Measuring a response

Measuring a response

With Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz – practically guaranteeing a rise in world oil prices – we must remember that oil, as precious as that commodity is, actually is a side issue in this deadly serious stand-off.

Our major concern should not be what we pay for gas at our local station, but what Iran is doing, and intends to do, with its nuclear capability.

By all accounts, the “Islamic republic” (an absurd designation for what actually is an autocratic theocracy) has not yet developed a nuclear weapons program. To argue that we should not be in any hurry to worry, however, as some have done, is misguided at best. The United States and Israel especially have cause to be concerned, because the rhetoric of the Iran leadership targets each equally.

Cold War wisdom – the notion that having a bomb will actually force its owners to be more responsible – is irrelevant in this age of extremism. The radicals who lead the Iranian government have not shown restraint thus far, and there is no reason to believe they will change their tune once they get the bomb (with a nod to satirist/songwriter Tom Lehrer, who, in a more innocent time, wrote a funny song about nuclear weapons, that included the verse, “Egypt wants to get one, too, just to use on You-Know-Who.” Substitute Iran for Egypt and there is nothing funny here at all).

Still, it is not clear what to do, or even what is being done.

Here at home, the administration claims to be committed to the gradual imposition of sanctions, yet it may have secretly approached Iran seeking to resolve differences via direct talks, something the White House vehemently denies and Iran ecstatically proclaims. In Israel, the prime minister offers hope that upgraded sanctions can succeed if the West is serious about following through, while a deputy expresses disappointment in the sanctions program outlined by Washington.

It is not surprising that the United States and Israel disagree on tactics. Not only does Israel live in the neighborhood, and therefore has greater reason to fear attack from Iran, but the Jewish state has a large stake in re-establishing deterrence in the Arab world (especially in view of recent “failures,” such as the 2006 war with Hezbollah).

Israel has taken preemptive action before – the country’s 2007 attack on Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear facility being a case in point. Interestingly, Israel did not brag about the attack, nor did Syria retaliate, or call for international condemnation. This suggests, of course, that Israel had good reason to take the action it did.

What about now? Should we assume that Israel has information we lack? Should we support the “take it slow” position best illustrated by President John F. Kennedy’s response to the Cuban missile crisis?

Clearly, the issues are complex and the stakes are high. Let us hope that our leaders – putting aside all political considerations – can find a solution before our options become even more limited.