Iran: Shadowboxing vs. a rationally genocidal regime

Some comments on the bizarre ideas zipping through cyberspace in the last week or so, on the choices facing our leaders

Both of us are doctors. One of us has three children and, by next week, eight grandchildren. The other has three children and comes from a family of Holocaust survivors. So, war horrifies us. But so does nuclear genocide. Still, we are not pacifists either, because pacifism has a way of acquiescing to genocide. These realizations led us to jot down some comments on some of the bizarre ideas zipping through cyberspace in the last week or so, on the choices facing our leaders. 

‘Iran is rational’

The Iranian leadership is extremely rational in assessing the consequences of its actions. But its objectives are the pursuit of irrational imperatives of classic radical Islamist motifs of Jihad: Conquest, intimidation, subordination – irrational objectives. These objectives are dangerous and demented; the Iranian leadership is rationally using the implements of modern technology to pursue these objectives.

There is plenty of evidence to support this assessment. For example, Iranian leadership steps back from advancing its nuclear ambitions when threatened — for example, during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And it moves forward when it perceives it has received a respite. Timelines show similar ups and downs for Iran’s incitement to genocide in relation to outside pressures. 

‘Judge Iran’s leaders by their actions — not their words’

Scholars of genocide know that words kill, especially when they come from authoritarian leaders. Words motivate and mobilize followers, desensitize bystanders and intimidate victims. What leaders say on the airwaves to incite, dehumanize, demonize, and delegitimize, itself leads to genocidal actions. When leaders incite and use hate language, they are signalling their real intentions. They are very smart, determined and nasty about pursuing these plans. Architects and perpetrators of genocide mean what they say and say what they mean, and usually act on what they say.

The use of hate language by leaders to incite is itself a crime against humanity. Iran’s other actions to suppress the human rights of its own people, execute thousands of dissidents, and export genocidal terror – including, according to reports, its support of the current killing inSyria – are additional warning signs, indicators, promoters and catalysts of genocidal intent.

‘It is not in the mullahs’ interest to suspend their programs for nuclear enrichment and produce a bomb’

Precisely because the mullahs are rational, they will move as fast as they can to get as close as they can to having the bomb. They will dissemble and sow doubt and division with deception, some soft words here, and token gestures there. Because they are rational, it would be reckless for the mullahs to stop the race toward making bombs. Having come so far, and having invested so much of their political and economic capital in nuclear enrichment, it would be irrational for the mullahs to stop so close to the finish line – unless doing so threatens their rule.

‘We can live with Iran having a nuclear bomb since they will not use it’

Yes we can — just as we could have  lived with a nuclear Nazi Germany had it not been completely defeated. The prospect should put butterflies in our stomachs. Iran will be “using” the fact they have the bomb every day — to threaten, extort and intimidate, especially as the United States projects an image of self-imposed decline. The bomb will insulate Iran from countermeasures.

‘Give time for sanctions to be effective’

How much time? How does one measure effectiveness?

By arresting work to make the bomb? Dismantling the system?  Shipping out all the uranium enriched to 20% or more? 

‘An attack on Iran by Israel will at best delay its ability to produce the bomb by one to two years – and by the US for three to five years’

This is great news. What’s wrong with a delay of two or three years years? A week is a long time in politics,” as Harold Wilson said. Millions of lives would have been saved had Hitler beem assassinated in 1944 . And what happened in the Arab World in one year? South Sudan has seceded. Kaddafi is gone from Libya. Assad’s Syria — an ally of Iran — is weakened, albeit as he butchers thousands. North Korea, an enabler of Iran, is hurting. In two to three years a lot can happen inside Iran to further weaken support for the mullahs. Will time no longer be on the side of Iran, but on the side of those who have tripped up Iran?.

But what about a one-two punch? In that case, shouldn’t the US be threatening Iran with a combined Israel-US attack as part of “engagement” – as it throws the full gamut of paralyzing sanctions — and more.

‘An attack on Iran (by Israel or the USA) will stoke anger against the West in the Muslim world’

Not necessarily. In fact, the opposite may be true. The Persian Gulf states and the Sunni world are terrified of Iran. Is it not more likely that paralyzing sanctions together with an attack would substantially undermine the ability of the sclerotic Iranian regime to continue to suppress its own population? Remember, Margaret Thatcher’s defense of the Falkland Islands set in motion the chain reaction that led to the overthrow of the Argentinean junta. Force could well undermine the ability of the Iranian regime to continue support for its allies in the axis of genocide: Syria, Sudan, Hezbollah, and yes, the terror groups in Gaza.

‘Let’s hold off on threats so as to give diplomacy more time’

Paradoxically, it is the threat of the use of force that increases the probability that it will never have to be used. Think of Iran as the school bully.

‘But the case for using force has been undermined by the example of Iraq’

But Clinton’s bombing of Belgrade and Kosovo stopped Milosevic after negotiations failed. Engagement is appeasementIran orchestrated the failures in Iraq.

‘Even if Iran’s technical infrastructure is badly damaged, its brainpower will remain intact’

But not necessarily its will power. Look at Iraq’s nuclear program after Israel bombed Osirek.

‘If Israel will be willing to negotiate with the Palestinians, the Iranians will give up their genocidal intentions’

This is simply the Chamberlain Munich gambit. Besides, Israel has already offered to negotiate with the Palestinians. Iran’s problem is not with Israel’s borders, but with its very existence.

‘Military action should come only after all else fails and the USA and Israel have explored all other options’

Of course. But there are many more options. “All else” includes mobilizing the tools of international criminal law to indict all members of the Iranian leadership for their incitement to genocide, promotion of genocidal terror and human rights violations — all crimes against humanity. It includes the US using the 100 million dollars allocated by Congress to support dissidents, and hardening their internet security and defense systems. The Iranian government rightly fears the words of truth. Neither has happened.

So what’s the bottom line?

Dithering  by the West is the problem. Remember the line attributed to Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” But many opportunities have been lost. If Israel — or theUS – have to put their soldiers and citizens in harm’s way, they first should move  quickly to use the tools of criminal law, the power of the web and paralyzing sanctions to undermine the Iranian regime.

Yes, the West is now “engaged” — in shadowboxing against Iran’s criminally genocidal threats and suppression of human rights.  Has  Israel’s Government  done everything — and that means a great deal — to mobilize an international coalition to box — not shadowbox — before going to war? And has that US hand with the clenched fist withered into a limp wrist?

The clock is ticking.


Elihu D. Richter MD and Yael Stein MD of the Hebrew University Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine research the cause-effect relationships between incitement and genocide. In November 2005 Dr Richter called upon to the UN Secretary General’s Advisor on Genocide Prevention to investigate Ahmadinejad for his incitement to genocide, based on the precedents of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.


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