by Prof. Eyal Zisser
It's possible the world is on a collision course with Iran, but by taking the initiative and adopting an uncompromising approach the breadth and scope of a future conflict can be mitigated and maybe even prevented entirely through deterrence.
Early last week Tehran announced its intention to enrich uranium above the level permitted by the nuclear deal to which it is still signed. Over the weekend, soldiers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tried seizing a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. The attack was retaliation for British special forces seizing an Iranian tanker delivering oil to Syria in violation of international sanctions imposed on Damascus, but the wider context is Tehran's threats to shut down oil exports from Persian Gulf States if American sanctions are not lifted.
Surprisingly, Iran's belligerence is being accepted by the international community – and countries in our region – with apathy and a shrug of the shoulders. The blatant unwillingness to confront the Iranians could stem from dread of the regional bully menacing its neighbors both near and far. However, voices in the West are also expressing an understanding and even empathy toward Iran, which is perceived as a victim clawing for its life to fend off an aggressor – none other than US President Donald Trump.
A similar argument was made 80 years ago, whereby US President Franklin Roosevelt forced the leaders of Japan to attack Pearl Harbor by imposing painful sanctions on the country. But then as now, Iran of today, similar to Japan in December of 1941, isn't a peace-seeking country but a belligerent regional power. Iran also doesn't hide its expansionist ambitions, presently focused on the Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran, through Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Gaza and Yemen.
Obama essentially bought time, nothing more, in the hope that during the quiet years – purchased at a high cost – Iran will be appeased and become more moderate, and perhaps even see a regime change. History teaches us, however, that an aggressor can't be placated with concessions and gestures of goodwill. Indeed, he will seize the first chance he gets to retrogress, having exploited the peaceful period to build his strength. This is aptly illustrated by the traces of radioactive material found by International Atomic agency inspectors in the Iranian warehouse.
It wasn't Trump who turned Iran into a monster. He didn't force it on the path of violence and terror, and he isn't the reason it is trying to conquer the Middle East. Iran's essence – anchored in the ayatollahs' fundamentalist and apocalyptic worldview – was established well before Trump entered office.
Iran doesn't need to be appeased; it has to be curbed and subdued. It's possible the world is on a collision course with Iran, but by taking the initiative and adopting an uncompromising approach the breadth and scope of a future conflict can be mitigated and maybe even prevented entirely through deterrence.
Trump, incidentally, proposed establishing an international task force to ensure maritime safety in the Persian Gulf. The Americans made a similar proposal on the eve of the Six-day War in 1967, in an attempt to safeguard Red Sea shipping routes to the Gulf of Eilat in southern Israel. But history informs us that only decisive US-led measures, such as the military campaigns against the Islamic State group, al-Qaida or Sadam Hussein, have a chance of succeeding.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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