- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Forget for a moment about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’spreposterous threats against Israel, and ask: If former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were to be elected, would it change the regime’s nuclear ambition? The short answer is “no.” The long answer could outline their different styles. But if the end result is the same, the United States needs to stop painting Mr. Ahmadinejad as if he is a new threat.

The question is not whether Mr. Ahmadinejad is crazy. It’s about setting the players of the post-Cold War “new world order.” The United States has been the only super power since the Cold War ended, but the rise of countries like India, China and Russia could ultimately signal the end of the U.S.-monopolized as unipolar system. Given that scenario, Iran is crucial as a source of oil and as an enemy of the United States, and its alliance with Russia and China should be a concern.

China, with its massive population, has to diversify its energy sources. Russia wants to keep Iran as a benign presence in its backyard. Forget proposing a military solution to the Iran problem. No Iranian individual, nor any opposition to the radical theocratic regime, is expressing support for a military solution. In the days prior to ousting Saddam Hussein from power, some Iraqis welcomed American troops. There is no such feeling in Iran. The Iranian people would oppose the United States from the moment of an American military strike, and there would be no way to win Iran over to serve Western interests. It would be a challenge to America’s future if the “new world order” did not include allying Iran and the West.

But what if Israel attacks? Almost a year ago, Vice President Dick Cheney raised the possibility that “the Israelis might well decide to act first” to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Recently President Bush said, “the current president of Iran has announced that the destruction of Israel is an important part of their agenda. And that is unacceptable. And the development of a nuclear weapon seems to me would make them a step closer to achieving that objective.” On Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz hinted at the possibility that if diplomatic efforts fail, Israel will be prepared to strike militarily. But I would suggest that an Israeli military strike against Iran is also not likely. The Iranian Shahab-3 missiles can easily reach Tel Aviv, and Iran will not shy away from using those weapons.

There is plenty of talk about military action, but such a decision would hasten the rise and influence of India, China and Russia. So what’s the solution to bringing regime change and Westernizing Iran? The United States should engage with Iran diplomatically. They can use third parties; Turkey is a possibility, given its strategic place between Iran and Russia, and its status as a U.S. ally.

It’s understandable that some may doubt Turkey’s cooperation, given its refusal to open a northern front into Iraq for the United States. Those who opposed the U.S. request justified their position by saying that unless Turkey is under direct threat, it’s unconstitutional for the country to get involved in any war. But Iran is a different case. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will directly threaten Turkey as well.

Although Turks and Iranians have not fought since the early 17th century, they have always remained rivals. Iran has always sought to spread its religious ideology, and has been perceived as a threat to Turkey’s secular democratic regime. Now Iran is willing to expand its territory even further.

When Mr. Ahmadinejad was in Damascus, Syria, he met with a group of senior officials from the terror group Hamas. He not only gave extensive support to Hamas’ cause, but he also argued that this is the last phase of a war between the West and Islam. His support for the Palestinians was especially interesting, because he seems to challenge the role that Osama bin Laden wants to play. Both men are trying to achieve a leadership role for Muslims. And there is no doubt that both are wrong.

So bringing an end to the radical theocratic Iranian regime and Westernizing Iran politically should both be priorities. And for that, Islamic Revolution had proven something that no one expected to come from within Islam.

Just as the Europeans went through centuries ago, the Iranian people are desperately calling for a secular regime. If Iran gets Westernized, it would be a major step in bringing change to radical Islamist ideologies. Yet, if the United States is willing to allow the lifting of restrictions on importing technology for atomic power plants to India, it should be forecasted that even the Westernized Iran won’t give up its nuclear ambitions.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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