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Understanding Iran

In times of deep crisis like this, it’s more important than ever to understand the thinking and priorities of one’s adversary, in this case Iran.  I don’t use “adversary” at all personally, but in the sense of that country being at odds with one major power in the region, Israel, and one major international power, the U.S.  Unfortunately, there have been lots of garbage published about Iran’s motivations, much of it in the Israeli press and a good deal in the U.S. press as well.  But fortunately, there has been much clear-eyed analysis as well.

The NY Times and Haaretz have published a number of stories purporting to analyze what Iran might or might not do if attacked.  They’ve also attempted to read the tea leaves concerning the terror attacks over the past week in Georgia, India and Thailand.  These reports reveal little about Iranian thinking and much about the limited perspectives of the reporters and policymakers whose views they represent.  To take a case in point, Scott Shane and Robert Worth published a story titled, Frantic Actions Hint at Pressure on Iran Leaders (which was toned down in the online version to Aggressive Actions…) that claimed that the terror attacks attributed by many to Iran are a sign of the desperation of the Ayatollahs.  Other Israeli reports have practically chortled at the “amateurishness” of the agents carrying them out.

Here’s an example of the Times’ breathless reporting which reveals little worthwhile either about Iranian motivation or behavior:

A string of aggressive gestures by Iran this week…suggest that Iranian leaders are responding frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the tightening of sanctions by the West.

This betrays a certain cluelessness in analyzing the behavior of nations.  When you’re attacked repeatedly by an enemy, why wouldn’t you respond as Iran has done?  Why would a reporter divorce himself as Shane and Worth do here from the context of the story, that is the prior Israeli attacks on Iran?  Iran looks frantic and unpredictable only if one views this week’s incidents divorced from that context.  And it is context which separates yellow journalism from good or great journalism.

They continue their narrative by claiming “the belligerent moves by Iran actually underscore [its] weakness.”  This is also the line of much Israeli (and again the Times here) reporting which dismisses the likelihood of any serious Iranian response to an Israeli attack by saying the leadership knows that it might be overthrown if it threw everything it had at Israel.  The Times reporters in their article fill in their portrait of a hapless, erratic Iran by dismissing any Iranian offer of talks as lacking substance:

…Most analysts doubt that Iran is ready to make a diplomatic overture that the West will take seriously.

They even postulate (attributing this “insight” to the proverbial “some analysts”) that irate statements by Ayatollah Khamenei against Israel (in which he called it a “cancerous tumor”) to his desire to “provoke a limited war with Israel. ”

There is one problem with this type of reporting which seeks to find the chinks in Iran’s armor.  It will look very smart until Iran carries out a successful terror attack.  Then it will look absolutely stupid.  Terror is a savage and unpredictable club.  It can be wielded effectively for a time and then a single disaster can make everything that came before look bad.  Or it can fail abysmally until it doesn’t.  Israeli leaders are crowing like roosters at their partnership with MEK and the rows of corpses of dead generals and nuclear scientists it has produced.  But what happens the first time Israel stumbles (remember the mess Meir Dagan made by assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabouh in Dubai?) or worse?

Iran has failed in many of these attacks it purportedly carried out this week.  But what happens if it topples an Israeli embassy in some country?  Then we’re likely to have a full-scale war.  This may or may not be what Israel or the U.S. had in mind before they launched their covert campaign against Iran.  But after lightning strikes in the form of a massive terror incident it won’t matter what we thought would happen.  By then we’ll be sucked into a military escalation that will likely spiral out of control.

chinese nuclear test

What can we learn from an earlier historical threat posed by a nuclear China?

Barack Obama ought to ask himself if this is what he wants his foreign policy to look like going into a presidential election?  A protracted war against Iran fought on behalf of Israel.

Now, let’s turn our attention to some damn fine journalism.  I haven’t read anything this good about Iran in weeks, if not months.  Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor writes about the day after Iran gains nuclear capability.  Will the sky fall?  Will the Shahab 3′s be flying toward Tel Aviv?  Or will something different and more complex happen?

He notes the historical parallels to China in the 1960s.  At that time, Mao Zedong issued regular bellicose threats concerning China’s nuclear intentions and its ability to withstand a nuclear war.  They would make any statement by Khamenei look like a school boy’s taunts in comparison:

“China in the 1960s was viewed, at least in the US, as a crazy state – certainly no saner, no more stable, no more understanding of the world than Iran is today, so in a sense we’ve been through this,” says Robert Jervis, a professor of international politics at Columbia University…

As with Barack Obama today, Lyndon Johnson was similarly challenged as to how the U.S. should respond.  There were American generals who proposed bombing Chinese nuclear facilities to prevent it getting a bomb.  But LBJ wisely demurred.  China got the bomb and the skies didn’t fall.  But it could’ve gone either way:

“No country in the post-World War II period – not Iraq, Iran, or even North Korea – has given US policymakers more reason to fear its nuclearization than China.”

In addition, we should add that China, unlike Iran, didn’t pursue an opaque nuclear policy.  It pursued a nuclear program as fast it could that led directly to nuclear breakout and a sizable nuclear arsenal.  Iran’s program couldn’t be more different.  Even Gen. James Clapper in recent Congressional testimony confirmed Iran had not yet determined whether to create a nuclear weapon.  Many analysts don’t believe it will ever do so unless it faces an existential threat or crisis which convinces it to go through the final steps that would be necessary to produce a device.

