About 13 years ago, while working on a British TV magazine program, I found myself spending a couple of days with Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls/the Notorious B.I.G. (I swear, I still have the tape, but it’s analog.) This extended interview took place at the time when Tupac Shakur was yelling from the rooftops that he was going to kill Brooklyn’s greatest rapper, and getting plenty of publicity and selling records by doing so. Biggie wasn’t particularly alarmed. He’d been a hustler in Bed-Stuy for too long to take seriously threats that are broadcast. In far more colorful language, he said words to the effect of “On the streets, when someone is telling anyone who’ll listen that they’re going to kill you, you don’t have to lose any sleep over it. You’re not going to hear about it beforehand when the real killer comes.”
Exactly. (Yes, I know, Biggie was eventually, tragically, murdered — but his point is proven by the fact that his killers had nothing to do with Tupac.)
And that’s why it’s hard to take seriously last week’s New York Times report about an Israeli military exercise in the Mediterranean being a “dry run” for an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Well, you can take it seriously as a PR stunt, aimed at sweating the Europeans into imposing more sanctions on Iran for fear that Israel will “do something crazy.” But when Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, and when it struck what it claimed was a Syrian nuclear facility late last year, there was no coverage of the preparations for those missions in the New York Times.
There is no credible scenario in which Israel will attack Iran without U.S. support, and achieving U.S. support for such a reckless course of action remains a long-shot.
As I wrote in the National this week, the North Korea deal may be more instructive on how the Iran issue will ultimately be resolved. North Korea is slowly moving away from nuclearization, but only as part of a process that yields it full normalization of relations with the U.S. and the consequent guarantee of security from the regime-change fantasies of Washington hawks.
What the administration failed to grasp in the case of both North Korea and Iran is that nuclear weapons are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. They elevate the regime that builds them onto a new strategic plateau, where they join nations whose nuclear deterrent largely prevents others from attacking or threatening them. By offering North Korea a route to securing its own survival, the US has enabled progress towards denuclearisation.
Iran, of course, has not developed nuclear weapons, nor is it currently developing them – according to the IAEA monitors that keep it under close scrutiny. The present standoff is over uranium enrichment, which, once mastered, would give Iran the means to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel – although Iran’s enrichment activities remain under close scrutiny and well within the limits necessary for civilian purposes. (Enrichment levels would have to be about 20 times higher to produce weapons-grade material.)
The US and its allies are currently offering sticks and carrots to Iran in the hope of persuading it to stop enrichment, but as the former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski recently noted, “a heavy-handed ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ policy may work with donkeys but not with serious countries”. He urged the US to abandon threats and calls for regime change and adopt a diplomatic strategy based on addressing the Iranian regime’s security concerns, so as to diminish its incentives to pursue nuclear weapons…
Like North Korea, the Iran standoff will be resolved only as part of a comprehensive transformation of the US-Iran relationship – a “grand bargain” between the two sides. The pragmatic mindset that produced the North Korea deal is certainly capable of doing the same on Iran. American and Israeli hawks will muster an escalating tide of hysteria in the hope of preventing such an outcome. But it would take an extreme act of provocation by the Iranians to persuade Americas voters – and its generals – to launch a new war of choice.
Click here for the full text.