Iranian attitudes towards the West are growing even more adversarial. In just the last week two news stories have highlighted the growing tension between Iran and the U.S. First was the news that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an American citizen of Iranian descent, would receive the death penalty following his conviction for espionage. A few days later Tehran accused the U.S. and Israel of being responsible for the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist.
In spite of the uptick in aggressiveness emanating from Tehran, it would still be unwise – even counterproductive – to engage militarily with Iran. Military action will only serve to heighten the fears of the regime, lead to the further radicalization of the population, and weaken American interests in the region.
As the war in Iraq drew to end in 2011, and the conflict in Afghanistan continues, there is little domestic support for engaging in more armed conflict in the region. According to polling data, while a majority of Americans support military action against Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weapons, few believe it to be the correct course for the moment. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 54% of Americans believe the military should be used to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, but 55%, according to another CBS poll, believe sanctions are appropriate for the time being.
The support for military action is understandable, but so too is the belief that America should hold off for now. A nuclear Iran is, rightly, of great concern to the American people. The Iranian regime has been accused of sponsoring, supplying, and harboring terrorists, and for that reason, the country “poses a security concern to the international community.”
But Americans are tired of war. While a nuclear Iran is seen as a threat, there does not seem to be the support necessary for engaging in another Middle Eastern conflict right now.
Adding to the unease over the use of the military is the fact that it is unclear whether the regime is actively seeking weapons technology. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “In April 2010, a U.S. Defense Department report on Iran’s military power suggested the Islamic Republic may not have made a decision to build a bomb. Instead, Tehran is ‘keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so.’” An imminent threat of force against Iran may serve only to push forward the regime’s efforts to move from having the capabilities to build a bomb to actual construction of one.
Iran views the building of a bomb as a deterrent to hostile nations. For the Ayatollah, the supreme religious leader in Iran, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a nuclear weapon is viewed as leverage, both in terms of regional control and against outside nations.
Further, if the U.S. and its allies should pursue military action against the Iranian regime, it may only strengthen the regime by rebuilding domestic support for its actions – support that has been waning in recent years. In 2009, following questionable election results, protesters took the streets in what could be considered the first summer of the Arab Spring. While the Green Revolution failed to effect significant change in the politics of the country, it highlighted for the world the level of unrest citizens feel as a result of the policies of the Iranian government. An unwise escalation of military tension now may force dissidents back into the fold with the government as they feel threatened by outside forces. It could also further radicalize those who already support the regime, both in and out of Iran.
Events are developing rapidly in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. The most recent reports allege that Iran is enriching uranium to 20%, a threshold of sorts between low-enriched uranium and high-enriched uranium – the latter used for weapons level technology. Coupled with the recent naval exercises carried out by Tehran, and its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, this could be a ramp up to war. Military action may prove inevitable in the long run, but, regardless of the rhetoric espoused by Republican leaders, America should not be quick to jump to military action against Iran, lest the medicine prove worse than the disease.
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