How do you solve a problem like Iran?


What is Israel going to do about Iran? What should Israel do about Iran?The radical theocratic Islamist regime of Iran, headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is on a dangerously escalating collision course that threatens the peace not only of the volatile Middle East, but of the entire world:

* According to The Associated Press, Iran has issued the go-ahead to build up to 10 more industrial-scale uranium enrichment facilities, a major expansion of its program in direct defiance of demands by the United Nations.

* The outgoing director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei, in what The New York Times describes as “unusually blunt language” said last Thursday that Iran has stonewalled investigators about nuclear enrichment for weaponry, and that efforts to reveal the truth had “effectively reached a dead end.”

* Dissidents in Iran are clearly under attack. Kurdish activist Ehsan Fattahian, who had been serving a 12-year sentence for a similar charge, was summarily executed by the regime on Nov. 12 after a prosecutor went back to the court to demand a tougher penalty. According to Newsweek, dissident executions are definitely on the rise in Iran. Iran also broke into the safe deposit box of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirn Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, to confiscate her prize medal.

The latest moves by the Iranian regime come near the end-of-the-year deadline set by President Barack Obama to reassess whether the United States should move toward what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has termed “crippling sanctions” on Iran. The regime has no intention of complying with the demands of the international community to halt its development of nuclear weapons, even in the face of a 25-3 vote by the IAEA — with Russia and China in the majority — condemning Iran for obstructing investigations into its nuclear weapons program and demanding that Iran stop enriching uranium at a once-secret facility.

Where does this leave Israel, which has only promised to hold off ’til year’s end? Well, it appears that by some accounts the recent Iranian statements about expanding their program are nothing but hissing and seething. “The bold announcement appears to be largely bluster,” as stated in the Jerusalem Post on Monday. “Any new plants would take years to build and stock with centrifuges, if Iran can even afford it or obtain the materials while under UN sanctions. But the ambitious plans demonstrate Teheran’s anger over the IAEA rebuke and its refusal to back down in the standoff despite sanctions threats.”

And therein lies the rub. If the international community moves to the strong economic sanctions being discussed, then Iran likely reverts to a no-inspection policy, which in turn makes monitoring more difficult, which diminishes Israel’s ability to assess the near-term threat, which makes an Israeli attack more likely. If the world cannot come together on sanctions, then Iran’s nuclear plans will continue apace and Israel may see little choice but to attack.

Perhaps Israel can be convinced meaningful talks can continue, but it’s unclear where the leverage will come from to effect a deal. The U.S. seems to have no ability to exert meaningful pressure on the hard-liners. Perhaps it could come from Russia, which is developing a civilian nuclear plant for Iran. Or it could presumably come from more moderate Arab nations, though their influence over the non-Arab regime in Iran is next to nothing.

Truly and sadly, beyond sanctions the most imposing threat comes not from outside Iran, but from inside. The hundreds of thousands of protestors who so nobly took to the street on the heels of the sham elections this summer hold the key to Iran’s future. While Iran has cracked down in horrific fashion against protestors and dissidents, the pressure the regime has felt to now is nothing compared to what could ensue if rigorous sanctions are imposed. If financial desperation hits the nation and the people get to the “nothing to lose” stage, then the sacrifice of lives is likely to become a rallying cry more than a fear factor. If such a counter-revolution ensues inside Iran, all bets are off and predictions then hinge on who wins a civil war and whether the international community will engage militarily against the regime.

If that scenario plays out, then Israel will not have to serve as the world’s police against this dreadful authoritarianism. If it doesn’t — either because sanctions are not imposed due to world weakness, or because the people of Iran do not assert themselves against their government — then there is almost nothing that will deter Israel from acting. And that is what is making the United States and others awfully nervous.