Why attacking Iran isn’t a good idea

WE HAVE basically a three-year window of opportunity before the Islamic republic acquires the nuclear bomb,” Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of the late shah of Iran told me last Wednesday in Washington. But at the same time, he cautioned that using military action against Iran would be counter-productive and would most likely backfire.

The young Pahlavi, who lives in the Washington area, warned that an attack against the Islamic republic would awaken Persian nationalist pride and strengthen the Islamist regime, making it all that much harder to bring about democratic changes in the country.

“Like all totalitarian systems, the Islamic regime in Teheran needs to expand in order to survive,” said Pahlavi. And as long as the Islamic regime remains in power, the United States’ project for democracy in the greater Middle East will not succeed. However, any aggressive action from foreign forces directed at Iran may instead help cement the regime’s hold on power and assist Iran’s expansionism in the area.

Pahlavi drew attention to what he called the Middle East’s “Bermuda Triangle.” An area running “from Iraq to Lebanon to Palestine” which is being taken by Iran’s allies “through the ballot box.”

This is the case with pro-Iranian parties in neighbouring Iraq, with Hamas winning the elections in the Palestinian territories and with Hezbollah joining the government in Lebanon. If the same occurs in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood making further gains in the next election, and then Iran’s allies doing the same in the oil-rich Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, “the encirclement of the Arabian Gulf will be complete,” said Pahlavi. The Islamists, said the young shah, “will have achieved what the Soviets could not, namely to gain complete control of the Arabian Gulf oil and the jugular of Western economies.”

Pahlavi stated that in order to maintain its position as a dominant power in the region, and to continue expanding its influence, the Islamic republic needed to become a nuclear power. “For the free world, these are unacceptable outcomes,” Pahlavi stated. The heir to the Peacock Throne stressed the importance of time, and how Iran was using it to its advantage. “The race against time is crucial,” he stated.

He criticised the European Union’s diplomatic efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis. He called the Euro Three initiative — by Britain, Germany and France — to negotiate with the Islamists “fruitless.” He sees it as only giving the theocrats in Teheran three years, during which time they could continue to advance their nuclear research.

“Another three years with the Russians under the IAEA buys then enough time to make a bomb.”

Any regime change should come from within Iran. A US military intervention in Iran would be terribly counter-productive, Pahlavi said. A military strike will rally national sentiments that will work to the regime’s advantage, and consequently give the theocracy a much longer lease on life.  The solution, he emphasised, should be Iranian. “We can liberate Iran ourselves,” he stated. But for that to happen, he said, Iranians needed to move on. “No more hiding behind masks.”

“Make no mistakes about it; the question is what comes first in Iran; democracy or nuclear weapons? The race is on!

Let me repeat: a military strike may delay the bomb by two or three years, but it will delay democracy several times over. It is not a smart choice, and no way to win the race.”

The young shah spoke at a time when rumblings of regime change and pre-emptive strikes against Iran are once more making the rounds of the Washington rumour mills. Last week, Secretary of State Condi Rice said the US would allocate $75 million in extra funds, on top of $10m already allocated for supporting pro-democracy groups inside Iran. The money would be used to broadcast US radio and television programmes into Iran.

Pahlavi was careful not to openly show support for any one particular opposition group or party. However, he did hint at wanting to play a greater role in Iran’s political future. If Iran remains a republic or becomes a constitutional monarchy should be left to the people to decide, said Pahlavi, leaving vague exactly what his role in a future Iran might be.

At the same time he faulted the Iranian opposition for being too divided and lacking strong leadership. “Iran’s opposition should be a household name,” he said. Warning the world about Iran’s desires to pursue its nuclear programme, Pahlavi said, “I hope we can get rid of the regime before they get the bomb.”

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington. Comments may be sent to [email protected].