If there is ever to be some semblance of peace in the Middle East, it cannot be achieved with Iran’s Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime remaining in power. The Iranian theocracy has evolved into a classic dictatorship-police state. Its religious credentials were shredded long ago by its recognition as the world’s leader in state-sponsored terrorism and its imposition of Shariah law by jihad wherever possible. Iran’s continued support for the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist groups undermines any meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The annual kabuki dance by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week at the United Nations should cause us to reflect on past failed accommodation strategies with Iran.
The illegitimate re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in June 2009 and the subsequent brutal crackdown of the “Green” movement following the election and again on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Feb. 11 by the hard-line clerics show the regime to have been undressed. The Green movement was further undercut by the lukewarm support it received from the Obama administration in its eagerness to achieve some form of dialogue and a nuclear accommodation with Iran. Even after all the inducements and concessions by the Group of Six and offers by President Obama to negotiate directly with Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iran rejected all overtures, fortunately. It should be clear to all that Iran’s objectives include achieving a nuclear-weapons capability and being the dominant power in the Middle East. Eliminating Israel is high on the priority list. Providing Saudi Arabia with advanced weapon systems will not change that equation.
Our issues with Iran go much deeper than their nuclear-weapons program. Here we have a regime that for more than 31 years has openly declared war on the United States not once but several times and we have failed to respond in any meaningful way. The first declaration of war came in November 1979 when the radical “students” including, some claim, the current Iranian president, overran our embassy and held our diplomatic personnel hostage for 444 days. Following this debacle, we have witnessed several Iranian acts of war against the United States, including the car bombing of our embassy in Beirut in April 1983. This was followed by the truck bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 with the loss of 241 of our finest military personnel. We have proof positive the orders came from the Iranian foreign ministry to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. The U.S. response was to move the Marines offshore. Osama bin Laden has often cited this as evidence that when faced with losses, Americans will “cut and run.”
Since then, Iran has continued to commit hostile acts against the United States, including the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia as well as active support for the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. This support, which included financing, training and military equipment has cost the lives of thousands of American military and civilian personnel. Even so, every administration since President Carter to the present has found reasons not to confront the Iranian theocracy. It is often repeated in Washington that no responsible American leader wants a conflict with Iran. This is exactly what the Khamenei regime counts on. The same thinking went on in European capitals in 1939.
We are now faced with the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran. We have to face reality: Containment is not a viable option when dealing with Mr. Ahmadinejad. He is a member of a small, extremist sect known as the “Twelvers,” who believe men can play a key role in causing world chaos, which then would trigger the return of the “hidden” Twelfth Iman. Mr. Ahmadinejad believes he has been chosen to be that man. For this reason alone, Iran cannot be permitted to have a nuclear weapon.
There is no question we need to find ways to revive the Green movement. Our actions to date have certainly undercut the experts who support the thesis that it is up to the Iranian people to force regime change. Direct and indirect support will be required. When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen returned from a Middle East trip in March, he stated that he was concerned about the “unintended consequences” of a military strike. Countless hysterical proclamations from the intellectual elites that the United States will lose its Arab allies if there is a strike on Iran is nonsense. To prevent the unacceptable alternative of a nuclear-armed Iran, our strategy must include a Strategic Strike Plan (SSP) that can be executed on short notice. As I have stated previously, Phase I of the SSP should be limited to striking the key facilities of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including the energy grids that support those facilities. Iran’s strategic oil-exporting and energy-related facilities, as well as its industrial-government control center, should be held hostage as a hedge against Iran retaliating against our friends and allies in the region or interfering with the flow of oil.
Such a strike should be conducted in the announced context of supporting the Iranian people and that we have no territorial objectives. We should certainly understand by now that appeasement doesn’t work. The hope that dialogue and engagement will make the problem go away won’t work, either. We are running out of runway. Further delay will not make it any easier.
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.