Returning to the China historical analogy, how might we expect Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon to affect its overall approach to its neighbors?  Most analysts believe that China’s behavior after it got the bomb became more mature and reasoned than it had been before nuclear breakout:

“Nuclear weapons did not make China more hostile. If anything, its foreign policies became less aggressive and more mature over time,” noted Dr. [Francis] Gavin [of the University of Texas]. “Nuclear weapons could make Iran more aggressive. Or, as with China, they could provide international legitimacy and security, making Iran less aggressive than it has been.”

One of the other revelations of Peterson’s article is his interview with one of Israel’s most eminent military historians, Martin Van Creveld, who dismisses the notion that the day after Iran gets a bomb it will pose an existential threat to Israel:

“Absolutely nothing will happen,” says Van Creveld…”Israel has what it takes to deter Iran, and the Iranians know it.”

Mr. Van Creveld is implying that Israel’s own nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 warheads would prevent any Iranian first strike. Israel has the only such arsenal in the Middle East, and – unlike Iran’s program – it has never been subject to UN inspection or safeguards.

“Say they build one bomb – it’s not good enough. They need how many – 2, 3, 5, 10, 20? And that will take them a long time, so it’s all nonsense,” says Van Creveld. Iran is “not going to commit suicide by dropping the bomb – or even threatening to drop the bomb – on us.”

The Israeli historian then compares this dread of an Iranian nuclear weapon to historic hysteria here in the U.S. regarding other imminent nuclear states:

“Over the years [the Americans] developed a whole theology of fear about other countries acquiring nuclear weapons,” says Van Creveld, the Israeli historian. “First was the Soviet Union, which we all know was hegemonic and expansionistic and Marxist and Godless, and they didn’t like apple pie,” he says. “Then it was against…France, for…reasons linked with NATO. Then it was Mao Zedong who was going to blow up the world, and then it was us [Israelis] though they never said so publicly. Then India …All these thousands and thousands of [nuclear] warnings which have been issued since 1949, and none … ever came true.”

So the world has two choices: it can lose its head and lapse into war; or it can keep its cool and figure out how to address a nuclear Iran in a sensible, pragmatic way as Lyndon Johnson did after China got its weapon in 1964.  It’s a mark of the decline in the quality of leadership throughout the world that we don’t have faith that Barack Obama can conduct as sensible a policy as Johnson did.

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{ 69 comments… add one }

  • Denis February 17, 2012, 7:41 AM

    My guess is that Obama & Co. are pretty well in agreement with you and are doing everything possible to avert any attack on Iran’s nuke sites.

    The China analogy breaks down in that the unique problem Obama has is what to do if Israel instigates a conflagration. There were no rabid Zionists dogs yapping at China in Johnson’s day the way Bibi is yapping at Iran.

    If fact in the 60′s — after the end of the Franco-Israeli nuclear love affair — Israel, China, and S. Africa were all working together to develop the bomb.

    Many of us who visit this site regularly would certainly agree that the wildcard here — and the real threat — is not Iran. It’s Israel. Consequently, the core problem is how to contain Israel. Israel and it’s bag of phobias is more of a threat to world peace than Iran is. Always has been.

    • weindeb February 18, 2012, 7:15 AM

      Most sadly so that Israel is the real threat even though we, too, are an extremely militarized nation both psychologically and physically.

  • Amir G February 17, 2012, 7:48 AM

    In the past you stated many times that there are no evidence Iran was developing nuclear weapons. But in your closing statement you say :”or it can keep its cool and figure out how to address a nuclear Iran in a sensible”, My questions is would you support “allowing” the Iranians to develop nuclear weapons if the price in stopping it would have been a regional war ?

    also could you please expend on why the Iranians are enriching to 20% ? This is unclear and unjustified as civilian effort require 3% effort.

    Just bare in mind that while the US may have it’s own perspective on the matter, based on it’s location size and other factors, Israel may posses another.

    • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2012, 6:07 PM

      I have no strong opinion 1 way or the other about what Iran is doing but my impression is that it is pursuing research & development that would allow it to put together a weapon on short notice but that it will not create such a weapon unless under severe existential threat. No war is worthwhile on account of Iran’s actions in this matter just as no war was worthwhile to stop China’s program in 1964.

    • Amir asks a question February 18, 2012, 3:27 AM

      “also could you please expend on why the Iranians are enriching to 20% ?”

      Iran has a medical research reactor in Tehran that makes medical isotopes for (among other things) cancer treatment.

      Medical isotopes can not be imported nor stored because of their very short half-life i.e. they must be made on the spot, and once made they must be used immediately.

      That Iranian reactor uses 20% enriched uranium, which CAN be imported from overseas and CAN be stored for future use in that reactor.

      But nobody will sell them any. And the last supplier reneged on the contract, causing A Lot Of Iranians to die of cancer.

      So, in short: if Iran doesn’t want to see its cancer suffers die then it needs 20% uranium for that reactor, and in this current climate the only way it can get any is to make it themselves.

      Which they do.

