Fighting a Nuclear Iran

I’ve read about the ever increasing tensions between Israel and Iran over the latter’s developing nuclear capability. The Israelis believe that Iran will fire a missile at them the first chance they get. They back this up with the many quotations from Iranian leaders, and clerics, to the effect that Israel has no right to exist and should be obliterated.

The Iranian defenders make a different point: If Iran were to fire a missile into Israel, they would also kill many innocent Palestinians, the very people they support. They would also destroy sacred mosques which could turn the ire of the entire Muslim world against them. They would never do such a thing.

I fear that’s Western thinking applied to a Middle Eastern problem.

Most Americans do not understand how differently the Muslim world feels about war, life and death than we do. In our paradigm, we want to live. It was our own Gen. Patton who famously said: The secret of military success is not to die for your country. The secret of military success is to make the  other poor bastard die for his country.”

Muslims, shaped by fundamentalist religious beliefs since birth, think of death as a great honor, to be welcomed and even sought after, for the glory of their faith, and the promise of eternal happiness in Paradise. In all the wars we’ve ever fought, the closest we have come to this mentality was the Japanese suicide pilots, or Kamikaze, who rained terror on our naval forces during the latter stages of World War II. If the Japanese had more of these “martyrs,” or used them more extensively earlier on, who knows what the outcome might have been.

In the Eighties, when President Carter was trying to bring peace to the Middle East, a friend told me this grim tale that he had heard in the Middle East:

“The scene is somewhere in the Middle East. A scorpion and a beaver came to a swift stream which they had to cross. The scorpion was powerful, but he could not swim. The beaver could swim, but he was defenseless against the large vultures that circled overhead waiting for a chance to attack.

“Finally, the scorpion said: ‘I have an idea. Let’s declare a truce for the day. I will hop on your back and you will swim us both across the stream, while I protect us from attack with my deadly stinger. Then, on the other side, we’ll both go our separate ways.’

“”The beaver thought for a moment, and then said “How do I know you won’t attack me anyway?’

“The scorpion said: “Don’t be foolish. If I did that, we’d both drown. When we get to the other side, you  stop a few feet offshore, and I will jump to land while you swim safely in alone.’

“The beaver thought that sounded fair. He swam out a foot or two and the scorpion jumped on his back, his stinger at the ready. The beaver swam and the scorpion watched the skies.

“Midstream, without warning, the scorpion plunged his deadly stinger into the beaver’s neck. The beaver, feeling himself slipping away, said: ‘Now we shall both drown. Why did you do that?’

“Just before the scorpion went under, he replied: ‘Because this is the Middle East.'”

I thought about that story recently while discussing the Middle East with my brother Leo. He shared his views on the dangers of a nuclear Iran. I told him about my experience in 1959 as a 2d lieutenant in basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.

We had two Iranian lieutenants from the Shah’s personal guard in training with us. They were crazy. Once, we were on the pistol range and they arrived late, to find no firing tables available. So, they stood behind us and fired at our targets, over our heads. The range safety officer went berserk and threw them off the range. There was not too much more he could do beyond filing a report. The Iranians thought it was a joke.

Another day, we were on the tank range, firing the M-48A2 medium tank’s 90 mm. cannon. We were loading the tank ammo very carefully. Each round weighed about 90 pounds and only required 14 pounds of pressure on the primer to set it off. If a round dropped, and hit a sharp stone for example, mostly everything for 50 yards around would be ashes.

One of our guys noticed the two Iranians. They were tossing a 90 mm round back and forth between them, laughing as they played “chicken.” Once again, the range officer stepped in and threw them off the range. Once again, not much could be done but file another report. The Iranians said, “We are men.”

The program ended with each of us making a short presentation on training and tactics. When the Iranians spoke, they said if their army went out on a live fire training mission (no enemy, just their own troops pretending to be aggressors), they counted the session a success if they only incurred a 10% casualty rate. We were horrified. That’s a number you might expect in combat. I later quipped to an old World War II master sergeant that: “If we ever go to war with the Iranians, we should just avoid them for the first 15 minutes, and they’ll wipe each other out.”

The sergeant laughed and said: “Let’s hope that never happens. Those crazy bastards don’t think like we do, nor like the Germans or the Italians we just fought. Westerners want to live. These guys don’t care. They welcome death as long as it’s honorable and glorious. It’s tough to fight a guy who doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as long as he gets to Heaven.”

Do I think the Iranians would fire a nuclear missile first at Israel, even if it meant killing innocent Palestinians and destroying sacred mosques? You bet I do. I think that in their eyes, killing innocent Palestinians and destroying sacred buildings is a small price to pay for ridding the Middle East of the State of Israel. It is their version of “The Final Solution.”

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