TOPICS: In the shadow of Iran’s nuclear threat

With commencement of another International Atomic Energy Agency meeting to discuss Iran’s nuclear pursuits, it is time to take a realistic look at the potential threat. At best, a nuclear-armed Iran would undo the delicate balance of power in the Middle East. At worst, it could start a global Armageddon.

The solutions being offered range from military action to continued negotiations and granting of more concessions. But the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran is some way off. The director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, testified in February 2005 that Iran is unlikely to have the ability to build a nuclear weapon “early in the next decade.”

Iranian-backed terrorism, on the other hand, is happening right now. Individuals are being killed almost every week as a result, and over the past two-and-a-half decades many people have died because of it.

Tehran makes no effort to deny its connection with what it calls “resistance groups” or “liberation movements” and what Washington calls “foreign terrorist organisations.”

On the last day of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s trip to Syria on January 20, he met Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, and Hamas political bureau chief Khalid Mishaal. According to Iranian state radio, the president described “resistance, unity, and tranquility” as the requirements for defeating US efforts to strengthen the “Jerusalem-occupying regime,” Israel. Meanwhile, the new Iranian ambassador in Damascus, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, said Iran intends to “continue supporting the Lebanese resistance in confronting the Israeli occupation.”

A terrorist act pales in comparison with the destruction wrought by a nuclear weapon. But for Iran the two issues — terrorism and nuclear weapons — are linked. Iran’s desire to become a nuclear power has as much to do with status as it does with its unstated strategic goals or its stated desire to diversify its energy sources. As a nuclear state, Iran would be elevated to the status of a global power, and this would cement its perceived role as a leader of the Muslim world.

Iranian military officials stress repeatedly that if attacked they will resort to asymmetric warfare and unconventional means against their attackers. In other words, terrorist groups linked with Iran could strike in various places. Moreover, the Iranian government cites Western counter-terrorism activities as evidence of discrimination against and oppression of Muslims.

Terrorism is more dangerous than nuclear issue. Iran does not deny that it wants to be a nuclear power. Thus, the international community knows it must deal with Iran directly. But Tehran does not direct groups like Hizbullah and Hamas, and it only admits to providing them with political support. It is not clear who the responsible decision-makers are, therefore, which makes it hard for the West to exert any influence. Regardless of the difficulty, however, we ignore the terrorism issue at our peril. — The Christian Science Monitor