Following his recent trip to Israel key Mitt Romney advisor Dan Senor summed up the former Massachusetts’ governor’s position vis a vis Israel and Iranian nukes as follows “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision.”[i] In so doing Romney is simply stating (through his advisor) the Republican Party line which puts a premium on saving Israel from an Iranian nuclear Armageddon that party stalwarts assure us will take place should Iran go nuclear.
During the spring 2012 Republican debates it became clear that Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney were engaged in a competition to see who was most willing to launch a new war to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (Ron Paul by contrast is against invading Iran and sees America’s “reflexive” support for Israel as a strategic liability). Part of this brinkmanship among the Republican candidates came from an unquestioned assumption held by many Americans that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons it will automatically use them to wipe out Israel. Rick Santorum, for example, accused Obama of doing “nothing” to counteract “a dangerous theocratic regime that wants to wipe out the state of Israel.”[ii] Before dropping out of the race, Michelle Bachman accused Iran of wanting to “wipe Israel from the face of the earth.”[iii]
Lost in the bellicose rhetoric and one-upmanship to see who is most willing to propel the war-weary and recession plagued American people (who have already lost 6,500 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and paid over a trillion dollars on the war on Al Qaeda-Taliban and Socialist, Sunni, Shiite insurgents in Iraq) is any analysis of the unquestioned claims that Iran poses an existential threat to the state of Israel. Will Iran really use its weapons to launch the world’s first nuclear war of annihilation when, or if, it gets them?
President Bush once famously declared that he “didn’t do nuances,” but the nuances in this case are important and provide many rationales for why Iran would not seek to “wipe out the state of Israel.”
The first most commonsensical rationale for Iran not launching nuclear weapons against Israel is the certainty of an overwhelming nuclear response from Israel which has as many as 400 nuclear weapons of its own. Unlike Al Qaeda, which is a stateless terrorist organization, Iran has civilian-packed cities and hundreds of inviting targets. These would be annihilated by the most heavily armed nuclear nation in the region, Israel, should Iran dare to launch a nuclear strike on, say, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem with its limited nuclear “arsenal” of 2 to 3 nukes. The Iranian regime would effectively be committing suicide should it attack Israel, a country it has, incidentally, never been at war with thus far.
Secondly, in addition to killing Jews should they nuke Israel, the Iranians would also be killing more than 1.5 million Israeli citizens of Arab origins (one fifth of the Israeli state) who live inside Israel proper (predominantly in the Galilee area). And they are not the only Muslim Arabs the Iranians would kill with their clumsy nukes. It should be mentioned that nukes are far from being “pin point precision” weapons, like say laser or satellite guided JDAM munitions. Should the Iranians launch imprecise nuclear weapons against Israel they will doubtless wipe out a sizeable portion of the Arab Palestinian population that lived nestled up against the micro-nation of Israel in the nearby Gaza Strip and West Bank. The destruction of the Palestinians (especially the pro-Iranian Hamas Palestinians in Gaza!) would hardly endear the Iranians to the rest of the Muslim world that has been moved by the plight of their Palestinian brothers and sisters. The Iranians would also be unable to prevent nuclear radiation fallout from drifting out of tiny Israel and the Palestinian territories into neighboring Syria (Iran’s chief ally in the region), Lebanon (home to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah Shiites), Jordan or Egypt.
Then there is the fact that Jerusalem is home to the Dome of the Rock Mosque (called Al Quds or Baitul-Maqdis, the “Noble, Sacred Place” in Arabic), the third holiest shrine in the Muslim world after Mecca and Medina in Arabia. The world’s Muslim population (all 1.5 billion of them) believe that it was from a rocky outcrop found under the Dome of the Rock that Prophet Muhammad rode to heaven to meet Allah (God). Through the centuries millions of devout Muslims have carried out pilgrimages to this holy spot which is found under one of the oldest and most sacred mosques in the Muslim world. For a Muslim theocracy like Iran to nuke the Dome of the Rock would be like a Catholic country nuking the Vatican or the Holy Sepulchre (site of Jesus’ burial and rebirth in holy Jerusalem). No Muslim would forgive the Iranian regime for committing the sacrilege of incinerating this ancient holy site and rendering it radioactive with nuclear weapons.
Which brings us to the question of why Iran wants nuclear weapons if not to counter intuitively launch the world’s first cataclysmic nuclear war?
The answer is clear. Iran wants nuclear weapons for the same reason Muslim Pakistan (the world’s only Muslim nuclear power today), North Korea, India, China, the Soviet Union and Israel wanted them. To insure regime survival against foreign invasion (don’t forget President Bush once threatened Shiite Iran by listing it as part of a bizarre “Axis of Evil” along with Sunni dominated Iraq and Communist North Korea), for domestic prestige purposes, and for parity with their enemies. Put simply, if Iran has nuclear weapons the US will think twice about launching another invasion in their neighborhood…this time one named “Operation Iranian Freedom.”
Brian Glyn Williams is Associate Professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and author of Afghanistan Declassified. A Guide to America’s Longest War which describes his work for the US military in Afghanistan.[iv]
[i] “Romney Declares Jerusalem to be Capital of Israel. Boston Globe. July 29, 2012. http://articles.boston.com/2012-07-29/world/32915184_1_mitt-romney-nuclear-weapons-jerusalem/2
[ii] Part 4, 21:30-22:00, CNN ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1202/22/se.04.html
[iii] “Bachman Hits Obama on Israel Policy.” Minnpost. December 7, 2011. http://www.minnpost.com/minnpotus/2011/12/bachmann-hits-obama-israel-policy