The Debate

Does Iran Want an Attack?

As tensions grow over Iran’s nuclear program, it’s hard to interpret Tehran’s moves as aimed at cooling things.

The average Iranian probably isn’t hoping for one, but the country’s leadership is certainly ticking plenty of boxes.

The latest one was the decision to reject a request by the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the Parchin military complex near Tehran, which is suspected of housing a secret underground nuclear facility.

“It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin during the first or second meetings,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said. “We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached.”

According to the agency, “intensive efforts were made to reach agreement on a document facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran's nuclear program, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions. Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document.”

This latest setback follows attacks on Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and Thailand, attacks that Israel was quick to blame on Iran and Hezbollah. The decision to resort to such blatant aggression on foreign soil, if that is indeed what occurred (plenty of conspiracy theorists have been quick to suggest that Israel itself planned the attacks), marks an escalation that is only likely to further Iran’s international isolation.

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Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled on Iranian state TV what was described as the country’s first domestically produced, 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel for Tehran’s research reactor.

According to AFP, Ahmadinejad said, “3,000 more centrifuges had been added to his country’s uranium enrichment effort, and officials said new-generation, high-capacity centrifuges had been installed in Iran's Natanz facility.”

“And he ordered Iran to ‘go build’ four more nuclear research reactors,” the report added.

With sanctions apparently biting, the domestic benefits of such grandstanding are at least questionable. But if Israel was to attack, then there seems a very good chance that there would be a rally around the flag effect – exactly what an ailing regime riven with internal divisions that go to the very top, might be looking for.

Indeed, the cranking up of pressure even without a military strike – including the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists – could already be nudging some Iranians to support the regime.

As Michael Ryan Kraig, an assistant professor of national security studies at the U.S. Air Command and Staff College, notes in an opinion piece in The Diplomat today, the ramping up of sanctions might be placing at risk Western ties with whatever regime comes next.

Indeed, Der Spiegel has an interesting piece looking at how the views of some Iranians are already hardening against the U.S., whatever they might think about Iran’s leadership.

“People in Iran seem to give little or no thought to the fact that the Obama administration has been warning Israel against unilaterally triggering a risky war in addition to trying to get hawks in Tel Aviv to cool off. But, even among Iran's intelligentsia, the image of America and Israel as the enemy is too deeply ingrained.

“‘And we're the warmongers?’ asks one medical student in Qom in disbelief. He then defends the recent bombing attacks in India, Georgia and Thailand as merely being responses to attacks on Iran. He stresses that there are ‘enough forces in Iran in favor of negotiating with the West,’ but he says they have been "severely weakened" by radical politicians beating the war drums in the United States.”

The question, then, becomes whether Israel is really better off giving the regime what it wants. An unpopular Iranian regime won’t last forever. The question is whether it lasts long enough for Israel’s patience to run out.