Bushehr: And So It Begins, Part II

Bushehr: it’s the geopolitics.

Part I is here.

Earlier this week, Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote an extensive piece about US and Israeli decision factors for a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.  I wanted to post a piece of my own in response to it, but found myself stumped as to how to say anything fresh on the topic.  It seemed that the most efficient approach would be to link to the number of pieces I’ve written before, which have treated all the points raised by Goldberg’s very comprehensive summary.  Yes, Israel’s is a one-shot option.  Yes, the Israelis would have to prioritize and hit far fewer targets than an American force could.  Yes, Iran will have Hezbollah attack Israel from the north and Hamas from the south.  Yes, the Iranian regional backlash will be hard to contain.  Yes, these things are all dangerous to mess with and hard to predict, even though the Arab nations don’t want to be under nuclear-armed Iranian hegemony either, and would be allies of convenience for Israel – for a few hours, at least – in a pinch.

Caroline Glick this week makes a profound point that I made here last year:  that a nuclear-armed Iran can and will squeeze the US out of the Middle East.  She is right.  An Iran empowered with a nuclear arsenal will upend the status quo irreversibly.  Nuclear power deters us a lot better than it deters autocratic predators, and everyone knows that.  Our nuclear power didn’t deter the Soviet Union from waging proxy wars abroad, but the Soviets’ nuclear power deterred us from fighting back in those wars with the goal of actually winning.  It was the Soviet nuclear arsenal that enabled the USSR to set expanding lines of confrontation and have them respected by the West.

And the point, for those who found themselves on the Soviet-influenced side of the line, was not that nukes were never used against the United States, it was that they themselves were subject to brutal totalitarian rule.  A nuclear arsenal empowered the Soviets to make it seem too costly to the US to guard the freedom of vulnerable peoples.  We constrained ourselves instead merely to fight – and only sometimes; not always – in bloody and protracted symmetrical conflicts, and on their territory.

That, right there, is exactly what Iran intends to achieve with a nuclear arsenal:  the hobbling of American will and options.  The mullahs don’t want to attack their neighbors with nukes, they want to make us pull our punches and then leave the region entirely.  They will do that by harassing the neighbors who host us, with terrorism and insurrection, while carrying in the background the threat of nuclear retaliation.  Ultimately, in a US-free Middle East, cowed neighbors who do Iran’s bidding will function to isolate Israel.

Of course, this vision would be achieved only through time, lurches, and false starts.  The Arab nations won’t just sit still for it.  They will try to realign, defend themselves, and wrest regional leadership from Tehran.  Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the population to make herself a serious rival to Iran, but Egypt does.  Egypt is a prize that Iran is trying to leverage today, but I predict the Muslim Brotherhood and its various Salafist tentacles will confront Iran’s proxies there in the very near future.

And that point expands outward to become the most important of all, which is that an Iran mobilized and empowered, and unchecked by the United States, will force on the whole Eastern hemisphere confrontations and decision points that are only latent today.  Caroline Glick focuses, quite naturally, on the fate of Israel under these conditions – and Americans, as Israel’s allies, must do so as well.

Continued in Part III…

Cross-posted at Hot Air.

9 thoughts on “Bushehr: And So It Begins, Part II”

  1. I am surprised that neither you nor Jeffrey Goldberg quoted Bernard Lewis, the West’s leading scholar of Islam, who on August 8, 2006 in the article in the WSJ wrote: “In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning. At the end of time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final destination of the dead–hell for the infidels, and heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, MAD [mutual assured destruction] is not a constraint; it is an inducement.”

    Apart from Bernard Lewis there are not many who understand the mindset of the Iranian leadership. Reza Kahlili was an American CIA agent working undercover among Iranian Revolutionary Guards for ten years. Should we not take seriously someone who risked his life for the US and slept in the same bunkers as the Revolutionary Guards? In his presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on July 9 he said :


    “It is a parallel project for one purpose, and I can argue both sides of the coin, but my belief is that this is a messianic regime, there should be no doubts, they will commit the most horrendous suicide bombing in human history. They will attack Israel, European capitals and Persian Gulf region at the same time, then they will hide in a bunker waiting for Mahdi to get out of that well, ride the white horse, draw that sword and kill the rest of the nonbelievers.

    Sanctions is a fantasy, is an illusion. Change of behavior? You‘re dreaming! Stop dreaming, please! There is not going to be a change of behavior. You are not dealing with rational people. They take it literally from the Quran. And Quran says that those who oppose you, your enemy, are among the idiots and stupid , this is what they think of you. Every time you provide an extended hand, they do not see it as honest approach, out of sincerity, out of a wish to come to a peaceful resolution, they see it as stupidity.”

  2. ” Caroline Glick this week makes a profound point that I made here last year: that a nuclear-armed Iran can and will squeeze the US out of the Middle East. She is right. ”


    How do you go from an Iran not bombed to

    “an Iran mobilized and empowered, and unchecked by the United States”

    You’re excluding an entire middle range of countermeasures that can hobble an unpopular and profoundly weak theocratic regime in Iran and making a dog’s breakfast of reason. As well you’re replicating the worst of the arguments advanced against containing the USSR.
    Iran is never going to be able to mount a threat that begins to approach the seriousness of the one that we faced from the currently still deceased USSR.

