Why Iran Believes Time Is on Its Side
Now that President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Iran deal, supporters and opponents of the agreement want to know what happens next. In all the discussion, however, one critical element has largely been ignored — the vast difference between the way that the West and Iran view time. This factor should shape any decisions about any new agreements.
For the West, the long-term is a few years away, maybe a decade or two — so supporters of the Iran nuclear deal considered it a great victory if they could prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb until 2030. Obama believed that any delay was worth it, given what could possibly happen in the interim. Proponents also believed that we could catch Iran if it cheated, and ignored Obama’s own admission that by the end of the deal, the breakout time for Iran to build a bomb would shrink “almost down to zero.” The more salient point is that Iranians saw the sunset clause of the agreement as a victory for them.
An Arab adage says: “A man who gains his revenge after 40 years is acting in haste.” Muslims recognize that it took 200 years to expel the Crusaders, but they did it. For Iranians, the long-term is centuries. The Muslims dominated the Middle East for more than a thousand years, and the Iranians believe they can patiently pursue their goal of reconstituting that empire in the coming decades — and, if necessary, over the course of a century.
Given the perspective of centuries, the current situation in which the US is the global superpower and Israel is considered the region’s dominant power is deemed a temporary phenomenon.
The Iranians have some fear of the Israelis, but believe that the rest of the world is so afraid of a possible war that they will do anything to avoid a confrontation. The main reason they took Obama to the cleaners in the nuclear deal — giving up their nuclear program in the short-run, in exchange for the end of sanctions and a windfall of tens of billions of dollars — was because they knew he would never use military force against them.
In addition, they watched Obama withdraw from Iraq, which gave them unprecedented influence over their long-term rival. Now they listen to President Trump talk about withdrawing from Syria, and see an opportunity to turn that country into another satellite. They already control Lebanon and have enhanced Hezbollah’s capabilities to threaten Israel — because of the West’s failure to enforce UN resolutions calling for the group’s disarmament, and the UN peace force’s inability to prevent the group’s weapons smuggling and infiltration of southern Lebanon.
The mullahs also see the craven Europeans rushing to Tehran to make deals and doing everything in their power to prevent Trump from pulling out of the nuclear deal. They also know that China and Russia will block any serious action against them at the Security Council.
This conviction that time is on their side is why Iran may see no need to violate the terms of the nuclear agreement, and why Netanyahu’s disclosures are so significant. As David Horovitz noted, by the time the deal expires, the Iranians will have more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium and long-range ballistic missiles to deliver a bomb. Iranian officials already are boasting they can ramp up uranium enrichment within 48 hours. They are in no hurry, however, to accomplish their goal of becoming a nuclear power.
Still, there is plenty of reason to believe the Iranians are preparing for that day — not only through permitted activities under the JCPOA, but also through clandestine means that violate the agreement. Despite the repeated claims that Iran is complying with the deal, they have not submitted to anytime/anywhere inspections. We do not know what they may be doing in known military facilities, let alone secret ones. We do know that Iran has tried to secretly obtain nuclear weapons components. One of the points of Netanyahu’s presentation was to prove that Iran lied about its nuclear program and intentions, and that it is likely to be lying today.
If the Iranians are to be stopped from achieving their goal of becoming a nuclear power and further spreading their radical Islamic ideology, the United States and its allies are going to have to pursue a policy that looks at the future through their eyes. Iranians must be disabused of the notion that time is on their side and that can only be done through concerted action, ideally in partnership with allies. We should use sanctions and diplomacy, but we must also be prepared to use military force if necessary to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear facilities and destroy its archive, to eliminate its ballistic missile capability, to treat Hezbollah like ISIS, and to roll back Iranian expansion in the region.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and author/editor of 23 books including “The Arab Lobby” and the novel “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”