      Is that clear enough?

    • Duglarri February 19, 2012, 10:25 PM

      …if the price of stoppig it is a regional war…
      The real tragedy is that there is no way of stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons- if it chooses to- by bombing. The Israelis talk about bombing now, and then again in three years if necessary- but of course, if they bomb now, there is every reason to believe (1) the Iranians will kick out the IAEA and do what they are not doing now, that is to say, move as fast as they can to actually build a bomb, and (2) they will move all production into virtually invulnerable underground locations like QOM, and (3) the Russians will almost certainly, finally, sell them the S-400 missile systems that will make any future attack impossible, even for the US.

      There is no regional war that is the price for stopping an Iranian bomb. There’s only a regional war to guarantee an unstoppable bomb in a few years time.

  • lifelong February 17, 2012, 11:23 AM

    Good read, thank you.

  • PersianAdvocate February 17, 2012, 12:16 PM

    Part of understanding Iran is realizing that Iran’s government is comprised of political chess players who will never so absurdly shoot themselves in the foot as send terrorists somewhere with passports in hand to make it as obvious as possible. But hey, tit for tat is a good context too (for war).

  • yarony February 17, 2012, 3:47 PM

    When the Iranians claim (for the past 30 years!) that their aim is to remove the Zionist cancer, and they seem to do it step by step (supporting resistance groups, promoting antisemitism. denying holocaust), having a nuclear umbrella will only make their and their proxies action immune to response.
    So no; the bomb won’t fall from the sky, but they will gain much more confidence in launching other attacks on Israel.

    • Gil February 17, 2012, 4:43 PM

      The Iranians probably have enough chemical and biological weapons to decimate Tel Aviv this very evening if they wanted to take the risk. Why haven’t they? Why wait for this one nuclear bomb? How will an “umbrella” of 1 or 2 bombs will be any worse than thousands of missiles with chemical and biological warheads?

      And why isn’t it legitimate for them to call for an end to Zionism while israel openly calls on Iranian citizens to overthrow their regime?

      • yarony February 17, 2012, 6:33 PM

        I have no idea how exactly prestige works in international relationship, but take a look at how much more bold and erratic north korea became after it became known it had nukes (although even before it had enough even conventional fire power to destroy seoul).

        And why isn’t it legitimate for them to call for an end to Zionism while israel openly calls on Iranian citizens to overthrow their regime? – you are misplacing cause and effect. Homeini 30+ years ago called for destruction of Israel.

        • Richard Silverstein February 18, 2012, 2:09 AM

          No, Khomeini didn’t call the for the destruction of Israel. This is about the 80th time someone’s made this false claim. Don’t make it again. It’s false.

          • Bob Mann February 18, 2012, 5:52 AM

            What is the implication of calling Israel a “cancerous tumor” as you cite him doing in your post?

            If one recognizes that one has a cancerous tumor, isn’t the next step to do everything in one’s power to eradicate said tumor?

          • Richard Silverstein February 18, 2012, 2:31 PM

            If I tell you you have a cancerous tumor do you expect the next thing I’m going to do is take out my scalpel & operate on you?

          • yarony February 18, 2012, 9:48 AM

            Are you sure?
            Khomeini is quoted as saying
            ‘this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time’
            http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/weekinreview/11bronner.html?ex=1307678400&en=efa2bd266224e880&ei=5088
            and from the beginning of the revolution the crowds were shouting ‘death to israel’.
            This sounds close enough.

          • Richard Silverstein February 18, 2012, 2:47 PM

            First, he said the “Jerusalem regime ” would fade from the pages of time. That’s not the same as Israel, nor is it the same as saying Iran will destroy Israel. As for what Iranian crowds shout, lots of crowds around the world shout all sorts of slogans. That doesn’t implicate the leadership. No Iranian leader has ever said Iran would destroy Israel.

            As I’ve said repeatedly the level of hatred on both sides is equal. Iran has no monopoly on hating Israel.

          • Bob Mann February 18, 2012, 4:22 PM

            You wrote:

            “If I tell you you have a cancerous tumor do you expect the next thing I’m going to do is take out my scalpel & operate on you?”

            However, the full context of Khamenei’s reference to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” does, in fact, include exactly that.

            He said Israel is a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut”.

          • Richard Silverstein February 19, 2012, 1:28 AM

            If I tell you that you have a cancerous tumor & tell you someone should operate on you to remove it do you expect that the next thing I’ll do is take out a scalpel & operate? Of course you don’t.

          • Bob Mann February 18, 2012, 4:34 PM

            With respect to your comment about the use of the phrase “Jerusalem Regime” not being the same as “Israel” – I would point out that he uses euphemisms such as “the regime occupying Jerusalem” or “the Zionist regime” or other similar phrases and never the actual name “Israel” which he does not recognize.

            The Iranian Press TV website (and the IRNA) puts Israel in parentheses when an Iranian leader uses one of those terms. Here is an example:

            “President Ahmadinejad said on Sunday that nations can get rid of “the infected tumor of the Zionist regime (Israel)” through mobilizing their beliefs and ideals, IRNA reported.”

            That same article includes:

            He expressed hope this year’s Quds Day rallies lead to “the elimination of the Zionist regime and freedom of mankind from evils.”