    1. There is a fundamental difference between the Iranian mullahs and the Soviet regime. The Soviet communists were atheists and did not wish to die but enjoy their party privileges of closed shops accessible only to them – separate hospitals for party bosses, access to foreign media denied to everyone else and the privilege to travel abroad, denied to almost all Soviet citizens Iranian mullahs believe in Shia eschatology and the return of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. They would start a nuclear war to trigger the return of the Mahdi. But until they do they would use what is called the “Blackmailer’s Paradox” in game theory

      1. I fail to see any evidence that the Iranian mullahs have been in any hurry to depart the Earth or are anything but fiercely desirous of defending their grip on Iran. Exporting their revolution is dear to them, but they’ve done nothing to indicate that holding their own ground isn’t their primary concern.

        Iran hasn’t the ability to wage nuclear war against the US and will not be able to do so for more than a decade, assuming their work progresses without any hindrance. . . and that’s pretty damned unlikely.

  3. You say that Iran hasn’t the ability to wage nuclear war against the US and will not be able to do so for more than a decade. Reza Kahlili who worked as a CIA spy for ten years and lived among the Revolutionary Guards has another take on this. Don’t you think his words carry weight?


    The proliferation is going to become a disaster, and I was at the front row seats of Mohsen Razaei when they brought out the new strategy which was numbers meaning a thousand small groups of small boats is going to cause a threat. A thousand suitcase bombs spread around Europe and the US is going to pose a threat. You are not going to get a handle on the proliferation. They are going to be untouchable. They are going to pass it on to Hezbollah, to Syria, to Venezuela. It is going to become a nightmare.

    As for mullahs being reluctant to die …


    “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world”, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the crowd at the traditional Friday prayers in Tehran.

    Here are a few articles:

    Genesis of Shi’a Islam


    Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?


  4. I’m just skimming through your link to Reza Kahlili, but failed to notice in the link where he said that the Iranians would be waging nuclear war against the US or WHEN they might have the ability to do so.

    ” A thousand suitcase bombs spread around Europe and the US…”

    is something with which I’m unfamiliar. when would they have a thousand suitcase bombs and how would they deploy them?

  5. Mladen Andrijasevic — welcome! You’re “approved” for automatic comment posting now (there’s a one-time intervention required with your first post). But whenever you include 2 or more links in a comment, the WordPress spam filter gets suspicious. In case you see delays in the future, that’s probably why.

    I agree Bernard Lewis is an excellent source. I don’t disagree that the mullahs have an existential approach different from that of the Soviets, but I do disagree that their purpose is effectively self-annihilation, or that they don’t care if that’s the outcome. They have a more geostrategic perspective than that.

    From what I can tell, the true believers among them see the return of the Mahdi as an imminent event that will usher in the global caliphate, which they expect to feature leadership from Persia.

    This by itself is more geopolitical than nihilistic: it posits temporal rule and order, something to be navigated toward after the bombs go off. This fits with the Iranian pattern, which is NOT one of committed individuals blowing themselves up for Allah, and foregoing a rational connection between force and political outcomes. Arabs and Pakistanis do that for the global jihad effort, not Iranians.

    But there is a more pragmatic and calculating strain of messianic revolutionism among the mullahs as well. Not all of them have A’jad’s fanatical expectation that the Mahdi will actually appear in the near future. They think more like Islamist Persian imperialists than like religious fanatics.

    Their approach to acquiring nuclear weapons has been much more pragmatic and calculating than it has been reckless and fanatical. They have accepted delays, secrecy, and strange bedfellows (e.g., Russia) in their pursuit of the bomb. They’ve been patient and crafty, twisting and turning to exploit the West’s UN-centered processes to play for time.

    Overall, they behave like historical Persians — the inventors of chess and some of the world’s earliest developers of imperial administration and diplomacy. I definitely find it one-dimensional and inadequate to see them as mere brutish fanatics, who will get their bomb on Tuesday and go hit Israel with it on Wednesday.

    I do think they intend to literally destroy the state of Israel in the future. I don’t think they are ultimately deterrable in that regard, which is one of the chief reasons I believe we do need to prevent their nuclear armament. But it’s extremely important, in my view, to clarify for observers that Iran will approach that objective indirectly, through a strategy of gradually pressuring the US out of the Middle East so that Israel ends up completely isolated.

    There is a great danger of people thinking that Iran is domesticated and deterrable, if the mullahs don’t attack Israel the minute they get a working nuke. That would be a fatal error in thinking. I predict that the current Iranian leadership fully expects to wait to destroy Israel, and to do it piecemeal over time, using terrorism, isolation from the West, and the threat of nuclear weapons.

