"You, America, the West must attack Iran," the Arab said.
"Attack Iran how?" I asked him. "What targets?"
"The mullahs," he replied.
"Their nuclear program?" I asked. When he nodded emphatically, I asked: "Air attack? Ground attack? Special forces?"
"Yes. And if you do not (show such willingness to use military force), Iran will become stronger. They with Hezbollah, their ally, already defeated the Israelis (in south Lebanon) in 2006. They say so."
"You're sure they did?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," he assured me. "That is the Arab perception."
"The Arab street's perception?" I smirked, my tone dipping into sarcasm.
"Yes," the Arab said, a bit antagonized by my tone. "Hezbollah has shown its guerrillas are willing to die, to martyr. They will not quit."
"An endless intifada fought by a limitless supply of martyrs, attacking both Israel and Arab regimes?"
"Yes, exactly," he said, fearfully. "They win when America leaves."
"If I told you we were already attacking Iran -- where it is truly vulnerable -- and defeating the carefully constructed myth of the martyr, which I agree Hezbollah uses in its pitch to perception, in its attack on your will, would you believe me?"
"Well -- "
This exchange -- which I've momentarily suspended -- took place three weeks ago, before the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) suggested Iran's corrupt mullahcrats suspended (also momentarily?) their nuclear weapons program in 2003.
If the NIE is accurate, this is very good news. In the wake of Saddam's fall, Libya terminated its nuclear program. However, before sighing with relief, we must remember intel is always (always) inadequate. Everyone with real experience in the intel and operations business also knows that intelligence assessments are often wrong, which is why "level of risk" guides smart planning. As better intel becomes available, the smartest plans require adaptation.
So Iran's nuclear facilities may ultimately be bombed. I've no doubt Iran's cagey mullahs have an "intent to acquire" nuclear weapons. But -- as I told my Arab interlocutor -- a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran benefits the ruling thugs politically. It may well harm Iran's domestic opposition.
"So," he laughed, "do you say (U.N. and EU) economic and political sanctions will work (on the Iranians)?"
"They will have an effect, as well as targeting the bank accounts of the most corrupt officials. But the truth is, we have their carefully created martyr myth surrounded ... in Gaza, Palestine.
"Now," I continued, "before you tell me about the Arab street, like some Los Angeles Times commentator, think for a moment about Gaza. It has become Hamastan. In Gaza, Hamas has no Lebanese government to creep beneath and confuse the issue of borders. In fact, Gaza has borders, which are sealable by Egypt and Israel. The photos of Hamas gunmen executing Fatah security men in the street (from mid-2007) sharply define the Palestinian Hamas-Fatah civil war. That split and those photos limit the propaganda blast from the usual anti-American and anti-Israeli sources who, I suspect, will scream their mantra as the siege of Gaza proceeds.
"And yes, that siege is an attack on Iran and Hezbollah, for in Gaza the martyrs become responsible for jobs, sewers, garbage and potholes. Suicide bombs and rockets fired at Israel don't provide jobs or fix sewers. If Fatah is smart, it will make sure the BBC and Fox record every moment of Gaza's decay. The ultimate impotence of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah -- the endgame of their bravado and belligerence -- will be on display. It's actually Khomeinist Iran in miniature, potholes swallowing the martyrs' revolution."
"You are sure this is an attack on Iran?"
"On nearly 30 years of Iranian policy."
"But what if the Israelis and Egyptians do not sustain this siege?"
"Then Iran gets over, and we lose, and your justified fears are confirmed. Hamas hates Egypt's government, however, and Iran says it will nuke Israel. Here's the weakness in this attack. The weak card, the wild card is, Fatah. It has to fix the potholes in the West Bank instead of stealing aid money. The coup de grace is a revitalized Palestinian West Bank versus Gaza's dead zone and Iranian-inspired hopelessness."
"This might work over time, but not in the short run. We are vulnerable in the short run."
"Yes," I agreed, sadly, "the short run is a risk."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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