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A year later than I expected, the drumroll has begun towards a Western attack on Iran’s nuclear capability. Despite the best efforts of Western diplomacy, the “moderate” option in Iranian politics expired last week with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s triumphal consolidation of power.
A combination of economic distress and external threats, Western capitals hoped, would strengthen the position of the loser in Iran’s 2006 presidential elections, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and external pressure would undo the decision of the Iranian electorate. At best that would have been a deal with the devil; unfortunately, the devil was not returning phone calls last week.
It never was to be. Iran has only two options: a sickening slide into economic decay and internal weakness as its oil-exporting capacity attenuates, or a regional adventure against the Sunni oligarchs of the Gulf oil-producing states. For the Iranian street, Ahmadinejad’s constituency in the slums of Tehran and the Persian hinterland, this is the Shi’ite moment, the once-in-a-millennium opportunity to undo centuries of perceived oppression.
European diplomats woefully concede that Rafsanjani, who maintained close ties to Germany in particular, no longer offers a viable alternative. Arab commentators are watching with alarm developments in Iran, beginning with the dismissal of Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
Elias Harfouche wrote in the Lebanese daily Dal al-Hayat on October 28, “The unease that accompanied the replacement of Ali Larijani with Saeed Jalili as the head of the negotiating nuclear team was exceptional. Its importance was further reinforced by the comment made by Ali Akbar Wilayati, the former foreign minister and counselor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the statement of Mohamed Hashemi, the brother of Hashemi Rafsanjani on ‘narrowing the decision-making circle’ in the executive authority as a result of Ahmadinejad’s decisions.”
As usual, the American media are slow to grasp how profoundly the landscape has shifted during the past week. Writing in the October 27 Washington Post, for example, David Ignatius argued, quite incorrectly, that Ahmadinejad “faces growing resistance, starting with former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Sources tell me that Rafsanjani’s allies have been advising officials in Europe and the Middle East that Ahmadinejad is weak and vulnerable.” I do not know what Rafsanjani’s allies have been saying of late, but I am certain that their credibility is exhausted.
Ignatius worries that if the United States or Israel were to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran would retaliate through such proxies as Hezbollah and various terrorist operations under its control.
These fears are well-founded. In February 2006, I argued that a few sorties by American aircraft could put the Iranian problem to rest, but that the window for a clean military operation would not last long.
The longer Washington dallies, the more resources Tehran can put in place, including:
Upgrading Hezbollah’s offensive-weapon capabilities in Lebanon.
Integrating Hamas into its sphere of influence and military operations.
Putting in place terrorist capability against the West. Preparing its Shi’ite auxiliaries in Iraq for insurrection.One might add to this complications on the Turkish-Iraqi border, as Iran and its ally Syria have taken the Turkish side against Kurdish rebels, which Iran claims have the covert assistance of the United States.
In early 2006, I predicted “war with Iran on the worst terms,” and that is what the West is likely to get. I warned at the time, “if Washington waits another year to deliver an ultimatum to Iran, the results will be civil war to the death in Iraq, the direct engagement of Israel in a regional war through Hezbollah and Hamas, and extensive terrorist action throughout the West, with extensive loss of American life. There are no good outcomes, only less terrible ones. The West will attack Iran, but only when such an attack will do the least good and the most harm.”
Rafsanjani’s dialogue with Berlin was the last, best hope of the anti-war faction in the West. One winces at the chagrin of the German partner in this relationship, given that Rafsanjani likes the Germans because he admires what Adolf Hitler did to the Jews of Europe. On October 5, Rafsanjani told Iranian television in a clip posted by MEMRI:
Europe resolved a great problem, the problem of the Zionist danger. The Zionists constituted a strong political party in Europe and caused a lot of disorder there. Since they had a lot of property and controlled an empire of propaganda, they made the European governments helpless. What Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe at that time was partly due to these circumstances with the Jews. They wanted to expel the Zionists from Europe because they were always a pain in the neck for governments there … Their first goal was to save Europe from the evil of Zionism, and in this they have been relatively successful. 
The leading Iranian “moderate,” in short, is just as much the Islamo-Nazi as the Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad. Rather than deny the Holocaust, Rafsanjani applauds it. Reportedly, Rafsanjani believes that the threat of military confrontation of the West makes a bad gamble of Iran’s nuclear development program, unlike Ahmadinejad, who is happy to take the risk.
Deals with the devil simply do not work, even in the ethically challenged world of foreign policy. The devil will act according to his nature, whatever bargain one attempts to make with him.
My proposed mantra for President George W. Bush, is, “There are no good options.” To be precise, there are options that are considerably worse for others than for the United States. The use of force against Iran without doubt will make the Iraqi mess completely unmanageable. It will have spillover effects in Turkey, where the electoral majority that supported the Islamists in this year’s elections will rise in outrage against the United States and Israel. It may reignite the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Nor should we have any illusions about Iran’s terrorist capacities. Western civilians well may pay a heavy price for the excision of Iran’s nuclear program in the form of terror attacks. The price may be steep, but it’s worth it.
The West has no choice but to attack Iran, because Iran believes that it has no choice but to develop nuclear weapons. Make no mistake: this attack will destabilize the entire region, past the capacity of the king’s horses and king’s men to reassemble it. The agenda will shift from how best to promote stability, to how best to turn instability to advantage.