The United Nations General Assembly has seen its fair share of ridiculous speeches. However, this past week, the UN General Assembly witnessed something truly rare. The prime minister of a developed, Western, democratic nation spreading propaganda on a global forum. On Thursday, September 27, Benyamin Netanyahu delivered an overly simplified account of Iran’s nuclear armament in which he explicitly drew a red line for military intervention in Iran.
This move likely comes after Israel faced criticism for calling upon the United States to clearly define a red line for Iranian intervention while failing to do so itself.
The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to draw a red line. Netanyahu said that a line should be drawn once Iran has completed medium uranium enrichment. He explained that the process of making a nuclear weapon includes three stages of uranium enrichment: low, medium, and high concentration. He said that Iran had finished the low enrichment process, comprising 70% of a nuclear weapon. Once Iran is 90% complete in forming a nuclear weapon, once it completes the medium enrichment step, Israel will intervene militarily. What Netanyahu seemingly fails to realize is that Iran has consistently failed to agree to IAEA inspections. Without these inspections, it will be nearly impossible to accurately assess Iran’s nuclear developments. In other words, Israeli intelligence, likely influenced by Netanyahu, could easily fabricate their assessments in order to intervene in Iran militarily at their will.
Netanyahu went on to say that a nuclear-armed Iran would be just as dangerous as a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda. He said that there was not much difference between the world’s worst terrorist group and the world’s worst terrorist state. This was a completely hyperbolic claim. Though Iran has supported terrorism in the past, Iran is somewhat democratic. It is possible that Ahmadinejad will relinquish power after his second and final term ends in less than a year. Moreover, Iran has a deterrent to nuclear provocation that Al Qaeda does not. The world would likely respond to Iranian nuclear action with nuclear or military action. However, Al Qaeda is a complex organization with roots stretching from Libya to Afghanistan and beyond. The international community would almost certainly not wage a war on the entire Middle East region simply to get revenge for the action of certain individuals.
As with all wars historically, the United States and the international community must use reasonable judgment to decide when to intervene. It is entirely likely that military intervention in Iran will not be necessary. Perhaps, like North Korea at the moment, Iran is too radical and too much of a threat to the world’s oil flow and international peace to risk military intervention. Like Washington’s position on Pyongyang, it may prove far cheaper and safer for the United States to avoid military action on Iran and instead gain a tentative alliance with Tehran through sizeable foreign aid.
Of course, that is not a permanent action plan. However, much like the Kim Jong-un regime, the Ahmadinejad regime appears to be on its last legs. As proven throughout history, regimes that support crimes against humanity, terrorism, and repression tend to be overthrown within decades. His second “presidential” term is set to expire in less than a year. Thereafter, he will not be eligible for re-election. There is, of course, the threat that he will usurp power illegally as he likely did in the widely disputed 2009 elections. Nevertheless, the Arab Springs provide another alternative for regime change. Having seen their neighbors stand up for their democratic rights, Iranians could be persuaded to rebel against the regime. It is very likely that if such a protest were to erupt, the United States and its NATO allies would help to finance the rebels as they are currently doing in Syria. If Washington gets its timing right, foreign aid will precede a soon-to-come rebellion against the regime.
Thus, it is unwise to draw a red line for Iranian military action at the moment. Such a decision should be based on the context of the region and nuclear developments at the time of intervention, two factors that cannot be accurately predicted at the moment. The United States and the rest of the world should not follow suit with Israel’s absurd red line declaration at the UN General Assembly.