From an American point of view, the issue is not just the nuclear program. It is the hostile intentions of a regime that since 1979 has waged war persistently against the United States and its allies. Iran is directly responsible for killing many Americans in Iraq by supplying guerrillas with high-tech roadside bombs and rockets. The savage irony that no good deed goes unpunished has played out in Iraq to the benefit of Iran. Our overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Sunni dictatorship liberated Iran on one border from the threat he posed to its Shiite regime. On Iran's eastern border, our ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan removed another potential threat. The result has been to free up Iran's ability to meddle in the broader Middle East.
What to do? A threat to bomb Iran lacks credibility while America is engaged in two massive and unpopular military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, this is an administration that believes essentially in "engagement." It even seems prepared to accept an Iranian bomb. If military intervention is ruled out, we are left only with sanctions. But there is no international consensus on what these should be or how to apply them. The U.N. sanctions were too weak. They did not touch Iran's need for gasoline or its fragile domestic energy sectors. Such sanctions may take very many years to bite. Too late, too late!
In the meantime, not only are the centrifuges still running, but Iran is expanding its influence and threatening the smaller Gulf countries like Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, which do not have options that may be available to larger countries. Those states need cast-iron assurances that America will be at their side. What confidence can they have in America's will to resist an expansionist Iran? The Iranians understand the equation of fear. The official Iranian news agency recently warned the Gulf states: "There is no lion in the region save for the one that crouches on the shore opposite the Emirate states. . . . Those who believe that another lion exists in the vicinity [meaning the United States]. Well, his claws and fangs have already been broken in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine."
Saudi Arabia is another country targeted by Iran. The Saudis are particularly worried because in the kingdom's east, where the largest oil reserves are located, a sizable Shiite minority is now subject to incitement by Iran. The clash between Saudi security forces and Iranian-back Houthi rebels who infiltrated from Yemen has intensified the conflict between the Saudis and Iran. Yemen has become the main dispatch point for supplies from Iran to radical opposition groups in the Gulf region, including various arms of al-Qaeda. An Iranian clandestine network has been exposed in Kuwait, and an Iranian-backed Hezbollah cell in Egypt was poised to blow up ships in the Suez Canal and major tourist sites in Egypt to weaken the central government and improve the prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE is now in a direct confrontation with Iran over three Gulf islands belonging to the UAE.
Then there is Iran's role in hiring Bedouin tribes in Sinai to smuggle arms into the Gaza Strip (where Israel has now eased the passage of ordinary goods). These arms may arrive by a chartered ship from Iran that sails up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal, anchoring in Egyptian waters near Rafah, the Gaza border town. Under cover of darkness, the arms are placed in watertight containers and transferred underwater to a small Palestinian boat, which takes them to shore. The Bedouins, with access to hundreds of tunnels, then smuggle them into Gaza. This has armed Hamas with thousands of rockets and mortars. It is all part of Iran's highly organized strategic campaign of delivering arms to radical forces throughout the Middle East.
There was a ship called the Francop which the Israelis captured last November and exposed. The world has now forgotten, but not the Israelis. The Francop was but one of a number of cargo ships interdicted by Israeli naval commandos. It turned out to have as much as 10 times the weaponry as the infamous Karine A, intercepted by Israel in 2002, that so aroused the Bush administration. It is no mystery why the Israelis want to preclude Hamas from being rearmed by a sea lane into Gaza.