Netanyahu's speech and the Ostrich Syndrome by Efraim Inbar

The Jerusalem Post
October 11, 2012
The speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly where he delineated a red line to the Iranian nuclear program attracted huge international attention. Yet, its impact will dissipate soon because the international community suffers from Ostrich Syndrome.

Most states prefer to ignore the bad news of nuclear proliferation. This happened with North Korea and it is being repeated in Iran. Members of the international community are reluctant to admit the stark reality because such an admission requires action, which they are hardly ready to take.

Indeed, most states ignore the extreme revolutionary nature of the Iran regime. Since 1979 a revolutionary outlook has sprung on top of an imperial tradition in Tehran. The mullahs want to export their radical Shi'ite version of Islam, and adopted a jihadist agenda. But we are told that they are rational just like us.

The Iranian leadership was responsible for killing Westerners in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia... and we are told that they are rational just like us. The Iranian leadership entertains the idea of bringing Andalusia (Spain) back into the Islamic fold... and we are told that they are rational just like us.

Iran plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the US... and we are told that they are rational like us.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed his desire to remove Israel from the map... and we are told that he is rational just like us.

Ahmadinejad spoke to God and even got answers... and we are told he is rational just like us.

Similarly, the international community has ignored for more than a decade the progress in Iran's nuclear program and adheres to the illusion that talks will eventually dissuade them from building a nuclear bomb.

Iran was caught lying to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about its nuclear program, but Israelis were told that there is plenty of time to conduct negotiations.

Iran built an enrichment facility at Natanz... and we were told that there is still time to do something about it.

Iran expanded this enrichment facility... and we were told that there is still time. Iran build a new enrichment plant at Fordow... and we were told that there is still time. Iran achieved a five percent enrichment level, and then 10% and recently it reached 20%... and we were told each time that there is still time.

The latest IAEA report indicates that Iran is a few months from having enough fissionable material for a nuclear bomb and maybe a year from having enough for 10 bombs... and we were told again that there is still time to do something about it.

The inevitable conclusion from the behavior of the international community is that it consistently opts for an easy, harmless transition from "there is still time to do something" to "it's too late to do something."

A large part of the international community belittles the wide-ranging repercussions of a nuclear Iran.

Concerns about Iran "Finlandizing" the oil producing nations in the Gulf and the Caspian Basin; nuclear proliferation in the Middle East; Iran nuclear terrorism; a security threat for states within a radius of 2,500 kilometers; the loss of Western credibility after repeated declarations that "a nuclear Iran is unacceptable" are all dismissed as Israeli exaggerations or unfounded alarmism.

Western rationalist experts point out that Iran is "rationale" and can be deterred. This is wishful thinking and reflects the prevalent ostrich mentality. There are numerous examples where Iran was undeterred even before owning a nuclear bomb.

Did the US deter Iranian influence in Lebanon? No. Hezbollah took over the country. Did the US curtail Iranian influence in Palestinian politics? No. Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Did the US deter Iran from turning Iraq into its satellite? No. Did the US deter Iran from meddling in Bahrain? No. Did the US deter Iran from assisting Assad stay in power in Syria? No. Did the US deter Iran from establishing a presence in its backyard, in Venezuela, and penetrating Latin America? No.

And all this inconvenient evidence is ignored by the Ostrich Syndrome-stricken strategists and statesmen.

Deterrence works only if threats to use force are credible. Iran paused its nuclear program when the US attacked Iraq in 2003. Unfortunately US President Barack Obama is not feared – with good reason. He is viewed in the Middle East by friends and foes of the US alike as a lightweight weakling. Obviously the Europeans hardly instill any fear in Tehran. The Tehran zoo provides a good picture of how ostriches behave.

In addition, deterrence works only if there is reasonable sensitivity to costs. Unfortunately, the theological outlook of the Iranian leadership prepares it for paying heavy costs in the pursuit of its jihadist agenda. Indeed, Iranian leaders declared their willingness to pay with millions of lives in order to destroy the Jewish state.

And the domestic suffering caused by the economic sanctions has not changed the regime nuclear policy.

At this late stage, after so many years, nothing will stop the nuclear program except for the use of force.

The Iranians are smart enough to diagnose the international community with the Ostrich Syndrome and their prognosis is that they can get away with building a bomb, just like North Korea did. In the absence of a quick recovery from the Ostrich Syndrome, we are doomed to live in a more brutish world.

The writer is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies and fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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