Israelis are making too much fuss of Joe Biden’s recent interview, in which he stated that Israel, as a sovereign nation, is entitled to take any course of action against Iran. Biden’s statement is nonsense—sovereignty does not entitle a nation to attack another country. Neither does it necessarily change the US position: the vice president is unable to say that Israel must toe the American line, barred from defending herself. Any true green light for an Israeli attack would have come privately, rather than being broadcast on ABC.
The situation remains unpredictable because an Israeli attack on Iran depends on a few people’s decisions. Sensitive to his patriotic credentials, Netanyahu is highly likely to order the attack. He wouldn’t want to be the prime minister who allowed Iran to go nuclear.
The attack would be wrong on all counts.
Iran has already removed enough of its enriched uranium to a location safe from Israeli strikes. The labs deep in the mountains are not vulnerable to attacks by conventional weapons. An Israeli strike cannot stop Iran’s nuclear program completely.
Unlike the Arabs, Iran is a civilized and responsible country. It has started no wars in modern history, and there is no chance it would nuke Israel. Nor would Iran transfer nukes to Hezbollah, as that might embroil the Shia empire in an apocalyptic war with the Jews. Moreover, Hezbollah itself is a responsible militia which, unlike Al Qaeda, would never use nuclear weapons. Hezbollah firmly entered the political process in Lebanon and has substantially kept its promise to leave Israel alone since her withdrawal from Lebanon. Neither would Iran transfer nuclear weapons to the despised Syrians, who are only good at taking Iranian money.
Israel has a target much easier and more urgent than Iran: North Korea. The entire world would applaud if Israel launched a Jericho III missile at Yongbyon. No sanctions, no repercussions, plenty of positive publicity. It is North Korea, rather than Iran, which is likely to sell nuclear weapons to terrorists and the technology to everyone. The feasibility of a similar strike against Pakistan depends on the reliability of our intelligence on that country’s nuclear storage. In any case, under its current leadership Pakistan wouldn’t retaliate against Israel for destroying its reactors even if we failed to destroy their allegedly disassembled nuclear weapons as well.
Israel had already agreed once to a nuclear Iran: during the Shah’s regime, we helped Iran to develop the bomb. Nuclear Iran poses no practical threat and offers plenty of advantages. The extension of Iranian influence into the Saudi oilfields (which are populated by Shiites) could cause major unrest there, possibly even secession, and strip the Wahhabite kingdom of the revenues it uses to promote militant Islam worldwide. A nuclear exchange between Iran and the Saudis, in which the latter would use Pakistani nuclear bombs, would bleed the Muslim world.
Likewise with Egypt. The IAEA found traces of weapons-grade uranium near the Egyptian reactors, confirming our long-standing suspicion that Egypt is runing a low-profile military nuclear program, slowly accumulating weapons-grade uranium with its research reactors. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s only untainted political organization, will come to power the moment the government is weakened. Mubarak violated an old agreement with the Brotherhood which allowed it to run in municipal elections but not for the parliament. After the government grossly rigged the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood vowed to sweep into parliament. No doubt the Brotherhood will use nuclear weapons to deter Israel from repressing Hamas, its subsidiary organization. A nuclear Iran would keep Egypt preoccupied with more urgent concerns than Israel, especially since the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood won’t get along with Shiite Iran.
Iran was not very aggressive even under Khomeini. Both Iran and Iraq dragged each other into the war rather than started it deliberately. Hezbollah was created to help Lebanese Shia against hostile Arabs rather than to extinguish the Jewish state. Iran only developed very close relations with Hamas in recent years, after the group became moderate by terrorists’ standards. Iran’s strong relationship with Syria is religiously motivated to allow Shiites unhindered pilgrimage to the tombs of the imams, which are located in Syria. If weaning Syria away from Iran is of any importance, that can be easily achieved by offering Syria a bit more than is currently provided by Iran; an amount in the range of $1.5 billion a year would do.
Unlike the Arabs, Iranians are nice and smart, not prone to violence. Though Western media reported a million people taking part in post-election riots, not even a hundred thousand people could fit into the streets of Tehran. Iran was the only Muslim country whose population demonstrated spontaneously in support of the United States after 9/11. Unlike the Arabs, Iranians overwhelmingly reject Islamic terrorism; they despise Arabs, especially Palestinians. Unlike Sunni Muslims, Iranians attach very little importance to Jerusalem. A lack of agreement with Iran renders any Saudi peace offer empty of content, while an agreement with Iran makes peace with the Saudis and Syria unimportant.
For the last three thousand years we have periodically joined the Persians against other enemies, and joined Egypt against the Persians. A Kenyan president of the United States might imagine lasting peace, but we know better: in this region, only hatreds last. Actually, that is true of any region.
The Persians helped us to capture Jerusalem fifteen centuries ago, and might be no less useful today.