    Iranian leaders talk a lot about destroying the Zionist entity, but they don’t mean by that turning Jerusalem into a toxic radiation dump — they mean killing Jews: surrounding and annihilating them, and ultimately seeing the Mahdi acknowledged as supreme in Jerusalem. Too few Westerners understand that the eschatological vision of Islam involves temporal rule and the subjugation of Jerusalem. These fanatics aren’t suicide bombers writ large, they are something in some ways even more dangerous, because they care whom they kill and what happens after the conflagration.

  6. I’m much in agreement with our host while acknowledging that no one can know for sure what Iran will do.

    It’s true that not all the Mullah’s believe in the Mahdi and Armageddon. In fact, Ahmadinejad isn’t the top dog, the Supreme Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamene’i is and, he reportedly enjoys his luxuries. Such a man does not willingly die before he has too.

    But a coup is certainly possible with the ’12th imam’ fanatics gaining control and, even if only briefly it might be enough to touch off Wretchard’s Three Conjectures scenario.

    “Caroline Glick this week makes a profound point that I made here last year: that a nuclear-armed Iran can and will squeeze the US out of the Middle East. She is right.”

    I concur, that is the major offensive reason why Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Defensively, they are also paranoid about a US attack as, if the positions of strength were reversed, they would have attacked us long ago. Which leads to the question of purpose in their seeking to squeeze out the US from the M.E.

    I believe the Iranian strategy has two goals; the elimination of Israel, in which I concur with J.E. our host. And the re-establishment of a regional Caliphate, necessary to the eventual global Caliphate that Islam proclaims to be the end goal. The manifestation of which is the duty of every Muslim.

    Once Iran achieves nuclear weapons capability, its status will rise immeasurably. It will be able to claim that it succeeded in spite of all that the “great Satan’ could do and it will instantly gain the status of being the <a href="http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0410/glick040910.php3&quot;“strong horse” in the Muslim world.

    So how might Iran go about creating a new Iranian led Caliphate?

    Iran is already in bed with Syria and Lebanon lies within Syria’s control. Iran has now established strong ties with Turkey and they will get stronger with Erdogan’s government, which is now committed.

    Iran has made successful overtures to Sudan and promised them nuclear technology (code for WMD’s). Protected under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, Khadafi’s Libya would have to welcome thumbing its nose at the US by joining an Iranian led alliance.

    Yemen is a hotbed of radicalism and just waiting to fall into an alliance. Egypt’s Mubarak is almost at the end of his road, his successor son is perceived as weak and the Brotherhood shall act once Mubarak dies. If Iran is smart, they will offer the same inducement to Egypt as has been offered to Turkey, an honored place at the Caliphate’s table, perhaps a rotating chairmanship and the chance to facilitate the rise of Islam united.

    Iraq will fall into civil war after the US prematurely pulls out and the Shiite’s are in the clear majority, with Iranian aid, they are not about to let the Sunni minority regain control. Shariah law is already embedded in the Iraqi Constitution and I fully expect Iraq to be in the Iranian camp within a year after Iran gains the bomb and the US has left.

    Afghanistan’s Karzai sees the handwriting on the wall and is making overtures to the Taliban, he’ll cut the best deal he can and Afghanistan will have a Taliban led government within two years of the US withdrawal.

    Pakistan’s government, intelligence services and military is riddled with radical Islamist sympathizers and I expect a coup within a year or two after we pull out of Afghanistan.

    Should these cards fall into place, we could well be looking at an Iranian led, nuclear armed Caliphate, stretching across the M.E. from Sudan to Pakistan within less than 5 years after Iran goes nuclear.

  7. You accept that Bernard Lewis is an excellent source but you disagree with him. Bernard Lewis has been a scholar of Islam for more than 60 years and has written over 30 books of which I have read only 7, but someone with such a background would hardly risk his reputation with sensational declarations. So he genuinely believes what he wrote. Of course, he may be wrong. But then again, so can you.

    I would not go into details of trying to determine the spectrum distribution of percentages of rationality of the Shia eschatological mind attributed to different factions. To me it suffices that I live in a country were 149 Sunni suicide bombers have exploded since 2000, two of them just few hundred yards from my office killing 16 people. Of course, Shia are different, but I do not think that western analysts could be relied upon to accurately calibrate the macabre workings of these peoples’ minds, all the more so that we often tend to project our motives and behavior patterns onto them. In addition, US agencies have not exactly shown a sterling track record of terror prediction – 9/11, Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas bomber,

    So the right approach would be to consider the worst case scenario and act accordingly. Since the stakes are so high, even a 5 percent probability that they would launch a nuclear strike immediately is unacceptable. I am sure that if there were a 5 percent probability that a bomb would explode some 500m above the city in California where you live it would have some minute impact on the way you analyze your information.

    You say nothing about Reza Kahlili. Don’t you think that his views carry weight? After all that he has done and witnessed surely his opinion can contribute to the analysis, where as the media coverage of his presentation was almost nonexistent.

    All in all I find it appalling that the American media has almost established a taboo on the subject of MAD and Iran and even the Mahdi. How many Americans know about the Mahdi? 1 to 5 percent at the most. Incredible that we have almost a possibility of a nuclear war at our doorsteps and the US media is silent.

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