NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
Editorial: The Danger of a Nuclear-Capable Iran:
AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr's Policy Conference Speech
I am here today to talk about a danger to America and to the world.
I am here today to talk about a nation that—should it become a nuclear power—will present a long-term threat to other oil producing nations in the Persian Gulf, dominate OPEC, and drive up the price of oil.
A nation that, should it become a nuclear power, would trigger a race for nuclear weapons that would proliferate across the Middle East.
Imagine if you can, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or tomorrow’s Egypt, armed with nuclear weapons. I am talking about a nation that, should it become a nuclear power could well provide nuclear know-how and even nuclear devices to international terrorists, to Hezbollah, to Hamas, or to other radical Islamist groups, all operating under the umbrella of one nuclear nation. This is not speculation. This nation has publicly declared it is prepared to share this technology with its friends.
Nor are these dangers distant from our shores and our cities. Because I am talking about a nation that—should it become a nuclear power—can bring terror here. Terrorists armed with nuclear devices—here, to our own hemisphere.
This nation could share its nuclear technology with Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia—its friends who are no friends of America.
Taken together, these many challenges pose a serious danger for America.
I am talking about a nuclear capable Iran. That changes everything.
It is not necessary for Iran to actually have the bomb to demonstrate beyond doubt that they have crossed the nuclear threshold.
Iran with simply the capacity to quickly produce a weapon is a risk to peace, and a threat to the world.
Iran, as a threshold nuclear state will strengthen our foes and frighten our friends. We know today in a way that we have never known just how close we came to war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis.
We were seconds away.
Iran’s mullahs differ from that Soviet leadership which at least operated on a calculus about the severe consequences to them of using the world’s most devastating weapons.
There is ample evidence that we cannot count on this Iranian regime to use the same calculus. That is why as President Obama stated yesterday morning, containment, a policy that would allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, is not the answer.
Preventing Iran from ever having a nuclear weapons capability—that is the answer.
A nuclear capable Iran means real risks for the United States, her friends and allies.
The risk is the greatest. The threat is existential for one country in particular. Israel.
There is a unique place for Israel in Iran’s ideology. Iran says it is ready to pursue normal relations with every state except Israel, which they say should be erased from the map.
Consider the prediction of the “moderate” former Iranian president Rafsanjani that Israel could be wiped out with just one nuclear weapon, while the Muslim world would survive any such exchange. Consider the diagnosis of supreme leader Khamenei that Israel is a “cancer” that must be removed.
Now some explain away these statements.
Others say we should dismiss them as simply unfortunate examples of this Iranian regime’s rhetorical style. But Iran has gone beyond ideology to action, pursuing a strategy today of targeting Israelis on a global scale.
When we say Israel faces an existential threat, what precisely does that mean?
And how does it differ from the threat a nuclear Iran poses to other nations?
Israel is small, and its distance from danger is measured in seconds. Israel is strong, but its strengths cannot diminish the factors that make it especially vulnerable.
These factors: Israel’s place in Iran’s ideology; its size; its proximity to danger, create a disequilibrium, a divergence about when Iran’s actions present a critical danger, say to the United States or the West, and when they pose a critical danger to Israel.
Even as we act to stop Iran, we must be clear and candid about where we are now that Iran has progressed to this point.
We must start with an appreciation of Iran’s extraordinary efforts to mask its work, to shield from the world just how close it has come to a full nuclear weapons capability.
No nation, no nation can gamble its sovereignty and security on perfect knowledge of a clandestine effort by an avowed enemy.
And this is the reality.
This is the context in which Israel must decide her course of action.
If she can put her fate in the hands of anyone, even her closest ally, America. Or if she must conduct a strike to postpone Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Israel was created to ensure that the Jewish people would never have to put their fate in the hands of others.
Let us be clear: Israel does not want Iran to force her to have to strike.
For twenty years, Israel has sounded the alarm about the dangers of Iran becoming a nuclear power in an attempt to avoid military confrontation by anyone.
Israel has never treated force as the first resort.
It has always been, and still is, the last resort.
But Israel does not control the path Iran is on. If at some point, Israel, or anyone, must act, only Iran will be to blame.
But if Israel is forced into taking military action that she and the world did their best to avoid, then America must stand with the Jewish state.
So, what do we do?
Because, despite the danger, despite the hour, there is still time to stop Iran without the use of force.
