Ayatollyah So!

Rosy neo-con visions of sugar plum oil fields and Jeffersonian democracy fairies transforming the Middle East have blurred beyond recognition over the past decade. So, it’s a good time to change the subject and refocus

“For lust of knowing what should not be known, We take the Golden Road to Samarkind.” 

                –James Elroy Flecker’s play Hassan

There was a mysterious blast at a manufacturing facility outside Teheran last November.  This past week the Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs told the annual Herzliya security conference that the Iranians were setting up to produce a missile with a 10,000 kilometer range that could hit the United States. U.S. analysts were quick to point out that known Iranian missiles have but a maximum range of 1,200 miles—enough to reach Israel….  Go to the video tape to watch a “concerned” President Bush in the fall of ’02: “Iraq has a growing fleet (of UAVs) that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas…for missions targeting the United States.”  

Not for the last time will we be misled by rhetorical mushroom clouds into the fog of war with its Rumsfeldian “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.” In the lifted lyrics of John “Beach Boy” McCain, do we “Bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran”?

In The Partition of Palestine, Kermit Roosevelt (Teddy’s grandson) asked, “Will the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine jeopardize the position of the United States in the Middle East?”  He thought it would in 1948; moreover, it would “ease the path of Soviet infiltration.”  A comparable rationale was offered when, as Our CIA Man in Teheran, Kermit spearheaded TPAJAX, which ousted the country’s elected prime minister after he proposed nationalizing its oil, a sovereign assertion that would’ve placed Iran, in our estimation, “behind the Iron Curtain.” 

Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Bollywood handsome head of Egypt, made a parallel move three years later in 1956, by nationalizing the Suez Canal. Wielding Israel Defense Forces as the tip of their spear, England and France sought to regain the Canal and oust Nasser. While the U.S. applied economic pressure on the Brits and French behind the scenes, it was newly installed Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev who got Third World cred for threatening to use nuclear weapons in support of Egypt.  Nuclear brinkmanship didn’t work so well when Khrushchev went eyeball-to-eyeball with the U.S. over Cuba in ’62…and blinked.

Two more clashes with Egypt brought Israel and their most potent Middle East adversary to the Camp David peace accords in ’79. It would usher in more than three decades of peaceful coexistence with Egypt even as the Shah was falling to the cursed Ayatollahs. Twenty-six years of fealty and cut-rate oil out of the Shah’s regime was a darned good return on the paltry five-figure amount Kermit Roosevelt claimed in expenses. For all the scorn heaped on Jimmy Carter, Camp David remains the most sustained contribution to Israel’s security.  

Israeli intelligence didn’t anticipate the Arab Spring spreading to Egypt and, once it did, Prime Minister Netanyahu beseeched the U.S. to stand by Mubarek. Subsequent election of the Muslim Brotherhood on Israel’s passive southern front combines with the five-year old Hamas electoral victory on their western flank to make Likudniks very nervous. Netanyahu’s neo-con alter-ego, Newt Gingrinch, has weighed in: “I think we may, in fact, be having an anti-Christian spring. I think people should take this pretty soberly.”  

Rosy neo-con visions of sugar plum oil fields and Jeffersonian democracy fairies transforming the Middle East have blurred beyond recognition over the past decade. So, it’s a good time to change the subject and refocus. And where better to draw a bead on than that spinning Axle of Evil—Iran? Ever ready to play Mad Mullah to Zealous Zionists, Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei has trash-talked, yet again, about removing the “cancer” that is Israel. “So far,” Khamenei boasted to the “Islamic Awakening and Youth Conference” in Teheran last week, “the Iranian nation has kicked them in the mouth at every stage.”

One bold “Awakening” attendee held up a pesky sign—“Syria?”to remind everyone that growing numbers of Syrians will never awaken again, thanks to the brutal crackdown of Iran’s close ally, Bashar “The Butcher” al-Assad. The fall of Assad would blow a huge strategic hole in Iran’s hegemony. Add to that equation the Persian Spring, which was quickly quelled by Khamenei/Ahmadinejad in a forceful flash-freeze. Deep-seeded discomfort with the Arab Spring is one response Israelis and Iranians share in common.  

Given the rough neighborhood Israelis live in, how far off is Armageddon if the mullahs get the bomb? The specter of nuclear Iran was raised in 1992 by Israel’s then Prime Minister Peres as well as current P.M., Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu who predicted back then that Iran was three to five years away from getting the bomb.  Before the Shah was toppled in 1979, one intelligence report had him setting up “a clandestine nuclear weapons development program.” A looming Iranian bomb has been sighted more frequently than the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot.  

Recently retired Mossad director Meir Dagan, reflecting substantive differences in the Israeli intelligence and defense community, said that an attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea…. The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.” With last year’s exodus of Dagan along with the chief of general staff and the Shin Bet director, “there is no one to stop Bibi and (Defense Minister) Barak.” Lest one dismiss the long-serving Dagan as a weak sister, heed the words of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “Dagan’s specialty is separating an Arab from his head.”

As oil hovers around the $100/bbl mark, traders have currently dismissed the saber rattling as so much bluster. But with 40 percent of world oil transported through Iran’s Strait of Hormuz, conflict would drive the current price up anywhere from 25-75 percent sending a gallon soaring close to $6. Add these sobering facts: Iran has 25 percent more people than Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and land mass nearly four times that of its neighbor, Iraq.  

In the guestimate of the current Israeli chief of staff, the Iranians possess enough fissionable material to package four nukes at some point. The Israeli nuclear arsenal is approximately two orders of magnitude greater, an order of magnitude lower than the usual Israeli eye-for-an-eyelash ratio. The South Koreans have reconciled themselves to a nuclear North whose Martian leadership makes the mullahs look like hippies. Moreover, since Nagasaki, no nuclear nation, no matter how extreme, has been reckless enough to use a bomb. That restraint won’t prevail forever.

