August 30, 2006
Should Israel offer nuke inspections?By James Lewis
The 70 million people of Iran are now under the whip of a raving suicide cult intent on getting nuclear weapons. Whether the regime is really intending martyrdom or not it may not even know itself. It certainly talks and acts as if it is.
Tehran just made 500 Hezbo fighters sacrifice their lives in Lebanon. Paradise must be seeing a lot of traffic. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a disciple of Ayatollah Yazdi, who is so extreme that his cult was outlawed by Khomeini himself. Ahmadinejad claims to have personal chats with the "occluded" 12th Imam, the apocalyptic messiah. He is either a nut—job or a good faker. If the Reverend Jim Jones could fake sanity, living in San Francisco with his cult, so can Mullah Kool—Aid in Tehran.
We are therefore facing a perfect do—or—die dilemma, and our adversary is clever enough to play a shell game on every possible level. This is not new. We have seen it before with Hitler, Tojo, Stalin and Mao. But it is very dangerous.
When Stalin exploded his Bombs in 1950s, the threat of massive retaliation was the only available response. Today we have better defenses, and in ten years we will have much better ones. We therefore need to consider all available tools: a multistage defense, preemptive strikes, selective sanctions again Tehran, retaliation if needed, and negotiation.
Negotating with the fanatics has not been much discussed, because it is correctly said that they never negotiate in good faith. Is there an approach that does not require good faith from the regime?
The Soviets were not exactly famous for their trustworthiness, but Ronald Reagan found a way to "trust but verify" with Gorbachev. Because he was tough—minded and willing to walk away, President Reagan was highly effective with the Soviets. The final result was a marked reduction in US—Soviet tensions, a crisis hotline to avoid misperception, and a lowering of unneeded nuclear stockpiles. Reagan brought peace through strength and a willingness to talk.
Ahmadinejad is more like Stalin than Gorbachev. Gorbachev came after the open corruption of the Brezhnev years, when Soviet boasts became a joke even inside the regime. Suicidal exchanges were no longer conceivable. But Ahmadinejad is a pure fanatic, like Pol Pot or Mao.
So — what if Israel were to propose mutual nuclear inspections? Israel could publicly invite a team of scientists to visit its nuclear plant at Dimona providing the Mullahs allow full inspections of their facilities.
Such a public invitation would have several useful effects.
Thus an Israeli initiative would tend to strengthen the more pragmatic Rafsanjani faction in Tehran. Rafsanjani became a billionaire during the Khomeini years. He enjoys his food far too much to be eager for martyrdom. Shakespeare was right on target in Julius Caesar when he wrote,
It's still a good rule of thumb, although Rafsanjani also promoted nuclear weapons during his years in power. All the same, he might be more of a Brezhnev than a Stalin.
Every move has its pros and cons. Here are some disadvantages of an offer of mutual nuclear inspections.
In one sense this is not much of a loss. Nobody believes that Israel has no WMDs, just as no rational person believes that Israel represents an aggressive threat. The Israelis love life too much to invite a suicidal war. So do most Arabs and Iranians, with the major exception of the Khomeini cult in Tehran and perhaps Al Qaida.
In truth, the chances are not good that Ahmadinejad will travel to Jerusalem to kiss Ehud Olmert, as Anwar Sadat did with Golda Meir. The lion will not lie down with the lamb any time soon. An inspection offer by Israel might just buy time for the Tehran regime to outlive its madmen. It might re—set the media narrative in the Middle East. And it might make clear to all those in denial what is really at stake.
An inspection offer might accompany trade sanctions against Tehran, and perhaps air strikes on crucial components of its mushrooming nuclear industry. These various strategic moves all have their windows of opportunity. Nevertheless, an inspection offer should be kept in mind as a useful option in a very dangerous new game of nuclear poker.
James Lewis is a frequent contributor.