The Historian, the Diplomat, and the Spy
How the experts see the threat posed by Iran’s rulers.

Bernard Lewis, Uri Lubrani, and Meir Dagan


Clifford D. May

2. Isolate the regime diplomatically — for real. Long ago, when Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the execution of a British novelist for “insulting” Islam, or when Iranian officials first talked of wiping Israel off the map, or when, most recently, the British embassy in Tehran was attacked, serious diplomatic isolation should have been imposed: no funding of international agencies manipulated by Iranians, no visits to New York for Ahmadinejad or to Europe for Iranian oil czars, don’t even let Iran’s planes land in at Western airports. Now is the time.

3. Do not underestimate the potential for high-tech, cutting-edge cyber weapons to further delay the Iranian nuclear-development program. The Stuxnet worm, a cyber weapon for which no one has claimed credit, set Iran’s program back by at least a year. The West must maintain an offensive and defensive lead in this critical, new field of warfare.

More conventional clandestine measures also can play a role — things that go boom in the night and the untimely deaths of individuals contributing to illegal nuclear-weapons development. (None of the above should be discussed more than necessary in public forums, by the way.)

4. The threat of force must be credible. Iran’s rulers should lose sleep over the possibility that a military strike — against their nuclear facilities or against them more directly — may be seen by Americans and Israelis as the least bad option.

5. Help Syria break free of Iran. Under Bashar al-Assad, Syria has been Iran’s bridge into the Arab and Sunni worlds. Syria also has been the patron of Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist foreign legion, and Hamas as well. An incredibly brave Syrian opposition is attempting to bring down the dynasty. The loss of Syria would be a heavy blow to the Tehran regime. America and the West should be doing all they can to support the rebels. 6. Iran’s anti-regime opposition also deserves moral support and material assistance. That should have begun in 2009 when, in the wake of blatantly fraudulent elections, mass protests broke out with demonstrators chanting: “Obama! Are you with us or against us?” Professor Lewis lamented: “We have not done a damn thing to help them. It’s a mind-boggling absurdity.”

In addition to all of the above, recognize that this has become the top national-security priority: In what has been misperceived as an “Arab Spring,” the downtrodden masses in Egypt and elsewhere now may be coming to the conclusion that “Islam is the answer.” Iranians, having tested that proposition over decades, know it is the wrong answer. Rule by mullahs has made them less free and poorer than they ever were under the Shah. Lewis, Lubrani, and Dagan agree that these disenchanted Iranians may offer the last, best hope for the Muslim world — and for winding down the global war against the West.

The alternative is to risk the possibility that jihadis with global ambitions and nuclear weapons will make the 21st century history’s bloodiest era. That is the most important point that Lewis, Lubrani, and Dagan are attempting to communicate — at a dinner last week in Tel Aviv and on other occasions.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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