Iranian dissidents don’t want war

Mitt Romney’s heated rhetoric on Iran is not helpful.

While in Israel, he vowed to use “any and all measures” to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability. But an attack on Iran, by Israel or the United States, could have catastrophic consequences for all sides involved.

President Obama’s rhetoric has alternated between calm and belligerent. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the United States in March, Obama stressed the need to let diplomacy work. And he responded to his political opponents by saying, “If some of these folks think we should launch a war, let them say so, and explain to the American people.” But a week later, he said, “The window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.”

Chillingly, Israeli senior officials have claimed that an attack on Iran would be a simple operation. Former national security adviser Giora Eiland has stated, “The apocalyptic predictions of what will happen if Israel attacks Iran should be moderated,” while Defense Minister Ehud Barak has predicted that “maybe not even 500 civilians” would be killed.

This argument is deplorable and misleading. Israel’s shelling of Lebanon in 2006 led to the deaths of nearly 1,200 civilians, while its air strikes in the Gaza Strip killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in 2009. And Israel carried out these strikes from very close range — nothing like the strategic predicament Israel would face in bombing Iranian targets hundreds of miles away.

The risks of bombing Iran are great, and not just for Iranian civilians. Israel would face certain retaliation. And any bombing, and the reactions to it, could greatly disrupt the world’s oil trade, sending the price of gasoline way up and the advanced economies way down.

Foreign policy experts in the United States have been assessing these risks. But there is one more risk that hasn’t received the attention it deserves: the serious risk of undermining the democracy movement in Iran. Human rights activists and civil society actors in Iran have suffered long to bring about democratic change through nonviolent means. It would be an absolute tragedy to undo their hard work for reforms with a single senseless action.

Already, the drumbeats of war are beginning to silence reformist voices. Romney should stop banging on that drum if he cares about democracy in Iran.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is a professor of political science and a research fellow in the Centre for Ethics at University of Toronto and a board member of PEN Canada. He was arrested in Tehran in April 2006, charged with preparing a velvet revolution in Iran and placed in solitary confinement for four months. R.N. Khatami is a writer and political commentator based in Toronto. They can be reached at

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