Archive for the ‘Lebanon’ Category

Containing a Nuclear Iran

January 19, 2010

Last Friday, published an op-ed piece by Michael Singh in which he discusses the implications of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.  Mr. Singh makes the following arguments:

1. There is no possibility of a rapprochement between the US and Iran similar to the one President Richard Nixon achieved when he went to China in the early 1970s.

2. Iranian leaders might use nuclear weapons because their rationality is open to question.

3. There is a significant chance that Iran would give atomic bombs to terrorist allies like Hezbollah or Hamas.

4. Iran becoming a nuclear power would fundamentally change the security situation in the Middle East.

5. Arab states would respond to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by building their own.

6. The US could not contain a nuclear-armed Iran.

It appears that Mr. Singh is correct in asserting that a major diplomatic breakthrough between the US and the Islamic Republic is unlikely at the present time.  Hardliners in Tehran remain vehemently anti-American and they continue to view the US, which has surrounded their country with its military forces and expressed sympathy for Iranian dissidents who are calling for democratic reforms, as a threat to their regime.  Moreover, they face no strategic threat from a third party that would compel them to seek an alliance with the US for counterbalancing purposes.

Mr. Singh’s suggestion that Iran might launch a nuclear first-strike against Israel or other nations is absurd.  He observes that the certainty of massive retaliation would probably dissuade them from doing so, but he says that the possibility should not be discounted because Iranian leaders might be irrational.  Although some political elites in Iran have railed against Israel and leveled threats against it, Iranian leaders are not suicidal.  The West should not react hysterically to their rhetoric; after all, Nikita Khrushchev said his country would “bury” the US, but neither he nor other Soviet leaders intended to attack the US with nuclear weapons unless they were attacked first.

A similar counterargument can be used to discredit his warnings that Iran might give the Bomb to terrorist groups.  If groups like Hezbollah or Hamas detonated a nuclear device in Israel, Israeli policymakers would assume that Iran was behind the assault and they would respond by destroying Tehran and other sites with their atomic arsenal.  Once again, Iranian leaders are not suicidal.

Whether Iran “going nuclear” would fundamentally change the security situation in the region is highly questionable.  Mr. Singh says that Iran would act more aggressively and give more weapons to militant groups, but they are already doing that in Lebanon, Israel-Palestine and Iraq, and they do not need nuclear weapons to do such things without suffering serious consequences.  Arab states like Egyt and Saudi Arabia would certainly be very concerned about their Persian rivals having the Bomb, but they would not necessarily create their own arsenals if the US extended a nuclear umbrella over them; America promised to protect Japan and Germany from their nuclear-armed adversaries and successfully prevented proliferation in those two countries. 

They idea that Iran could no longer be contained if it joins the nuclear club is unfounded.  The US has the capability to thwart a conventional attack against is allies in the region and prevent Iranian naval forces from closing the Strait of Hormuz for an extended period of time.   Nuclear deterrence still works for reasons mentioned above, and Iran would not have a greater ability to aid terrorist groups because atomic bombs are not the type of weapons that a state would want to pass on to extremists.  Despite what Mr. Singh claims, America and its partners could still contain a nuclear Iran and protect their interests much like they contained Russia during the Cold War.

Hezbollah Sex

December 3, 2009

Hezbollah is interesting as far as militant groups go because it has so many facets.  It is a terrorist organization (having directed rocket attacks against Israeli civilians), a military force (with a sophisticated command structure and an ability to conduct conventional operations),  a political party (with seats in Lebanon’s parliament), a government administration (it delivers basic services such as garbage collection and education to residents in areas under its control) , a media conglomerate (it owns television and radio stations, newspapers and a website) and an ideological movement (it has strong ties and shares similar religious beliefs with Iranian clerics, who are also Shiite Muslims). 

