This begs the question of whether there is a basis to the assumption that our neighbors, which on occasion issue threats against the State of Israel, will not risk a move that could lead to a destructive response that may topple them or even physically harm them.
An examination of some of the most prominent developments in the Middle East in the past decade provides a highly informative lesson on the decision-making process of current day authoritarian leaders.
On the eve of the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein faced two main options: Decisive resistance to Western demands to allow UN inspectors into Iraq, with the understanding that this would entail high probability that his regime will be on a collision course with the United States and its allies, or alternately, cooperation that would entail UN inspectors looking into possible weapons of mass destruction. By choosing the second option, the Iraqi dictator could have scored many points in local and international public opinion.
As we know, to this day no substantive indications or evidence of weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq since the Gulf War. Saddam chose the first alternative, that is, an option that entailed high risk to the continuation of his regime. Hussein’s desire to object rather than give in to Western demands tipped the scales for Saddam, even at the price of political and personal suicide.
At the end of 2000, following the failure of peace talks in Camp David and in Taba, Yasser Arafat faced two main alternatives: Continued dialogue with Israel, even though the talks reached a dead-end, together with a low level of violence, or alternately, embarking on a side-scale violent move against Israel.
The first alternative entailed many advantages: Maintaining the standard of living and relative welfare of the Palestinians while allowing militant elements in Palestinian society to “release some tensions” via limited violence. The second alternative, on the other hand, placed not only Palestinian achievements but also the very existence of the Palestinian Authority under serious risk. Arafat chose the more dangerous alternative (for him,) which ultimately led to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, as well as his personal isolation and demise.
Zealous dedication to radical ideology
An examination of the conduct of the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11 attacks raises a similar picture of irrational decision-making and choosing an alternative that led to governmental suicide (the adoption of a tough stance vis-à-vis the international community’s demands.) In previous eras it was possible to attribute such “faulty” or “irrational” decisions to reasons that are no longer relevant such as a failure to understand the enemy, naiveté, or foolishness. Yet the information era changed all that, by eliminating the problem of lack of information or unfamiliarity with the enemy.
We have learned that even in countries where safeguarding the regime is everything, the possibility of suicide still exists and must not be ignored. Through these lenses, it is also possible to examine Iran’s conduct in recent years. It was natural for Tehran to aspire to create the most convenient diplomatic conditions to continue developing its “baby” – the weapons of mass destruction project. However, Iran often conducts itself in a way that seemingly undermines its own interest by resorting to repeated calls for annihilating the Zionist regime, etc., thereby outraging the entire world.
Indeed, it is possible that Iran’s leaders, due to zealous dedication to radical religious and political ideology, are willing to manage the global conflict around Tehran’s nuclear activity even at the price of a grave or lethal blow to their country and regime.
Brigadier General (Res.) Avriel Bar Yosef is the director of the Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee