By Matania Ginosar
The president of Iran said recently that Israel should be wiped off the map. How serious is this when you combine it with Iran's urgent developments of nuclear weapons?
My first encounter with Iranian culture was decades ago while spending a summer with two Iranian students in Oregon. They were from high income homes and very adamant about Iranians superiority to all Arabs. They insisted that this belief is shared by most Iranians, and was fully justified based on the glorious history of the their old Persian empire thousands of years ago. This national superiority, I believe, is one of the most important ingredients in Iran's attitude as a nation, and its view of the world.
In addition, and more profoundly important, is Iran's leadership belief that their Shiite-Muslim faith is superior to all other Muslim's, and definitely to non Muslim creeds. They also believe that they must propagate their extremist creed to all people, worldwide, BY ANY MEANS AVAILABLE, INCLUDING WAR. With these convictions you have a very volatile, unyielding , and dangerous nation.
Therefore, Iran is essentially isolated politically from most Western countries, has no friends among the Arab nations, besides Syria. Iran is economically weak, however, its large oil sales gives it political clout, especially with China, and a large national budget to do what it wants.
Forty years ago I heard the Shah of Iran speak in my UCLA gradation ceremony. He wanted to develop nuclear power plants to generate electricity saving the vast oil reserves in Iran to be used as raw material for plastic. Some were concerned then that he wanted to use the nuclear power plants to help him gain nuclear weapon technology. The same concerns many have now about the current Iranian nuclear power development.
A decade later at a large defense contractor, my officemate; an American-Iranian, was our representative to Iran during the Shah's last few years of power. After each of my friend's frequent business trips to Iran he debriefed me about the situation there: the tight personal control of the Shah of most activities, and the suffering of the people. I was not surprised when a few years later the Iranian revolution took place.
Unfortunately, in 1979 when the Iranians took hostage of our embassy in Teheran, the US had a too idealistic president, President Carter. He is a very decent man, a moral man, but his inaction in the face of the Iranian hostage taking embolden the Iranians to further extremism. In the Iranians own words, they had expected a fierce US response and they were surprised to find the US to be just a paper tiger.
A few years back I saw a short TV documentary of thousands of young Iranians men running in the streets, chanting religious slogans while their self mutilated bodies were covered with blood. They were celebrating a religious holiday. Obviously most Iranians are not extremists, but the moderates that could escape did it years ago as the following will illustrate. A relative of mine just returned from three years in Greece of helping Middle Eastern refugees. One of the refugees told her why she escaped from a fairly wealthy life in Iran: When she was a teenager she was offered a bible by a stranger on a street in Teheran. She was from a secular family, accepted it to be polite, and forgot about it. A few days later the "Morality police" searched her purse, found the bible and led her directly to jail. Her wealthy father offered the prison's commander a bribe equal to the commander's full year salary and got her out. The next day all the family flew to Europe leaving almost everything behind. They were afraid that her release would be detected and she and the rest of the family could go to very oppressive prisons. They are safe now, but are refugees in Greece searching for a more stable future.
Now, when we listen to the President of Iran telling the world, Israel must be wiped off the map, we must take it seriously. These are not idle words. Similar words were uttered before, may be in more moderate words, by other Iranian leaders. From the creation of the State of Israel many Arab leaders believed it was their destiny to destroy Israel, tried and failed. No world leader objected, (except the US), and several helped the Arabs. I am gratified that so many world leaders condemned Iran president's attitude now. Their condemnations came because we are now facing nuclear weapons and this a completely different story. No country can defend itself from nuclear attack. And after attacking Israel, what if Iran is determined to wipe England next?
We must grasp that this desire to destroy Israel is not just for internal consumption. The President, and the Iranian leadership really mean it. Iran has been the largest aggressive supporter of terrorism against Israel for decades. We can be sure that Iran will do everything in its power to finish the development of its nuclear weapons. They already have a robust missile delivery system (Shahab 3) that can reach not only all countries in the Middle East, but also Europe. Iran's neighbors, including Egypt, and Saudi are very concerned about Iran's nuclear weapons development, which may lead to a Middle East nuclear weapon's race. That, along with the instability of the governments in the Middle East, and the spread of Arab and Muslim extremists, the world will face a much riskier and dangerous future.
Israel's population is concentrated in a very small region, about 20 by 50 miles. A few nuclear explosions could decimate most of its population, including hundred of thousands Israeli Arabs. This is not a deterrence to Iran and Muslim extremists. In the minds of terrorists and Iran, the killing of Israeli-Arab is justified in order to destroy Israel.
Quite a few friends have asked me what Israel will do. Let me make some observations:
First of all, it is not possible to destroy a substantial portion of Iran nuclear facilities since they are dispersed and some are underground.
Second, if military attacks could destroy some, the Iranians would do everything in their power to speed up the development without any restraint. They have already sped up the process in the last few years, and especially after the fall of Saddam, and they are not willing to stop the build up no matter what the West will offer them.
Third, the naivety of the West in offering Iran rewards to stop its nuclear development is a game where the Iranians are masters in, and have been playing the West to give them more time to finish their nuclear weapons.
Forth, the Iranians are happy that our hands are tied right now in Iraq.
Fifth, the Iranian leadership is extremely smart and deceitful, they can not be trusted whatever they say.
Israel and the West can not accept the fact that the wishes of any unstable leader in the world may stand between a nuclear war and stability. In today's world, with North Korea playing the nuclear game as well as Iran, and the unstable country of Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, I believe, you can not practice peace activism and survive.
Israel informed the Iranians via the diplomatic community that it has more than one submarine carrying nuclear weapons in close proximity to the Iranian shores at all times. If it is true or not is not important, however, it is important that the Iranians will believe it. But this is a inadequate deterrence, and may be just a stop gap measure. Although Israel has over 100 nuclear weapons it would not use any in a preemptive attack
Is there any solution? No reliable, or simple solution exists, as there is no sure way we can stop terrorists from detonating a small, but lethal nuclear weapon inside the US, or any other country, if they are able to.
Deterrence does not work with unstable and irrational leaders. The MAD, mutual assure destruction, that kept the US and the USSR from using nuclear weapons, works only with rational people who love life more than the destruction of their enemies. This is not the case with terrorists, neither, it seems, with the Iranian leadership, in my judgment.
Most Iranian political elements support the push to a nuclear Iran. The previously labeled "moderate" leadership of Iran was not moderate, it continued the nuclear weapon program, and lost the last election.
The future of Iran nuclear weapons is beyond our control.
Only a powerful and universal cessation of all commercial and diplomatic contacts with Iran could possibly open their eyes and change their militaristic attitude. And this is not possible in our "every country for itself" world attitude.
My conclusion are: Iran is determined to posses nuclear weapons and no one can stop them.
If they find any practical way, Iran will consider seriously destroying Israel with these weapons.
There is little that can be done now to reliably stop this process.
It is extremely difficult to accept these conclusions, but remember the 9/11 Commission observation that the FBI and CIA were unable to prevent the attack partially because of their "failure of the imagination."
The global community must be aware and alert, no matter how difficult it is to face. We must develop effective international tools to deal with dangers of this nature. After all, Iran would not be the last rough nuclear nation.
Matania Ginosar is a Doctor of
Environmental Science and Engineering
from the December 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine