament] was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies … and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mahdi.”
That Iran wants to destroy Israel is, too, unworthy of debate, because Iranian leadership has been quite vocal about wanting to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Once these points are accepted as givens, we can enter a productive and useful debate on where to go from here.
The first legitimate question is, can the Iranian nuclear program truly be thwarted to a point of inoperability, and how? Leading military assessments have posited that an Israel-goes-it-alone type of operation would mean that, at best, Israel can inflict mostly topical damage — the type that stops work and activity for a few months, maybe even a year or two maximum, depending on what type of bomb technology (see the “bunker buster” bombs that were expressly not delivered by the last two U.S. administrations) is used in such a theoretical raid. There’s also the challenge of distance, with Iran being potentially the furthest out the IAF will have ever ventured in combat mode. With Iran’s many nuclear installations being geographically dispersed and fortified deep underground or inside a mountain, it’s highly likely that some targets will sustain more or less damage than others. Which makes the likelihood of an Osirak-type of success slim. (In that operation, there was only a single Iraqi reactor to obliterate)
So, can Iran’s nuclear program be adequately destroyed? To clarify, “destroyed” means obliterated to the point where “restarting the program” means doing so from scratch. The answer is in the affirmative. Of course. But that’s where big bro America comes into the picture. The only way to have a chance at both being able to inflict the level of damage needed to make the nuclear program irreparable, and to be able to sustain whatever return fire could be expected, is with massive U.S. military involvement. And that’s where America’s “interest” takes precedence over other meager concerns like the existential threat to a “key ally” in the region.
Then comes the question of the aftermath. Could Israel sustain itself against ballistic missiles flowing from Iran which would concurrently activate its tentacular proxy arms such as Hizbullah and Hamas? That would mean, in addition to dodging incoming long-range missiles, Israelis would be scurrying from Katyushas and Qassams, terrorists’ tunnels and infiltrations, kidnapping attempts, and the usual variety of organized and lone wolf terrorist activity.
So let’s say America, based on its body language, is telling Israel it’s going to have to go it alone, and not only solo but in actual defiance of an American accord, then what? And if Israel does go it alone and strikes Iran, the question then would invariably be, is the cost of eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran worth the resulting destruction?
Let’s say Israel believes that the secretive negotiations between diplomatically feeble superpowers and their empire-aspiring counterpart are being held in good faith, then two key questions remain. Firstly, why would someone believe the commitments of a regime that has consistently defied all conventions and acted with extreme guile in all matters nuclear? Who can really guarantee that, despite whatever lame attempts at inspection and oversight are made to curb their nuclear program, the Iranians won’t find even more effective ways to evade detection and break the refinement threshold with intent to produce weapons-grade fissile material for their nuclear warheads? No one. Even if Obama sincerely pledged to ensure Iran would never violate this agreement, there’s nothing America can feasibly do to stop them within the few months it would take to break the nuclear weapon threshold. Even adding “crippling” sanctions won’t do the trick at that point, because whatever economic damage is caused, they could easily sustain their continued nuclear production in the interim thanks to their shady economic dealings with Russia and China.
The second question — and this is perhaps the most important question for any analyst — is, let’s say talks succeed or fail, and regardless, Iran has produced a bomb, then what do we believe Iran will do with it? Will they rush to “wipe Israel off the map” in messianic fervor and religious zeal as some posit, or will they hold onto the bomb for a short or maybe even longer while?
As tempting as it is to jump to the conclusion that the country that says it wants to destroy Israel and then goes out and acquires the means, would actually follow through immediately on its declaration, I won’t jump. Taking a few steps back, a more complex picture emerges.
Let’s play the scenario out.
When Iran “gets” the bomb everyone will know. How do I know? Do you know of an “unknown nuclear power” other than Israel, wink wink? It’s oxymoronic. Right, that’s because it can’t exactly be hidden. Certainly not from major intelligence agencies. More so, the dictators who’ve gone through all the trouble and international loopholes to acquire nukes tend to be more than willing to share news of their accomplishments with the world (see Kim Jong Un for reference of nuclear flaunting).
For a good period immediately after “Iran has gone nuclear” becomes public, Israel and wise world powers will be on highest alert. So immediately after acquisition is not the best time for a nuclear attack. And that’s beside the point that Iran likely believes that any nuclear strike will be mutual (see the Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine — MAD), and while Iran envisages Israel’s destruction, its ambitions ruminate in feelings of empire-longing pointing to broader aspirations of (for the time being) regional dominance and global importance. A nuclear Iran, no matter how fervent, would not appear to be suicidal. So what happens to Iran and the region the day Iran goes public with its nuclear armament?
