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Tehran Should Ask ‘Then What?’

Tehran Should Ask ‘Then What?’

Friday, 11 December, 2020 - 06:15
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

In the One Thousand and One Night tale of the princes of Serendip, all three have one desire: To achieve all their wishes with a single throw of the dice.

However, not confined to the world of oriental tales, that dream has dictated quite a few tragic, comical and tragi-comical events in history.

The latest appearance of the “one throw” theme could be witnessed in Tehran these days where Islamic Republic leaders offer both tragic and comical versions of it.

Reacting to the killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani and Brigadier-General Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, regime “thinkers” promise “revenge” and suggest this could be done with a single deadly blow to the “enemy”.

The daily “Javan”, reflecting the views of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), insists that further delay in taking revenge is unwise and that “the enemy” could be knocked out with a single blow from which it can’t recover. Needless to say when Khomeinists speak of “the enemy” they mean the American “Great Satan” and its sidekick Israel.

Khomeinist philosopher Rahim-Pour Azghadi even suggests that, if asked, he could deliver the killing final blow himself.

Former National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili claims that the Islamic Republic came close to a knockout victory eight years ago but missed the opportunity because of internecine feuds.

Dr. Hassan Abbasi, nicknamed “Kissinger of Islam” also believes that the “one throw of the dice” is the best strategy in the jihad to wipe Israel off the map and destroy America as collateral damage.

Major-General Hussein Salami, who heads the IRGC, shares the belief. He claims that he has “thousands of battalions” ready to trigger the Armageddon.

Former Defense Minister Brigadier-General Hussein Dehghan, now a presidential candidate, says wiping Israel off the map was the goal of the Islamic Revolution from the start. As one of the “students” who raided the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, Dehghan believes that the seizing of American hostages showed how effective the “single blow” could be in neutralizing “the enemy”.

Even Ghulam Esmaili, spokesman for Islamic Judiciary has joined the armchair strategists by suggesting “the clearing out of America and Israel” with a single blow.”

However, the most concrete expose of the “one throw of the dice” has come from daily Kayhan, reflecting the views of “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.

In an editorial headlined “Delay is not Permissible” it says the “single blow” should come in a rainstorm of missiles against the Israeli port of Haifa. It then insists that the attack should not be merely symbolic but should cause total destruction and kill lots of people. Haifa is doubly attractive as a target because apart from being in Israel it is also the center of the Baha’i faith, the bete-noire of mullahs for two centuries.

In the One Thousand and One Night a wise old man suggests that before the dice is thrown one last time we must ask: “then what?” What if the last throw turns out against what we wished for?

Throughout history the “last throw” strategy has deceived more experienced strategists than Khamenei and Salami.

In 53 BC Marcus Licinius Crassus a member of Rome’s ruling triumvirate persuaded the senate to let him go east and finish off the Parthian Empire with a single blow. He set up a huge army for one last throw of the dice to rid Rome of its last serious enemy while filling his pockets with loot. The last throw turned out against him and Crassus was slain in battle on 9 June in Carrhae.

Fast forward we had Napoleon Bonaparte struck by the “one last throw” obsession, triggering the battle of Lubeck in 1806 with the aim of finishing off the Prussian “enemy” forever.

He won the battle on 6 November, humiliating the greatest Prussian commander, Gerhard Blucher. But the Prussians came back nine years later, this time in alliance with the English and Russians, to destroy the Napoleonic Empire and send him into exile.

In Waterloo, Blucher was back, having the last laugh.

Napoleon also tried the “last throw” against the Russians and even managed to burn their capital Moscow. But, once again, the dice rolled out against him, sending his shattered “Grande Armee”, pursued by “unwashed Cossacks”, into the most humiliating retreat in history.

In 1941 Adolf Hitler tried the “last throw” with Operation Barbarossa, the fastest advance by the largest military force in history. General Friedrich von Paulus was at the gates of the Caucasus before Stalin could finish his bottle of peppered Vodka. Yet, everyone knows how the “what next” question, never asked by Hitler and his minions, was answered.

Launching the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the Nippon high command also forgot to ask “what next?”. Their one throw of the dice was to knock the US out of competition for world leadership, turning Hawaii into a “kaban” (Japanese word for local police station) for the Pacific.

Again, the dice fell in a different way.

In May 1967 it was the turn of Col. Nasser to trigger an unnecessary war by falling for the one-throw illusion without asking “then what?”.

On a smaller scale, Al-Qaeda tried the same strategy with 9/11 with its leader Osama bin Laden hoping to “drive out the Americans forever” as the Afghan Mujahedin had sent the Soviets packing.

Again, the spoiled rich kid of a sick ideology forgot to ask “then what?”

In his book on how to write a novel E.M. Forester advises aspiring writers to always ask

“then what?” before triggering a sequence of the plot.

Even then, one may pose the question but give wrong answers.

This is what happened with the Kayhan editorialist who urged the attack on Haifa. He says because the Islamic Republic has “all US bases within range”, cowardly Americans won’t react to a destructive attack on Israel. And, if they did, he says, Tehran could pour missiles against US bases in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, the US 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, the CENCOM in Qatar, bases in Omani part of Mussandam Peninsula. The editorialist believes the US would simply grin and bear each attack.

Let’s hope there are cooler heads in Tehran who won’t fall for serendipity without asking “then what?

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