            What exactly do you think these Iranian leaders are communicating in terms of these various references to a cancerous tumor and eliminating the Zionist regime?

          • Richard Silverstein February 19, 2012, 1:30 AM

            They’re communicating about the same thing as Bibi & his anti=Iran zealots when they rave about the “mad Mullahs” and Iranian “death cult.” There’s no difference bet. them.

          • PersianAdvocate February 18, 2012, 11:20 PM

            Bob,

            What’s the implication of Israel threatening to use tactical nukes on Iran over live television? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNE2II-S9Ag

            While you’re thinking up excuses, apply them to Iran, and then also, realize that Iran has the second largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel and they are also the oldest diaspora population in the world, with Iran for 2000+ years (since freeing the Cohenites from the Babylonians).

            You also are under some illusion that Iran’s government has no checks and balances. After the 2009 unrest, what you didn’t hear was that the morality apparatus was loosened greatly. Why? There are limits to how far you can push a people before they realize there is no option but a violent revolution. The Iranian government would face the same kind of internal trouble if it was found to have an illegal nuclear program. Iranians support the program because it is transparent and perfectly legal. Otherwise, if the Iranian government were to give legitimate reason for outside invasion by way of their premeditated action, the Iranians would tear them to bits. However, an outside attack (unjustified) would band all Iranians behind the government.

            In any case, no serious analyst of any merit would repeat the lie that Iran wants to attack Israel, but you are entitled to your opinion as well.

          • Yarony needs to compare and contrast February 19, 2012, 2:36 AM

            Khomeini: “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”

            Reagan: “the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history”

            yarony: “This sounds close enough.”

            Ahem. Compare and contrast.

            Khomeini’s words sound far, far closer to Reagan’s Evil Empire rhetoric than it does to any hasbarah nonsense about wanting to “wipe Israel off the map”.

            How inconvenient, heh?

        • Gil February 18, 2012, 12:08 PM

          If we’re going to cause and effect, I’m not sure its completely misplaced. Ever heard of the “Iranian Coup”, The USA and UK backed revolution in 53? Of the “Savak”, the brutal secret police known for torturing Iranians opposing the regime? Our own Mossad, so it appears, had trained and supplied this organization, helping it kill its own people. Is it such a big surprise that after this regime of terror was overthrown (in favor of yet another regime of terror, but thats a different matter) those who replaced it harbored some ill feelings towards Israel?

          How would the citizens of Israel view a country that supported a totalitarian regime installed over them by external powers, and trained its secret service to more efficiently torture and kill us Israelis?

          • David February 18, 2012, 12:24 PM

            Israel was intimate and close with the Shah’s regime and there was much interaction and trade between the states. Israelis loved the nightlife in Tehran, as I understand it. Iran only became demonized in Israel after the Revolution and the puritanism that came with it.

            Iran is anti-Israel just as it is anti-US, both states being militarist and expansionist in terms of influence. The US engineered the Shah’s oriiginal coup in the first place. I don’t blame Iranians for their anti-Israel, anti-American passion.

          • Richard Silverstein February 18, 2012, 3:01 PM

            Excellent point.

          • PersianAdvocate February 19, 2012, 12:41 PM

            Gil, you bring up thoughtful questions. I hope more people place themselves in Iranian shoes for a moment and wonder if there is another way.

    • yarony makes a wild accusation February 18, 2012, 3:36 AM

      “having a nuclear umbrella will only make their and their proxies action immune to response.”

      Why, exactly?

      Having a nuclear umbrella makes you immune to being nuked, but that’s about it.

      After all, the entire cold war was fought using proxies against either the USA (e.g. Vietnam War) or the USSR (ahem, Afghan rebels).

      Neither superpower held back against those proxies, except that they were restrained from nukin’ ‘em.

      They same thing would happen here e.g. if Hezbollah attacked Israel then the IDF would go at them will all guns blazing, and that would be true regardless of wether (or not) Nasrallah’s patron has nukes.

    • David February 18, 2012, 10:38 AM

      Sure, Iran will enjoy the same stability and assurance as Israel by virtue of nuclear arms. And it will use such comfort to push back more on Zionism and Zionist aggressiveness and expansion. This could lead to mutually assured destruction and hence stability and more equilibrium in the ME, like the Cold War that worked for decades. Yes, Israel would come under more pressure and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      Israel faces no countervailing force at this point and that is why it is in such trouble politically: Expedients adopted in a world of countervailing military force are now open-ended and face no opposition. Israeli’s rationalizing politics went rom “no choice” to “do whatever we want.”

      The US could stop Israel anytime it elects. A nuclear Iran would also put some caution into Israeli policies and practices and would be a good thing for everyone except racist Zionists.

      • Denis February 18, 2012, 6:12 PM

        @ David: “The US could stop Israel anytime it elects. A nuclear Iran would also put some caution into Israeli policies and practices and would be a good thing for everyone except racist Zionists.”

        You know, there’s no way to know until it happens, but I would have to take serious issue with this assertion.

        I do not believe at this point that even the US could force Israel to voluntarily give up its nukes, and the only way to make them give the nukes would be a nuke war.

