Ali Asghar Kazemi
(Professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran)

“Strategy by indirect approach” seems to be the new rule of the game which opponents of Iran’s nuclear venture are starting to play. The surprising recent divulgation that the “Syrian nuclear site” was stricken to ground seven months ago by Israeli planes came as a shock to all. The message was flagrantly clear to those who still victoriously claim to defy the UN Security Council resolutions on the termination of dubious nuclear enrichment projects. There seems to be a resolute decision to render the nuclear jubilation into an all-out humiliation for Iranian Islamic leaders.

To what extent Iran’s hard-liners are prepared to take the message seriously and thereby go along with the demand of the UN Security Council and the international community in order to avoid the worse to happen in the already tumultuous Middle East region? What are the costs of Iran’s continuing defiance? What is the most plausible outcome of this dangerous game?

The story of the Syrian nuclear activities was unknown to the public until just recent disclosure of pictures showing the site before and after demolition. It was claimed that the plant was a replica of the North Korean nuclear site designed for military purposes. Though the detail of the account is not yet known, some sources claim that Iranian regime was providing assistance to the Syrians for their nuclear plants.

Indeed, there is no doubt that Syria was never in a position to afford such a costly venture in its territory. Therefore, if it is proven that the Islamic regime in Iran has provided any kind of assistance to the now defunct project, then the message should be taken much more seriously.

The secrecy surrounding these operations gives rise to a number of questions such as the followings that should be dealt with in due time when more information is released to general public:
Why neither the Syrian authorities nor the Israelis or Americans have revealed the nature of these operations after the completion of the task?
How far the intelligence community of the West and the Russians by the same token were informed about the preemptive strike?
How much Iranian authorities’ unexpected visits to Damascus during the past months were related to these operations?
How far Iranian leadership’s decision making apparatus has been influenced by this action during the past months?
Is there a correlation between this strike and the worsening of the situation in Southern Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon?
Is Syrian rapprochement with Israel for the purpose of settling the Golan Heights issue an outcome of the silent strike?
And finally, shall we now consider Syria at last divorced from Iran to go back to its long detested Arab brothers?

These and similar questions should not divert our attention from the fundamental issue which is the fate of Iran’s nuclear sites in the months to come. According to international media, Americans are strengthening their military position in the vicinities of the Persian Gulf and are preparing to launch selective strikes on Iranian strategic targets. However, before initiating any operation, they want to make sure that:
They have exhausted all possible remedies in order to avoid a clash whose outcome is quite uncertain;
They have reached a consensus among all interested parties that diplomatic means and “incentive packages” are not producing the intended peaceful results;
They have prepared domestic public opinions about the threat of an Islamic fundamentalist regime to have access to the nuclear capabilities;

The fact that the Syrians kept silent after the strike and the action was not condemned by any state or international organization proves that the world community as a whole is in no way prepared to accept proliferations of nuclear capabilities, especially in the hands of Islamic regimes or irresponsible groups.

The Islamic government in Tehran should now feel real worried about possible preemptive strikes. But, it appears quite improbable that the hardliners suddenly back down and choose a compromising stance. Nevertheless, just recently they have taken a rather vague conciliatory position with respect to impending issues with the US by offering what has been described as a “new package deal” whose content was not revealed. The objective is to find a way out of the crisis and reduce tension with the United States before it is too late.

Time is running out and the danger seems quite imminent. The Islamic hardliners seem caught in an awfully difficult dilemma. They are like riding a tiger; difficult to continue on and hard to get down! The West too is perplexed as how to deal with the problem. The Americans experience in Afghanistan and Iraq makes it very risky for them to venture another entanglement in the region.

Perhaps, Americans will choose to leave Israeli hands free to carry similar actions they have done in Syria against Iranian nuclear sites. But, they should realize that in such circumstances Iran will not keep silent and, as already shown on various occasions, it can destabilize the whole region by its erratic reactions. Whether this could deter a preemptive strike, the matter is not clear!

Observers believe that eventual attacks on Iran’s strategic targets may counter-produce the expected results and can even strengthen hardliners’ position in their power grip. Some are of the opinions that in case the crisis ends up to a real clash, while few states will take position against such preemptive strikes, the people will line-up behind the Islamic regime. But, Iranians have shown through history that they are very much unpredictable in their behavior during crises and hard times. We have to wait and see how events will develop in the weeks and months to come.

In the meantime we should pray the Almighty God that politicians of all sides behave rationally and responsibly in their decisions and actions.

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