Roger Cohen, in the N.Y. Times, continues to fret about iran, takeing pains to point out the obvious; the U.S., the Israelis or both have been waging a secret war against Iran. He points to recent explosions, assassinations, the Stuxnet virus and ongoing cyber attacks on Iran. He approves; with ideological reservations for the law. The approval is cast as acceptable, but only as compared to a ‘hot’ war with Iran. He worries about the Iranian response and whether it will be ‘proportional’. His concern is valid as ‘proportional’ tends to grow in proportion. In conflict it’s not necessarily your definitions that prevail; there is an enemy involved in the game as well. Mr. Cohen could have catalogued a wider inventory of activities had he considered the ‘suspicious’ happenings in Iran over the past three years, all, I would opine, of Israeli origin, with some silent Arab involvement on the side. No specific Iranian response of note, excluding rhetoric.
I would argue that ‘capture’ of alleged U.S. spies and the attack on the British Embassy was the Iranian response, or at least the immediate response. Weak; they simply struck out at the nearest available symbol of the West! The British Embassy! It serves to remind us of our Embassy hostages and how they were finally released. In my opinion, fear of what Regan might do, mitigated domestically in Iran by a final slap at President Carter. There is no such fear at the moment, and for good reason.
Unfortunately, weakness followed weakness as the President responded; accusing Iran of violating International norms and that Iran should hold the attackers to account. Really; is there any history of Iranian concern with International norms when it comes to the West? They arrest hikers! Does it not defy credulity to assume that the Iranian Government, a totalitarian government with Fascist tendencies, didn’t order the attack on the Embassy?
It was likely a job for the Baji. ‘Citizens’ who just happen to be highly organized, paramilitary, paid, armed and dressed in plain clothes; the same Baji that played a significant role in putting down the 2009 opposition movement in Iran and does so to this day. Mr. Cohen explains the policy as a “silence” policy, do what you need to do and don’t say anything. It fits; to a degree.
The President is to be commended, if we actually are involved in a ‘black’ war with Iran! Many, conservatives among them, have argued for robust intelligence operations in Iran. However, given the proclivities of the administration, are ground operations and live intelligence 100% Israeli? The Arab Middle East fears Mossad for good reason.
We remain focused on the Iranian bomb, which we should be, it is, in part, a symptom. Focus should also be directed at the geopolitical dynamics in the region. The region has watched as Iran escaped significant liabilities for misdeeds and ignoring International norms. The Beirut Barracks bombing was Iranian supported, IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hiz’bAllah, Overseas bombings of Jewish Centers, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda, cash and weapons. If we are engaged in a ‘silent war’ with Iran, good, but it’s not going to be the answer! Iran has been at war with us since the Carter administration. The Iranian war on us has been anything but quiet.
Mr. Cohen maintains dire misgivings about what Iran could or would do in retaliation. The question should be, what happens if we ‘Cowboy Up’ our policy statements and warnings to Iran and stop wring our hands over what Iran might do. We’ve done this before; defining a policy during the Cuban Missile Crisis stating that attacks from surrogates would be considered attacks by the primary player and both would stand to retaliation. Weapons may be different, terrorism in the near term, but the underlying policy orientation is valid; and effective! It’s the right message, a message aimed at stopping excess violence not promoting it; it sets the stage for ‘proportional’.
You stop bad behavior by the threat of and the application of punishment in the event the threat is not taken seriously. In this case our first demand will likely have to be followed by action as the policy will be tested before it’s complied with. A ‘message’ to Iran can be limited, it can be proportional but it has to BE! After decades of not responding, our first attempt at finding cajoles will not be taken seriously.
A strong, broad policy statement now would weaken the Iranian network. In the end, Hiz’bAllah will consider Hiz’bAllah’s self interest ahead of Iranian self interest; it is the way of the world in that region. Syria and Hamas will weigh the benefits and liabilities of being targeted based on the mere perception of involvement with an Iranian retaliation action? If sufficient U.S. leadership is demonstrated there are Turkish interests that may quietly play a supportive role as a weakened Iran is in their self interest as it is in the self interest of half a dozen other countries in the region.
Saudi Arabia is confused about our intentions and policies; we should resolve that with strong policy, not because they’re a bunch of OK guys, because it’s in our interests they be comfortable for the moment. Iran can scream “Death to Israel” all they like, strategically Saudi Arabia is the target of regional consequence and the key to regional hegemony. Iran has directed their venom at Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain and Kuwait in addition to Saudi Arabia and the mandatory “Death to” chant.
Hiz’bAllah is dangerous; however, are they prepared and willing to stand up to the potential of a combined U.S., Israeli military response? The same equation exists for Hamas and the rest of the gangs. What would a strong “we’re done here; unacceptable, you’re move, the planes are in the air” say? Would it motivate the activation of cells in the U.S. and elsewhere? Perhaps, but they are going to do their deeds eventually. It’s harsh, however, that is why they are here in the first place, and it’s just a matter of time! Sacrifice has always been part of the equation in dealing with actors like Iran.
Delay creates more not less pain in the end. The perception of weakness begets confrontation and aggression.