Once again, tensions in the Middle East are running high. Many of the controversies swirl around Iran, which has made headlines recently for a variety of reasons — none of them positive.
First, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reclaimed the presidency during the recent Iranian elections amid claims that the process was rigged, which spawned massive protests throughout the country. Then the government decided that the best way to handle the protests was to cut off cell phone service, block websites, and use the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia against the protesters.
More recently, Iran’s esteemed president declared his belief that the Holocaust was a lie motivated by Western powers as an excuse to create the state of Israel.
On Tuesday, he said in another speech that Iran was “stronger than ever.” The effect of this was somewhat dampened by the military jet that crashed during the parade, illustrating just how “strong” Iran is.
Pause for a moment to consider something: Ahmadinejad is the leader of a country. It is tempting, then, to disregard the man as a joke and pity the people who have had him forced upon them through a rigged election. Unfortunately, Iran must be taken very seriously. For throughout all the chaos, Iran has carried on with its enrichment of uranium, and the U.S. believes that Iran now has enough of it to make a nuclear weapon. This is worrying to countries throughout the world, but especially to Israel, which Ahmadinejad has promised to “wipe off the map.”
With a nuclear weapon, that wouldn’t be overly difficult. The U.S. government estimates that it would take at least until 2013 for Iran to develop such capabilities, but this does not provide much solace. Being wiped off the map, whenever that may take place, is not an idea that Israel is comfortable with.
So what are Israel’s choices? There are, at present, two major options. The first is to wait for further negotiations with the United Nations and hope that Iran decides that, after all the work they’ve put into them and all the big plans they have for them, they don’t actually want nuclear weapons. Their second option is a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now the fact of the matter is that Iran is about as likely to stop its enrichment program as I am to major in cooking.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, has repeatedly said that “no option is being taken off the table,” despite pressure from the United States to abstain from attacking Iran. In some ways, this option is tempting.
Although Iran’s leader claims that “no power dares imagine an invasion against Iran,” Iran actually has no modern military that is capable of defending itself. Its air force includes planes that the United States gave to Iran before the Islamic Revolution (the irony!). If Israel decides that it is going to attack Iran, there is little Iran can do to retaliate, at least currently.
Russia, which has already opposed sanctions against Iran, has signed a deal with Iran to sell them S-300s (the Russian equivalent of U.S. Patriot missiles). This ground-to-air missile system would make attacking Iran a bit more problematic for Israel.
Not only that, but Medvedev has called an Israeli airstrike “the worst thing that can be imagined.” An attack on Iran could be dangerous in a World War I domino-effect way. If Russia steps in to defend Iran, the United States could step in and join Israel’s side. After that, who knows how other foreign powers will react?
Another distinct possibility is that, if Israel attacks Iran without the support of foreign nations, little will be done by the world powers to avert any retaliation against Israel. This is why Israel needs to learn from the mistakes that the United States made in deciding to invade Iraq without the real backing of the E.U. and other major world players. We were forced to fight it largely alone, and Israel cannot afford to do that, especially if Russia decides to play a more direct role.
The right move for Israel is to wait. Wait for the upcoming U.N. conferences during which Iran will continue to be pressured about its nuclear program. Miracles happen; maybe Iran will do a nuclear U-turn. Maybe internal political strife will bring the collapse of Ahmadinejad’s regime and bring someone with a semblance of sanity to power. Maybe the world will grow sick and tired of Iran’s nuclear enrichment and unite behind a military strike.
Yes, the cost of waiting could be great. If Iran installs S-300s, an air strike would be quite difficult. But until Israel has the backing of the rest of the world, the cost of an aerial attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities has the potential to be far greater, both for Israel and for the rest of the world.
Ryan Normandin is a member of the Class of 2013.