If I was Mr Ahmadinejad, which thankfully I am not, I would probably be laughing my socks off at the debate in Western capitals over my plans to spread nuclear mayhem through the Middle East and beyond. I have no way of knowing if he planned it this way, but he couldn’t have wished for a better outcome to his atomic posturing. The issue has dominated official western thinking on Iran to the point of freezing its response to current events there. Over to you Mr Dinner Jacket to finish the job you started.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the hints from Joe Biden and threatening stories in British newspapers about an Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities should remain what I hope they are – rather crude (and pretty fruitless) attempts to rattle Iran’s cage. An actual strike on Iran’s facilities would be a monumental folly: it would entrench the current regime to the nth degree (uniting the nation against the foreign aggressor – and a Jewish one at that), ruin any hope of reformers ever turning the country towards democracy, and achieve no more than a delay in Iran’s acquisition of the bomb. Indeed, if the Iranians are really bent on acquiring it now, as opposed to making a huge song and dance about it – and there have to some doubts about that – you can bet your last dollar/euro/pound/shekel they will redouble their efforts after any such attack. And this time they might really want to use it, rather than wave it about as a geopolitical virility symbol.
Whenever I hear someone joining the “Islamic bomb” debate I instantly start hearing echoes of ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Remember them? The ones they never found in Iraq? I find it interesting that the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency – his name is Yukiya Amano and he comes from Japan – says there is nothing in the agency’s documents to suggest Iran is even thinking about developing nuclear weapons, let alone actually doing it. And this is besides the central argument about the rights and wrongs of Iran having a nuclear arsenal in any case. Israel has it, Pakistan has it. The Indians got the diplomatic equivalent of a pat on the back from the Americans when they got it. So what is wrong with the most strategically important country in that particular area acquiring it? One doesn’t have to be a fan of nuclear proliferation to see the logic of Iran’s case. The answer is plain: it is who is supposedly trying to get it that is the key, a regime that has sworn to wipe Israel off the face of the map. But the answer is not to launch military strikes against that regime. That would simply make matters worse. The answer is to do whatever can be done to help change that regime. That might not amount to a whole lot at the moment, but at the very least the Americans and their allies shouldn’t even dream of holding talks with the current regime under the nuclear pretext.
The frustration of Iranians over the Western obsession with the nuclear issue is evident from the fascinating interview by Der Spiegel with Ayatollah Mohsen Kadivar, the Iranian theologian and philosopher who was once part of the regime, but was eventually imprisoned and forced into exile after becoming one of its strongest critics. “Blood is flowing in our streets and you keep asking me about nuclear energy,” he retorts.
“Whoever at this point in time moves the nuclear question to the forefront will not find an open ear in Iran. If the nuclear bomb is evil, then it is evil everywhere – not only in those countries that oppose US policy. It is a double standard policy.”
And what, he is asked, would happen if Israel or the US attacked Iran’s nuclear sites now. “That would be in contempt of all moral values. The Iranians would take up resistance, and they would do it together, regardless of political disposition and religion.”
So please guys, keep those planes at home.