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Hagel nomination is not a sign of weakness to Iran

It's time to calm down and realize that Iran fears sanctions more than war and will act to protect its interests

In an article in The Algemeiner published yesterday, Professor Alan Dershowitz made this alarming claim about the Hagel appointment:

President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense risks increasing the likelihood that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. It poses that risk because Hagel is well known for his opposition both to sanctions against Iran and to employing the military option if necessary.

Professor Dershowitz is worried that Hagel’s appointment “sends a mixed message to the mullahs in Tehran, who will likely interpret it as a change from a red light to a yellow or green one when it comes to their desire to develop nuclear weapons.”

I beg to differ.

I can think of at least four reasons why the nomination of Hagel will not send such a message to Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei. Here they are:

1. Hagel’s position is not new.

His predecessor, Robert Gates, also showed his opposition to an attack against Iran.

In October this year, Gates said:

The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world.

Did that send the Iranian regime running to make a bomb?

No it did not.

And why not? because the regime does not want to strengthen the international consensus against it even more. These days even the Chinese and Russians negotiate against Iran in the P5+1. They don’t want to make the situation worst.

2. Opposing the military option does not mean accepting a nuclear Iran

Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, said contemplating an attack against Iran was “stupid.” Does that mean that he is willing to sit by and watch Iran become a nuclear state? Absolutely not.

Did the Iranian regime rush to make a bomb after he said that? No. Why? Because the regime is far more scared of sanctions than a military attack. If continued, sanctions could turn into an existential threat, while a military attack would at most be a military setback. There is nothing that the Iranian regime would risk its survival for, not the nuclear program and certainly not Palestine.

3. The Iranian regime has heard President Obama loud and clear

The Iranian regime has heard President Obama’s message that when it comes to Iran, containment is no option. What does that mean? That he will use whatever means to stop the regime acquiring nuclear weapons. Obama never said “I will do everything except attack Iran.“ And the Iranian regime is not the Taliban, living in caves. When it comes to knowing who has the final say in the White House, it’s pretty plugged in.

4.  Hagel’s opposition to sanctions will not mean removal of sanctions against the regime

Yes, Hagel was opposed to sanctions. But does that mean he will become the flag bearer for the anti-sanctions camp in the US after he is Defense Secretary? No.

If anything, after he is Defense Secretary, he is likely to either keep silent or in fact support sanctions. Why? because he now has a boss called Barack Obama who thinks differently.

Also, he will have to work with the Congress. He will have more important things to do than picking fights right, left and center over his opposition to sanctions against the Iranian regime.

And after he is appointed, it’s hardly likely that he will he be going around the different western capitals asking them to remove sanctions against Iran, is it? Not one bit.

So dear Professor Dershowitz, please don’t be concerned.

Many people in the US and Israel (including myself) are opposed to going to war against Iran. But that does not mean that we want to see a nuclear Iran. And our opposition to war does not mean that the Iranian regime will rush to make a bomb. It has far bigger concerns.

About the Author
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli author, commentator and lecturer. He teaches the Contemporary Iranian Politics course at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya. Mr. Javedanfar has guest lectured in five languages (Persian, Hebrew, English, Spanish and Portuguese) at more than 20 Universities around the world. He is the coauthor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's biography, 'The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran.'