A credible threat could prevent war

NBC News recently reported,

Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders.

The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980…

“The relation is very intricate and close,” said Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, speaking of the MEK and Israel.  “They (Israelis) are paying … the Mujahedin. Some of their (MEK) agents … (are) providing Israel with information.  And they recruit and also manage logistical support.” … “This is an Israeli plot.  A dirty plot,” Larijani added angrily.

Two senior U.S. officials confirmed for NBC News  the MEK’s role in the assassinations, with one senior official saying, “All your inclinations are correct.” A third official would not confirm or deny the relationship, saying only, “It hasn’t been clearly confirmed yet.”  All the officials denied any U.S. involvement in the assassinations.

I’ve written about the MEK (also called PMOI) before. The State Department considers it a terrorist organization, and it certainly has a record of violent actions, including killing some Americans 30 years ago, when it supported Khomeini’s revolution. But Khomeini suppressed the MEK, and since then it has been focused on overthrowing the Iranian regime. The MEK says it has renounced violence, and the EU and the UK no longer list it as a terrorist group. But there is no doubt that it is prepared to use deadly force against the Iranian regime.

If in fact Israel is working with the MEK, it is unsurprising. You can’t blame Israel, threatened almost daily with annihilation by a country whose proxies have tens of thousands of missiles targeted at its population centers, and which is working as hard as it can to develop nuclear weapons (though the project brings ruin on its economy and impoverishes its own people).

The unnamed “senior US officials” are not without an agenda. Part of it is to deny US involvement so that any unpleasant local consequences of the conflict, like the inevitable rise in gasoline prices, can be blamed on Israel.

I would very much like to believe that the Obama Administration is taking part in covert actions against Iran, because the consequences for the US of Iran’s obtaining nuclear capability would be very serious. Iran’s power on the other oil-producing states would be greatly enhanced in proportion to a reduction in American influence. One can imagine how Iran could sponsor puppet regimes and subvert existing ones with a combination of nuclear threats and pressure from its proxies. The Middle East could become a collection of Iranian satrapies.

Iran already has missiles which can reach US installations and naval forces in the Middle East, and is developing much longer-range ones. There are also other ways of delivering nuclear weapons, such as in a container delivered to an American port. The regime’s public pronouncements have been consistently aggressive towards the US, “the great Satan,” and public events often include chants of “death to America.”

Nevertheless I believe that the US could stop the regime’s project without going to war. All that is required would be a credible threat of military action. After all, many analysts agree that Iran temporarily halted development in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq, because they thought that they were next.

Unfortunately, we can’t make a credible threat. Although the US certainly has the capability to destroy the Iranian installations, more so than any other nation in the world, the administration does not have the will to do so, and the Iranian regime knows it. The statement “all options are on the table” is easy to make, but is belied by US attempts to pretend that Iran is only Israel’s problem — while at the same time pressuring Israel to not take action.

Paradoxically, the inability to make a credible threat today may lead to the necessity of actually using force later.

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