Monday, May 25, 2009

Why is Iran Behaving So Provocatively Towards Israel?

My feel is that Iran has not been acting especially provocatively towards Israel. My take is that from the Iranian point of view, Iran has been taking reasonable positions that are being deliberately stretched and distorted by Israel and friends of Israel for their own political reasons.

There is the "wiped off the map". Which is famous by now. Iran does not consider Zionist Israel a legitimate state as it did not consider Apartheid South Africa a legitimate state. He gave examples of other regimes that no longer exist the way Israel's Zionist regime will no longer exist according to him. His examples were the USSR, Saddam's regime and the Shah's regime. There was nothing genocidal in that statement. The idea of Ahmadinejad making a threat against the Jewish people or people of Israel really was not a reasonable interpretation of the speech. The actual speech was not provocative, beyond the fact that government of Iran and the vast majority of its citizens do not consider Israel legitimate (pretty standard for the region, even if a lot of rulers part with their subjects under Western pressure).

On the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad has only ever made two points, 1 is that it occurred in Europe and Palestinians should not pay for it and 2 the story has a privileged status, to the degree that people in the West are imprisoned for expressing doubts about the official story. He's never asserted that a certain number of people died or didn't die. Far less has he ever expressed sympathy or support for Hitler, to whom he has referred as "that criminal" or the Nazi party.

Most important is the nuclear program. Iran believes it has the right to the nuclear status Japan has. Japan does not have a weapon today, or a weapons program today, but if Japan's strategic environment was to change in some unforeseen way in the future, Japan has the right to leave the treaty and make a weapon if it perceives the need. This right of Japan is not in any way abrogated by the NPT.

The United States, following Israel, has adopted the position that Iran must not have nuclear enrichment under its domestic control. This position is very unreasonable at least by the terms of the NPT. From there the situation becomes weird.

The United States and Israel often deliberately conflate what they call a nuclear "capability", which is legal, with a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu recently said there would be a great dangers if Iran "arms itself with a nuclear weapons capability".

Nobody closely following the issue is confused but Israel's people could be forgiven for being fooled by their leaders into thinking enrichment is a weapon. But this is not "ambiguity" on Iran's part. It is dishonesty on the part of US and Israeli leaders.

US and Israeli leaders often use phrases such as "we are confident Iran wants a weapon or at least the capability to create one if it decides to". That "or" is carrying a lot of weight, because one side of the disjunction is prohibited by the NPT as long as Iran remains a signatory, while the other is perfectly legal.

What is happening, the source of the perceived ambiguity, is that in order to maximize pressure on Iran to renounce a legal right, US and Israeli leaders are often deliberately conflating it with a weapon. This is not Iran's fault.

When US Admiral Mullen recently said the believes Iran is trying to build a weapon maybe he meant he has information that nobody else knows about that Iran actually has a weapons program. But maybe by "weapon" he means "weapons capability". US and Israeli policymakers, deliberately attempting to mislead, use these vastly different concepts so interchangeably that it is never clear anymore what they mean. And they are never questioned closely on it.

Lastly, still about the nuclear program, Iran likely calculates that Israel cannot bomb Iran's program without US permission and the US will not give permission.

So regardless of any hysteria Israel's leaders whip Israel's people into, without the US on board, this is nothing more than a bluff, possibly to scare the Europeans into adopting sanctions.

If the US was willing to allow Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear plants, the US would do it itself, the US has more planes and cruise missiles closer than Israel has, and the blowback from a US or Israeli attack on the US would be the same.

If Israel doubted the US would shoot Israeli jets out of the sky attempting to bomb Iran without permission, Israel would have already bombed Iran.

So for those reasons, the nuclear issue seems like a higher-stakes, more risky endeavor in Tel-Aviv than it does in Tehran.

Iran's nuclear behavior, from Iran's point of view, is not only not provocative, but a reasonable position in a dispute that would have been resolved in 2004 if the US was willing to accept Iranian domestic enrichment under an inspection regime as stringent as anybody wants. The US position has never been for a more stringent inspection regime, but for Iran not to be "nuclear capable" in the way Japan is. Iran does not consider itself any more provocative than Japan or Brazil.


Steve said...

"He's never asserted that a certain number of people died or didn't die. "

This is a untrue statement that even Al Jazeera disagrees with.

Ahmadinejad is nothing but a political opportunist who knows that he can't hold his struggling country together without having an external bogeyman. Following the tradition of such leaders in both Europe and the Middle East, he has chosen the Jews.

I have said for years that Israel should just do a fly over of Tehran and other major cities and drop leaflets to let the people there know definitively that nuclear adventurism comes with a heavy price of retaliation.

Finally the difference between Japan deciding to build nuclear weapons and Iran deciding to build nuclear weapons is one of intent to use for non-defensive purposes and their existence in otherwise stable or unstable societies. If Japan were to start a nuclear weapon building campaign while talking about wiping Korea (or wherever) off the map, you could expect a huge outcry just as Iran's intentions generate them. Iran's use of the Palestinian treatment is laughable since they have little other concern for Palestinians beyond their use as a pawn.

Arnold Evans said...

Not only in the links you point to, but this question has come up in every interview with a Western news source since, probably 15 or so and Ahmadinejad makes the two points mentioned in the original point.

He has also never made a negative statement about Jews as a people or religion, contra this accusation of scapegoating the Jews.

There actually is no nuclear adventurism. There certainly is no nuclear weapons program or nuclear material diverted from peaceful to weapons uses.

There is no difference between Iran or Japan according to the NPT which provides that countries have access to technology without discrimination.

But thanks for the links.

Ziad said...

As far as the NPT is concerned, there is indeed no difference between one signatory and another. If someone "likes" Japan more than Iran, that's their business, but it has no weight in international law. The very principle than Iran is holding forth is that the U.S./Europe/Israel are not entitled to decide which nations may posses advanced technology and which may not.

And yet, so long as those nations feel they have the brute force to make that decision, they will. What is at issue here is that the required force to compel Iran to give up its rights really is not available at a practical cost and so they huff and puff.

More at issue is that once Iran becomes nuclear **capable**, threats against it will have to stop as they may provoke Iran into turning the last screw and fully nuking up. If Israel continues to make threats, Iran may simply issue a warning that it may 'reconsider' its NPT commitments and likely Europe/U.S. will insist Israel shut up.

Indeed, the world may even lift sanctions just to prevent that, which would probably be Israel's greatest fear as an unsanctioned Iran would quickly become the Middle East's strongest power. Israel, in its present form, would have a hard time being viewed as the second strongest power.