Why can’t Iran have its own Samson Option?
It is now officially known that Israel carried out the targeted killing of Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. According to a senior US administration official, Israel was behind the assassination (CNN, Kylie Atwood, December 2). It's a fair guess too that the US was privy to the act, since in the past, Israel had shared information about their covert killing missions with the US, although the latter would not admit it. Killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh by a remote-controlled weapon, as alleged by Iran, was among the many acts of Israeli aggression in violation of international laws and norms. He was also not the first Iranian scientist to have been assassinated—many before him fell victim to Israel's targeted killings too. They were targeted as part of Israel's plan to decapitate Iran's nuclear programme. Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated, while another was wounded in an attempted murder.
Given the Israeli article of faith—not to allow Iran or, for that matter, any Middle Eastern country to acquire nuclear capability, because that would pose an existential threat to Israel—its nuclear policy has received the endorsement of successive US governments since the Nixon administration. And its nuclear weaponisation programme has been helped by several western countries, France giving the lead.
The purpose of the latest killing may have been motivated by several factors. One of those could be to force a precipitate reaction from Iran which would then provide an excuse for Donald Trump to bomb the country, something he was raring to do since his defeat in the US presidential election became clear. But whatever may be the reason, the killing will likely harden Iran's position on the nuclear issue and compel it to hasten its nuclear programme. Whichever way Iran chooses to react, and the time of that, will wait until after the inauguration of the new US president, Joe Biden, on January 20, 2021.
The killing of Fakhrizadeh should fall in the category of acts of terror. Fakhrizadeh's is among the many targeted killings that have become a tool of war being justified as acts of self-defence. Several other countries have perfected this stock-in-trade art led by the US and Israel, the most brazen and blatant manifestation of which was the drone killing employed frequently by the Obama regime in Afghanistan, and the latest being the killing of the IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani in January this year. But no one has the gumption to call these killings acts of terrorism, because these are being perpetrated by states with big and powerful armies. The question that one is forced to ask is, when is an act of terror not an act of terror? The answer is—when such acts are committed by the US or Israel. Recall how the EU reacted to the Russian poisoning of opposition leader and outspoken Putin critic Alexei Navalny by slapping sanctions on six senior Russian officials to "combat the use of chemical weapons". Not a word expressed in this case. So much for principles!
Fakhrizadeh's "crime" was that he was leading Iran's nuclear programme. What, may I ask, would have been the international reaction—Israeli reaction in particular—if Ernest Bergmann, known as the father of the Israeli bomb, had been assassinated in the late 50s during the mid-stages of Israel's nuclear programme? From an apparently innocuous "atom for peace programme" commenced during the Eisenhower regime, Israel now has reportedly 90 nuclear warheads (400 by some accounts). There is no ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons programme. All doubts were erased when Mordechai Vanunu spilled the beans to the media in 1986.
It is not only that Israel has a substantial stockpile of nuclear warheads in its arsenal, the country is also adding to it regularly—all for its security. According to a SIPRI report of June 2020, the number of nuclear warheads in Israel rose to 90, up from 80 in 2019. And these weapons are meant to deter Israeli enemies. And if a situation were to occur where Israel's survival was threatened, it would exercise its "Samson Option." The Israeli nuclear programme was initiated during the time of David Ben-Gurion. As Seymour Hersh says in his book "The Samson Option", Ben-Gurion and other Israeli leaders "were determined that no future enemy would be able to carry out another Holocaust. Just as Samson bought down the temple and killed himself along with his enemies, so would Israel destroy those who sought its destruction."
But while Israel arrogates to itself the right of self-defence by any means, it won't accord others the same right. Iran is accused by the West—the US and Israel in particular—of supporting Hamas and the Islamic jihad in Palestine and of exporting arms to support conflicts in the Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq. And to them, such an Iran possessing weapons of mass destruction would be a threat to international peace. These detractors would do us a world of good if they would draw up statistics to show the number of conflicts and resultant deaths and killings caused by the US policy of intervention, pre-emption and illegal wars since the end of the WWII, and how much population displacement those have caused. Iran can't be trusted with the bomb, but it was the US, the most "civilised" country in the world, that perpetrated the most uncivilised, heinous and inhuman act in recent history, dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US accuses Iran of being the greatest threat to world peace but international public opinion informs us otherwise. It is the US that is considered the greatest threat to world peace.
I must state a disclaimer here. I am a pacifist despite being a soldier (I believe there are none more pacifist than soldiers). I also believe that possessing nuclear weapons is immoral and indefensible, and all nuclear weapons must be done away with. But we have a hypocritical situation where Iran is undergoing rigid sanctions on "suspicions" only of attempting to acquire the bomb, while the Western world is happy to live with a nuclear Israel, asserting that "Israel's weapons are morally and historically defensible in a way that an Iranian programme would not be, both because of Israel's roots in the Holocaust and because it fought a series of defensive wars against its neighbours. Israel has never given any reason to doubt its solely defensive nature. Israel has never brandished its capabilities to exert regional influence, cow its adversaries or threaten its neighbours." They forget that Israel is occupying Lebanese and Syrian lands illegally. As for browbeating and intimidating other countries, Israel doesn't have to do any of those things. The US is there to do it for them.
Like Israel felt after its forced inception, Iran is in danger too. It faces a hostile neighbourhood. A wedge has been driven through the Muslim world, exploiting the Shia-Sunni divide. Some Arab countries have established diplomatic ties with Israel; a few others may follow. This is to isolate Iran and force its submission. And it seems that some Indian scholars are selling the Israeli position in South Asia espousing the benefits of recognising Israel. While the US shamefacedly blames Iran for its alleged support of terrorism, it has no qualms to be in bed with its Arab allies that are alleged to be doing the same.
Every country, big and small, has the right to employ every means and measures it deems appropriate and adequate to defend itself. International compacts that perpetuate double standards must be rectified to become equitous documents. Iran has the right to defend itself—and it should have its own "Samson Option" to the extent of a credible deterrence.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.