No Good Options

An eloquent statement in the Jerusalem Post Tuesday makes the case for a formal international indictment against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the genocide—threatening President of Iran. Unfortunately, the legal option proposed by the Jerusalem Post writers is unrealistic. There are no international police able to arrest Ahmadinejad, or to compel his regime to stop its nuclear rush. Even harsh military and economic pressures might not stop it.

One can imagine a decapitation strike against the leadership, but Ahmadinejad is not the only bad character in this crowd. He is just one of them.

Israel's options are few in number, and not very reassuring. Even those countries and individuals who care not a whit for Israel have a stake in the outcome.

Ahmadinejad may violate our basic assumption about weapons of mass destruction, that no rational person would use them to commit national suicide. If we believe what Ahmadinejad says in public, he defies the logic that kept the nuclear peace for fifty years during the Cold War.

In Ahmadinejad's ideology, martyrdom is a desirable end. That is not just talk, because he must have risked death while fighting for Khomeini's regime against Iraq, at a time when thousands of young teenagers were given plastic "keys to Paradise" to hang around their necks before being sent to blow up minefields with their own bodies. For this kind of man, martyring children may not present a moral problem. As an Islamic Revolutionary Guard and leader of the Qods (Jerusalem) Brigade, Ahmadinejad is said to have killed and tortured people, and organized terrorist assaults outside of Iran. He has grown up with a total identification with Ayatollah Khomeini and the most radical of the current Ayatollahs. Such people harbor immense hatred of Israel, the West, Sunni Muslims, Hindus and other infidels. The closest historical precedent was the suicide cult that ran Imperial Japan in World War Two.

Liberal commentators argue that Ahmadinejad's public talk is all for show. It is possible: Lying in war is warranted by Islamic tradition:

Allah's Apostle said, "Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al—Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, "O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab). "The Prophet said, "You may say it." ... (Sahih al—Bukhari 5.369,  cf. the article on Ka'b bin Al—Ashraf  for further details)

We cannot read Ahmadinejad's mind. He may mean exactly what he says, or he may be faking it. He may not even know the difference.

Some commentators appear to hope that Israel will take care of the problem, as it did by bombing Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981. But we no longer live in a world in which a single strike can have that effect.

Others in the West would be very willing to let Israel and Iran fight it out. But that, too, is wishful thinking. Any nuclear exchange will draw in the United States — if only to protect ourselves against Iranian attacks on us, and against others who would be bound to follow. Tehran—sponsored Hizbullah terrorists could simply steal radioactive material from a hospital and make a dirty bomb within hours. Even a small radioactive bomb would have devastating psychological effects across the world. That would change international politics forever. So we cannot isolate the Iran—Israel fight. Nuclear weapons are unavoidably strategic.

Contrary to its more hysterical critics, the Israeli Army has always taken the ethics of warfare very seriously. Such a moral obligation was thrust upon it by the history of the Jews as repeated victims over the centuries. While Israel will no longer play the eternal scapegoat, it is therefore reluctant to engage in preemptive war, even against a deadly enemy. In the absence of other options, therefore, a Israeli nuclear warning shot might be the only viable choice.

Such a blast can be mounted under the Negev desert. Israel has consistently maintained that 'it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.' That formulation is understood to mean that it has all the components, and could put them into functioning weapons within minutes. Israeli intelligence predicts that Iran will achieve take—off in uranium enrichment by March, 2006. At that time, Israel can maintain that Iran was the first to breach the taboo, given its public threats of annihilation. 

The purpose of a warning burst would be to shake Iran's leadership out of its autohypnotic fantasy of omnipotence. Much of the Islamic world is living an otherworldly story line in which nuclear weapons would finally solve all of its problems. A genuine warning blast would shake the Saudis out of their torpor. Sunni nations are fat targets for an Iranian bomb. They would have to face the implications. Even those Mullahs who have no interest in martyrdom would have to think again about overthrowing their madman—in—chief. Europe would have to get serious.

Mao Zedong at one time said that China could fight a nuclear war and survive. But China never acted on that nightmare fantasy. India and Pakistan saw nuclear weapons as a glorious validation of their power status, but they, too, began to negotiate in earnest once they obtained them. The prospect of hanging does concentrate the mind wonderfully.

After a warning explosion, Israel could call for immediate and complete inspections of all nuclear programs in the Middle East, including its own. That would put the diplomatic onus on Tehran. Israel has little to lose from inspections, since it is generally assumed to have nuclear weapons. Tehran would be at risk of exposing its hidden programs. Yet in the face of a demonstration blast, reality might well break through, even in Tehran.

One way to make the reality of mutually assured destruction unmistakably clear is to demonstrate the Hell to come, if suicidal leaders continue their rush to war.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.

