Yesterday, during an anti-Israel rally in Teheran, election-hijacking Grand Panjandrum Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated baldly that Israel, otherwise known as the “disgraceful blot,” must be summarily “wiped off the face of the earth.” This sentiment, while startling, is hardly unprecedented: five years ago, then-President of Iran Hashemi Rafsanjani implored any Muslim nation with nuclear capability to hurry up and annihilate the Zionist scourge. The difference, of course, is that Iran is now very close to achieving its own nuclear ambitions.
Ahmadinejad claims that my family and I will only be vaporized if Israel has the temerity to preemptively attack Iran’s nuclear targets. He thus introduces a logical inconsistency into his argument. Either we are a vile cancer that must be lanced to reinstate the purity of Islamic lands — a colonialist, imperialist, Crusader-loving, Muslim-bashing tool of the American Satan that must be exterminated for the sake of pan-Islamic honor — or not. It confuses us Israelis, most of whom are pretty thoroughly convinced that Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric about us is entirely honest, to be told that if we just sit quietly and let him get on with enriching all that uranium, we’ll be fine.
Well, it shouldn’t. Does Iran have nuclear weapons aspirations, notwithstanding its signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and protestations of peaceable intentions? Of course it does. (You can’t annihilate Zionist Entities with power stations.) Does the current Iranian administration contemplate, with a warm glow of satisfaction, the picture of an Arab world applauding Teheran for finally giving the Jews what they deserve? You bet. Does that administration balk at the thought of the destruction such an attack on Israel would provoke against its own cities?
Ah — now here we get to the interesting part. I believe that they do not. To my mind, the safer assumption is that although the Iranians are Shia and are thus spiritually distant from the Wahhabi, they have internalized a militant Wahhabist (read: Al-Qaedaesque) interpretation of Islam, which helpfully dictates that a Muslim who dies in the crossfire while Jews (or Americans, or infidels of any stripe) are being slaughtered gets right on the fast train to Paradise. They are honorary shaheeds, as it were. Wahhabist Islam — an extremely puritanical offshoot of Sunni tradition — also classifies fellow Muslims who refuse to fall in line with their interpretation of the Koran as non-believers and therefore killable, a distinction that might ultimately prove useful to the emphatically hard-line Iranian leadership. There is mounting evidence that the Iranians have overcome any squeamishness they might have had about cooperating with Sunnis for the sake of a common goal — they are, for example, providing infrared-triggered roadside bombs to Sunni “insurgents” in Iraq that are aimed at killing coalition soldiers. There it is again, that tiresome cliche: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The image of a black, smoking hole where Teheran used to be does not fill men like Ahmadinejad with trepidation — quite the contrary, I imagine. He will have ushered many thousands of deserving Muslims to their just reward, he will have put an end once and for all to the catastrophic historical mistake that was the State of Israel, and he will have ascended to an unprecedented level of pan-Islamic leadership — a highly pleasing state of affairs he will have ample opportunity to enjoy from his bunker in Mash’had, which, conveniently, is 1,000 kilometers from Teheran. I believe it is entirely specious to count on Muslim discomfort with havoc wreaked on other Muslims as a guard against a potentially catastrophic nuclear provocation. As Professor Salim Mansur puts it in a piece for the Center for Security Policy,
More Muslims have been killed by Muslims, more Muslims continue to be victimized by Muslims, and more Muslims are in danger of dying at the hands of Muslims than non-Muslims…
He cites a long list of examples:
…the actions of the military government of Pakistan against the people of former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971. This was a politically catastrophic event of genocidal proportions in the modern history of the Muslim world…the execution of an elected president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1979…the killing of Anwar Sadat; the repression of Palestinians inside Jordan in 1970-71; the sectarian strife in Lebanon during the 1970s; the seizure of the holy mosque in Mecca in 1979 and the violence that followed; the violence in Iran since 1979 between followers and opponents of the late Ayatollah Khomeini; the nearly decade-long Iran-Iraq war; the civil war inside Syria culminating in the Hama uprising of 1982 and its severe repression by Hafez Asad; the civil war in Algeria since at least early 1992; the unsettled situation in Afghanistan following the brutal rule of the Talibans. And then there is the case of Iraq.
True, these are primarily cases of active repression of Muslims by other Muslims rather than the creation of Muslim collateral damage by other Muslims, but I consider that a distinction without a difference. As Mansur notes, Muslims have not hesitated to splatter the entrails of Muslim children on the streets of Iraq along with those of American soldiers.
We cannot accuse Iran of concealing its intentions. Ahmadinejad is busy assisting chinless ophthamologist and international pariah Bashar al-Assad in constructing an “innovative” (yikes!) chemical warfare program, obviously intended to be directed at us. Iran is widely known to be a longtime sponsor of Hezbollah as well as a colorful variety of Palestinian terrorist groups. (Recall the Karine A, for example — the ship full of Iranian arms that Arafat, Israel’s late and lamented partner for peace, tried to dock at Gaza in 2002.) Iran also recently unveiled the now-operational Shahab-3 ballistic missile, which is capable of reaching my living room. Chemical weapons, shiploads of rocket launchers and long-range missiles have their charms, certainly, but they are very small potatoes to people who dream of towering over a new Arab world order. An Iranian nuke is only a matter of time.
So what are our options? In 1981, Israel obliterated Saddam Hussein’s French-built Osirak nuclear reactor (in a minute and a half, by the way, after flying 700 miles through Saudi and Jordanian airspace during daylight. Notwithstanding the universal condemnation expressed toward Israel for this disgraceful act, you could hear the sighs of relief echoing across the Arab capitals.) Although I expect all kinds of unlikely people are hoping we’ll take care of the Iranian threat in a similar way, I don’t think we can. For one thing, Iran is thought to have at least a couple of dozen nuclear facilities dotted all over the country. Some of them, reflecting what I believe to be the ruling cabal’s degree of concern for the welfare of the citizenry, are located in major population centers. An Israeli attack simply could not be surgically effective in the way the Osirak attack was, and it would provoke a devastating counterattack for which Saddam, with his single reactor, was not capable at the time.
The only option, unfortunately, is to wait for a provocation from Iran. Should such a provocation materialize, I don’t think Israel would hold back. Needless to say, I’m not in a position to say what Israel would consider to be a sufficient nuclear cassus belli. But I’d pay close attention to that chemical weapons program in Damascus. Iran is doing its best to ensure we all know who is behind it. If sarin gas devastates the population of Tel Aviv, I’d get the hell out of Teheran.