Can the Likudniks constrain themselves, resigned to sanctions of the economic and targeted variety?  Mysterious explosions, the Stuxnet virus and elimination of a half-dozen nuclear scientists have markedly crimped Iran’s weaponization. Soon the capacity of the Iranian central bank will be SWIFT-moated, severing their capacity for secure electronic financial exchange. “Iran’s economy has always been sick, but now it seems worse than ever,” said a Teheran bank employee about the prospects of more sanctions. Nonetheless, pre-emptive strikes like the ones Israel executed against Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 remain mighty tempting.

As we mull all this over, return to my formative yesteryears, when mullahs were mere whirling dervishes, and consider the following Sufi tale, the Persian variation of Aesop’s Fables:

Two clever young men sought to puncture the reputed wisdom of the Mullah Nasruddin.

“You will hide a chicken behind your back,” one clever fellow instructed his clever friend, “and we will ask the Mullah whether the chicken is alive or dead.   If he says ‘alive’, you will break its neck. If he says dead, we will produce the living chicken.”

They came upon Mullah Nasruddin and put him to the test.

Nasruddin scratched his head, offered an indulgent smile and responded, “It’s in your hands! It’s in your hands!”


Main Photo: Richard Williams illustration from the Mullah Nasruddin series
Photo: M-Star oil tanker damaged in an explosion in the Strait of Hormuz 7-28-10

Author: Dorian Dale

Dorian Dale’s writing has appeared in journals ranging from Government Security News to Dads World. He is the 8th Distinguished Citi Fellow at the NYU’s Stern School of Business and a member of the Associations of Old Crows and Former Intelligence Officers. Submissions fielded at doriandale@aol.com

6 thoughts on “Ayatollyah So!”

  1. You seem to be hedging here or, worse, speaking out of both sides of your mouth. You point out that the specter of nuclear attack has been at the forefront of decision making for decades though no one believes it will ever happen given the chaos it would bring on every nation in the region; yet you also seem to believe that pre-emptive strikes may still very well be in order. You also seem to accuse Israel of sabre-rattling as much as Iran. From the US perspective (which has no right criticizing premptive strikes)are you advocating isolationist policy, letting bombs fall where they may, and saying Israel dictates too much of US policy, or are you advocating the continuance of covert action against Iran?

  2. Actually, hedges oblige one to chomp on both sides of the mouth.

    And I wasn’t advocating any course, only laying out options, ramifications and perspective. This is a crisis, but not of the magnitude we’ve faced in the past, nor of others that currently fester.

    What we’re seeing is a kabuki dance in which the prospect of nukes levers collateral objectives, like force and image projection.

    Israel’s preemptive strikes on Iraq’s Osirak reactor and Syria’s Deir ez-Zor facility summons up that “We’ve done it before, we can do it again” esprit. But both were single, ground-level buildings.

    Iran’s fuel-enrichment plant at Natanz is below ground. Its newer plant at Qom, is heavily fortified into the side of a mountain. It is estimated that Israel’s GBU-28 bunker-busters could do significant damage but not decimate. There are multiple other targets all in a country four times larger than Iraq.

    To fly the 2,000mile round-trip, Israeli jets would have to refuel which would require U.S. KC-135 tankers. To do a thorough job would call in U.S. B-52 bombers and B-2 stealth craft.

    DefMin Barak has set a drop-deadline to attack before Iran enters the “zone of immunity.” That’s the old fear-of-loss pressure pitch that puts everyone on notice that it’s time to rumble.

    No cheerleading here; just color commentating.

  3. Hey there Dorian,

    And all the Kings Horses and all the Kings men, could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

    And for Jed…

    Red clouds at night; Sailors delight.

    Red clouds in the morning; Sailers take warning!

    Fast Eddie

  4. The following was e-mailed to me by a Luddite who said it was OK to post:

    The theme seems to be that “we need to do something” about Iran.” Do what? North Korea has the bomb and knows full well that its use would unleash our full might against them. They are and will be contained. Do they sell technology to bad guys? That is a real concern and I admit that. But a pre-emptive strike against N. Korea would be neo-con madness.

    Same with Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran, the retaliation would be immediate and possibly spread across the region. Unintended consequences would carry the day i.e. we have no way to know what an attack by Israel would create. Surely we would be blamed… so start with the effect on our interests. I saw Breszinski on TV. I’m not one of his fans. But he said that war with Iran over the possible development of the bomb would be unnecessary. He mentioned N. Korea as an example of a nation with a bomb which does not dare use it. He also wanred against sanctions which would force Iran into a two choice posture…kneel and succumb or fight. Does anyone really imagine that Iran would use a bomb against Israel and risk our repsonse?

    I wish we would stop posturing and saying that an Iranian bomb would be “unacceptable” when the world knows we are helpless to prevent one short of war. We look not only stupid but impotent. I favor the current Israeli actions…killing scientists with no fingerprints, hacking into their systems etc.

    Wish I had all the answers. BTW… do we not look craven along with other atomic powers when we say we can have a bomb but you can’t? Are we not the only nation in history to use the bomb?

    Ah well…

  5. SCAR, thanks to mechanisms put in place under Kennedy, all consequences have been considered with contingencies planned and mapped. The only intangible is the number of Persian Moles here already, who will most certainly will bring death and destruction down upon the Great Satan.
    The NYPD is taking a hammering over their covert monitoring of Muslim social gathering places yet Homeland Security Investigators (Federal Special Agents) and their imbedded C.I.’s are flying under the radar. Better that this should happen now and finaly settle the Arab-Isreali issue once and for all. Our War machine will kick in, and everyone will have a job, and a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage. Works for me.

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