- Last Friday the _New York Times_ published an op-ed by
Israeli historian Benny Morris that is reckless, appalling in the horrifying
judgment it purveys, and absolutely frightening. What Morris proposes,
one assumes with a straight face, is that tiny Israel, protected only by
the most modern army in the Middle East, by 200 or so nuclear weapons with
sophisticated delivery systems, and the might of an unflinchingly supportive
US government, must destroy Iran to keep that country from destroying Israel.
Even though Iran does not now have a nuclear weapon, says it is not seeking
to develop one, and US intelligence sources says Iran has not worked on
a weapons project in years, Morris says Iran poses an existential threat
to Israel, because if it were to acquire a weapon, the Iranian Mullahs
will drop it on Israel.
- The evidence for this assertion, by Morris or anyone
else, is somewhere between sparse and non-existent. The simple truth is
that Iran's brash and outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs
refuse to cease and desist from Iranian efforts to master the nuclear fuel
cycle. However, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which
Iran is a signatory, the country has a right to peaceful nuclear technology,
including refining fuel for electric power production.
- Morris extremism fits a constant Israeli/neo-con propaganda
model. He says that Israel is "threatened almost daily with destruction
by Iran's leaders", and he pretends to the common assertion that Israel
does nothing to provoke such threats. He operates under a propaganda umbrella
that covers sweeping charges of Islamic jihadism, but according to expert
opinion (see Glenn L. Carle in the _Washington Post_) that alleged threat
is mostly a delusion "made large by our fears."
- Morris simply ignores the larger reality that Israel
and the US have threatened Iran constantly for much of the past decade.
But Iran has consistently said only what it would do if attacked. The very
best that can be said about the threat game is that the United States and
Israel have made the contest grossly one sided.
- Western media have made much of an alleged threat by
Ahmadinejad to destroy Israel. However, according to experts in Farsi,
Ahmadinejad actually said "the Zionist regime in Jerusalem should
collapse", or words to that effect. There are numerous Israelis who
would subscribe to that, but it sounds more like a devout hope than a threat.
In any case, no Iranian threat, even wildly misquoted for media effect,
is even close to the genocidal Morris suggestion that Iran be destroyed
in a nuclear attack to prevent it from acquiring a bomb. It is no challenge
to find the madman in this picture.
- It is an extreme challenge, however, to find an honest
broker for conducting any negotiation with Iran. Indicative of the supreme
irony of the situation, five member countries (the United States, Britain,
France, Russia and China) of the Group of Six who seek to bring the Iranians
into line are all nuclear powers with control over the complete fuel cycle
up to and including production of nuclear weapons. The sixth team member,
Germany, made a commitment to its Green Party in 2000 to renounce uses
of nuclear energy.
- A deeper irony is that Israel is not being asked to curb
its nuclear programs or give up its weapons. Rather, whether or not that
is the intent of the Group of Six, shutting down Iran's refining operation
would leave no doubt about Israel's regional nuclear monopoly.
- Keeping Iran-or any other additional country for that
matter-from mastering nuclear weapons technology is a legitimate goal.
The problem is that the climate for this enterprise is thoroughly contaminated.
Led by more or less open US plans to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, now stalled
in Congress, other nuclear club members are probably looking into upgrades.
All of that is contrary to the NPT.
- Such moves by the leading powers in the NPT are hardly
conducive to arms reduction. Nor does the fact that three nuclear weapons
states outside the NPT (India, Pakistan and Israel) are more or less accepted
as legitimate encourage treaty compliance. So far, three countries, Germany
(as noted above), South Africa (voluntarily)) and North Korea (hopefully
it will fully respond to US, Chinese and UN inducements) have backed away
from weapon ownership. With roughly half of humanity now nuclear armed,
however, the climate is more conducive to deliberate acquisition of the
technology than it is to abstinence or disarmament.
- Meanwhile the basic US/Israeli strategies of continual
military threats and intimidation plus actual and threatened UN sanctions
have not been sufficient to shut down Iranian fuel refining efforts. Nor
is the Israeli strategy (in this case US supported) of demanding Iranian
concessions before agreeing to talk close to succeeding. An exploratory
session of Iran and the group of six, with the US present for the first
time, bogged down on this point this week.
- It looks like time to go out and come in again. The present
approach is biased and self-serving on the part of the outsiders. It seeks
concessions in advance of negotiations that are obvious subjects for agreement
or at least consideration in any negotiation. In short, it is the browbeating,
self-centered negotiative style the Israelis have used to the continuing
loss and disadvantage of the Palestinians. Mainly it is a something for
nothing strategy that is not working. A clean slate is needed.
- What would be an appropriate strategy? The answer is
hardly mysterious. There are about six requirements. First, a fair, even-handed
and non-military approach is needed. No threats--either of verbal or military
maneuver--are allowed. Second, Israeli preferences cannot drive the train.
Third, the NPT rights of the Iranians must be strictly preserved and protected.
Fourth, the group of six and its UN sponsors should accept the right of
the Iranian people to develop an energy policy that serves their needs,
so long as the policy is consistent with international law and practice.
Fifth, the results sought by the group of six cannot merely serve the present
nuclear status quo. Finally, all participants in the negotiation must approach
the table prepared to meet their own obligations under the NPT.
- Virtually all other versions of this negotiation will
be a charade. The opportunity is here for the leading powers either to
advance the cause of nuclear disarmament and effective management of peaceful
uses of nuclear energy, or for those powers to push humanity closer to
nuclear oblivion. An Iranian solution that mainly preserves the nuclear
status quo will not work. It will merely push the planet closer to an accident
by fostering a regime of nuclear haves and nuclear have-nots who clandestinely
seek membership in the club. The best solution to this problem is one under
which everybody plays by the same rules and everybody is bound by the same
- As for _New York Times_ publication of the Morris threat,
the editors simply showed defective judgment. At least in principle, Noam
Chomsky put it right when he said: "If we don't believe in freedom
of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."
But even that would admit an exception for shouting fire in a crowded theater
such as the Middle East.
- The writer is the author of the recently published work,
A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist
on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman
of the Department of International Studies of the National War College
and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency
Planning. He will welcome comment at <mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org