While Western nations debate over the finer points of sanctions to dissuade Iran from its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the neighbors of the Iranian mullahcracy are making much more practical calculations. The ambassador from the United Arab Emirates shocked his audience yesterday by openly calling for military strikes on Iranian targets if sanctions do not reverse the mullahcracy’s course in the short term. Yousef al-Otaiba said that talk of “containment and deterrence” makes him nervous, given the 30-year history of futility of such policies:
In unusually blunt remarks, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba publicly endorsed the use of the military option for countering Iran‘s nuclear program, if sanctions fail to stop the country’s quest for nuclear weapons.
“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what.”
“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclearIran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E.“
Otaiba made a more telling point, however, in attacking the fundamental rationale for the sanctions:
The ambassador also said that “talk of containment and deterrence really concerns me and makes me very nervous.”
He said Iran has not been deterred from supporting terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah now, when it doesn’t have a nuclear arsenal. So why, he asked rhetorically, would Iran be more cautious in its support for terrorism if it did.
“Why should I be led to believe that deterrence and containment will work?” he asked.
Otaiba is right. That policy has led us to where we are today, with the Iranian regime entrenched behind a military police state and well on their way to acquiring weapons of mass destruction. They already have the means to deliver them, if they choose to do so in open military conflict. However, they would more likely use their proxy terrorist armies, Hamas and Hezbollah, to park a nuke in Tel Aviv in order to claim deniability. The ongoing existence of both forces, which rely on Iranian funding and direction, is another plague that the policies of deterrence and containment have rendered unto the region.
However, military action against Iran is much more difficult than it was against Iraq or Afghanistan. Iran is three times the size of Iraq in mainly mountainous territory. The Iranians have no doubt dispersed their nuclear efforts to keep a single strike or even a series of them from completely destroying those facilities. Despite our presence in the Gulf, those factors — plus the fact that Iran has not had to fight a war for a few decades and so has more strength than Saddam Hussein had in either conflict with the US — means successful strikes that would halt their nuclear progress and disable the Revolutionary Guard would be hard to accomplish, dangerous to try, and likely would cost the West a great deal of nascent sympathy among Iranian democracy activists unless it also succeeded in decapitating the mullahcracy and the military leadership. That would be akin to drawing two cards to an inside straight flush.
Otaiba understands these risks, though, and accepts the costs. As he told the startled policymakers in the audience, “The United States may be able to live with it [a nuclear Iran]. We can’t.” Neither can the other Arab states, not without a nuclear arms race that would raise the risk of putting nukes in the hands of Islamist extremists to an almost-certainty. The US cannot live with that outcome, either.