Saturday, July 15, 2006


The Axis Minus One

Events continue to unfold. Questions about motivations, strategic plans proliferate, even as the actors involved continue to play their parts.

I remarked yesterday that Israel has declared itself, for all intents and purposes, in a state of war, although perhaps the only change represented by recent events is that this state of war is now more publicly visible and obvious.

So I’m still asking today, who wins?

News analysts at Fox – I avoid other cable news outlets, I have very limited internet access, and that’s what’s on in the break room – continue to highlight Syrian and Iranian culpability for recent attacks by their Hezbollah proxies (if not Iranian forces themselves).

I continue to think that Israel’s enemies overestimate the capabilities, will, and raw power possessed by Israel, just as they underestimated the US.

One of our young analysts, in a lull between other activities, speculated that what this really may have been about was an Iranian show of force during a moment of relative media quiet.

His premise is that Iran, at least as publicly acknowledged or discussed by major (non-conservative media), has not been perceived as a significant military threat beyond its potential if they acquire nuclear weapons. Even by those in the know – and that would surely include analysts and decision-makers in Israel – it is entirely possible to think Iran at least somewhat over-enamored of their own prowess. No one has suggested Iran possesses more hubris than actual threat, at least in the degree Saddam and his military apparently possessed.

But it may well be that Iran wants to make a point about their non-nuclear capabilities. If so, the message follows the lines of: with our without nukes, you are vulnerable to a wide range of potential threats. Iranian proxies come in many sizes, shapes and capabilities, and while analysts might discuss these threats as well-known and understood, Iran may have concluded that public opinion in various target audiences may need a more visible orientation to the damage they can do on an important US ally, and by extension politically and diplomatically, on the US itself.

Consider recent developments. A recent de-inflating show of force notwithstanding, much of the public discussion about North Korean belligerence assume that their likely possession of nuclear weapons in some form and quantity makes it virtually impossible for the US and its allies to plausibly consider a military deterrence (or even remotely military options). The Iranians surely crave that kind of standing and leverage, and one might interpret their recent bluster as seeking just that kind of “legitimacy.”

I remarked recently, that for all scorn and derision that accompanied the President’s remarks in his 2003 State of the Union Address, his remarks seem quite prescient in light of recent turn of events, at least in light of media coverage, public worry, and concern.

President Bush’s political enemies suggest that this is merely a “self-fulfilling prophesy,” whereby the President and his Administration somehow just made the world “that much more angry at us.” This completely ignores, of course, that a majority of the world and its leaders have been angry (read envious) of the US and our power and influence for the past 30 years, if not longer. Does anyone remember the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the taking of US hostages? This was widely reported (and perceived) as payback for all the sins we committed back then, back in the day.

Nothing much has changed since then, either in the way the naïve or politically, alternatively motivated misread public anger on the “Arab Street,” nor in the way Iranian operatives and principals have dedicated themselves to war against the US.

For the Iranians, they may view current circumstances as an opportunity to inflate their standing as Major Threat. They may want to nudge North Korea over a bit, and steal some of that mojo. They would thus rob the US of several more attractive military options, while at the same time vouchsafe their own military capabilities.

One other possibility exists, though I consider it remote, it starts to sound at least plausible.

Iran knows that Israel possesses a nuclear capability. Surely Israeli has long benefited from the implicit threat of nuclear retaliation against any aggressor. This fact forms the core of the Iranian justification for seeking a nuclear military capability in the first place. It is the all too real hammer, that for so long has spoiled many a Middle Eastern potentate’s dreams of a “purified” Arab world.

Iran wants nuclear weapons. Maybe they have them already, or are extremely close, or someone offers to make them available, under certain conditions.

How willing would a Middle Eastern Government be to sacrifice other people, Arab or otherwise, if it meant some highly significant political or military gain? Haven’t the Arab nations of the Middle East, and even their Hirabah proxies, used the Palestinians in just this way? Not willing to actually help them in real terms, and entirely unwilling to accept them as refugees, the Palestinians have nevertheless been useful as diplomatic cover for anti-Israel (and thereby anti-US) hostility?

Wouldn’t Iran and the Hirabah proxies they manipulate, greatly benefit from an Israeli first strike with nuclear weapons?

It would instantly justify Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. It would be a kind of nuclear declaration of war, and if in the very next breath, Iran came to possess a nuclear capability, I think the overwhelming response of the world community would be, “why of course they need nuclear weapons! The Israelis have them, and they have proved they will use them against their enemies!” Sadly, no amount of public expressions of outrage, nor any form of diplomatic initiative, will diminish that public perception. And thus the Iranians get what they want.

Where would Iran get that capability? I don’t think they’d need to wait through the tedious and time-consuming process of completing their nuclear weaponization process or related industry. That someone, that nuclear rogue state, so starved for cash and capital, would make an eager seller to cash flush Iranian purchasers.

The Axis Minus One remains as grave a threat as ever.

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