Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest threats against Israel, combined with
his announcement that Iran has successfully enriched uranium and
joined the 'nuclear club,' has greatly escalated the stakes in the
confrontation between the West and Tehran. Ahmadinejad's statements
that Israel was "heading towards annihilation" and that the Middle
East "would soon be liberated,"
echoed his remarks of October 2005, when he warned that Israel
would be "wiped off the map."
The United States
and Great Britain have also been the targets of the Iranian
regime's venomous rhetoric. Iran is threatening to unleash 40,000
suicide bombers against "American and British sensitive points" in
the event of action against their nuclear facilities, and a senior
official with the Revolutionary Guard has warned that "Britain's
demise is on the agenda."
Hassan Abbasi, Ahmadinejad's chief political adviser, has described
Britain as "the mother of all evils," and boasted of "a strategy
for the destruction of Anglo-American civilization."
If Iran succeeds
in building a nuclear weapon, which it may do within three to ten
years, there can be no doubt regarding the regime's willingness and
intent to use it against Israel or other close U.S. allies. Nor is
there any doubt regarding Iran's potential to arm a terrorist
organization such as Hezbollah or Al Qaeda with nuclear material.
Significantly, a senior Iranian spiritual leader recently issued a
fatwa sanctioning the use of nuclear weapons.
United Nations Security Council is unlikely to be decisive in
diffusing this crisis, given the huge financial, military, and
strategic interests that both Russia and China have in Iran and
their willingness to protect Tehran. While the United States pushes
for targeted economic sanctions and for political change inside
Iran, it must also proceed with preparations should diplomacy and
economic measures fail.
closest ally, and the only major partner with the ability to
contribute extensively to military operations against Iran, London
should forge a close alliance with Washington in confronting the
Iranian threat. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister
Tony Blair should hold crisis talks to discuss a range of options
against the Iranian regime. Both the U.S. and UK should push for
Israel to be admitted to NATO as a security guarantee in the face
of Iranian threats and intimidation.
As well, the Pentagon and the UK Ministry of Defense should discuss
a potential Anglo-American military operation, sending a clear
warning signal to the Mullahs in Tehran.
A Shift in British
There is a growing
realization in London that the EU-3 negotiations between Britain,
France, Germany, and Iran, have been a huge failure. The EU-3 talks
exposed the weakness of a European Union negotiating position that
has been all carrot and no stick. In parallel, the discredited
policy of 'constructive engagement' with Tehran, championed by
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, has all but disappeared from
the lexicon of Foreign Office diplo-speak.
'Tehran Jack' by the British media for his frequent trips to the
appears increasingly at odds with Tony Blair as well as the
Ministry of Defense over strategy towards Iran. Straw, who was
initially opposed to military action against Iraq before
subsequently switching his position, has been an extremely vocal
critic of the idea of using force to halt Iran's nuclear program.
He has talked of military action as "inconceivable," and recently
described the notion of a pre-emptive strike as out of the
question, telling the BBC, "there is no smoking gun, there is no
casus belli. We can't be certain about Iran's intentions."
Straw's views are
not, however, representative of opinion in Downing Street and
reflect a divided state of affairs within the British government.
In addition, his outright rejection of the use of force as an
option has been sharply criticized by the UK's Shadow Defense
Secretary, Liam Fox, and the Conservative Party, which is pushing
an aggressive line on the Iranian issue.
In contrast to his
foreign secretary, the British prime minister has never ruled out
military action against Iran and is reportedly showing "signs of
exasperation" with Straw's approach.
Blair was greatly angered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats against
Israel and hinted at military action to halt Iran's nuclear
development. In October, the British prime minister warned Iran's
leaders that they were making "a very big mistake" if they believed
the West would not respond forcefully. Condemning the Iranian
leadership, Blair stated: "If they carry on like this the question
people will be asking us is-when are you going to do something
about Iran? Can you imagine a State like that with an attitude like
that having nuclear weapons?"
press reports suggest that Blair's realist view, rather than
Straw's ultra-cautious stance, is gaining ground in London. British
defense chiefs reportedly held "secret talks" in early April with
officials from Downing Street and the Foreign Office to discuss the
implications of U.S. military strikes against Iran's nuclear
facilities. The meetings signify a shift in strategic thinking in
London over how to deal with Tehran. Britain's position may
continue to harden. In the words of a senior British government
source cited by the Sunday Telegraph: "If Iran makes
another strategic mistake, such as ignoring demands by the UN or
future resolutions, then the thinking among the chiefs is that
military action could be taken to bring an end to the crisis. The
belief in some areas of Whitehall is that an attack is now all but
If the UK were to
take part in U.S.-led operations against Iran, the British
contribution could include Special Forces (Special Air Service)
contingents for covert operations, as well as air and navy support.
The 8,000 British troops stationed in southern Iraq would, if still
based in the country, play a key role in protecting the border with
Iran, and combating Iranian-backed Shia militias. The British-owned
Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, which houses an Anglo-American
military base, would be an important launch pad for air strikes by
B-2 stealth bombers, as would the Royal Air Force Base at Fairford
in southern England. In addition, Britain's Secret Intelligence
Service (MI6) would be a critical component of any intelligence
participation in, or even strong support for, U.S.-led air strikes
against Iran would be fraught with political and military risk for
the British government. With growing disillusionment in the UK with
the war in Iraq, a campaign against the largest power in the Middle
East would be met with strong opposition among large sections of
the British public and media.
For Tony Blair,
whose approval ratings are presently at an all-time low, the
Iranian crisis poses a dilemma. On one hand, this issue is likely
to split the Cabinet and the ruling Labour Party and prompt a major
rebellion by left-wing backbenchers who favor a policy of
appeasement toward the Mullahs. On the other, Blair, serving his
final term of office, will not want to be remembered as a
weak-kneed leader who promised 'peace in our time' in the face of
threats to wipe an entire country and its people off the map.
The prime minister
and his closest advisers are acutely aware of the strategic threat
posed by Iran and, through their experience with the Security
Council negotiations over Iraq, understand the limits of
international diplomacy. They are likely to draw the conclusion
that the risks to British national security posed by a
nuclear-armed Iran outweigh the political drawbacks posed by
military action. Blair, who has built a strong reputation on the
international stage as a leader of the war on terror and committed
British forces to three major theatres of operation (Iraq,
Afghanistan, and Kosovo), is unlikely to back down in the face of
threats from a rogue state. Although his position as prime minister
is significantly weaker now than it was in 2003, when he backed the
invasion of Iraq, Blair's instinct will be to defy opposition from
within his own party and side with the United States over the use
of force against Iran.
In the British
context, the timing of a potential military action is highly
significant. While there is a strong possibility that the United
States could rely on Blair's support for operations against Iran,
his heir apparent, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown,
remains an enigma. Blair has committed to departing office before
the end of his final term, which must conclude by 2010. In the face
of mounting domestic political problems and increasingly vocal
threats of mutiny within the Labour Party, Blair could well stand
down earlier, with a 2008 departure a strong possibility.
As Iran moves
closer towards its goal of producing a nuclear weapon and its
threats against Israel and the West grow louder, the United States
must build a powerful international alliance to confront and, if
necessary, forcibly disarm the regime in Tehran. Britain should be
at the heart of this coalition of the willing, helping to bring on
board European countries and international allies from Australia to
Great Britain has
stood alongside the United States in every major conflict involving
American forces since the Second World War, with the exception of
Vietnam. British troops have fought alongside their U.S.
counterparts in Korea, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. If the United
States is forced to confront Iran militarily, her closest ally will
likely join her.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow at the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The