Daily Telegraph: So let me see. On the one hand, we have a regime that is pressing full steam ahead with its nuclear programme and whose president has threatened to wipe another sovereign state off the map. And, on the other side of the negotiations, we have Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Daily Telegraph
By Mark Steyn
So let me see. On the one hand, we have a regime that is pressing full steam ahead with its nuclear programme and whose president has threatened to wipe another sovereign state off the map.
And, on the other side of the negotiations, we have Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Jack Straw has been at pains to emphasise that no military action against Iran is being contemplated by him or anybody else, but in a sign that he’s losing patience with the mullahs Mr Straw’s officials have indicated that they’re prepared to consider the possibility of possibly considering the preparation of a possible motion on sanctions for the UN Security Council to consider the possibility of considering.
But don’t worry, we’re not escalating this thing any more than necessary. Initially, the FCO is considering “narrowly targeted sanctions such as a travel ban on Iranian leaders”.
That’ll show ’em: Iranian missiles may be able to leave Iranian airspace, but the deputy trade minister won’t. No more trips to Paris for the spring collections or skiing in Gstaad for the A-list ayatollahs.
Needless to say, the German deputy foreign minister, Gernot Erler, has already cautioned that this may be going too far, and that sanctions could well hurt us more than it hurts the Iranians. Perhaps this is what passes is for a good cop/bad cop routine, with Herr Erler affably suggesting to the punks that they might want to cooperate or he’ll have to send his pal Jack in to tear up their tickets for the Michael Moore première at the Cannes Film Festival.
But, if I were President Ahmadinejad or the wackier ayatollahs, I’d be mulling over the kid glove treatment from Jack Straw and Co and figuring: wow, if this is the respect we get before the nukes are fully operational, imagine how they’ll be treating us this time next year. Incidentally, the assumption in the European press that the nuclear payload won’t be ready to fly for three or four years is laughably optimistic.
So any Western strategy that takes time is in the regime’s favour. After all, President Ahmaggedonouttahere’s formative experience was his participation in the seizure of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979. I believe it was Andrei Gromyko who remarked that, if the students had pulled the same stunt at the Soviet embassy, Teheran would have been a crater by lunchtime.
So what can be done? Right now, Iran can count on at least two Security Council vetoes against any meaningful action by the “international community”. As for the unilaterally inclined, the difficulty for the US and Israel is that there’s really no Osirak-type resolution of the problem – a quick surgical strike, in and out. By most counts, there are upwards of a couple of hundred potential sites spread across a wide range of diverse terrain, from remote mountain fastnesses to residential suburbs.
To neutralise them all would require a sustained bombing campaign lasting several weeks, and with the usual collateral damage at schools, hospitals, etc, plastered all over CNN and the BBC. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shia south would turn into another Sunni Triangle for coalition forces. Every challenge to the West begins as a contest of wills – and for the Iranians recent history, from the Shah and the embassy siege to the Iraqi “insurgency” and Mr Straw’s soundbites, tells them the West can’t muster the strength of will needed to force them to back down.
But, granted the Iranian destabilisation of Iraq and their sponsorship of terror groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, surely it shouldn’t be difficult to give them a taste of their own medicine. Who, after all, likes the Teheran regime? The Russian and Chinese and North Korean governments and the fulsome Mr Straw appear to, but there’s less evidence that the Iranian people do.
The majority of Iran’s population is younger than the revolution: whether or not they’re as “pro-American” as is sometimes claimed, they have no memory of the Shah; all they’ve ever known is their ramshackle Islamic republic where the unemployment rate is currently 25 per cent. If war breaks out, those surplus young men will be in uniform and defending their homeland.
Why not tap into their excess energy right now? As the foreign terrorists have demonstrated in Iraq, you don’t need a lot of local support to give the impression (at least to Tariq Ali and John Pilger) of a popular insurgency. Would it not be feasible to turn the tables and upgrade Iran’s somewhat lethargic dissidents into something a little livelier? A Teheran preoccupied by internal suppression will find it harder to pull off its pretensions to regional superpower status.
Who else could we stir up? Well, did you see that story in the Sunday Telegraph? Eight of the regime’s border guards have been kidnapped and threatened with decapitation by a fanatical Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan. I’m of the view that the Shia are a much better long-term bet as reformable Muslims, but given that there are six million Sunni in Iran and that they’re a majority in some provinces, would it not be possible to give the regime its own Sunni Triangle?
No option is without risks, though some are overstated, including regional anger at any Western action: I doubt whether many Arab Sunni regimes really wish to live under the nuclear umbrella of a Persian Shia superpower. And, indeed, one further reason (as if you need one) to put the skids under Boy Assad in Damascus is to underline that there’s a price to be paid for getting too cosy with Teheran.
But every risk has to be weighed against the certainty that Iran would use its nuclear capacity in the same way it uses its other assets – by supporting terror groups that operate against its enemies.
And Jack Straw’s mullah-coddling is particularly unworthy in that, insofar as Iran has a strategy, the president’s chief adviser, Hassan Abbassi, has based it on the premise that “Britain is the mother of all evils” – the evils being America, Australia, Israel, the Gulf states and even Canada and New Zealand, all of which are the malign progeny of the British Empire.
“We have established a department that will take care of England,” said Mr Abbassi last May. “England’s demise is on our agenda.” Apropos the ayatollahs, England could at least return the compliment.