Sunday, May 26, 2013

From Arab Spring to Islamic Winter

Here is an excerpt, by permission from the author, from the soon to be published book From Arab Spring to Islamic Winter by Raphael Israeli, Professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Chapter 8, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Shi’ite Model,  page 233:

During the Cold War, MAD (mutually assured destruction) was the key to deterrence between the nuclear powers, who understood that since each had the capacity to destroy the others many times over, none of them would dare to initiate an attack. The assumption was that the actors in both parts of the equation were rational and out fear of bringing disaster upon their peoples and countries would certainly refrain from precipitating a nuclear conflict. For that reason, paradoxically, it was the presence of the ultimate weapons that assured they would not be used. But in Iran, the situation may be totally different. We know from Ahmadinejad’s past in the Basij militia that he is a fanatic believer of the imminent return of the imam to earth, something that he had prepared for as a mayor of Tehran, when he ordered the widening of the main avenues of the city to absorb all the millions who would flock to the streets to watch the return of the Hidden One. He also said that, when speaking to the UN General Assembly as president of Iran, he could feel the aura of the imam hovering over him and inspiring his speech. Since in Shi’ite eschatology the imam would choose to return, after a millennium of hiding, at precisely the worst moment of misery, injustice and oppression—what in other eschatologies are called the “pangs of the Messiah”—precipitating his return by an extreme and desperate tour de force, like using nuclear arms, could be thought the best and most feasible avenue by mad rulers who do not subscribe to the MAD theory. In other words, in the minds of irrational leaders, whose considerations and reasoning are obscured by religious fanaticism, mutual deterrence would not simply work.

Why would the Iranians wish to attack, and whom? Usually, when leaders concoct a plan of attack, they keep mute about it for the sake of the surprise effect, and they even try to create a reverse impression that they harbor no aggressive intent toward their victim. Ahmadinejad, since his advent to power, did not stop proclaiming his ambition to destroy Israel; to put an end to Zionism, which is another wording for the same; to deny the Holocaust; to instigate and dispatch terrorists against Israel and Jewish targets; to convene international conferences about Holocaust denial; to address the United Nations about his mad plan; to finance and instigate Hamas and Hizbullah against Israel; and to convene and host annual meetings of Islamic Terrorism International in his capital. On the contrary. Is anything else needed to prove his intentions, and to see to it that the lunatic man who was put at the helm of Iran must not possess nuclear arms? His intent against another member state of the UN is clearly aggressive. Instead of the nations and the secretary general initiating harsh reprisals by ejecting Iran from the UN until it repents, they on the contrary attend the conferences convened by UN bodies or under their auspices and listen courteously to Ahmadinejad’s convoluted speeches of nonsense and incitement at the UN headquarters. An attack of the sort threatened against Israel would be one of indiscriminate extermination and genocide, motivated by hate and fanaticism, while a preventive Israeli attack geared to preempt such a disaster would be directed only against the threatening nuclear installations of Iran, though collateral damage will unfortunately remain inevitable.

IDF chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, declared in an interview broadcast on Israel’s sixty-fourth Independence Day (May 2012) that “The IDF is ready to move against Iran the minute it receives the green light.” “The Iranians are determined to build a nuclear weapon while they continue to dupe the international community,” Minister of Defense Ehud Barak added the following day. These very fateful declarations were not gratuitous, for Israel’s leaders have been facing a series of existential questions: should Israel attack Iran or pursue the diplomatic track? When, if ever, is the right time to launch an attack? How should it be executed? How will Iran’s leaders react to an onslaught on their nuclear facilities? The most likely day-after scenario, as the international media sees it, is a devastating Iranian response based mainly, though not entirely, on its long-range missile arsenal. This attack would be coupled with terrorist strikes against Jewish and Israeli targets abroad, and backed by Hizbullah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, and perhaps Hamas, its agent in Gaza.

If Israel initiates a military strike, something that is not likely to pass without response, it will face an unprecedented security challenge. Similarly, the Iranians will be confronting Israel and the West for the first time. An attack against Iran would be far different than the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq or the air strike against the reactor in Syria because for Israel, the element of surprise is already gone with the Iranians putting their nation in a virtual state of preparedness.  We should assume that the regime in Tehran will make every effort to cause Israel such severe damage as to impute to itself the status of a regional power, for Iran cannot allow the campaign to end with it appearing ruined and humiliated. Iran will also seek to safeguard its nuclear project so that it can quickly resume operations if damaged. Those that believe Iran’s geographical distance from Israel will limit the Iranian response, and that it will consist mainly of long-range counter fire, fail to take into account the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis that enables Iran to bridge great distances, despite the current Syrian turmoil that has curtailed that capacity. The Syrian situation allowing, the Iranian Republican Guard ground forces could be deployed along Israel’s northern border and even engage the IDF in a protracted guerilla campaign on the frontlines.