IRAN: Wagging the wolf
Mark Perry

January 6, 2006

To help explain the Middle East, a senior leader of an organization that my government describes as `terrorist` recently told me a parable. `There was once a wolf and a goat,` he said. `The wolf was guarding a spring and the goat was drinking from the pond below. The wolf growled at the goat: `I`m going to kill you because you`re drinking my water.` The goat shook his head: `you`re not going to kill me because I`m drinking your water,` he bleated. `You`re going to kill me because you`re the wolf - and I`m the goat`.`

My friend`s parable seems particularly pertinent just now, as rumors are once again circulating that the US is considering a military strike that would destroy Iran`s nuclear capacity. The reports have been sparked by Iran`s announcement that it will resume nuclear research that includes uranium enrichment, a step essential to the building of a nuclear weapon. Even defenders of Iran view this announcement with trepidation, as nuclear weapons are `inherently destabilizing` - that is to say, really dangerous.

Oddly, the US seems less concerned with nuclear weapons and more concerned with Iran. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns made this clear in a speech on November 30. Iran should be barred from enriching uranium, Burns said, because it supports international terrorism (they `fund` Hizbullah, which `represents a threat to Lebanon`s fragile peace` - the views of Lebanon`s voters notwithstanding), because Iran is `undermining Iraqi sovereignty` (breathtaking, really, when you think about it), because Iran has an `abysmal` human rights record (as opposed to China), and because Iran is not a democracy (like, say, Pakistan).

Nowhere did Burns mention that our government considers the development of nuclear weapons bad in itself because the consequences of their use are too horrible to consider. Rather, Burns seemed to be saying that if Iran ceased funding Hizbullah, stopped interfering in Iraq, opened its jails and became more democratic, well then by golly it could have its nuclear weapons. In truth, this is much less ludicrous than it seems. There`s even a precedent for it: India has nuclear weapons, and we think that`s just fine. Despite the fact that India never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which Iran, ahem, has signed), the US lifted sanctions against India when the Indian government signed on to the war against terrorism. The message was clear: the US will reward a country that breaks the rules, so long as it is an American ally.

Almost exactly one year ago, George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the creation of a new US-India `strategic partnership`. The partnership includes joint development of commercial satellites, the transfer of previously barred US technology, expanded trade and deeper military cooperation. The new partnership was not a surprise: it was signaled by Israel`s public opening to the Indian government in September of 2001 (in a visit by Israeli Major General Uzi Dayan, during which they discussed combating `Islamic terrorism`), by the creation of a US-India Institute for Strategic Policy (endorsed by then-undersecretary of defense Doug Feith), by State Department approval of Israeli-Indian cooperation - `we`re always glad when our friends make friends with each other`, the State Department`s Richard Boucher said - and by US approval of the sale of three Israeli Phalcon airborne early warning systems to New Delhi.

Our other ally, Pakistan (which also, alas, has nuclear weapons), was initially outraged by the US-India partnership and called the transfer of Phalcon technology `a matter of serious concern`. But these Pakistani criticisms had been heard first in September of 2003, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a highly publicized visit to New Delhi. Welcomed as a partner (and the largest supplier of India`s military establishment), the Sharon visit led Pakistani officials to quietly suggest that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf follow suit by building his own relationship with Israel. When Musharraf visited Washington, Bush reportedly urged him to consider improving relations with Israel. The Pakistani president proved that he knows how to take a hint and rushed to tell reporters at Camp David that opening relations with Israel was not out of the question. Inevitably, Musharraf`s statement was followed by a meeting of Pakistan`s and Israel`s foreign ministers in Istanbul on September 1 of last year. We all note, proudly, that this rapprochement has provided new stability in the region - because it`s important that our friends make friends with each other.

The Iranian leadership might be condemned for viewing these series of events with deep cynicism. That we would urge our allies to recognize Israel should not come as a surprise. But regardless of their cynicism they know how to read newspapers (even Pakistani newspapers). These were the same newspapers that urged Musharraf to build a `new relationship` between their country and Israel. The reason? Because `recognition of Israel would reduce the risk of an Israeli strike against Pakistan`s nuclear resources`. We might be loathe to draw our own conclusions from such statements, discomfiting as they are: US policy toward Iran has a lot less to do with democracy or terrorism or Hizbullah or human rights (or nuclear weapons, for that matter) than it does with serving the needs of Israel. That may well be false. It may be that the US is acting in good faith. It may be that recognition of Israel is not a condition of being a nuclear power. It may be that my government is actually working to stop the spread of nuclear weapons because they`re bad weapons. But we have to say that and we have to say it now. We have to make it clear: we`re angry at Iran for good reason, and its not because they`re the goat - it`s because they`re drinking from the pool.

Mark Perry is vice-president of Jefferson Waterman International, a Washington, DC, consulting firm, and co-director of Conflicts Forum. Acknowledgement to bitterlemons-international.org