During an interview yesterday with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said that Israel would not be wholly satisfied if Iran agreed to supervision over its nuclear program. “Certainly from Israel’s perspective, we would not be very much at ease with that,” he said. “We have seen how Iran has worked to subvert, to sidestep any type of international supervision of its nuclear program.”
When Zakaria noted that U.S. policies of deterrence against the Soviet Union and China have worked in the past, Oren dismissed the possibility that Iran can be deterred because Iran is “not secular”:
ZAKARIA: Mao was certainly about as crazy as leaders get in terms of the bizarre statements, their willingness to talk about the destruction of the world, inflicting enormous casualties. If these guys were deterred by the fact that they would suffer retaliation, why will Iran not be deterred?
OREN: Because the Maoist regime, the Stalinist regime were secular regimes. They had secular ideologies. … But the Iranian regime is not a secular regime. The Iranian regime is carrying out what they believe to be a divinely ordained task on the planet, and that is the conduct of a holy war.
Oren is subscribing to the radical “Iran as irrational actor” view espoused by the likes of far right neocons Micheal Ledeen and Frank Gaffney. Just because a nation is religious does not make it undeterrable.
As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes, “Iran’s actual policy choices over the last three decades indicate rational strategic calculations. … Preservation of the Islamic Republic, not some crazy desire to trigger the apocalypse, is what guides Iranian policy.” Mehdi Khalaji, an expert in Shiite theology at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has studied in Qom, has challenged the theory that Iran’s leaders are willing to commit national suicide in pursuit of some wider religious goal:
As the theory of the guardianship of the jurist requires, the most significant task of the Supreme Leader is to safeguard the regime, even by overruling Islamic law. Therefore, it seems like Khamenei, unlike the Iranian president, does not welcome and military confrontation with the West, the United States, or Israel.
When asked recently if Iran could be deterred, nuclear expert and Harvard professor Graham Allison, who is renowned for his expertise on bureaucratic decision making said “the benefit that Iran could hope to achieve by building up its own military forces, including nuclear forces would be significantly diminished,” with a credible U.S.-led military deterrent.