Iran’s quarreling and competing leaders have decided, by their acts, to reject the offer by Europe and the United States of a nuclear reactor, aircraft spare parts, economic cooperation, and more in exchange for giving up uranium enrichment. Many people hoped that Iran’s leaders, despite their extremism, would accept the offer if only to avoid sanctions – which are sure to come even if China and Russia refuse to support them in the United Nations Security Council. The US and Europe are united this time, and can effectively cut off Iran from world banking, bar Iranian leaders from traveling to the West, and stop exports to Iran of everything but food and medicine.
Instead of waiting passively for sanctions, Iran’s leaders decided to start a Middle East crisis by organizing attacks against Israel. Their aim is to discourage the US and the Europeans from starting another crisis – financial markets and everyday politics in Europe can tolerate only so much conflict. They may also hope to shatter the unified EU/US position that now exists.
Moreover, Iran’s claim to leadership in the Muslim world is being undermined by the conflict in Iraq, where Iran supports the Shia militias that are killing Sunnis. Every bloody day of bombings and executions in Iraq reminds Arabs that the Iranians are neither Arab nor Sunni. But attacking Israel unites Muslims, and gains Arab gratitude.
Iran’s move was prepared in a series of meetings with both Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Khaled Mashal, Hamas’s overall leader, who lives under Syrian protection in Damascus, traveled to Tehran, where he received some $50 million in badly needed cash. Although an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, whose Arab financial supporters loathe the Ayatollahs, Hamas decided to cooperate in Iran’s scheme because it was diplomatically isolated and cut off from Western funding due to its refusal to recognize Israel.