February 7, 2006 | Commentary on Middle East
Iran today stands at a crossroads. In one direction lies peace.
In the other, isolation, economic harm, international denunciation,
military pressure … maybe even war. Which road will Iran's
Their insatiable appetite for nuclear weapons has brought the nation to a tipping point. Despite diplomatic pressure, they refuse to give up a uranium-enrichment program that can be converted easily from civilian to military use. Now that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has voted overwhelmingly to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council, it appears that Iran will have to decide sooner rather than later which road it will take.
To gain a better understanding of this crisis -- not only what it means for the United States but also the world at large -- an insightful paper from The Heritage Foundation, "Confronting Iran's Nuclear Challenge," is a must-read. Heritage foreign-policy experts James Phillips, John Hulsman and James Jay Carafano provide alarming evidence of just how serious the Iran problem has become.
The current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, considers the U.S. "a failing power" and a threat to the Muslim world. He is a true believer in the revolution that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini inspired in Iran in 1978.
Under Ahmadinejad, the Heritage experts note, Iran is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. It has close ties to the Lebanon-based Hezballah terrorist group and it has supported a wide variety of Palestinian terrorist groups and Afghan extremists. It has been causing trouble inside Iraq and has reportedly recruited thousands of volunteers to carry suicide bombs against its enemies. In short, it's a dangerous regime even without nuclear weapons.
Iran must agree to terminate permanently all aspects of its nuclear program. If not, several courses of action remain, the Heritage experts say. The U.S. should:
1) Forge a coalition to impose targeted economic sanctions. Deny Iran loans, foreign investment and favorable trade deals. Cooperate with other countries to deny Iran loans from institutions such as the World Bank.
2) Rally international support for Iran's democratic opposition. Discreetly aid all Iranian groups that support democracy and reject terrorism.
3) Explain to the Iranian people how the Ahmadinejad regime hurts them. Increase Farsi broadcasts by government-sponsored media, such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other information sources and cover the activities of Iranian dissidents and opposition leaders in challenging the repressive regime.
4) Mobilize our allies to contain and deter Iran. Work especially with those in the growing shadow of Iranian power, including Iraq, Turkey, Israel and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which was founded in 1981 to protect Arab states threatened by Iran.
5) Prepare for the last resort. From helping break up networks that proliferate chemical, biological and nuclear weapons technologies and materials, to ensuring that our nuclear deterrent is up-to-date and effective, a strong U.S. military is our safety net when it comes to facing a potentially nuclear Iran. The United States must be prepared to use pre-emptive force to neutralize the Iranian threat if necessary.
Yet we have "one ace left to play before a final showdown looms," another Heritage paper says. According to Hulsman and Nile Gardiner, we should extend NATO membership to Israel.
Israel is certainly qualified: It's a democracy. It has a free-market economy. And, Hulsman and Gardiner note, its first-rate military can contribute to the common defense (which is more than can be said for many new NATO members). Israel's intelligence capabilities have played a vital role in the War on Terror. Plus, its membership in NATO would ensure that the Mullahs know the West is determined to respond to Iran's strategic threat to the region.
Why would this work? According to Hulsman and Gardiner:
"Iran wants the bomb primarily to intimidate Israel into a lesser role in the Middle East and, in effect, to hold the West hostage to its desire for regional dominance. Extended deterrence, with its proven track record in the Cold War, remains the last, best chance to get the Iranians to back down. Israel's joining NATO is undoubtedly the most effective way to resolve the crisis, short of immediate military action."
To understand why, it helps to know that Ahmadinejad has made some seriously anti-Semitic statements. He has questioned the reality of the Holocaust, declared that "Israel must be wiped off the map," and proposed relocating a Jewish state thousands of miles away. To those who may be tempted to overlook such dangerous sentiments, Hulsman and Gardiner have a simple message:
"Too often in the 20th century, people scoffed at statements such as these, only to watch in horror as barbaric actions followed earlier intemperate rhetoric dismissed at the time as the words of a madman. If we are to learn the lessons of history, we must take the Iranian leadership at its word."
The best time to stop violence is before it starts. By following the recommendations in the two papers mentioned above, we can make it far more likely that Iran will pick the right road.
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.