If the P5+1 had a tough time failing to get a non-nuclear Iran in line, what kind of sway will it have with Iran the nuclear power? Sanctions will never deal a fatal blow to the Iranian regime because of its Russo-China backing, so what will it take then? A threat of military intervention? Who will volunteer to attack a zealous messianic nuclear power?
And an Iran that managed to build the bomb under intense international scrutiny will have a much safer and more confident time building bombs two, three, four, etc. … If threats didn’t work before it had nukes, we can imagine Iran to be extremely emboldened by its nuclear acquisition, thereby continually flouting any resolutions or calls-to-action from the powerless superpowers. They’ll be producing their killer bombs in relative peace.
A nuclear Iran will be strong, powerful and free to run amok in the region. What happens when Iran doubles down on its geostrategic bets in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Libya — all unstable territories rife with Islamo-extremism and ripe for manipulation by the budding has-been soon-to-be regional superpower? Will they have a chance at stabilization or alignment with Western ideals should they emerge from their societal chaos, or will they fall prey to the extremism that Iran is fanning as far and wide as it can reach?
And what of all the currently “stable” autocracies and dictatorships in the region, such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Will an emerging powerful Shia force emanating from Iran topple stable Sunni governments and further estrange them from the West and its values? Or will Iran’s success embolden states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the pursuit of their own nuclear options? Observing and studying successful Iranian negotiation tactics will serve those countries well in their nuclear quests.
It seems safe to assume then that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could serve a greater purpose toward achieving its goal of regional hegemony than merely destroying Israel, which invites the possibility of mutual devastation. But then I’m reminded that Hitler, though practically successful throughout at least half the war, eventually chose ideology over pragmatism, going to extra lengths to scrape every possible Jew out from what remained of his dwindling dominion at the expense of failing on his military battlefronts. Would Iran eventually do the same — be mostly pragmatic, but eventually allow ideological zeal to prevail and cause its own downfall?
To me, this is where the debate stops having answers, and conjecture kicks in. Do we know what Iran will actually do if and when they get a bomb? No. So where do we look for guidance on how to deal with this looming threat? History.
This whole calculative Q&A is only relevant in the context of history. If we take everything governments and mainstream media say at face value, then we’re all just a bunch of boys crying wolf. But if we peer into the annals of history, not far back, and farther still, we’ll have all the examples needed to continue anticipating the trajectory of the Iranaway nuclear train.
When a man, no matter how mad, declares his will to destroy an entire people, take him seriously. Period. When the Persian Haman declared his intention to Achashverosh to destroy the Jewish people, he was dead serious. When Hitler professed his evil intentions, he should’ve been taken seriously. So when the Persian Khamenei (read: Hamani) arrogantly projects his goal of wiping Israel off the map, I take him seriously.
Now comes the truly final question. After accepting that Iran wants to acquire a bomb, that Israel and America are ultimately incapable or unsupportive of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and that Iran desires to destroy Israel should it be given the chance, what can I possibly do about it? I know we say “never again,” but how can it be stopped?
“Hashem will fight for you, and you will be quiet.”
For my part, I resort to what I believe is one of the most important lessons of the Holocaust. If the last time manifest evil “stood over us to destroy us” Jews became united in meeting the broad and unifying criteria required for death, this time around, perhaps it is upon us to preemptively unite as a people “like one man with one heart” in life.
Our history does consistently offer a clue as to how we can merit the Divine protective shield, and that’s through unity. Call it Jewnity. A shield with cracks breaks after sustaining a few strikes. A tight and cohesive shield is unbreakable. We don’t believe Iron Domes protect us. We have Hashem. But Hashem doesn’t want us relying on the miracles that openly liberated the Jews from ancient Egypt, or the concealed “luck” of a lottery that saved the Jews from certified genocide in Persia. Instead, Hashem has made it clear from the get-go what our greatest achievement can be and what the expectation is. Unity. In the face of Iran. In the face of the world. Should we be unified, I have no doubt the entire debate on Iran will remain in the realm of theoretical and figurative discussion, and not, G-d forbid, be a dark lesson in history.
 IAEA memo which was obtained by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonprofit group that analyzes nuclear weapons programs.
 In Shiite Islam, “Imam Mahdi” is the prophesied 12th Imam who will purge the world of evil in humanity’s last days.