But that time is running out quickly.
President Obama and his administration are to be commended. They have—more than any other administration, more than any other country—brought unprecedented pressure to bear on Tehran through the use of biting economic sanctions.
They have built a broad coalition to isolate the Iranian regime and they have brought the necessary military assets to the gulf and to Iran’s neighbors in order to signal that America has the power to act.
In addition, this Congress has demonstrated bipartisan, strong leadership by passing tough financial sanctions—even on the Central Bank of Iran—a key element in Europe’s decision to ban Iranian oil imports.
All of these accomplishments by our leaders have led to important progress.
Iran’s ruling mullahs are under severe pressure. Iran’s economy is in free-fall.
The Iranian regime is more isolated than it has ever been.
The problem is, progress is not enough.
This is a test. But there are no grades.
The only measure is: pass or fail.
We know that when the regime in Tehran feels frightened, it will stop its nuclear pursuits.
History shows us that when this Iranian regime was scared, it froze its nuclear program.
When American soldiers entered Iraq in 2003 and Tehran feared it would be next, Iran stopped work on developing a nuclear weapon.
But when the mullahs’ fear diminished, Iran’s nuclear scientists returned to business as usual and have been at it ever since.
The reality today is that the Iranian regime is not frightened enough.
We must increase the pressures on the mullahs to the point where they fear failure to comply will lead to their downfall.
That is why we must bring even more pressure to bear.
Four tracks are critical: tough, principled diplomacy, truly crippling sanctions, disruptive measures and establishing a credible threat to use force.
All four are necessary.
All four are essential, to underscore, beyond any doubt, that the United States and the West are serious, serious about stopping Iran.
And all four, taken together, offer the best chance to avoid a war that no one—not the United States, not Israel—seeks.
That is why all U.S. officials must speak with one voice so Tehran clearly hears that America is unified in its determination to prevent a nuclear capable Iran.
America’s leaders and our allies should always be ready for productive discussions.
But for any diplomacy to succeed, Iran’s leaders must demonstrate in advance that they are serious about giving up their quest for nuclear weapons.
We should demand that they again verifiably freeze their nuclear program, as required by the U.N. Security Council before talks begin.
The best way, the only way, to stop Iran and avoid the possibility of war is to demonstrate to Tehran that we will use every diplomatic, economic, political and if need be, military tool available.
That is why tomorrow, we will go to Capitol Hill together, as one unified community, to make clear to our leaders that we must ramp up the pressure now through crippling sanctions. Together, we will tell them that Iran and not our ally, Israel, is the problem, and that all options—except containment—are on the table.
To be sure, this is a time of testing.
Not long ago, Israeli author and political figure, Yair Lapid, who is with us today, recalled the words of his late father Tommy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor, a noted Israeli leader and a great friend of AIPAC, in a speech he gave on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
His words are relevant at this hour.
“The enlightened world advises us to be compromising and assume risks for the chances of peace.
Yet we ask the ‘enlightened’ world, we ask on Holocaust Remembrance Day all those who preach to us:
What will you do if we assume risks and sacrifice victims and put our trust in you, and then something goes wrong?
What if the other side does not act as it is expected to, and instead hurls at us fire and plagues and poisons and possibly even nuclear weapons?
What will you do then?
Will you ask for forgiveness?
Will you say, ‘We were wrong’?
Will you send us bandages?
Will you open orphanages for the children who survived?
Will you pray for our souls?
That nightmare vision, that “day after,” must never come to pass.
Israel can never let that nightmare come.
Israel’s promise to those who felt the flames of the Holocaust—never again.
We have our own role to play.
We must persuade our decision makers to ratchet up the pressure so that they cripple Iran’s nuclear ambition.
We must be prepared, in any scenario, to persuade our leaders that America must stand with Israel.
And, as we make our way through these dangerous and difficult days, we, all of us, must remain completely unified.
We must recoil from any inclination to make this situation, or allow others to make this about parties or politics.
This moment can only be about the safety and security of America and Israel.
It must only be about a world which, but for our leadership and actions, will be changed forever.
That is why we are here. Here to ensure that on this day in history, in a moment of decision, we set forth the principles and paved the way for America and Israel to continue their shared commitment to values and a vision:
A vision of a world free from the tyranny of violence, hatred, and oppression—a world where strength and security, peace and prosperity reign.