Iran, Israel need to avoid armed conflict

Published in the Daily Illini November 8th, 2011

This week the International Atomic Energy Agency will release a report etailing its most recent findings on the potential weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program. The report, whether it provides direct evidence in support of the West’s claims that Iran is building a nuclear weapon, will continue to escalate tensions that could ultimately induce the breakout of another war in the Middle East between Israel and Iran.

This issue of nuclear proliferation needs to be solved diplomatically. Cooperation and compromise is necessary on both sides of the table, but the current policies of military pressure and sanctions have served only to further isolate the nations from a peaceful solution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been seeking cabinet approval to launch a coordinated attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last week. In his visit to Tel Aviv last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta could not extract a promise from the two Israeli leaders that they would not conduct a “surprise” attack against Iran.

Such an attack, carried out independently by Israel without the consent of the United States, would cause major reverberations throughout the world, such as the deepening of Israel’s diplomatic and regional isolation, the skyrocketing of global oil prices and the resurgence of the Mahdi Army in Iraq. Because this radical Shiite army supports Iran, this would then stir renewed turmoil there as American troops begin to withdraw.

The overriding fear that Iran is in the process of obtaining the technology capable of producing a nuclear bomb has been a rallying cry for Western politicians and pundits for over two decades. CIA estimations and congressional reports from 1991 said there was a “high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two or three nuclear bombs.”

In April 1996, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres believed in “four years, (Iran) may reach nuclear weapons.” Uninformed scientific speculation is historicallyl very common on this subject.

The dire warnings of an imminent nuclear attack on the Israeli population by “experts” should not distract us (like they are designed to do) from the fact that Israel is suspected to have a large stockpile of nuclear bombs. The Iranian leadership is well aware of the mutually assured destruction logic of the Cold War and understand that dropping one nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv or Jerusalem would certainly mean a huge Israeli retaliation that would result in the unwarranted deaths of millions of Iranains. As provocative as Iran may be, they aren’t willing to take that risk.

But let us take into consideration the opinions of the Arab population. Polls conducted in 2010 by the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institute show growing support for Iran as a nuclear power. The 3,976 people polled in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates generally do not believe Iran has the right to a program. Iran is widely seen as a counter-balance to the domineering, imperialist agenda of the United States, and about 60 percent of people believe such a program will result in “more positive” outcomes for the Middle East region as a whole.

Despite the pro-democracy rhetoric toward the Arab peoples, the Obama administration’s policy of economic and political sanctions on Iran in no way reflects the desires of the people in the region. The House Foreign Affairs Committee outlined a “crippling sanctions” bill last week that would restrict all communication between any representatives of the U.S. and Iranian governments, including the president himself.

This strategy amounts to an effective ban on diplomacy at a time when negotiations should be intensified, especially if Iran does have a nuclear weapon program. The lack of trust between Iran, Israel and the United States is the core issue here: We should be pressuring all sides to sit down together and negotiate a solution rather than plunge our resources into another armed conflict.