- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A young, foreign policy pundit on CNN made a comment recently that best explains why Iran’s brazen march to develop nuclear weapons continues, unabated by U.S. efforts to stop it. Asked about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s statement that the Bush administration at one time considered war with Iran, the pundit, with obvious sarcasm, responded that starting another war would have been a brilliant move.

What is disconcerting about this is the pundit’s naivete - unfortunately shared by most Americans - that going to war with Iran means we would be “starting” it. The reality is Iran has been at war with us for three decades. Much as stealth technology hides an aircraft from radar’s view, our refusal to retaliate against Iran hides its war against us from view.

If Americans fully understood this, the Sept. 21 revelation that Iran has been building a second uranium-enrichment plant since 2007 and Tehran’s test-firing six days later of short-range missiles should have evoked international outrage. It should have had us focusing on what these Islamic extremists have in mind next as they take a war they are fighting - but we are not - to its endgame.

This war has been deadly as Iran has claimed hundreds of American lives - all without retribution. It emboldens the mullahs to continue their quest for global hegemony, which they see achievable only through America’s and Israel’s destruction. Understanding this, as well as the apocalyptic vision of Tehran’s leadership that such hegemony only evolves from the ashes of world chaos, makes it clear what Iran’s endgame is - nuclear war. And based on Islamic extremists’ perception of the blissful rewards to come in the afterlife, not even the threat of a U.S. or Israeli nuclear retaliatory strike will deter them from it.

In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s road to power in Iran was paved by President Carter’s illusion that Khomeini was a humanitarian. Mr. Carter pressured the shah to leave. Deception achieved, Khomeini ripped off his Dr. Jekyll mask, revealing Mr. Hyde, brutalizing his own people and terrorizing the West.

Violating international law, he seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking our diplomats hostage. Only a more forceful U.S. president’s inauguration prompted Iran to release them.

The U.S. Embassy seizure just tested the waters as Iran’s mullahs sought to ascertain if America had backbone. During President Reagan’s watch, Tehran struck for blood.

On the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, 241 American lives were lost in the biggest non-nuclear explosion since World War II when a suicide truck bomber attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Responsibility was claimed by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, serving as a front for Hezbollah - an organization whose lifeline directly leads to Tehran. Yet the U.S. took no retaliatory action.

On June 21, 1996, Hezbollah struck again. This time the target was a building housing U.S. troops at the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia. A nearby parked truck exploded, killing 19 American servicemen and wounding 372 others. Again Tehran’s fingerprints were found. Again, no retaliatory action was taken.

On Jan. 20, 2007, in the “boldest and most sophisticated attack in four years of warfare” in Iraq, militants - dressed and armed as Americans, speaking perfect English and driving U.S. SUVs - infiltrated the provincial governor’s compound in Karbala, where U.S. and Iraqi officials were meeting. The militants attacked, targeting only Americans. One soldier was killed, four taken prisoner. Leaving with their captives, the militants headed for the Iranian border. With Iraqi police in hot pursuit, they abandoned their SUVs and uniforms - but not before executing their American captives, found bound with gunshot wounds to the head.

The attack had all the markings of a similar attack against Israelis on Lebanon’s border by Hezbollah, triggering the 2006 war. It is believed the Karbala raid was prompted by Iran’s desire for U.S. hostages to exchange for senior Iranian military leaders who had been captured earlier by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Despite the Karbala attack and Iranian support for Iraqi militants (which includes arming them with improvised explosive devices to kill Americans), no retaliatory action against Tehran has been taken.

While many Iranian acts of violence have been directed against Americans, Tehran targets other Westerners and Israelis as well. Some of its murderous acts have resulted in international warrants for the arrest of senior Iranian officials. But, again, other states have been reluctant to take retaliatory action.

The disclosure of a second uranium-enrichment plant and the test-firing of short-range missiles - all just days before Iran was scheduled to meet with world leaders trying to discourage its nuclear weapons designs - is very telling. It should convince even the most naive observer that Tehran’s mullahs care not what the world thinks, for Iran is committed to possessing nuclear weapons.

Iran has been described as an octopus with tentacles reaching out to different parts of the world, inflicting acts of violence. But the international community’s reluctance to retaliate against Iran only emboldens the octopus to arm itself with nuclear weapons. When it does, Iran will use them - and the West’s retaliation will come too late.

James Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, writes often on national security and defense issues.

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