Stop Terror at Its Source: Iran
By YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI
Yossi Klein Halevi is the Israel correspondent for the New Republic and a senior
writer for the Jerusalem Report.
January 8 2002
JERUSALEM -- The Israeli operation that seized a ship filled with more than
50 tons of Iranian arms reportedly bound for Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority
highlights Iran's central role in international terrorism. And combined with
recent Iranian threats to Israel's existence, the weapons ship mocks the hope
of those American officials who call for including the fundamentalist Muslim
regime in the anti-terrorist coalition.
The weapons on board the Karine-A vessel--which the Palestinian Authority denies
were headed its way--included Katyusha rockets intended for use against Israeli
towns and more than 11/2 tons of explosives, which Israeli military intelligence
agencies suspect may have been earmarked for car bombings or suicide attacks.
And the revelation by the captain of the Karine-A of Hezbollah involvement in
transferring the weapons onto the vessel at least suggests that the Lebanese
terrorist group served as an intermediary between the Palestinians and the Iranians.
The emergence of a Palestinian-Iranian-Hezbollah connection transforms Palestinian
terrorism from a local to a global terrorist threat. Iran's terrorist mischief
becomes even more frightening in the context of its nuclear program. Though
Iran has insisted its nuclear development is intended for peaceful means, at
least one Iranian leader is actively contemplating nuclear war against Israel.
On Dec. 14, Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Iranian president and currently chairman
of the government's powerful guidance council, told a Tehran University audience
that the vast Muslim world could easily survive nuclear war, while tiny Israel
would be destroyed. "The founding of the state of Israel is the worst event
in all of history," he said. "If the day comes when the world of Islam is equipped
with weapons similar to those that Israel possesses ... nothing will remain
after one atom bomb is dropped on Israel."
That day could be approaching. According to Israel's defense minister, Binyamin
Ben-Eliezer, Iran is about three years away from developing a nuclear strike
capability. And Israel is already well within range of Iranian missiles. That
threat is hardly confined to Israel alone: Iran is developing new generations
of ballistic missiles with intercontinental range.
When the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin initiated the Oslo peace
process, one of his main rationales was the need to neutralize the Palestinian
conflict and free Israel for an eventual confrontation with its existential
Sooner or later, Rabin believed, Israel would be forced to destroy Iran's nuclear
capability, just as Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.
Rafsanjani's speech reveals Rabin's prescience in identifying Iran as a threat
to Israel's survival.
As Washington contemplates its next strike against terrorism, Iran needs to
be moved from the column of potential allies to the column of potential targets.
In fact, an attack on Iran--even before a strike against Iraq--may be strategically
compelling. Attacking Iran first would preclude the danger of an Iranian seizure
of Shiite areas of southern Iraq. And an attack on Tehran could embolden the
democratic uprising against the mullahs that is stirring just below the surface
of imposed uniformity.
Destroying the Taliban has been a crucial first step in the war against radical
Islam. But the real defeat of Islamic extremists must happen in Tehran, where
the movement won its most compelling victory.
The message of modern holy war first emanated from Iran; indeed, the war against
the U.S. that culminated on Sept. 11 began with the seizure of the American
Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Israel's interception of the weapons ship has sabotaged Iran's moderate image,
carefully cultivated in recent months to avoid scrutiny of its nuclear program.
But now that its continuing involvement in international terrorism has been
exposed, it cannot be allowed to continue its nuclear development unimpeded.
If President Bush is serious about challenging terror at its root, he cannot
avoid a confrontation with the regime that initiated anti-American terrorism
and that is considering a nuclear nightmare.