Friday, April 19, 2024 -
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Sen. Jim Demint offers blunt words on Iran

I HAVE yet to hear an American lawmaker who “gets it” on Iran more than Sen. Jim Demint of South Carolina.

He was in Colorado for 28 hours earlier in the week, including a meeting with AIPAC. I spoke to him via phone just after he returned to Washington.

He’s clear on what the US must do to counter Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and on what Israel will do. He’s very blunt about both.

I lead into the American side of the equation with this question: What does Iran think when it hears, “We will not take the military option off the table”?

“It hears weakness,” says Demint. “Not that the US will fight, if necessary. Just the opposite.

“It means we’re afraid to use the military.

“This is why Iran has continued to test us. They look at where we are in Iraq and Afghanistan and are confident America won’t commit itself to another war, particularly if Obama is in the White House. He opposed the war in Iraq. Is he going to start one in Iran?

“In Iran they have free reign. They hear talk of American ‘engagement’ with Iran and see it as weakness. They hear: America needs something from them.

“We’re in a difficult position. We must do something beyond the rhetoric.”

The best immediate action against Iran is for Congress to pass a bill to boycott the delivery of gasoline to Iran.

“Iran has a lot of oil, but not gasoline. Its refining capacity is small. To pass this act is to send a sign that we’re getting serious.”

Further American options are limited, admits Demint, because they depend on how much help the US can get from China or Russia, and that depends on how financially strong America is.

“It never pays to be heavily in debt, and we are,” Demint deadpans.

“We need to put pressure on China even to the point of looking at our trade relationship, which is difficult because we owe so much money to China.

“We could use the worldwide financial markets and use some of our European allies to make it difficult for Iran to operate in global markets.

“But economically we’re vulnerable. And OPEC is calling for a different reserve currency.”

Still, with a worldwide glut in oil, the US could begin to talk about limiting demand for Iranian oil. It comes down to his original proposal: “tightening the screws on their gasoline.”

WHAT will Israel do?

Demint states firmly that Israel views Iran with a far greater sense of urgency than the US. To the US Congress, the Iranian nuclear pursuit is a “two to three year problem.” To Israel, it’s a “six month problem,” he says.

He recently visited Israel and spent an hour with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

He admits he can’t predict the outcome of an Israeli attack on Iran, but is blunt about the possibilities.

It could lead to a world war. Iran would respond to an Israeli attack. Other Middle East countries may use it as an excuse to attack Israel. Russia would “have to weigh in.” The US could not, and would not, stand by and let Israel be destroyed. In short, a world war.

And the US, he says, would honor its commitments to Israel.

“I don’t know how we could sit on the sidelines. It would put us in a difficult position.”

He admits that “another possible scenario is possible: The rest of the Middle East is quietly very glad about an Israeli attack and nothing happens. Even so, we know we’d get a counter from Iran.”

Israel would be prepared to deal with air assaults from Iran, he believes. He also says it would be very difficult for Iran to get an army to Israel.

“And, Iran does know that Israel does have nuclear weapons.

“There’s a possibility that Iran just might have to take it, but given the high profile it has in the Middle East, it would be very difficult for Iran just to take it.

“Then, over the ensuing months there would no doubt be an increase in suicide bombs and things like that in Israel.

“So, it’s hard to know what would happen. It’s unpredictable. The worst could happen, the best could happen.

“We have to realize that Israel is serious and has to be serious and is not going to wait another year or two. If the rest of free world does not seriously pressure Iran, we are basically telling Israel it has to go alone.”

But how would Israel attack Iran when it does not have permission to fly over Iraq or Turkey?

“We have made it difficult for Israel to attack and refuel and get back home.

“I don’t know what this administration would do [if Israel flew and refueled over Iraq], but it wouldn’t surprise me that if Israel feels it needs to attack, it would do the refueling where it needs to and dare us to stop them. I doubt we would.” 

WHAT are the possibilities of Sen. Demint persuading other Congresspeople to his point of point of view?

“I won’t persuade anyone,” he says. “It’s a much better chance that AIPAC and other groups close to Obama and the Democratic party will have a lot of influence.

“Still, the message is consistent in Israel, even in its opposition party, that Israel can’t wait. I don’t know how that message could be clearer to Obama and the Democratic majority.

“We need to sense the urgency on the outside [of Congress]. I’ve told AIPAC to play hardball on this kind of issue. ‘Maybe’ is not enough [of an answer from the administration]; anything beyond sweet talk shows that we’re gearing up to take action.

“We haven’t shown it [the requisite seriousness] to North Korea, or to Russia when it went into Georgia.

“I don’t understand the lack of urgency [on Iran] in Congress and the State Dept. Why is something so obvious not getting more attention?”

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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]

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