- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

PALM BEACH, Fla. — At the risk of inflicting a mild case of gastric distress, democratic elections do not always work as prophylactics to safeguard freedom.

Iraq’s national balloting has produced a widely predicted three-way split with Iran the clear winner. Iraqi commentator Ghassan Attiyah remarked, “In 21/2 years, Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq.”

Its candidates defeated, the pro-Western, secular, unitary state has bitten the sand. People voted their ethnic and sectarian identities. Fundamentalist Shi’ites are now dominant. Washington’s hopes for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his secular coalition, and the neoconservatives’ support for maverick Ahmad Chalabi, the current deputy prime minister, evaporated in the ballot box.

The minority Sunnis also have their fundamentalists. They have now opted for a leaf from the book of “democratic terrorists” written by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. The Sunni insurgency will continue, but it will have a democratic wing that sits in parliament, much as Hamas plans to sit in a new Palestinian parliament and Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese parliament while Iran funds its military component.

Gunrunning and narcotics trafficking supplements Iran’s stipend. The Kurds are now in a position to slowly muscle the Arabs out of Kirkuk, the key to control of the northern oil fields, the city where Saddam Hussein had muscled the Arabs in.

In the south, the Bush administration is now dependent on the whims of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The former Tehran mayor recently displayed his dispassionate level-headedness by declaring Israel should be wiped off the map and that the World War II murder of 6 million Jews never occurred.

One of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s new pals is the nationalist hothead cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army was evicted from Najaf by U.S. forces last year. He has emerged a clear victor in the Dec. 15 elections and an important player in whatever government is cobbled in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry, which controls more than 100,000 police and paramilitary units, is in Shi’ite hands.

Geopolitical tea leaves, as read in Israel, show Iran becoming the world’s ninth nuclear power by next March. The U.S. intelligence estimate of another 10 years is seen as kicking the can, or inertia as the key to flexibility. Iran has been working on its nuclear program 18 years, which was when Pakistan’s nuclear black marketer, A.Q. Khan, got things started.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed ElBaradei now says Iran could be “months away” if it reopens its Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Diplomatic pressure by the U.S. backing the EU3 — France, Britain and Germany — is running out of carrots and sticks.

Sticks in the form of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran now carry all the punishing power of twigs. Russia and China will veto any anti-Iran action. China is now negotiating a $100 billion oil and natural gas contract with Iran. Under the MOU, Beijing would also help develop Iran’s offshore Yadavaran oil field and purchase 150,000 barrels a day.

Russia, on the other hand, recently signed a contract to deliver a mobile integrated anti-aircraft capability to Iran. The $700 million deal covers 32 TOR-M1 systems with deliveries to begin in 2006, too late to be of much use against Israeli airstrikes. Iran is also developing missiles with a range of 3,500 kilometers based on long-range cruise missiles imported from Ukraine five years ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Dec. 1, “Israel cannot accept a situation where Iran has nuclear arms and is making all the necessary preparations to handle a situation like this.” Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, head of Israel’s military intelligence, says “the deadline is now closer than ever.” Diplomatic efforts after March, Mr. Farkash added, would be pointless.

Israel’s deep-strike air capability has been vastly upgraded since the lightning raid that took out the Iraqi reactor at Osirak just before it went critical in 1981. Fundamental to the country’s strategic doctrine is the imperative to prevent weapons of mass destruction from reaching the hands of its enemies. Israel recently acquired 500 U.S. BLU-109 bunker-busting, deep penetration bombs. Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens says, “We have the capability of reaching Iran, but the disruption would not be from a single strike that would put the Iranian program out of action.”

By pushing the envelope and suggesting Israel be resettled in Alaska, Mr. Ahmadinejad must realize he is playing with fire. Could it be Iranian extremists would welcome Israeli airstrikes against some 14 hardened underground complexes where research centers, workshops, nuclear equipment and missile command and control centers are concealed? Some are located near civilian dwellings. Dead and wounded women and children would dominate television coverage for weeks. The world’s knees would be guaranteed to jerk against the United States.

A year ago, Vice President Dick Cheney said Israel “might well decide to act first” to eliminate a nuclear threat from Tehran. “You look around the world at potential trouble spots, and Iran is right at the top of the list,” he added.

So the Muslim world would automatically blame the United States for giving Israel a green light. The thirst for revenge would spread to Iraq, the Shi’ite-populated oil fields of eastern Saudi Arabia, and propel extremist causes throughout the Middle East.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed in the eight-year war that followed Saddam Hussein’s invasion in 1980. Moving two or three divisions into Iraq to force the United States into another major military confrontation is not an implausible scenario for Mr. Ahmadinejad and his clerical mentors in the holy city of Qom.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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