An eloquent statement in the Jerusalem Post Tuesday makes the case for a formal international indictment against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the genocide—threatening President of Iran. Unfortunately, the legal option proposed by the Jerusalem Post writers is unrealistic. There are no international police able to arrest Ahmadinejad, or to compel his regime to stop its nuclear rush. Even harsh military and economic pressures might not stop it.

One can imagine a decapitation strike against the leadership, but Ahmadinejad is not the only bad character in this crowd. He is just one of them.

Israel's options are few in number, and not very reassuring. Even those countries and individuals who care not a whit for Israel have a stake in the outcome.

Ahmadinejad may violate our basic assumption about weapons of mass destruction, that no rational person would use them to commit national suicide. If we believe what Ahmadinejad says in public, he defies the logic that kept the nuclear peace for fifty years during the Cold War.

In Ahmadinejad's ideology, martyrdom is a desirable end. That is not just talk, because he must have risked death while fighting for Khomeini's regime against Iraq, at a time when thousands of young teenagers were given plastic "keys to Paradise" to hang around their necks before being sent to blow up minefields with their own bodies. For this kind of man, martyring children may not present a moral problem. As an Islamic Revolutionary Guard and leader of the Qods (Jerusalem) Brigade, Ahmadinejad is said to have killed and tortured people, and organized terrorist assaults outside of Iran. He has grown up with a total identification with Ayatollah Khomeini and the most radical of the current Ayatollahs. Such people harbor immense hatred of Israel, the West, Sunni Muslims, Hindus and other infidels. The closest historical precedent was the suicide cult that ran Imperial Japan in World War Two.

Liberal commentators argue that Ahmadinejad's public talk is all for show. It is possible: Lying in war is warranted by Islamic tradition:

Allah's Apostle said, "Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al—Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, "O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab). "The Prophet said, "You may say it." ... (Sahih al—Bukhari 5.369,  cf. the article on Ka'b bin Al—Ashraf  for further details)

We cannot read Ahmadinejad's mind. He may mean exactly what he says, or he may be faking it. He may not even know the difference.

Some commentators appear to hope that Israel will take care of the problem, as it did by bombing Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981. But we no longer live in a world in which a single strike can have that effect.

Others in the West would be very willing to let Israel and Iran fight it out. But that, too, is wishful thinking. Any nuclear exchange will draw in the United States — if only to protect ourselves against Iranian attacks on us, and against others who would be bound to follow. Tehran—sponsored Hizbullah terrorists could simply steal radioactive material from a hospital and make a dirty bomb within hours. Even a small radioactive bomb would have devastating psychological effects across the world. That would change international politics forever. So we cannot isolate the Iran—Israel fight. Nuclear weapons are unavoidably strategic.

Contrary to its more hysterical critics, the Israeli Army has always taken the ethics of warfare very seriously. Such a moral obligation was thrust upon it by the history of the Jews as repeated victims over the centuries. While Israel will no longer play the eternal scapegoat, it is therefore reluctant to engage in preemptive war, even against a deadly enemy. In the absence of other options, therefore, a Israeli nuclear warning shot might be the only viable choice.

Such a blast can be mounted under the Negev desert. Israel has consistently maintained that 'it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.' That formulation is understood to mean that it has all the components, and could put them into functioning weapons within minutes. Israeli intelligence predicts that Iran will achieve take—off in uranium enrichment by March, 2006. At that time, Israel can maintain that Iran was the first to breach the taboo, given its public threats of annihilation. 

The purpose of a warning burst would be to shake Iran's leadership out of its autohypnotic fantasy of omnipotence. Much of the Islamic world is living an otherworldly story line in which nuclear weapons would finally solve all of its problems. A genuine warning blast would shake the Saudis out of their torpor. Sunni nations are fat targets for an Iranian bomb. They would have to face the implications. Even those Mullahs who have no interest in martyrdom would have to think again about overthrowing their madman—in—chief. Europe would have to get serious.

Mao Zedong at one time said that China could fight a nuclear war and survive. But China never acted on that nightmare fantasy. India and Pakistan saw nuclear weapons as a glorious validation of their power status, but they, too, began to negotiate in earnest once they obtained them. The prospect of hanging does concentrate the mind wonderfully.

After a warning explosion, Israel could call for immediate and complete inspections of all nuclear programs in the Middle East, including its own. That would put the diplomatic onus on Tehran. Israel has little to lose from inspections, since it is generally assumed to have nuclear weapons. Tehran would be at risk of exposing its hidden programs. Yet in the face of a demonstration blast, reality might well break through, even in Tehran.

One way to make the reality of mutually assured destruction unmistakably clear is to demonstrate the Hell to come, if suicidal leaders continue their rush to war.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.