The so called P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran are apparently going nowhere. One can find small signs of optimism: there was, for instance, some serious give and take at the last session between negotiators. But right now what the West is offering—limited sanctions relief in return for Iran dismantling its major hard-to-destroy reactor—hasn’t impressed the current batch of Iranian negotiators. As I read the accounts—which are highly technical for non-experts—it appears that the Iranians believe that if they’re going to accept limits and more intrusive inspections on their program, they want full sanctions relief, an end to all “regime change” talk and actions, and formal recognition of their right to enrich uranium. Right now the U.S. is offering limited sanctions relief and little else. The sides are far apart.
What seems obvious is why Iran would feel it would want a nuclear deterrent. It is surrounded by other nuclear powers, and has seen Iraq—which lacked a nuclear program—invaded on the basis of a packet of lies and its government destroyed. It has seen the West act like the most prudent of realists when dealing with a nuclear North Korea, which behaves like a crazy and aggressive state in ways Iran does not. It has observed the world’s passivity as Israel built up a massive nuclear arsenal, and its silence while Israel shared its nuclear expertise with apartheid South Africa, then considered a rogue state. It would be hard to imagine that Iranians—who began their nuclear pursuit under the Shah—would hear Western proclamations about the sanctity of nuclear non-proliferation as anything but rank hypocrisy.
The real reasons for the obsession with Iran’s nuclear program are not vocalized, and perhaps—resting as they do under layers of self-deception and sublimated power drives—are not even fully comprehended this country’s leaders. Wiliam Pfaff makes the point here:
Wars of defense more often than not are motivated by illusion or fantasies that disguise real or sublimated aggression. Many wars are the product of entangled motives that include such aggressive ambitions and fears — often unwarranted, but deliberately exaggerated for aggressive reasons and propaganda.
The United States provides one convenient, indeed irresistible, current case of self-deception. The war being promoted in the United States against Iran is (or would be) a war of aggression disguised by — but also to — the leaders themselves, as a preventive war necessitated by threat, as if an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons would perform so suicidal an act as to attack the United States, or more to the point, Israel.
The real motive for Israel to attack Iran would be to destroy a medium-sized hostile power, not because Iran is a nuclear threat, but because, even without nuclear armaments, Iran by its size, history, resources and economic potential, is a serious competitor to Israel in a region that is itself hostile to Israel and the United States.
One cannot say inherently hostile, since Jews since the eighth century lived on reasonably peaceful terms in Islamic-ruled societies, ended only in the twentieth century with the partition of Palestine. In fact Jews and Arabs both lived more peacefully with one another in the Maghreb and Middle East than either did in the past with Christian Europe. So a preventive destruction, or crippling, of modern Iran may seem merely a brutal but useful precaution to Jerusalem (or Washington), but in the long run could have enduring historical consequences.
The United States would in such a case not simply be acting in response to the political stranglehold Israel now enjoys over the majority of members of the American House of Representatives and much of the Senate, or because of the American formal alliance with Israel. It would be going to war with Iran to serve one of its permanent if unacknowledged foreign policy objectives, the preservation of as much as possible of its surviving quasi-monopoly of global nuclear military power.
“Permanent if unacknowledged foreign policy objectives”—the maintenance of a quasi-monopoly of atomic weapons. For Israel, the maintenance of monopoly is also unstated, and the position actually more extreme, unique in fact among the countries of the world. Israel demands the right to sole possession of nuclear weapons in its region, and at regular intervals attacks its neighbors to assert its monopoly aspirations. More surprising still is that Israel has managed to persuade the United States to accept, indeed embrace, its doctrine without so much as a whisper of debate—surprising since it requires the United States to imperil its own economy fighting wars to enforce it.
One can’t effectively predict the future, but some things are virtually certain. One is that Israel will not always and forever be the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Another is that if the United States, in another violent effort to maintain Israel’s monopoly, lays waste to Iran with bombers, there will be negative consequences in the long run which none of today’s war planners will imagine. They may be as unpredictable as the constellation of events that followed Germany’s “logical” and “defensive” and ultimately self-defeating efforts to secure its own strategic position in 1914. (Pfaff elaborates on the Wilhelmine Germany analogy here.)