        If US ever demanded a nuke-free Israel, Israel would turn on the US faster than a pet rattlesnake w/ a bad mood. Israel views its nukes as necessary for its existence — right or wrong, that pushes the whole issue into the realm of psychosis.

        Why do you think they call it “Armageddon,” sorry . . . “Har Megiddo?”

        • David February 19, 2012, 5:44 PM

          Your observations are probably correct. I intended only that the US could put pressure on Israel to change policies, to forego some its fantasies about itself and its place in the world. It would take political will and popular support in America, but I think it could be done. Such an assertion of power by the US would also decimate the “Israel Firsters” in the US and that too is surely a job worth doing.

          The presumed Israeli nuclear arsenal is not necessary to Israel’s survival and never was. It is truly emblematic of the whole distortion of ordinary thinking that Zionism has become. Israel had only to make some peace with its neighbors to survive without nukes. But it chose expansion and the destruction of Palestinians and Palestinian claims on the land instead. That choice placed Israel outside the bounds of the international community completely and what we see today is the endless tap-dancing that Israel has to do to make it seem as though it does not willfully steal other people’s land and property. This is the whole reason I am so opposed to Israeli policies and practices, i.e. that it made that wrong choice at the time of Rabin’s assasination. I think I could have lived with Israel inside pre-67 boundaries. I think.

  • Rafi February 18, 2012, 12:12 AM

    At first they said Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons, then they said Iran maybe, kind of does, now they are saying we should “have faith that Barack Obama can conduct as sensible a policy” addressing Iranian’s nukes, sure thing.

  • mary February 18, 2012, 5:59 AM

    I still think that both the US and Israel know damn well that Iran is nowhere near any nuclear weapons capability, but that the sword rattling and propaganda is a way to maintain instability in the middle east. There is also a very paranoid faction in Israel (let’s be honest, it’s the Likkud party) that feels a visceral existential threat every time Hizbullah, Hamas or Iran refuse to kowtow. At what point will Israel begin to feel safe, after it has managed to bomb to oblivion everyone in the region it is afraid of?

  • overlook February 18, 2012, 10:15 AM

    Sorry for being off-topic, but what is your take on the events going on in Syria?
    So far, there have been around 7000 reported dead, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. Iran and Hezbollah, by the way, are assisting Assad by sending forces to quell the pro-Democratic riots.

    • Richard Silverstein February 18, 2012, 2:58 PM

      There are reports of Iranian forces there. I’ve heard no reports about Hezbollah forces being there.

      I wrote a post a few weeks ago attacking Michael Weiss’ dreams of regime change & western intervention. The only solution that will work is for Muslim/Arab countries like Turkey or the Arab League to figure this out. For the west including Israel to muck around here would be a disaster.

    • Andy February 18, 2012, 9:41 PM

      Let us suppose that the U.S. Government faced a revolution – a genuine revolution that was genuinely committed to overthrowing the U.S. Government. Anyone out there who thinks that the U.S. Government would use any less force against that revolution than al-Assad is using against the Syrian opposition is living in fantasyland.

      • mary February 19, 2012, 3:55 AM

        Indeed. It has already threatened its citizens and used excessive force in the Occupy protests. Of course the US would also circulate similar propaganda to that surrounding Syria, where Assad claims “outside agitators” are to blame for the protests. The people LOVE their government, they’re HAPPY, they’re LOYAL, they’ve got FREEEEEDOM, all of this nonsense would be peddled to the world. All governments are the same. A pity that there are gullible fools out there who believe Iran to be a totally benevolent victim in this mess and who also believe Assad’s bullshit.

        • overlook February 19, 2012, 4:04 AM

          I’m not sure I understand.
          Are you defending Assad’s regime based on what you think the US will do?

          “All governments are the same”
          Not all governments are the same. European governments, for instance, do not shell their own cities as a response to demonstrations. Neither does the US, or Turkey. Or India.

          “It has already threatened its citizens and used excessive force in the Occupy protests”
          What does that have anything to do with what’s going on in Syria?

          • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 12:43 AM

            European governments, indeed all governments at one time or another commit grave injustices against their own citizens. Israel is among them.

            I do not support Assad. But neither do I support the notion of western, non-Arab intervention.

            Anyway, Syria is off-topic. I’ve noted this already in reply to other pro=Israel right wing commenters attempting to inject it into the comment mix.

  • Joel February 18, 2012, 10:27 AM

    You must be joking. Why discuss 7000 dead Arabs when we can Israel bash?

    • Richard Silverstein February 18, 2012, 3:12 PM

      I discuss Syria when it’s relevant to Israel. In case you hadn’t noticed this blog is about Israel, not Syria. And as much as it would please you for me to be responding to your rightist nationalist Israeli agenda, that’s not my mission here. Besides, I did write a post about the Syrian uprising attacking Michael Weiss’ interventionist hysterics.

      • Bob Mann February 18, 2012, 4:44 PM

        What is your mission here?

        The home page of your blog states that it is to:

        “Make the World a Better Place”

        and to present:

        “Essays on politics, culture and ideas about Israeli-Arab peace and world music”

        Is that still a fair categorization of this website or would it be fair to say that an update might be in order?

