At Large

To Believe or Not to Believe

Regarding Iran, our president continues to believe in make-believe.

By 9.30.13

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Iran has invested in the development of its nuclear program for over forty years. Since the beginning of its Bushire project — during the Shah’s era — Tehran has insisted it has had nothing on its mind but peaceful use of nuclear power. According to the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, the peaceful intent of Persian remains the same now as before. Once again the current American administration and its dutiful press have sought to treat the Iranian peaceful public stance as something with which to give serious consideration. This entire exercise is absurd on its face.

It’s true that during the Bush years economic sanctions were applied to varying effect. Supposedly the Tehran leadership has felt the power of these actions then and in subsequent years. Nonetheless, there is absolutely no evidence that the Iranians have halted, or even slowed, their nuclear weapon development program. The wishful thinking that goes on in Washington — on both sides of the political aisle — is encouraged by the combination of commercial and political interests that eagerly seek the benefits they imagine will come forth from a return to the pre-1979 period.

The problem with that ambition is that it bears no relation to what the Persian theocratic government wants. Iran’s desire is to extend its influence both as a nation and as the political leader and guide for contemporary Shia religious concepts. To accomplish such a grandiose objective, the rulers of Iran believe they must have equity in the world of military prowess regionally and on an international scale. This means the acquisition of an accurately deliverable long-range nuclear weapon.

The Israelis have been chosen by Tehran’s power elite as a useful focus of their political attention. As Israel’s protector, and the deposed Shah’s former protector, the United States follows closely on the enemies list. In fact, even this hatred of Israel and the U.S. is calculated for effect. It has been quite convenient to target these two countries in the modern Islamic world that seeks to blame other entities and forces for the lack of comparative accomplishment in the modern Islamic environment. The former European colonial nations no longer have the impact worthy of this sort of opprobrium.

The Shia government post-1979 was able to reach out fraternally to other Arab Shia communities that previously had held themselves aloof from their Persian cousins. In more recent times the Shia of Bahrain, Iraq, and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, among other places, have drawn closer to both the political and religious leadership of Iran.

As no other Islamic nation in the Middle East is nuclear-armed (Pakistan is considered part of South Asia), Iran is emboldened to attain the hegemonic goal it has always sought going back to ancient times. The Gulf monarchies may have the wealth capable of affording a nuclear weapon development, but they do not have the indigenous technical capacity. Iran knows its own nuclear capability has given it an essential head start in weapon development. In this regard the Shia leadership in Tehran believes it must speed toward establishment and maintenance of the existing imbalance of power among its neighbors in order to fulfill its perceived destiny of Middle Eastern suzerainty.

A year ago the Wall Street Journal editorialized that President Obama was attempting to convince the American public of “a make-believe world in which Iran’s nuclear intentions are potentially peaceful, sanctions are working and diplomacy hasn’t failed.” Earlier in the summer of 2012, a detailed report by the reputable “Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control” using IAEA projections stated that the Iranians had accumulated 116kg of uranium isotope U-235 in its low enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) form. This was said to be the equivalent to the amount necessary to weaponize five early generation devices.

Although this calculation sees Iran as capable of creating only several Hiroshima-type nuclear devices, it does not rule out its ability to deliver them by air or sea transport. The Iranian objective, however, is to have the sophistication of Pakistan’s missile delivery system, with greater range and accuracy. From Israel’s standpoint, this strategy of Tehran’s technical decision-makers influences the timing of an IDF first strike, which would depend of course on intelligence indicating the progress of the weapon miniaturization program wedded to its already advanced missile range and accuracy.

That is the calculus at play. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei must have a long-range missile delivery system partnered with a nuclear package small enough to be accurately targeted. This is the principle of the Pakistan-India nuclear stand-off, and Tehran believes it is the only route to strategic defense against the threat of an Israeli first strike. The Israelis, in turn, cannot afford the development of any Iranian capability to launch a first strike. The Iranians need time and the Israelis plan to hit them before the necessary development time is achieved. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, knows this and must play to extend the game. The real question is whether President Barack Obama understands this, no matter if one agrees with the WSJ or not.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.