When it comes to international bogeymen, there are few as salient as Iran. Despite not really doing much of anything in the past 20 years, it’s in the news time and time again. We worry about their nuclear capabilities and their links to terrorism. We are always being told something might happen, yet it never does. This might be, in all reality, because Iran is a better distraction than an enemy. Let’s look at the five reasons why:
1. Iran is Not Actually That Irrational
Iran is constantly portrayed as a group of religious fundamentalists with an aim to destroy Israel and cause chaos in the Middle East. However, if we look at Iran’s history within the region, we will find very little evidence to support that. Sure, they will occasionally talk a big game, and are perfectly comfortable with hate speech, but in terms of actions, they lack a lot of local street cred.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq, led under Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran in hopes to take advantage of post-revolutionary chaos. Since then has Iran taken part in preemptive ground conflicts? How many wars have they started? That’s right, the number is basically zero. In fact, Iran has gone so far as to vow never to launch a military attack against anyone, and offered to work with the United States in relation to Iraq’s current ISIS/Islamic State crisis.
If we look at the US-led Iraq invasion, the wars and uprisings in Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, Iran looks positively stable in comparison.
2. Iran Would Never Bomb Israel
Remember the furor surrounding Iran’s nuclear program? How if they got the bomb they were certain to bomb Jerusalem mere moments after? Now is an excellent time to pull out a map and note Jerusalem’s actual location. I’ll help:
If Iran were to nuke Israel, it would also be blowing up and poisoning a vast number of Palestinians along with them. Widespread fallout would put Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan at risk. Which basically means Iran would be declaring war on some of the key (stable) governments in the region. Second, if religious fundamentalism so part and parcel to the Iranian regime, we must realize the concept of ’ummah.’
Ummah translates to the “Muslim family” that exists around the world. Killing one is like killing “all of humanity.” Taking these two things together we can see that not only would an attack on Israel have devastating political ramifications, but devastating religious consequences as well. Iran, again, with no history of preemptive strikes, has nothing to gain from bombing Israel. Furthermore, if we consider Israel’s ability to literally flatten Tehran in a matter of hours (their armies are far from comparable), it’s unlikely Iran would ever take that chance.
3. They Don’t Hate All the Jews
But what about the Holocaust-denying conference? What about the hate speech directed at the Jewish people? Of course, like many countries on the planet, including those located in the West, Iran absolutely has issues with anti-Semitism. That said, they aren’t exactly as bad as people might assume. In fact, the Jewish community in Iran has existed for thousands of years.
These days, Iran’s Jewish community is formally recognized by the government as a protected minority group. The capital of Iran, Tehran, has 11 synagogues, a number of Hebrew schools, kosher restaurants, Jewish newspapers, libraries and hospitals dedicated to Jewish leaders in history.
Jewish Iranians are also in government, with a number of seats in Parliament dedicated to representing them as a minority group. It might also surprise you to learn that many have spoken out against Israel’s recent actions during the latest Gaza incursion, noting that they see Israel’s actions as political rather than religious.
4. Despite Bluster, They Cooperate Fairly Often
In times of sanctions, Iran often lashes out, threatening to close routes around their shipping channels or kick out UN staff. Yet, they haven’t really followed through very often. Rather, more recent examples show that Iran is absolutely willing to cooperate in international diplomacy.
Recent news shows Iran is willing to take its enriched uranium, and dilute it into levels that are more acceptable to the international standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency even stated that Iranian leaders were following through on commitments. What do they get in return for this international cooperation? The United States will unfreeze 2.8 billion in Iranian currency. That seems fair, right?
Although Iran insists that they were enriching uranium for nuclear power plants and medicinal purposes, at last check their uranium supplies were enough to make one, just one, nuclear warhead. This was trotted out as a ‘crisis’ inside the UN.
While the United States is the only country in the world to ever use a nuclear warhead against civilians, and they are still perfectly allowed to have them because we can totally trust they’ve learned their lesson (we hope), it is perfectly acceptable for them to regulate the production of weapons in a foreign sovereign nation. Right?
Which brings us to one of our most interesting points:
5. A Nuclear Bomb in Iran Might Actually Help Regional Stability
In an article for Foreign Affairs Magazine, Kenneth Waltz makes the case for Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. Although many shudder to think of what could come of this, Waltz makes a convincing argument that it would actually help bring peace to this embittered area. He notes that historically speaking, “By reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less.”
With Israel acquiring a nuclear arsenal years ago, Iran might create a counterbalance similar to that of India and Pakistan. Two neighbors with a terribly violent past, who now enjoy new diplomacy thanks to the delicate position they’ve put themselves into. He also addresses concerns about Iran handing off the bomb to terrorist groups.
“Once a country such as Iran acquires a nuclear capability, it will have every reason to maintain full control over its arsenal. After all, building a bomb is costly and dangerous. It would make little sense to transfer the product of that investment to parties that cannot be trusted or managed.”
He also points out:
“There has never been a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed states. Once Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, deterrence will apply, even if the Iranian arsenal is relatively small.”
Sanctions, the common way we try to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state, aren’t actually helpful. The sanctions that we raise against Iran don’t actually hurt those in power. The government, which has plenty of money, gets along just fine. So there’s very little reason to think that sanctions would dissuade them from bomb making.
Rather, it’s the average citizen that sanctions tend to cripple. Meaning that if we’re trying to win a war of ’hearts and minds’ in the Middle East, this is the worst possible way to go about it.
Iran definitely has its issues. Human rights violations and the suppression of free speech are all problems inside the country. However, those are for the citizens of Iran to work out, not some foreign do-gooder force. If we are to really engage the reality of Iran, we will see that while they have plenty of memorable quotes, they aren’t exactly a “dangerous” force within the region. If we would take the time to engage them, rather than trying to control them, we might end up with a Middle East that looks remarkably more stable than it does today.