Iran's Strategic Nuclear Deception

This misconception has been fostered by numerous statements by senior Iranian officials, including the following:

  • In December 2000, Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, the country's highest-ranking official, said, "Iran's stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon [Israel]. We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region."

  • In December 2001, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, which elects the supreme leader, said, "If one day ... the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel's possession [i.e., nuclear weapons] -- on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end. This ... is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam."

  • In October 2005, soon after he became president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated, "As the imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (1902-1989), central figure of Iran's Islamic revolution and Khamenei's predecessor as supreme leader] said, Israel must be wiped off the map."

  • In December 2006, Ahmadinejad said, "The Zionist regime [will] soon be wiped out and humanity will be free."

  • In May 2008, the Iranian president said, "Today the reason for the Zionist regime's existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation."

  • In June 2008, Ahmadinejad said of Israel, rhetorically addressing the memory of Khomeini, "Thanks to God, your [i.e., Khomeini's] wish will soon be realized, and this germ of corruption will be wiped off."

  • In September 2008, Ahmadinejad said on Iranian television, "Let me tell them [Zionists] that if they themselves do not wrap up Zionism, the strong arm of the peoples will wipe these germs of corruption off the face of the Earth."

Such ravings are too often interpreted as tacitly giving a pass to countries that have the good fortune not to be Israel. For example, Hillary Clinton said during the campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination that if she were president, Iran's "use of nuclear weapons against Israel would provoke a nuclear response from the United States." Evidently it didn't occur to the present secretary of state that a U.S. nuclear attack on Iran could result in an Iranian nuclear attack on the U.S.

Barack Obama proclaimed in a June 2008 speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference that he is aware of the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. But there is disturbing evidence that he does not perceive Iran as posing a direct threat to the U.S.

A few weeks before his AIPAC speech, Mr. Obama told a rally: "Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries. That's what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That's what Nixon did with Mao. I mean, think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela -- these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we're going to wipe you off the planet."

In reality, Iran (which, by the way, isn't all that tiny: with an area of 636,296 square miles, it's bigger than Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, and Portugal combined, and its population is 66,000,000) would pose more of a nuclear threat to us than the Soviet Union did, because the Soviets could be -- and, as it turned out, were -- deterred.

Those who maintain that it will be possible for the West to "live with a nuclear Iran" because Tehran will supposedly be deterred by the Western nuclear arsenal appear to be afflicted with some sort of cognitive dysfunction that blocks them from comprehending the implications of Shi'a Islam's belief that an apocalyptic war is both inevitable and desirable, grasping Shi'ite doctrinal preference for the delights of the afterlife over the tribulations of worldly existence, and drawing appropriate conclusions from the Islamic regime's incessant glorification of "martyrdom," culminating in Ahmadinejad's assertion that "millions" of Iranians are prepared to die in the conflict between their country and its enemies.

The stream of invective calling for, predicting, and/or gloating in advance about the elimination of Israel constitutes one of the most effective strategic deceptions in history. Tehran has succeeded in minimizing Western concern about Iran's nuclear weapons program by making it seem to be somebody else's problem.

On February 4 a meeting, scheduled before the Iranian satellite launch was announced, was held in Wiesbaden, Germany, of a working group known as the P5+1, whose purpose is to coordinate Iranian nuclear weapons policy among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- China, France, Russia, the UK, and the U.S. -- plus Germany. The U.S. was represented by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns. The British, French, and German attendees were dismayed to find that the American diplomat was unable to tell the group what the Obama administration's Iran policy is. Burns said that the administration has not yet formulated its policy toward Tehran and that doing so will take approximately two months.

With each passing day bringing the world one day closer to the waking nightmare of a nuclear-armed Iran, it is remarkable that the administration of a president whose main electoral promise in the realm of foreign affairs was that he would shift to multilateralism and diplomacy has introduced a two-month delay into the process of multilaterally coordinating the efforts of diplomats.

Could this lack of urgency result from the misperception that if attempts at multilateral diplomacy fail, the cities that will be targeted by the nuclear weapons Iran will deploy will be located in a country other than the United States?