The Era of Saber-Rattling Is Over
The IAEA has given all parties until Friday to accept the proposal. Should they sign off on it?
If we're talking about coming to a mutual understanding on the issue of the nuclear program in Iran, then all parties involved should sign the deal. Certainly the draft is advantageous for Western countries. It walks that fine line between temporarily neutralizing Iran's nuclear capabilities, while simultaneously appeasing their need for fuel and low-enriched uranium for research purposes. Conversely, why would Iran want to give up the uranium they spent so much time developing? In recent speeches, President Ahmadinejad has turned the nuclear program into a matter of national pride. Accepting this agreement could be seen as a defeat.
The proposal is one component of a very complex situation in the Middle East. The current overarching factor in Middle Eastern geopolitics seems to be the ascendancy of Iran into a regional power and the efforts of controlling interests such as Israel and the United States to manage this development.
If we cut through all the rhetoric on either side, I think the fact remains that Iran wants to be perceived as being on equal footing with the United States and Israel in the Middle East. They want to advance their policy of supporting the Shia in countries such as Lebanon and Iraq. They want a solution to the Palestinian question. They want to curb Saudi Arabian influence. Most importantly, they want an acknowledgement that they are the rising star in the Middle East.
I recently read a book by former CIA operative Robert Baer, entitled “The Devil We Know: Dealing With The New Iranian Superpower”. The book contains fascinating insights into the motivations of Iran by someone who spent twenty years in the region working as a CIA case officer. Baer feels that in order for progress to be made in talks with Iran, we have to accept the premise that, despite the rhetoric, Iran is a rational power.
We need to acknowledge the influence of Iran in other countries. Hezbollah in Lebanon has received training and financial support from Iran, and thus is seen as a proxy of Iran in many circles. Hezbollah has veto power in the Lebanese parliament. In a sense, the United States has helped Iran to achieve many of its goals. They removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. They removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. These are both seen as enemies of Iranian interests in the region. Now, they would like a deciding vote in matters important to their brand of politics.
I think the United States needs to sit down with the real executive authority in Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the small committee that holds real power in the country. Only then can the United States and other Western countries begin to truly engage with Iran and acknowledge its power. President Ahmadinejad and his cabinet are not members of the ruling committee. There have been efforts made to engage President Ahmadinejad in a dialogue. The impact on negotiations has been nonexistent.
The fact of the matter is that it is unlikely that anybody is going to attack anybody. Of course, anything is possible. In interviews, Robert Baer implies that there are elements of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran who command the missiles along the Gulf and who would not hesitate to retaliate if attacked. He believes that if attacked, Iran will use silkworm missiles to target oil tankers in the Gulf and in a worst case scenario, destroy 17 million barrels of traded oil. This would send the United States, not to mention the rest of the Western world into a depression even greater than the one in which we find ourselves. Hezbollah would cover Israel with rockets, and casualties would dramatically increase in Afghanistan and Iraq. Contrariwise, Israel is capable of completely decimating Iran through nuclear weapons if attacked.
These are all scary scenarios. That's why I think this latest proposal by the IAEA should be accepted by all parties. There must be an agreement in place that acknowledges Iranian power while neutralizing their nuclear ambitions. It is important for future stability in the region. It could prevent an arms race in the Middle East and promote negotiation and dialogue. This could set a precedent that will be followed by future generations in the Middle East.
The era of saber-rattling is over. It's time to make a deal.