Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the recently elected President of Iran, has made a number of statements in recent months which indicate not only a mental instability, but also a near-maniacal intent to attack the United States and Israel with nuclear weapons. To be blunt, I do not believe this is his intention in the short term, say in the next two years.
In a scenario simulation using an old crisis generation program called REALTIME, no matter what conditions were given, Iran was not able to destabilize the United States with a nuclear strike, given the limited operational scope Iran possesses. Even a potential decapitation strike on the President and Congress failed to prevent the continuity of the American government, or avoid the inevitable obliteration of Iran. Insane the mullahs are, but they are no fools; for all their talk of a great war to rid the world of America, they know they are in no position to do anything but dream of such a possibility. If Iran has or acquires nuclear weapons in the near future, they will still have only a limited stockpile, which in practical terms means the ability to hit soft easy targets like cities, but negligible military value. Recall that even if Iran had a nuclear bomb at this moment, they have yet to test it, so they have no idea whether the thing will work as designed. The story is still told about an Indian ultimatum to Pakistan back in the 1970s, based on assumptions about the yield of their atomic weapons. When the actual tests were done, the yields produced were less than 15% of the predicted measures, which severely embarrassed the Indians and set back their bargain position, especially since the Pakistanis took care not to test their own weapons during negotiations, in order to avoid clueing the Indian government in on what they were facing. The moral of the story is that nukes only have value when you know what they can really do, and a rookie nuclear power cannot just assume that because they did their math and followed the scheduled process, that they will enjoy the desired results.
Let’s take an obvious small-scale objective of Iran; destroying Israel. Compared to a major nation like the United States, Israel should be a much easier target, closer and smaller and weaker, to say nothing of less protected by allies. Yet Israel has repeatedly shown an ability to defend itself against larger numbers and multiple-level threats, and the Samson Option is a sufficient deterrent to dissuade invasions and state-level attacks. Sending in suicide bombers one by one is hard to link to a national government; a nuclear event will receive immediate retaliation.
At this point I would also like to address the psychology of nuclear weapons. I have heard some commentators claim that if Iran send a terrorist group into the United States with a nuclear bomb, Iran could deny any responsibility and Liberals would run public interference for them to delay, even prevent the response to such an attack. Such claims misunderstand the nature of a nuclear threshold. As a comparison, when 9/11 happened no one doubted that the United States would react with massive force; somebody was going to get hit, and hit hard. Also, information came out rather quickly, data which the Taliban probably did not expect to surface as quickly as it did, and the U.S. response was faster and better-planned than the Taliban could have dreamed. Surely the mullahs in Iran saw this series of events, and understand that if a nuke goes off in the United States in the next couple years, no matter how it’s concealed the common assumption by the public will be that Iran did it, and the public will demand a harsh reprisal. Imagine 9/11 escalated to another factor, and the matter becomes clear. In fact it seems to me that even if another power, say China, were to detonate a nuke in the United States by way of a terrorist group, the public would still demand we hit Iran; the statements and posture of Iran’s representatives and envoys has welded that nation to the image of the terrorist attack. Ahmadinejad has likely not thought the matter through that far, or else he might have been a bit more careful with his statements. Or else he wants a war so badly that he doesn’t realize how his masters will plan and play the Jihad to their gain. In either case, I do not believe that the mullahs plan to actually instigate a war just now, at least not in the way they appear to be headed.
Remember the reaction by the world to 9/11? Not just our allies, but also the countries which normally hate us? Russia, China, even France stepped up to shw solidarity with us. Know why? Besides a level of basic decency which was betrayed by the attacks, these nations also understood that a line had been over-stepped; someone had gone too far, and a very powerful nation was going to go to war. If you didn’t want to be on the receiving end of some very nasty weapons, you had to either prove you were an ally, or at least get out of the way fast. The best example of this was the reaction by Yassir Arafat, the head of the PLO and the mafia-style head of the Palestinan Authority as it existed in 2001. Personally, I believe the old murderer was delighted to see America’s innocents killed by such a monstrous atrocity, but you’d never have known it by his reaction. Within hours of the first notice of the attacks, Arafat was denouncing them on Al-Jazeera in no uncertain terms. This was because Arafat understood that to say anything else was to invite devastation on his organization and people; the Palestinians have an extremely unfortunate track record of backing the wrong side in major wars, and Arafat understood that opposing the United States on this count would be suicide, and no doubt. If the death of 3,000 people by aircraft hijacking could produce such a condition, the deaths of so many more people in a nuclear attack would certainly result in a demand for a massive retaliation, especially (and yes I’m being cynical here but practical) when there is zero chance that the enemy could do to us what we can do to them. Iran has no ICBMs, no nuclear missile submarines, no bombers which could reach American states, and while they could try to smuggle more nukes in, they would only be able to hit targets one at a time, probably doing no effective damage at all to the national infrastructure. Imagine a man with a pistol, surrounded by the police. Yes, he can shoot a few shots and maybe hurt or kill some of the officers, but he cannot hope to win, and the only chance he has of survival is to not fire at all in the first place. Same situation here.
So what is old Mad Mahmoud up to? Basically, I figure he’s got three avenues to stroll, and in this order:
1. The first choice for Ahmadinejad is pretty simple; he wants Iran to become a nuclear power, the same way Pakistan is. And Pakistan is a good example for Mr. Ahmadinejad. When 9/11 happened, Pakistan was not exactly the best buddy to the United States,and even afterwards, they weren’t always that compliant with the American plan, as evidenced by Osama bin Chicken’s habit of crossing back and forth from Afghanistan and Pakistan, depending on which side was hotter at the moment. But for reasons which included strategic geography the United States counted Pakistan a good guy. Not the least because Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and among other things serves as a counter-balance to India, who themselves serve as a counter-balance to China, on the nuclear level as well as others. I don’t believe this view is accurate, but I suspect the Iranian oligarchy believes that the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would make an invasion or significant military action against them much less likely than the present condition.
2. There is a danger in believing your own press, a lesson few facists learn, because they only ever hear what people think they want to hear. In the case of Iran, it is entirely possible that the mullahs believe that if Iran provokes the United States and its allies to attack them, they can play the ‘victim’ card and launch an escalation of their Jihad against the West, making the effort against them impracticable while providing a rhetorical foundation for Jihadist efforts in Southern Europe and Southwest Asia.
3. If all else fails, these nutcases actually believe in a god which rewards mass murder, provided you can find a way to claim ‘martyrdom’ in the process. As a rule of thumb, it can be said that Shia Muslims are more inclined to insurrection and violence as part of their faith than Sunnis, that Jihadists are more violent and hateful than Shiites, and that Iranian Jihadists are more inclined to terror as a devotional rite than most Jihadists.
Fortunately, this does not mean that a war with Iran is inevitable. Even with their present government, most Iranians are like anyone else - they want to live a happy life and love their family, and have no desire to destroy another nation or be on the receiving end of a warhead. Thousands of young Iranians have publicly protested against the Iranian regime, suffering brutal punishment. With a majority of Iranians under 30 years old (the decade-long war with Iraq had a lot to do with that), the clock is running out on the ways of old men with nothing better to offer than fatwas and fascism. The bad news is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows this, as do his masters, and they may well feel the pressure to act quickly to start what they see as their legacy to Islam, no matter how bloody. Insh’Allah, they will fail as all pretenders to piety fail. God is a perfect judge, and is not fooled by the invocation of His name by murderers.