        • Richard Silverstein February 19, 2012, 1:33 AM

          I do still sometimes blog about music & culture if that’s what you were referring to. But it has become much less frequent.

          • Bob Mann February 19, 2012, 6:13 AM

            You wrote that tag-line quite some time ago when your web site first got started and was something somewhat different than it is today.

            I just think this site has outgrown that description. You don’t really write much about world music, as you mention, but you also include a lot more than just essays and ideas – you have a lot of original reporting and things of that nature.

            I think that an updated tag-line could more accurately capture everything that you do here so that the mission of the site would be clear. It does seem to have evolved somewhat over the years.

          • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 12:48 AM

            Perhaps you’re right. I’ll consider your suggestion. It might be a good one to make that change.

      • Joel February 18, 2012, 6:32 PM

        There is a clear and present danger growing on Israel’s border. How is the turmoil in Syria not relevant?

        • Richard Silverstein February 19, 2012, 1:37 AM

          I see. So which is more a clear & present danger? Iran or Syria? And what danger precisely does Syria pose to Israel with or without Assad? Are you using a crystal ball to predict that post-Assad Syria will endanger Israel?

          • Joel February 19, 2012, 6:34 AM

            Both countries have, or will soon have, WMD’s. Both countries hate Israel to it’s core.

            Syria’s WMD’s may fall into the hands of even less responsible governments than Assad’s.

            Both countries represent a clear and present danger to Israel.

          • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 12:56 AM

            Syria doesn’t have WMD. You also have no proof that Iran will soon or ever have WMD. And you have zero proof that Syria has a chance in hell of getting them.

            Israel on the contrary is the one that represents a clear & present danger to its neighbors & the entire region.

          • Eliyahu February 21, 2012, 11:45 AM

            Richard, WMD commonly refers to either Nuclear, Bioligical, or Chemical weapons. Syria at the very least has large stockpiles of chemical weapons.

      • overlook February 19, 2012, 4:33 AM

        The “it’s not in my mandate” defense is very problematic. First of all, some events are so large in magnitude and cruelty that they warrant attention, regardless of the “official” focus of the blog. Your blog, by the way, is about “Tikun Olam”. I would say that exposing the wrongdoings of the brutal Syrian regime is “Tikun Olam”.

        The core of the problem is that the murder of the Syrian Arabs simply does not evoke the same emotional response in you as does a single Hooligan settler beating up a Palestinian. We’ve seen your genuine response to acts of settler violence, the language you used was extremely harsh, but when it comes to Syrian violence – which is in orders of magnitude more severe, you only have extremely short, detached responses. Why is that?

        • overlook is overlooking something... February 19, 2012, 8:50 PM

          “The core of the problem is that the murder of the Syrian Arabs simply does not evoke the same emotional response in you as does a single Hooligan settler beating up a Palestinian.”

          No, the core of the problem is that Syria is a sovereign country, and therefore it is entitled to conduct its own internal affairs without outside interference.

          so while the murder of Syrians by the Syrian regime is indeed something that can be condemned, in the end you run into this problem: this is an INTERNAL affair, and therefore there is a limit to how much any outsider can push this issue.

          Compare and contrast with a Hooligan settler beating up a Palestinian.

          That’s an example of an INTERNATIONAL affair e.g. not only are those Palestinians being beaten up by foreigners, but those Palestinians are being kept stateless for the singular benefit of those foreigner intruders.

          Those foreigners can – and should – be condemned, but furthermore those foreigners can’t tell everyone else to Mind Their Own Business, precisely because what those settlers are doing to those Palestinians is not An Internal Affair of the state of Israel.

          • overlook February 20, 2012, 1:24 AM

            “No, the core of the problem is that Syria is a sovereign country, and therefore it is entitled to conduct its own internal affairs without outside interference.”

            Your concern for Syrian sovereignty is truly moving.

          • overlook should look the other way February 20, 2012, 2:18 AM

            “Your concern for Syrian sovereignty is truly moving.”

            Actually, I’m much more concerned with the concept that ALL states should make it their business not to stick their noses where it doesn’t belong.

            And I am especially alarmed by those who decide that sovereignty can be disregarded/dispensed with based on a sliding scale that goes from who-we-like all the way up to who-we-don’t-like, because to my way of thinking that is opening a can o’ worms that maybe, juuuuuuust maybe, shouldn’t be opened.

            The concept of “sovereignty” exists for a reason.

            Would you care to consider what that reason might be?

        • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 12:46 AM

          When I need advice about interpreting the “mandate” of my blog I’ll ask you. Until then, you’ll follow the comment rules & stay on topic.

          What’s going on in Syria is of no greater import than the injustices Israel commits daily against it’s citizens, the Palestinians & other nations in the region. I have never heard pro-Israel nationalists like you take any interest in Arab suffering except when it’s of some political use to them in advancing pro-Israel interests. That’s terribly hypocritical & manipulative of you. Did you get these directions from Hasbara Central btw??

          If you bring up Syria again, you will be moderated.

          • overlook February 20, 2012, 1:18 AM

            “What’s going on in Syria is of no greater import than the injustices Israel commits daily against it’s citizens”

            Judging by the number of dead and level of violence, I would say that the the Syria massacre is certainly more urgent than the situation in the territories. The death of 7000 Syrians is MORE important than a hooligan beating a Palestinian, without a doubt. Denying that fact just shows that you are completely biased and have no true concern for human life, only for your narrow political agendas.

