Aggressively pursuing its so-called "nuclear rights" with thousands of new gas centrifuges now online, Iran
is concentrating on producing the weapons-grade material it needs to
build nuclear bombs and warheads. While this is the "final push" in
their nuclear weapons program, they have been on this track since the
1980s and have absolutely no intention of changing direction, despite
their conciliatory language from time to time.
Sound familiar? The Iranian model emulates the same kind of hosing
down given us by North Korea's "Little Kim." The Iranians watched the
North Koreans jerk us around (first the Clinton administration and then
— to the dismay of conservatives — the Bush administration) for years
over their nuclear weapons program, and are copying it — at least the
charade cover for it.
The charade has at least three acts: Act One: Deny, deny, deny even
in the face of irrefutable evidence. Act Two: Negotiate, negotiate,
negotiate and threaten at the same time. Act Three: Build, build and
build while denying, threatening and negotiating, throwing in a
"hopeful and conciliatory" statement now and again.
When looked at closely, of course, the "hopeful and conciliatory"
statements are aimed at hoping that our side changes its position while
backing away from any suggestion that a change could come from the
Iranian side. In a nutshell, they hope the West will eventually
acquiesce to the reality of Iran having nuclear weapons, i.e., that
we'll "get over it."
The charade works. Look at the concessions the North Koreans
squeezed out of the Clinton administration, all the while building
nuclear weapons. And, they were on their way to do it again to the Bush
administration, except they made a serious error — they gratuitously
threatened the Japanese.
That was a very big mistake, because Japan can develop a nuclear
weapons capability virtually overnight — all they really have to do is
decide to do it. Of course, the folks most concerned about this
startling possibility were not the North Koreans, but the Chinese, who
evidently — and behind the scenes — have pretty much shut down the
North Korean nuke program. And this apparently has happened outside the
formal talks with the North Koreans.
Now, back to Iran: The "big question" remains whether they will be
allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capability. And, this is where the
Iranians have made their miscalculation, because just like the Chinese
in the North Korean-Japanese standoff, there are a number of countries,
some in the immediate area, that will not allow Iran to "go nuclear" —
by acquiescence or otherwise.
Not surprisingly, most observers assume that this pressure will come
from Israel and/or the U.S., with perhaps the European Union joining in
with a threat or two. There are even various attack scenarios that have
been played out in the media, mostly involving U.S. and/or Israeli
forces. In the meantime. Iran is strengthening its air defenses with
new Russian systems. So, how will this turn out?
A war — even a "limited" one — over Iran's nuclear program could
easily devastate the region economically and could even cause a
fundamental realignment of power and influence in the Middle East. Now,
ask yourself, who would most not want to see that happen? And, who has
a "big stick" in the Middle East, with similar swag over the Iranians
that the Chinese have over the North Koreans?
However, before the Saudis (and possibly the United Arab Emirates)
intervened in this dispute, they would have to be convinced that a war
was inevitable, and that they had to act to protect their interests and
preserve their primacy of economic power and influence in the region.
While the Saudis and the UAE are primarily Sunni Muslims and the
Iranians are primarily Shi'ite, tensions between these Islamic branches
would not be a significant factor in this dynamic — it will be about
very big money, power, oil and political influence.
Assuming this could well be a resolution to the "Iranian nuclear
problem," how should the West proceed? The geopolitical beauty of the
Saudi/UAE intervention scenario is that the West can — and should —
continue to take the very hard line that they will not permit Iran to
develop a nuclear weapons capability, perhaps refining that position by
defining what a "nuclear weapons capability" means, especially with
respect to the production of weapons-grade nuclear material.
Next — and especially if we aren't doing it already — we need to be
keeping the Saudis and the UAE in a "real time loop" of appropriate
intelligence and diplomatic efforts, as well as military planning.
Obviously, this will have to be done very carefully, at the appropriate
senior level, and by people who have special skills in such matters.
This is because of the transparencies that characterize such activities
in the Middle East: In other words, the working assumption should be
that most everyone is having "backdoor" conversations with most
What — and where — would be the likely new "red lines" for us with such a scenario?
We should continue to set our own red lines with regard to our own
national security interests, and with the working assumption that the
problem will have to be resolved without the intervention of any other
party. Of course, there is some irony here: Only if the Saudis and UAE
are convinced that we — and possibly others — are really serious about
the use of force against the Iranians will they be motivated to
Might we have to eventually array our forces in the region and put
certain strategic systems on alert — maybe even order "demonstration
strikes" on some specific targets in Iran? In the final analysis, we
will have to show that level of resolve in this confrontation. If we
don't — or can't — the Iranians will too soon be threatening us with
nuclear weapons, using the same kind of rhetoric they use to threaten