1) How I learned to stop worrying and love the Iranian bomb
Bill Keller of the New York Times considers what should be done with Nuclear Mullahs. Actually, according to Keller, nothing, just with the threat.
A pre-emptive bombing campaign against Iran’s uranium factories would almost certainly require major U.S. participation to be effective, and would not be neat. Beyond the immediate casualties, it would carry grave costs: outraged Iranians rallying behind this regime that is now deservedly unpopular; Iran or its surrogates lashing out against American and Israeli targets in a long-term, low-intensity campaign of retaliation; a scorching hatred of America on the newly empowered Arab street, generating new recruits for Al Qaeda and its ilk; an untimely oil shock to a fragile world economy; an unraveling of the united front Obama has assembled to isolate Iran. All that, and a redoubled determination by Iran’s leaders to do the one thing that would prevent a future attack: rebuild the nuclear assembly line, only this time faster and deeper underground. There is a pretty broad consensus that, short of a full-scale invasion and occupation of Iran, a preventive attack would not end the nuclear program, only postpone it for a few years.
There are a lot of assumptions built into that paragraph, but there’s one that Keller doesn’t consider: that the Iranian government, humiliated in its attempt to become a nuclear power, ends up losing it control of the country. I don’t know if that would happen, but Keller only considers the negative consequences of such an attack. But it’s important to make the assumptions Keller makes, because he’s correct that the likely result of a nuclear Iran is an Iran that projects its power more aggressively:
First, that possession of a nuclear shield would embolden Iran to step up its interference in the region, either directly or through surrogates like Hezbollah. This is probably true. But as James Dobbins, a former diplomat who heads security studies for the RAND Corporation, told me, the subversive menace of a nuclear Iran has to be weighed against the lethal rage of an Iran that had been the victim of an unprovoked attack.
“[U]nprovoked attack?” I would assume that the acquisition of nuclear weapons would constitute a provocation especially couple with Iran’s threats against Israel. Still the assumption of the “lethal rage” is part of Keller’s calculation, though I have no idea if it’s true.
A second worry is that a Persian Bomb would set off a regional nuclear arms race. This is probably an exaggerated fear. A nuclear program is not cheap or easy. In other parts of the world, the proliferation virus has not been as contagious as you might have feared. So the Saudis, who regard Iran as a viper state, might be tempted buy a bomb from Pakistan, which is not a pleasant thought. But Egypt (broke), Turkey (a NATO member) and the others have strong reasons not to join the race.
Most worrisome, I think, is the danger that a crisis between Israel and Iran would escalate out of control. Given the history of mistrust and the absence of communication, some war planner on one side or the other might guess that a nuclear attack was imminent, and decide to go first.
“You would have a very unstable deterrent environment between Israel and Iran, simply because these are two states that tend to view each other in existential terms,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-American Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, who is not an advocate of containment. Against this fear, history suggests that nuclear weapons make even aggressive countries more cautious. Before their first nuclear tests, India and Pakistan fought three serious conventional wars. Since getting their nukes they have bristled at each other across a long, heavily armed border, but no dispute has risen to an outright war.
What Keller assumes is the most troubling scenario is the one with Israel involved. Israel’s fears are exaggerated and its military might develop an itchy finger. Such is the reasoning of the New York Times. Israel is the factor that makes a nuclear Iran the biggest possible danger.
So Keller concludes that a nuclear Iran is better than any alternative. Keller’s dismissive approach to the Iranian threat contrasts sharply with the Washington Post’s recent sensible editorial.
2) The UN Gaza report
The New York Times has decided to make news out of a recent UN report claiming that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. In addition to an article by Israel correspondent Jodi Rudoren, the Times saw fit to include a photographic essay. (Note that in the caption to picture linked to here, there’s no suggestion that it is Hamas that is at fault for the sewage problem.) The paper hasn’t mentioned the house destroyed in Netivot over the weekend by rockets from Gaza.
Rudoren’s report, ‘Forgotten Neighborhood underscores Growing poverty in Gaza is heavy on the pathos and the suffering of the poorest in Gaza.
Many in the Forgotten Neighborhood and throughout Gaza blame Israel, which captured the territory in 1967 and occupied it until a unilateral withdrawal in 2005, but still controls utilities and regularly strikes people and places it suspects are connected to terrorism. But many also fault the Hamas government, which wrested control of the strip in 2007, for failing to reconcile with the Fatah faction that runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and for failing to address the problems that plague daily life.
Hamas itself is at a critical crossroads. Hopes for improved relations with Egypt’s new Islamist government, including a proposed free-trade zone, have yet to yield fruit. Attempts at a cease-fire with Israel are constantly thwarted by rogue militant groups. And longstanding support from Syria has disappeared amid that country’s chaos.
That the situation is not far worse is due largely to aid from overseas and, especially, the United Nations, which still provides food aid to some 1.1 million of the 1.64 million residents who remain classified as refugees generations after their families left what became Israel in 1948.
I give Rudoren credit for acknowledging that Hamas may be partly responsible for the poverty in Gaza, though, she herself writes that in the past two years the economy has improved because Israel’s has relaxed its control. As Khaled Abu Toameh wrote last week the resulting wealth has gone to those who are favored by Hamas. Hamas is a lot more responsible for the problems of Gaza than Rudoren reports. Rudoren also failed to report that Israel exports a lot of humanitarian aid to Gaza, made more remarkable by the fact that Israel is still attacked by groups from Gaza. In fact it appears that since relaxing the blockade, rocket attacks that decreased in 2009 following Cast Lead have been slowly increasing again.
Rudoren does make two extremely misleading points. One is “In the 2009 Gaza war, Israeli shells killed 40 people at a United Nations-run school in Gaza, which created severe strains between Israel and the organization’s bureaucracy.” And until 2009, the UN bureaucracy had no friction with Israel? Please! Furthermore the fact that terrorists were using the courtyard of the school to fire at Israel isn’t even mentioned and the fatality numbers Rudoren used are inflated – the result of taking unreliable Palestinian claims at face value.
Also for Rudoren to blame “rogue militant groups” for breaking ceasefires when Hamas controls the territory and the tunnels is disingenuous. Those rogue militant groups would not be attacking Israel if Hamas was interested in stopping them.
While the article contained some balance. it is still marred by a number of distortions that are all too common in the mainstream media when reporting from the Middle East.