By Hussein Aboubakr Mansour and Sarah Stern
The history of the modern Middle East is that of devotional causes that went rogue. Once a holy cause is established, it becomes independent of its origins and grows a life of its own, often consuming the very original conditions for its existence. Such causes are always easy to ratchet up, but almost impossible to rachet down. The cause of post-colonial Arab national liberation, championed by Arab Nationalists, in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria, ended up with military officers rolling on top of tanks in Arab capitals starting a continuous history of military coups and counter-coups, and building some of the most brutal and monstrous political order in Arab history. For many Arab historians, injustice and crimes of European colonialism look like humanitarian interventions compared to Saddam’s Iraq, Ghaddafi’s Libya, or Assad’s Syria.
The Palestinian cause, the holy grail of all causes, ended up setting the regional infrastructure for a world of guerilla warfare, armed militias, terrorism motivated by whatever works, a cult of suicide bombings and an insatiable messianic zeal. The cause for Palestine unleashed long series of wars, defeats, losses of resources, destruction of any prospects for healthy Arab political life, justification for brutal repression and became completely out of control. The cause ended up starting civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon, hijacking Arab passenger planes, entering coalitions with vicious and destructive forces, and was used to destabilize the foundations of the very states that once helped established such a cause.
The same thing can be said for the cause for Islam and sharia law, once desiring to morally upstage their opponents, and the Arab rulers who wanted to play the Islamic cards ended up being their first victims. Sadat, who freed Islamists from prisons in order to take down his socialist opponents and introduced sharia law into the Egyptian constitution, was the first Arab ruler to be assassinated by Islamic terrorism, leaving Egyptians, till this day, stuck with an Egyptian constitution no one dares to change. Once hysteria for the cause is up, it is very difficult for it to come down.
When Hezbollah made its debut as the hero of Lebanese resistance against Israeli occupation, even many Lebanese Christians helped to ratchet up the resistance cause. After the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon 2000, the Lebanese people discovered that resistance is an eternal condition which cannot be resolved even with the negation of Israeli occupation. Lebanese state was left with no political power, no functional institutions, and no viable path towards normalcy. Resistance is endless, and if Hezbollah saw the Israeli occupation a cause worthy of resistance, it saw in the Israeli withdrawal a conspiracy worthy of even more resistance.
Today, Iran is on its way to create a new cause for nuclear rights which is, if we are to depend on regional history, likely to come back with a vengeance. The nuclear cause and the hegemonic quest are turning into a holy doctrine regardless of Iran’s economic capacity, developmental needs, international hostility, or the potential for dystopian nuclear proliferation in one of the most volatile regions of the world.
Iran is pushing forward with a new cause that will be difficult to swiftly moderate even if the leaders wish to do so. It is already stuck with a vast institutional infrastructure, organizations, payrolls, dependent militias, and built-up bureaucratic momentum designed for nuclear armament as well as terrorist activities. Those resources have acquired vested interest of their own in the causes of the Islamic Republic. The more the Islamic Republic depends on such causes for its survival, the more it entangles itself, and the less it is possible for the Iranian people to survive such a trap without deposing the Iranian regime.
We are not saying that Iran will abandon its nuclear goals or its hegemonic ambitions easily. It probably will do neither without the credible threat of military force. At this point, it does not look like the United States has a realistic appraisal of the Iranian threat, or the courage and stamina for yet another military confrontation.
The problem of an Iranian nuclear bomb is not limited to Israel and the Gulf states. We know that there is a strong Tehran-Caracas connection, and that there is a high probability that the Iranians are transferring their weaponry to the Western hemisphere.
This is not just an Israeli issue, or a Sunni Arab State issue, or even a Republican issue. This is an American issue. We have often asked ourselves what there is in the phrase “Death to America” that many Americans refuse to understand.
Yes, the Iranians are building a trap for themselves, although they might believe, at the moment, that they are winning. The only thing that will convince them that they are trapped is the credible threat of military force. And that threat most likely will not come from the Biden administration. It might, however, come from a new NATO-like alliance forming between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. They understand and appreciate the military might and the sophisticated intelligence capabilities of the Israelis.
Stay tuned. The Iranians might be laughing at the United State, while they are negotiating in Vienna. But the United States might find itself in a position one day where it will be thanking our ally, Israel, and her newly formed friendships in the Gulf, for protecting all of us from a megalomaniacal Islamic Republic of Iran.
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