I regard Norman Podhoretz as an extremist and a buffoon, as exemplified by his eager advocacy of a US attack on Iran. The fact that he is a foreign policy adviser to the Republican presidential frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani, is a reason in itself to be alarmed at Giuliani’s candidacy.
Still, Podhoretz’s concern about the looming danger of a nuclear-armed theocratic regime in Iran is reasonable. Unfortunately, I see no viable military option for either the US or Israel (especially not for Israel, which even Podhoretz knows, lacks the military capability) to destroy the hardened Iranian nuclear facilities — let alone to bear the costs of Iran’s inevitable acts of retaliation, directly and by proxy terrorists (e.g., Hezbollah and Hamas) and economic means (i.e., oil).
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (although not the ‘supreme leader’ under Iran’s theocratic system) is, unlike Podhoretz, a head of state; and supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini has made at least one creepy recent speech proclaiming that every square meter of Israel is reachable by Iran’s missiles. Ahmadinejad did not simply make some idle, abstract statement that Israel should “pass into history,” as my frequent e-mail debater, David McReynolds (the retired head of the War Resisters League and a leader of what’s left of the Socialist Party), has indicated by way of excuse.
The source of legitimate concern about Iran’s intentions comes from the frightening confluence of a number of things. It is not enough to dismiss these separately as idle ravings; taken together, they are evidence of a grave potential threat:
1) Ahmadinejad’s official backing for Holocaust denial
2) His official sponsorship for “a world without Zionism,” as an international gathering in Tehran put it
3) His repeated statements that Israel should “disappear”
4) His insistence upon the development of nuclear energy without allowing adequate access to international inspectors to guarantee only peaceful applications
5) Iran’s possession and development of missiles with the capability of hitting Israel with nuclear weapons
6) Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and its supply of missiles to Hezbollah
7) His statements (and/or those of some others associated with the regime) that Iran could survive a nuclear exchange but that Israel could not, because of how small it is
8) Evidence that Ahmadinejad’s religious convictions include a doomsday scenario, a Muslim version of the extreme Christian theology of Armeggedon, with the “Mahdi” returning to rule the earth rather than Christ.
Again, I do not believe that either the US or Israel has a viable military option. Some artful combination of diplomatic overtures and economic threats seems to be the wisest course. Israel’s best bet is to rigorously pursue peace with Syria and the Palestinians.
A great benefit of peace with Syria would be to interrupt the flow of missiles and other support to Hezbollah and to disentangle Syria from its close alliance with Iran. An additional benefit of peace with the Palestinians would be to get Iran off Israel’s back, as even Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying that if the Palestinians are satisfied with an agreement with Israel, Iran would go along with it. This, of course, still leaves open the possibility that if Hamas or others close to Iran reject an Israeli-Palestinian peace, that Iran would continue to pose a danger.