            “I have never heard pro-Israel nationalists like you”
            You don’t even me or my opinions.

            “Did you get these directions from Hasbara Central btw??
            What is the nature of your wild attack? What does caring about other people have anything to do with Hasbara?

            “Did you get these directions from Hasbara Central btw?”
            Here we go – more ad-hominem. Can’t stomach people with different opinions, can you, Richard?

            “If you bring up Syria again, you will be moderated.”
            It is sad, but this line sums in a point what the so-called “knights of human rights” are all about. They don’t care about human rights, they just care about Israel bashing. Any other kind of human rights violation, no matter how brutal, is ignored.

          • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 3:46 AM

            You apparently either don’t believe rules apply to you or think you have the right to make your own rules. But you don’t, at least not here. And you are now moderated. If you continue to refuse requests to follow them in future you may lose your comment privileges entirely.

            BTW, if I don’t know your opinions does that mean you don’t consider what you’re doing offering opinions?

            As for the Syria hasbara offensive, I’ve read so much nonsense along precisely the same lines both from other right wingers here & in other forums it appears either you’re cribbing from other right wingers or taking direction from Hasbara Central. Either way I find what you’re doing offensive for multiple reasons.

            I invite you to write your own blog about Syrian human rights violations. It’s be taken about as seriously as your comments here.

          • overlook February 20, 2012, 5:02 AM

            “I’ve read so much nonsense along precisely the same lines both from other right wingers here & in other forums it appears either you’re cribbing from other right wingers or taking direction from Hasbara Central. Either way I find what you’re doing offensive for multiple reasons.”

            I vote Meretz. You don’t have to be right-winger to care about people.

          • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 9:52 PM

            So many others have claimed the same. Personally, I think you’re a liar. BTW, I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1976. Neither one of those are credible statements given each of our views.

            BTW, is it now the Meretz party line to support regime change in Syria & care more about what’s happening there than inside Israel? And even if it is true that you voted for Meretz, this only supports the complete bankruptcy of that party as representing any sort of true left wing perspective.

            I would like to know your real name so I can check with Meretz leaders I know whether you indeed have ever supported the party. I rather doubt you’ll offer it.

          • overlook February 20, 2012, 11:09 PM

            Your rhetoric and requests intimate an almost fascist modus operandi
            If someone disagrees with you, you attack him personally, diverting the attention from the core of the argument.

            Have fun in your little world.

  • Joel February 19, 2012, 6:03 AM

    The ‘supernatural’ and the mullahs of Iran. Be frightened.

    New book link.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=hzTzAuk1D-8C&lpg=PA36&vq=New+York&hl=iw&pg=PA35&output=embed

    • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 1:00 AM

      Please don’t pimp anti-Iran books in the comment threads. The credibility of this book is in question from the first sentence of the page you highlight. The election victory of Ahmadinejad was “unexpected?” By whom? There was hope the Green Movement would win, but no “expectation” that they would.

      Besides, I could write a book about the amount of Jewish supremacist superstition, racism, & anti-Muslim rhetoric that infuses the Israel far right’s political rants. What does it prove?

      • bar_kochba132 February 20, 2012, 8:46 AM

        How come everyone you disagree with is a “pimp” or a “monkey” or some other deligitimizing epithet? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but not everyone in the world thinks like you or agrees with you. The old “Soviet-style” ad-hominem attacks lost favor in the Western world decades ago. It is enough for you to say that you don’t like that book because you don’t think it is reliable. Infantile words like “pimping” which you use in order to get some sort of extra-emotional reaction from your readers are simply in bad taste. I am NOT being a “concern troll”, because I think it is bad for EVERYONE if public discussion degenerates into the type of name calling I see here.

        • Richard Silverstein February 20, 2012, 11:50 PM

          Are you addressing this comment to me or someone else? If to me, it’s completely misguided as I’ve never used these terms to describe anyone. I have said that some pro Israel types are “pimping an issue” which is not the same as being a pimp. As for monkeys, that’s in your imagination.

          Ad hominem attacks have nothing to do with “Soviet style” as the term far predates Communist Russia. Nor does my style or anything I believe have anything to do with “Soviet” anything.

          “Pimping” is only an infantile word if it’s YOUR ox that’s being gored. When someone on your side uses it I’m sure you’re lovin’ it. After the vicious, disgusting insults hurled at me by people who share your views you think the word “pimping” is in bad taste? You’ve got a lotta nerve is all I can say.

          I just had a would be commenter write he’d like to shoot me with a Smith & Wesson & you talk about bad taste. Gimme a break.

          • Joel February 21, 2012, 4:37 AM

            I wasn’t offended that Richard accused me of ‘pimping a book’.

            I do find it disquieting that Richard would be dismissive of that book after having read only one line from it.

          • Amir G February 21, 2012, 6:37 PM

            Same old rhetoric.
            Told you many times, You are left to almost everyone.
            when you’ll realize that you’ll stop behaving like those who don’t agree with you are the enemy’s of the state.

            Didn’t Larry Drefner told you the same thing ?

