The fanaticism of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA) embrace of martyrdom creates difficulties in resolving tensions between Iran and the rest of the world over its use of nuclear technology. Mahmoud’s willingness to accept many potential Iranian deaths, and his hatred for Israel and the United States, mean that policy responses to prevent him from acquiring nuclear weapons are likely to end up involving a military intervention that will ultimately not be a ‘limited’ attack.
Almost all countries oppose Iranian development of nuclear enrichment technology – though Russia is curiously opposing UN sanctions and is continuing with a planned sale of missiles to the Iranians. It is difficult to believe that Iran seeks nuclear power for peaceful purposes. In any event their successful development would hasten a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East that could have globally catastrophic implications. And it is plain silly to assume that Iran has no malevolent intentions towards Israel.
A chilling story by Matthias Küntzel in The New Republic here (reprinted in today’s Weekend Australian) explains the background to the intransigent Iranian position.
President Mahmoud was an instructor in the Basiji Mostazafan during the Iran-Iraq war. This was the volunteer militia that sent young adolescent men in almost unarmed ‘human wave’ attacks against Iraq where they were slaughtered in droves. Sometimes the tactics worked because the Iraqi opposition refused to kill such innocents but mostly they were slaughtered. The Basiji experienced no fear of death since, their faith in one of the founding myths of Shia Islam, glorified death. Death, by helping to vanquish evil, help provide a precondition for the return of the 12th Imam who will establish paradise on earth under universal Islamic Law. We can all hardly wait! The Basiji glorify mass death and, since 2004, have trained an estimated 52,000 members of suicide brigades for suicide in foreign countries.
After Mahmoud’s election he stated ‘Is there an art that is more beautiful, more divine, more eternal than the art of the martyr’s death?’ This makes Mahmoud a dangerous terrorist leader. In a nuclear war with Israel the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians would be of little consequence to Mahmoud if Israel could be wiped off the face of the earth and the arrival of the new Imam hastened.
This message appeals to the poor in Iran who are having a difficult time. The Iranian economy is weak, overregulated with a huge public sector, with over 40% of the population living in poverty and almost completely dependent on oil exports. The narky message of the fanatical Mahmoud to Iran’s poor who, incidentally, identify nuclear power with progress.
Küntzel writes, ‘The history of the Basiji shows that we must expect monstrosities from the current Iranian regime’. Indeed Timothy Ash predicts a massive wave of attacks on foreign targets should the US bomb Iran. Tim Blair shocks by responding – ‘Better take out the whole country, then’. But that is the logical implication of the current mindset in Iran for US policy with respect to a military intervention there. Half-measures would be costly for the US since strong retaliation will be expected unless Iran is severely damaged by a US attack.
A paper from the American Enterprise Institute argues that the Iranian mullahs don’t really want war. The reasoning – if they really wanted it they would not broadcast their nuclear technology successes so loudly. What they do get from such broadcasts are higher oil prices, lots of publicity that is attractive to fanatics in their own society and even offers from European nations to protect the mullahs themselves from a US attack and even from attack by their own nationals.
Is this theory plausible? Are the mullahs making empty threats of the type made famous by Saddam Hussein. If so it’s a dangerous escalation game. But what seems more plausible to me is that evoking a hostile response from the US and its allies helps provide the Iranian leadership with a way of garnering mass support from the poor of Iran. It’s a completely cynical exercise since it is these people who will pay the main price.
The Europeans and the Russians must support strong moves by the US to limit Iran’s nuclear program and get rid of Mahmoud. Strong support for the US now will help avoid costly future military options.