The inimitable Roger Cohen is back yet again. This time it’s a plan for “normalizing” relations with Iran:
Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.
The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic’s security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran’s acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.
But the Iranian leadership sees nuclear weapons as a high priority. Resources that could have been used to improve the struggling Iranian economy have been diverted to the nuclear project. Iran continues development in the face of at least somewhat damaging sanctions. And it does so in pursuit of major geopolitical goals — becoming the regional superpower, controlling the Mideast’s oil resources, and exporting its revolutionary brand of Shiite Islamism. So why would it suddenly agree to give all this up in return for a lifting of those same sanctions and some minor economic carrots?
Keep in mind that Iran has been offered Western help in building power-generating reactors that would not be capable of creating weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Iranian leaders have not been interested.
“Work for stability in Iraq?” Iran wants to leverage Iraq’s Shiite majority to gain influence — more correctly, control — over Iraq when the US leaves, thus converting a traditional enemy into an ally or a satellite. What else would — or could — it do?
But notice the centrality of Israel, a tiny country separated from Iran by several countries and more than 500 miles. Why would a deal between the US and Iran have so much to do with Israel and the Palestinians? Only Cohen knows.
Cohen is afraid that his peaceful scenario will be interrupted by an Israeli attack:
Any such deal is a game changer, transformative as Nixon to China (another repressive state with a poor human rights record). It can be derailed any time by an attack from Israel, which has made clear it won’t accept virtual nuclear power status for Iran, despite its own nonvirtual nuclear warheads.
“Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran,” [International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed] ElBaradei said. “I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.”
Cohen obviously thinks that Israel is utterly crazy. And it would be crazy to attack Iran and face the certain retaliation via Syria and Hezbollah, the attacks on Jewish targets all over the world, the possible repercussions of Iranian actions to cut the West’s oil supply — unless there were absolutely no alternative. Unless the choices were simply ‘strike first or be destroyed’.
One of the considerations most important to Israeli military planners is the price Israel would pay for bombing Iran, a price possibly measured in thousands of civilian deaths. The only way that this would make horrible sense would be if it avoided the hundreds of thousands of deaths that might result from an Iranian nuclear attack.
But Cohen apparently doesn’t understand this; he thinks that Israel is chomping at the bit to attack Iran because it “won’t accept virtual nuclear power status” for it.
And this is unsurprising, because Cohen’s ideas of Israeli motivations are obscene. Here’s an example from an op-ed published a month ago (and ignore the transparent device of ‘one view’; it’s the only view he presents, in an article which calls for diplomatic contact between the US and Hezbollah and the integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority):
One view of Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, Gaza blockade, West Bank walling-in and wanton recourse to high-tech force would be that it’s designed precisely to bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.
Cohen, an advocate of the “everything is Israel’s fault” school, presumes that the main obstacle to good relations between Iran and the US — never mind the issue of who will be the predominant power in the Mideast — is crazy, evil Israel. He writes,
To avoid that nightmare [of an Israeli attack and Iranian reaction] Obama will have to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. president in recent years. It’s time.
Of course, this is backwards. The danger comes from the aggression and threats of Iran to destroy Israel, the effort to force her further and further into a corner from which she will have no recourse but to defend herself. The way to defuse the crisis is not to try to prevent Israel from mounting a last-ditch effort of self-defense — something which is impossible anyway — and to get tough, rather, with Iran.
Update [1931 PDT]: Here’s Elder of Ziyon’s take on Roger Cohen’s foolishness.