            And as for the Smith & Wesson comment, i have seen you saying that few times before under similar circumstances, would you be able to publish the comment ?
            Hopefully you filled a claim with the FBI

          • Richard Silverstein February 21, 2012, 11:01 PM

            Why should i care about whatLarry Derfner told me & what does it have to do with anything.

            At any rate it is YOUR views & those like yours, who are out of synch with those of the rest of the world. You are the one in the minority.

  • John Welch February 20, 2012, 4:52 AM

    Simple: Israel cannot manage a bombing raid that would wipe out the Iranian nuclear program.

    Only the US could do that, in a bombing campaign as massive as what preceded the invasion of Iraq. When GW Bush suggested it, the Joint Chiefs reminded him that the US would have to follow a bombing campaign with ground troops to destroy any bits that the bombs missed or only damaged.

    Put it plainly: the Israeli government and public can threaten all they want, but in essence, they demand that the US declare war on Iran.

    That’s a silly suggestion, one that fits the lunatic base of the Republican Party, and their silly presidential candidates, but not the other 80% of Americans.

    Iraq was bad enough: foolishly “sold”, under-funded, under-resourced, and without any justification. Gingrich has been chanting “on to Teheran” ever since American heavy divisions rolled through Baghdad. Let the Newt march on Iran by himself.

    Meanwhile, Israel…the whole enterprise…would be more likely to destroy itself by going to war with Iran.

  • Fernando February 21, 2012, 11:19 PM

    This piece reminds me of my University days, when fortunately we had the opportunity to have had a private lecture on proliferation (nuclear) and what made this special was that they were involved in exactly such nuclear arms program, and a “first generation” of crude nuclear devices were build and tested…with the process of pursuing more advanced devices in collaboration with the…Israelis in the early stages. Point is, China is an historical political example, being an Eastern Oriental nation in a different Geo-political era with different set of politics and like it or not religion plays a part. Iran an Persian Islamic state, with lots of oil and BIG support from Russia & China and Arab alliance with Hezbollah and Al Assad in Syria, will be looking to boost its influence in the Middle East and will inevitably lead to a nuclear arms race in and around the Middle East. An Israeli first strike(on Iran) will also mean the end to Al Assad’s political and domestic problems and a public support boost for Hamas and Hezbollah…not forgetting Egypt and their considerable weight in Arab mindset.
    All that being said, the challenge will be for Bibi and Knesset to decide IF at all they will drop a “baby blue” on their arch enemy(s) at which point it will be the point of no return as there wont be another six day war…ever.

  • Piotr Berman February 21, 2012, 11:34 PM

    One way of handling weapons of mass destruction would be a convention that any country that would commit “first use” of such weapons would be a subject of total embargo that would be rescinded when all personnel involved in making the decision and implementing it is transferred to ICC prison.

    Fixing the problem by inspection regime etc. is impossible. Basically, a country cannot prove the negative. As a consequence, it is purely political decision when to accept that a country is in compliance. With a high level of political hostility, it is impossible. From one point of view it is not a bug but a feature. We start sanctions that cannot be rescinded and we wait for the “regime change”, like we wait for the regime change in Cuba. But it does not fix any security issues, just provides some political points (all foreign policy is domestic, after all).

    More practical issue of “wiping out Iranian nuclear program” is particularly hard BECAUSE the existence of the program is uncertain. There are some facilities that we know. There are some fortifications that protect putative facilities, but they could be just decoys to trap possible attackers and divert from the “real stuff” if any.

    If you think more rationally, Iranian leaders need successes against external enemies to energize domestic “base”, all the guys that volunteer to basiji militias and are invaluable if malcontents decide to demonstrate. But it has to be done in a cost effective manner, on the carefully prepared ground. The easiest it to “stand tall and do not give in to imperialist/Zionist pressure”. But there has to be plan B what to do in case of an attack.

    If the program consist largely of decoys that are real or not, and does not do anything particularly tangible, then it is easy to claim that an attack failed. If on top of that attackers would loose some planes or other assets, that would be a huge bonus. Extra points if the foreign aggression is unjustified.

    Israel had nice successes against undefended sites in Iraq and Syria. But the fortified sites in Iran probably have some anti-aircraft defences, radars and missiles. An attack would need a wave of planes shooting down the radars and missile sites, and given large distances and high levels of alert, it cannot be a “surprise” in all locations. A few planes would be lost, and what a victory display they would make! While Iran does not really need anything that would be on “nuclear target list”.

    It would be really painful for Iran to loose facilities that produce conventional missiles, because they truly provide the backbone for the defense and offense if desperately needed. I guess these facilities are also dispersed.

    Israel also needs successes to energize the electoral base of the government, but luckily, it can wage a lot of little wars. First, it can stand tall and do not give in to pressure on the issue of settlements. Like Iranian enrichment program, settlements are subject of impotent deprecations by foreigners, resisted as a matter of patriotic duty and national dignity. In such cases small domestic opposition is valuable too, because it provides a nice contrast between patriotic government and traitorous fifth column. But war on villagers and minuscule NGOs in the domestic oppositions somehow lacks GREATNESS.

    So we have a very grand verbal war. Will it lead to an actual war?

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