In the test of wills between the West and Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shows no sign of backing down.
The Iranian president has said Israel should be “wiped off the map,” called the Holocaust a “myth,” and said Israelis should be given a province in Austria, but they should get out of Palestine. Whatever was done to the Jews, said Ahmadinejad, we didn’t do it. Europeans did. Why should we pay the price?
This weekend, The New York Times provided supporting testimony for Ahmadinejad, citing secret Cabinet notes of Winston Churchill’s in 1943:
“I’m committed to creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Let us go on with that; and at end of war we shall have plenty of force with which to compel the Arabs to acquiesce in our designs. Don’t shirk our duties because of difficulties ”
This weekend, Ahmadinejad was in Damascus, Syria, winning the backing of President Assad for Iran’s nuclear program, meeting with Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and scoffing at Israeli threats. Iran has also reasserted its right to enrich uranium for nuclear power.
This has caused much threatening talk in Israel and here. This weekend, Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman were again speaking of “military options” being “on the table.” And Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz went further, speaking directly to Iran’s president:
“I address you as someone who leads his country with an ideology of hate, terror, and anti-Semitism. I suggest you look at history and see what happened to others who tried to wipe out the Jewish people. Israel is not prepared to accept the nuclear arming of Iran, and it must prepare to defend itself, with all that implies.”
But Ahmadinejad is not backing off. And his provocative rhetoric has paid off. He has strengthened his position at home and made himself the toast of the Muslim street. And panic over a possible war sent the Dow plunging 200 points last Friday, wiping out $200 billion in U.S. shareholders’ equity, a loss almost equal to the cost of the Iraq war.
And with the price of a barrel of oil spiking $10 to near $70, Iran, which exports 2.5 million barrels daily, has seen revenues rise $25 million a day. Other oil-producing nations, like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, also are reaping windfall profits.
The jolts to the Dow and NASDAQ, and Tehran’s warnings that sanctions could be met with an oil embargo that could send prices to $100 a barrel, seem to have caused second thoughts in the Bush camp about the wisdom of a confrontation.
In a week, the International Atomic Energy Agency will decide whether to send Iran to the Security Council. But as there is no hard evidence Iran is building weapons or is even in noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Russia may oppose sanctions and China may veto them.
As for the military option, no one knows what U.S. air strikes might produce. Possibilities include tens of thousands of Iranian volunteers streaming into Iraq to attack U.S. troops, Iran’s inciting of the Shia south to rise against us, an oil embargo, Silkworm missiles fired at tankers, the closing of the Straits of Hormuz with mines, and terror attacks on U.S. allies and installations across the Middle East driving the price of oil to $200 a barrel.
With 160,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. strikes, which could kill hundreds of Iranians and silence the pro-American voices there, uniting Iran behind Ahmadinejad, would seem an option that could cost us everything. Can we really afford another war, against a nation three times as populous and four times as large as Iraq?
Bush and Cheney seem aware of the risks of the “military option.” But if they rule it out, they will see a bad moon rising on the Right. Not only will the neoconservatives howl, Israelis will see themselves as the odd man out, if Bush should move to negotiations with Tehran, which is the only real alternative to confrontation.
If America does not strike, Mofaz is saying, Israel will. Yet, as that could produce the same results as an American attack, without the same assurance of success, Bush may have to restrain Israel, if he does not want a wider war.
In short, if Bush does not confront Iran on the nuclear issue with sanctions or air strikes, he may find himself confronted by Israelis and their U.S. auxiliaries. Hearken to Hillary Clinton:
“I don’t believe you face threats like Iran and North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines. But let’s be clear about the threat we face now: A nuclear Iran is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond.”
Hillary is saying that if George Bush does not confront Iran, he is open to the charge of leaving Israel to face a nuclear attack by a regime that has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Political hardball.
Over to you, Mr. President.