July 6, 2005
An Iranian bomb will split radical IslamBy James Lewis
The single greatest breakthrough in the Cold War happened when Nixon and Kissinger succeeded in splitting communist China from the communist USSR. Our media, in their fathomless ignorance, have failed even to look for similar cracks in radical Islam.
Yet in the very bowels of jihadist Islam a bloody vendetta has smoldered and flared for a thousand years, moving fanatics like Khomeini, Bin Laden and Zarqawi to express even greater hatred for fellow Muslims than for Jews or Crusader America.
The news from Iran is bad. With the fraudulent election of Mohammed Ahmedinejad, an assassin for the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's hard—eyed fanatics have signaled their determination to speed nuclear weapons and export the Islamic revolution. The feeble European effort to talk the radicals into giving up nukes has failed. Russia is planning to supply seven more nuclear power plants to Iran, which does not need them for peaceful purposes. No pretend moderates are in power any more.
We can expect a major crackdown on the long—suffering Iranian people, who fear and hate their masters. Hezbollah, the terrorist arm of Tehran, has 10,000 short—range rockets aimed at Northern Israel, and Europe is desperately looking for ways to bow even lower. Paris and London will soon be within Iranian missile range.
Yet it is the Saudis who are shaking in their sandals today. A nuclear Iran will threaten other Islamic regimes more than America or even Israel. The Saudi rulers are Sunni Muslims, while the Iranians are Shiites. Their mutual hatred goes back to the beginnings of Islam. It was Ayatollah Khomeini who wrote that
In response, the Sunnis proclaim
Those are not just nasty words. In Iraq, Zarqawi is using Sunni suicide bombers from Saudi Arabia to kill thousands of Shiite men, women, children, imams and mosques full of human beings. According to Zarqawi, the Shi'a are 'the most evil of mankind.' They are 'the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom.' They have been 'a sect of treachery and betrayal throughout history.'
The New York Times thinks Zarqawi is blowing up Shiite civilians to stir up trouble against America. Muslims know that whatever he else may be doing, he is killing Shiites because he believes they are enemies of Allah.
When — not if — Iran explodes its bomb in the next two years, it will not threaten Israel and the West nearly so much as the Sunni regimes, from Egypt to Morocco. The Israelis have a second—strike retaliatory capability, based on missile—equipped submarines. The Iranians cannot detect them. If Iran attacked Israel, Tehran would be a smoking desert within minutes. Even the maddest mllahs are not that mad.
Rather, an Iranian nuclear bomb will drive the Saudis and their Sunni allies into the arms of America. The resulting split in radical Islam will present a major strategic opportunity for the United States.
Whoever claims the first Islamic bomb in the Middle East will garner enormous prestige. When Iran explodes its bomb, Sunnis will be dancing in the streets. Until they realize 'Uh—oh, this is not OUR bomb.'
It is true that Iran would become immune to direct military attack, but it will immediately become an overwhelming threat to neighboring Saudi Arabia, just across fifty miles of the Persian Gulf. If the Mullahs can control Saudi oil and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, they will dominate the Middle East; they may declare a new Caliphate. To forestall this threat, the Saudis have been trying to buy their own nukes from Pakistan.
The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully, as Dr. Johnson famously pointed out. When India and Pakistan got their nukes, their peoples went wild with joy. Then both sides sobered up, and today they are cautiously seeking detente. Revolutionary madmen often look to nuclear weapons to fulfill their fantasies. Mao Zedong boasted that China could absorb a nuclear attack and still have hundreds of millions of people left to fight. In his final days, Stalin is said to have planned a nuclear attack on the West. In all those regimes saner voices quickly prevailed. That does not guarantee a sudden flowering of sanity among the Khomeinist fanatics, but it makes it more possible.
All by itself, the US Sixth Fleet has vastly greater nuclear armaments than Iran will have for many years. Israel has had three decades to refine its capabilities, and is estimated to have perhaps 60 bombs, more than enough to make nuclear war unthinkable. Perhaps within a decade the United States will have a regional defense against nuclear missile attack, based on naval ships. France, Britain and Russia will sell their very souls for safety, but in the face of an actual attack they would retaliate in force. So the Iranians will not strike the West or Israel; they might try infiltration and terrorism instead.
What should the United States do? A reasonable guess is that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have already promised a NATO—type nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, and Iraq. Such a promise cannot be made public. Egypt is afraid of its Muslim Brotherhood, which assassinated Anwar Saddat and is now in control of the Hamas terrorist gang. The Saudi royal family is a snake's nest of Wahhabist radical intrigue. But once Tehran gets its nukes, the Saudis and Egyptians must buy their own, or obtain American protection. There is no other choice.
Nuclear stalemate therefore becomes the only rational option. Yet all the Muslim nations of the Middle East have used terrorist proxies when open warfare was too dangerous. Terrorism will therefore continue. The biggest question, as the Administration has said over and over again, is how to forestall the conjunction of suicidal terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. That may be very difficult, but once the Saudis and Egyptians stare national death in the face, the need to control their own fanatics will become a lot more obvious to them.
The coming decades will see a grim but not hopeless period, echoing the early years of the Cold War. A small consolation is that even the Left may not be able to deny reality much longer. Sadly, the time is far gone for any intervention to forestall a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. That critical moment passed years ago, when the mullahs might have been overthrown with little risk. The world is now paying a heavy price for the goo—goo Democrats Jimmy Carter, who brought Khomeini into power because the Shah just wasn't nice enough, and Bill Clinton, who simply closed his eyes for eight years and hoped that Ole Man Trouble would pass him by. When the Iranians explode their nuke, the American people will look for an adult to lead the nation.