And now Hezbollah has apparently expanded its domain to include facilitating sex.  In a fascinating article for Foreign Policy magazine called “The Militarization of Sex,” Hanin Ghaddar explains how Hezbollah promotes “malaa,” which are temporary marriages that enable men and women who are essentially single to have sex without violating Shiite religious laws.  Hezbollah does this to maintain and increase its popular support, which it needs for political and military purposes, hence the phrase “The militarization of sex.”

The State of Political Islam

July 15, 2009

Below are links to two contrasting articles about the state of political Islam.  The first is David Ignatius’ piece titled “This is for Real,” which was published in the Washington Post (Jun. 19, 2009).

 The second is Nate Field’s piece titled “The End of Political Islam?,” which was published  in World Politics Review (Jul. 15, 2009).

Hezbollah Coalition Loses Elections

June 9, 2009

To the surprise of many, a Hezbollah-led political coalition was defeated by a pro-American coalition in parliamentary elections in Lebanon on Sunday.  The US-aligned group won 71 seats and the Hezbollah faction won only 57.

Some have attributed Hezbollah’s defeat to President Obama’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world and be conciliatory, including his highly-publicized speech in Egypt last week.  They argue that he has blunted Hezbollah’s anti-American message and lessened its appeal.

Although it is difficult to discern how influential Obama’s outreach campaign was in the elections, other considerations probably played a much more important role.  Sunnis voted heavily against Hezbollah, a Shiite religious party with close ties to Iran, a Shiite country.  Historically, Sunnis and Shiites have often been hostile to one another as rival Muslim factions.  Hezbollah is also affiliated with Syria, a nation that has often exerted unwelcome influence in Lebanese politics, which concerns Lebanese voters.

Economics likely played an important role as well.  The Obama administration threatened to stop providing financial aid to Lebanon if Hezbollah won, and other governments might also have imposed sanctions.  Many Lebanese knew that a Hezbollah victory would not serve their economic interests.

Some analysts in the region say that the voting results in Lebanon might be an indicator that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an outspoken anti-American politician, will lose the upcoming election in Iran on Friday.  However, if he is defeated it will likely be because he has failed to effectively deal with Iran’s economic problems, and not Obama’s diplomatic and public relations posture.

That is not to say that Obama’s outreach campaign is insignificant or that it does not advance US interests.  To the contrary, it is certainly a positive step toward repairing America’s image in the Muslim world.  However, when it comes to elections in the Middle East, domestic and economic issues will almost certainly be the most important factors in the near term.

Did Obama Give Israel a Greenlight to Attack Iran?

May 20, 2009

Last night on the Charlie Rose show, journalist Jon Meacham claimed that during a recent interview with President Obama on Air Force One, the president, when asked about the possibility of an Israeli airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, said “It is not my place to judge the security interests of the state of Israel.”

Obama’s comment could easily be construed as giving Israel a greenlight to attack Iran, which Western officials believe is trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.  Obama’s recent statement that if diplomatic overtures to the Islamic Republic do not bear fruit by the end of the year the US will reconsider its approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear activities also suggests that his administration might be considering military action if it is deemed necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring the Bomb.

An attack on Iran, whether by Israel or the US, is frought with peril.  It would be difficult to take out all of Iran’s nuclear sites because intelligence officials do not know where all of them are located.  Attacking Iran could inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world and help terrorist groups like Al Qaeda recruit suicide bombers and insurgents for attacks against civilians and military personnel.  An Israeli raid would almost certainly make Arab governments less willing to cooperate with the US, Israel’s main ally, on a number of important issues.

The Iranian regime is also very capable of causing major problems for the US in response to an attack.  Iran has operatives in Iraq who could exacerbate the level of violence there and make it more difficult for the US to withdraw.  Through its proxy Hezbollah, a militant group based in Lebanon, it could sponsor terrorist attacks on Israel and further complicate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; support to Hamas, a militant organization in Palestine, could also be increased.  In addition, Iranian agents could attack US embassies and other places around the world frequented by Americans.

Although Israel, the US and other governments are understandably concerned about the possiblity of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, attacking Iran in an attempt to prevent that scenario from developing would not be worth the costs.