Saturday, July 19, 2008

Iran’s Provocative Missile Test against US and Israel

Iran has launched Shahab Ⅲ missiles on July 9. As shown in the map, this missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers, covering a large area including Greece and Egypt. It looks as if Iran were demonstrating its influence all over the Achaemenid territory. What motivates Iran’s provocative policy? Will the United States and Israel attack Iran?

Stephen Herzog at the British American Security Information Council presents an overview of the Iranian missile crisis in the Iran Updates on 11 July, 2008. The missile test was conducted shortly after a major military exercise of the Israeli air force over Greece and East Mediterranean and the US navy in the Persian Gulf. Also, US State Department announced new financial sanctions against Iranian firms and citizens linked to nuclear proliferation.

Despite rising tension, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said attack by both the United States and Israel was unlikely. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserted that the United States defend its allies from Iranian threat. Meanwhile, Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, is talking with the Iranian side on July 19.

How should the global community deal with Iran? In an interview with Foreign Policy, Karim Sadjapour, Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, answers questions on Iran’s intention (“Seven Questions: What Iran wants”; July 2008). Sadjapour is a leading expert on Iranian politics, and a regular contributor to major Western media. As an Iranian, he has extensive contacts with Iranian senior officials, clerics, intellectuals, dissidents, students, and the grassroots.

Sadjapour comments that Iran is unyielding because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes that bowing to foreign pressure leads to more pressure, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thinks that the United States is unwilling to fight due to the result of 2006 midterm election. Also, he advises the United States neither attack on nor offer diplomatic overture to Iran. Ahmadinejad simply make use of them to solidify his political leadership in his country, Sadjapour says.

As to attack by Israel, Sadjapour says it unlikely. While Israeli forces made surprise attacks against Iraq and Syria, they do not keep silent this time.

Quite importantly, Sadjapour points out that 80% of the Iranian public receive news from official media, and liberal elites are politically marginalized. Therefore, he insists that attack by the United States or Israel will simply strengthen Ahmadinejad’s domestic political stand.

On the other hand, Sadjapour mentions common US-Iranian interests to preserve territorial integrity of Iraq. Al Qaeda infested Iraq will be a critical threat to both countries, he says.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, currently Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, criticizes continual negotiations with Iran, and insists on closer cooperation with Israel (“Israel, Iran and the Bomb”; Wall Street Journal; July 15, 2008). Bolton says the missile test symbolizes five year nuclear negotiations with Iran ended in failure. He warns that Iran is developing nuclear attack capability further and further while the negotiation has stalled.

Bolton argues critically important point. However, as Sadjapour says, the United States and Israel need to be cautious. No political advantage must be given to Ahmadinead. Senator John McCain stresses exigent necessity of building reliable missile defense system against rogue states like North Korea and Iran. I agree with McCain. In addition to supporting this idea, John Bolton insists that the United States not obstruct Israeli actions whatever necessary to curb Iranian threats. In his view, the cost of inaction is much greater than risks by action.

Regarding cost and benefit of attacking Iran, Patrick Clawson, Deputy Director for Research, and Michael Eisenstadt, Senior Fellow, both at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has published a report “The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action against Iran”, prior to the missile test.

They argue that prevention must remain as an option to bolster diplomacy. Most importantly, Clawson and Eisenstadt stress it necessary to evaluate exactly whether Iran really decides to rebuild nuclear bomb related facilities. This time, Iran fired missiles, but not tested bombs. I think it is on the borderline to determine Iran’s nuclear ambition.

While admitting the risk that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapon provoke other Middle East nations, Eisenstadt insists that prevention merely delays Iran’s nuclear program, not halt it. This does not mean that the United States needs to be conciliatory to Iran. In a previous post, I mentioned that Patrick Clawson insisted on using military threat against Iran. He argues that preventative action be based on IAEA inspection rather than on disputed intelligence.

Regardless of pro-con debate on attack against Iran, the United States is changing approaches. The Guardian reported controversial news that the United States would restore diplomatic presence in Tehran since 1979 (“Report: U.S. to Establish First Diplomatic Presence in Iran Since 1979”; FOX News; July 17, 2008).

A few weeks ago, the Bush administration removed North Korea from the Terrorist List. As Javier Solana, EU Foreign Policy chief, talks with Saeed Jalili, Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, current administration sends William Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (“Policy Shift Seen in U.S. Decision on Iran Talks”; New York Times; July 17, 2008).

I do not oppose negotiation itself. However, I am afraid that recent policy changes against Iran and North Korea will send wrong messages to the global community. President Bush is talking softly with rogues without carrying a big stick. Some allies like Japan are concerned with such Chamberlainian diplomacy. The United States need to act as the hegemonic state. Israel is not the only ally that frowns upon easy-going deals with dangerous dictators.

Map: ”Real or not, Iranian missile fire must stop: US”; AFP; July 10, 2008