A positive step with Iran
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 1979, file photo, one of the hostages being held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is displayed to the crowd, blindfolded and with his hands bound, outside the embassy. Fifty-two of the hostages endured 444 days of captivity. Former Iranian hostages had varied reactions to the news of the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran in what is being billed as a trust-building agreement designed to yield a more comprehensive deal six months from now. (AP Photo/File)
Since Nov. 4, 1979, when a group of Iranian students took over the American Embassy in Tehran and held its American employees captive for 444 days, America and Iran have been at total odds.
During those 34 years America and Iran have become increasingly mutually hostile. A succession of American presidents has instituted crippling sanctions against Iran. The ayatollahs have responded in every way possible to make our lives increasingly unpleasant by supporting terrorism in the Middle East.
In short, both sides have done just about everything possible to maintain and even increase that level of hostility. If you toss into the mix the important remaining countries in the Middle East, the situation becomes even more complicated.
Iran has been one of the dominant powers in the region for literally thousands of years. With that dominance has come a sense of importance. The Iranians believe they should be real players in their part of the world.
Iran is the largest Shiite country in the Middle East. As such, they are allied with other Shiite elements in the almost 14-centuries-old blood feud going on with Islam’s Sunnis. There are large Shiite minorities in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Yemen, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia and a Shiite majority in Iraq. The result is that there has been almost perpetual friction and occasional war between Shiite and Sunni.
If you translate these realities into today’s world of P5-plus-1 (U.S., Russia, China, United Kingdom, France plus Germany) negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, you will see immediately that there are a number of countries in Iran’s neighborhood that not only would not like to see Iran with the bomb, but would really like to see the country and its inhabitants obliterated simply because they are Shiite.
Important Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia see Iran as a direct competitor for hegemony in the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East. Seeing a nuclear Iran as far too powerful a competitor, the Saudis would like to have someone (the U.S. or even Israel) bomb the Iranian nuclear capability into oblivion.
So the biggest wild cards threatening a successful outcome to these negotiations are the Sunni components in the Middle East and the Israelis who over the past three and a half decades have been constantly threatened by Iran.
In fact, Israel’s Likud Party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, has pulled out all the negative stops on the ongoing negotiations, telling the world, particularly the U.S., that the interim deal they have reached is a bad deal, with the clear implication that any negotiated deal at all would be equally bad. In pursuing this policy they have pushed every pro-Israeli button they could reach, not only here, but also in all the P5-plus-1 countries.
So far, it hasn’t worked, as can be seen in the interim agreement just now announced. Nevertheless, they have not given up. It is understood that if America or the P5-plus-1 put additional sanctions on Iran, as some members of the U.S. Congress wish to do, that simple fact will abrogate any agreement. So there is still room for Israel to maneuver to kill this agreement. Remember, Iran is desperate to end the sanctions.
There is one critical thing that must be kept in mind. If the opponents of this impending peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear problem are successful and Iran proceeds to develop a bomb, then the only alternative policy for the P5-plus-1 is to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities militarily. Will the difficult nature of the target require boots on the ground?
First, it has not been proven that Iran even has a nuclear bomb program at this time. Many Western analysts, including our own, have agreed. In addition, the ayatollah has issued a fatwa (prohibition) against it.
Second, there is absolutely no guarantee that Iran’s nuclear facilities can be destroyed. They are largely bunkered far underground, giving them high-level protection. In addition, their heavy-water reactor in Arak, which will produce plutonium usable in atomic weapons, will soon be unbombable, as its destruction would spread lethal radioactivity widely.
There is no such thing as a perfect agreement, but this one looks pretty favorable for the U.S. The Iranian program will be stopped at a point of our choosing. All of the concessions we have made can be unilaterally reinstated if we feel the Iranians are not keeping their end of the bargain. Further negotiations will continue with the aim of negotiating away any Iranian ability to create nuclear weapons.
A final thought: The Iranians are anything but stupid. The bomb is valuable only if it is not used. They know that if they were to create and use a bomb, their country would be wiped off the map.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.