Bernard Lewis thinks MAD may not work with Ahmadinejad


Bernard Lewis is said to be the greatest living Western scholar of Islam, someone with deep sympathy for the Muslim world, without forgetting its dark side. Writing in the Wall Street Journal online edition today, Lewis now expresses deep concern over an apocalyptic Iran armed with nukes.

It seems increasingly likely that the Iranians either have or very soon will have nuclear weapons at their disposal ... The language used by Iranian President Ahmadinejad would seem to indicate the reality and indeed the imminence of this threat.

Would ... the ... fear of mutual assured destruction, restrain a nuclear—armed Iran from using such weapons against the U.S. or against Israel?

...The phrase "Allah will know his own" is usually used to explain such apparently callous unconcern; it means that while infidel, i.e., non—Muslim, victims will go to a well—deserved punishment in hell, Muslims will be sent straight to heaven. ... the threat of direct retaliation on Iran ——— is ... already weakened by the suicide or martyrdom complex that plagues parts of the Islamic world today... 

... Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? ... This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world.

It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

This is alarming. It seems clear that other nations should be ready for some kind of Iranian strike on August 22. The best current guess is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear device, based on the public record, although Tehran could have the ingredients of a dirty bomb.  Iran's neighbors, like the Saudis, are beginning to arm themselves with anti—missile systems. They should put themselves on high alert very soon.

It is even possible that Iran may send a team of suiciders with a dirty radioactive device to Lebanon, to place in the path of Israeli troops. There is no foolproof defense against such a move — they could simply load up a small ship or plane with a simple device. However, there is no evidence in the public record that the Iranians have actually tested a radioactive device, though they could have exploded a mockup. If there is any Iranian attempt to strike at Israel or US forces, it would be a nuclear asus belli . The Iranian regime would be rapidly destroyed, and achieve its eagerly—sought martyrdom, taking along innocent bystanders.

Ahmadinejad may be mad, but he's cleverly mad. Today's Iranian proxy war on Israel was cleverly designed, both strategically and tactically. The mullahs may therefore wait a few years until they have their nukes all lined up. August 22 comes once a year, and 2006 may not be the time they choose. Or they might fire their long—range missiles at Tel Aviv or even Jerusalem on August 22. GPS—guided missiles could be devastating. However, no doubt Israel has make it unmistakably clear what kind of action would trigger massive retaliation. The Syrians at least are not eager for martyrdom.

Hitler overreached when he attacked Russia. Ahmadinejad may also overreach. It fits his malevolent paranoid style.  The big question today is how many people he will take with him if he does overreach.

If the Bush doctrine of nuclear preemption is ever justified, it would be in cases like this. But there are no easy answers. We are just lucky to have a tough—minded administration in Washington, and not the flabby thinkers of the Carter and Clinton years.

James Lewis   8 08 06