So turning our attention to Iran's potential possession of nuclear weapons, there are those who say that since containment worked with the Soviets, we should do the same with Iran. I had thought that perhaps that was correct, because I see no reasonable way out of the current predicament. But containment worked in a bipolar world. In the U.S., we think that Iran is primarily threatening the west and Israel. But I am not so sure that is entirely correct. I do not blame the Israelis for feeling threatened, because a nuclear attack on Israel might advance the Persian agenda, but I don't believe that is ultimately the Iranian goal.
Historically, the Persians have though little of the Arabs or their predecessor civilizations such as the Babylonians or Assyrians. They see themselves as superior and the rightful leaders of the Middle East by history and geography. With their ancient enemies in Mesopotamia temporarily incapacitated, I believe they sense an historic opportunity. However, the United States presents a problem. The U.S. has a very strong, long term vested interest in the stability of the nation state and the sanctity of borders. It is our means to ensure peace and stability. The full and clear wisdom of this position was brought to our shores on 9/11, an attack launched from a failed state that could not really control its own territory.
As a result, the U.S. will not tolerate Iranian expansionism. Obtaining nuclear weapons, is Iran's way of raising the stakes for U.S. involvement, but also is a way for them to achieve their objectives without firing a shot, because their Arab neighbors to the south, including the Saudis know that they will not be able to militarily withstand the Iranian might. However, Iran also knows that they cannot successfully invade these nations and hope to achieve their ends. So what is their long term strategy?
To understand that, one must understand that state-on-state agression in the region is carried on by quasi-political groups that operate within particular countries but are funded by state actors. Al Qaeda is no exception. We know that al-Qaeda has been infiltrated by the state security services of a number of middle eastern nations. This is not to say that it is under their control, but they have some influence and have provided training, money and arms. But al Qaeda is only one such group. From Michael J. Totten's interview of Lee Smith (author of The Strong Horse):
For instance, Syria’s relationship with Jordan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, and Jordan’s friendliness toward the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, means that these two states effectively deter each other—if you use Islamists against me, I will unleash Islamists on you. Al Qaeda, as a transnational outfit, seems to be a group that has been supported, manipulated and penetrated by a whole number of Middle Eastern security services, including but not exclusive of the Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Libya, Pakistan, and Iraq before Saddam’s downfall. This is not to say that any of these regimes have Al Qaeda or any of these terror organizations under their thumb; when you have a group of people with weapons, money and a deadly ideology it is difficult to manage them very closely.Back to Iran. Given Iran's funding of Hezbollah and similar entities, one could envision a combination of threats the Iranians could use to destabilize the regimes of the region with the long term goal of establishing regimes with loyalties to Iran. This could even take the form of threatening to provide nuclear arms to the non-state actors operating in the Gulf states. The leaders of those states would not feel safe against nuclear armed terrorists. Politically, Iran has paralyzed criticism of their actions by couching the need for their nuclear program in anti-zionist rhetoric. This allows them to shame the other Arab states who are not fully engaged against Israel. Western criticism of Iran only plays into its hands among those who see Arab nationalism through the lens of the past glories of the Muslim Caliphate.
I digress for a moment. I recently criticized the Iranians for murdering a nuclear physicist who was himself critical of the regime. Now, I am not as sure. Considering the manner in which covert activity funded by other nations is a way of life in the region, and the extent to which Iran is a threat to its Arab neighbors, this attack might have been a clever move by the Pakistanis, for example. It simultaneously had a negative impact on the Iranian nuke program, or so it would seem, and discredits the Iranian regime as thuggish. Because right now, regime change in Iran, seems to be the only option, and that is a long shot indeed.
My parting shot on Part I. I was thinking what would be the most diabolical, insanely mad ploy that the Iranians could attempt to further their aims in the Middle East in one quick blow. I believe that if and when they obtain nukes, they will covertly use nuclear weapons to destroy the Dome of the Rock in a manner to implicate the Israelis. Such a move would simultaneously weaken the Israeli government, one of the few counterweights to Iran in the region, as well as bring uncontrollable riots into the major Arab cities in the middle east, leaving the ripe for the plucking by Iranian affiliated groups.