Cliff May

Turkey’s Islamist government already has moved closer to Iran. Syria has long been an Iranian client. Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy, will be strengthened within Lebanon, within Latin America where it has been making substantial inroads in recent years and, of course, along the border with Israel.

In that regard: Four years ago this month, Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war. It ended with UN Resolution 1701 which called for Hezbollah’s disarmament, prohibited Hezbollah from acquiring new missiles and banned the group from operating near the Israeli border. International troops were dispatched to make sure all this happened. It didn’t. Hezbollah has not been disarmed, thousands of new missiles have been imported and Hezbollah forces go where they like. One has to imagine this is instructive to those who lead vulnerable nations.

Hamas, too, is funded by Iran. Hamas’ leaders have never entertained the possibility of making peace with Israel. With a nuclear Iran supporting them, their bellicosity will increase. By contrast, the Palestinian Authority will become weaker than ever. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank is possible to envision.

Israel will come under further pressure from both Hamas and Hezbollah, and perhaps Fatah as well. Military responses to terrorism and missile strikes will be denounced by Iran. The U.N. will agree. The Europeans will not disagree. The possibility of a direct conflict between Israel and Iran will rise. Could that escalate into a nuclear exchange? As Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis has noted: For those who hold the fanatical religious convictions of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “mutually assured destruction” is not a deterrent – it is an inducement.

Is there a chance that Iran will give nuclear weapons to anti-American terrorists – or attack the Great Satan directly? That is hard to imagine – almost as hard as it was a few years ago to imagine that a stateless terrorist group based in southern Afghanistan would organize the hijacking of passenger jets and use them as missiles to attack Washington and New York.

Jim Woolsey, who served as CIA director under President Clinton, and Rebeccah Heinrichs, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently noted: “Iranian military writings show the mullahs recognize the potential” of launching a nuclear-armed missile from a ship near one of our coasts to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would destroy “the electric grid and electrical systems across a wide swath of U.S. territory.” The result: “unimaginable economic devastation” and tens of thousands of deaths. At present, we are not building the missile defense architecture that could prevent such an attack. Nor are we hardening the grid so that it could withstand such an attack. We are choosing to remain vulnerable.

The U.S. Congress has passed, and President Obama has signed, legislation that would impose crippling sanctions on Iran. The questions now: Will Obama seriously enforce these sanctions? And will the Europeans help or hinder? If sanctions fail, there will be no good choices -- only bad choices and worse choices. To figure out which is which will require imagination – more than most Western leaders have demonstrated in recent years.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.