Precisely one year ago, in the same location and on the same occasion, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the leaders of NATO and the Western world to wake up to sound of the drums of war emanating from Moscow: “Has the world forgotten its mistakes of the 20th century? Have we read the same history books? How did we arrive at the most severe security crisis since the end of the Cold War?”
In an emotional speech of admonition, Ukraine’s president implored the heads of those states, whose representatives had come to attend the Munich Security Conference, to take immediate action to stop Russia: “What are you waiting for? We won’t be in need of your sanctions once the bombs begin to fall.” Less than five days later, the columns of Russian tanks began to gallop towards Ukraine, to a war whose end is still way off beyond the horizon.
The memory of these events is still fresh among most of those attending the prestigious forum in Munich. Its organizers even decided to boycott the Russian administration this year because of the war along with the Iranian regime due to the oppressive means it has adopted in an effort to put down the demonstrators in Iran.
The war in Ukraine and its implications took pride of place in the speeches and discussions at the conference, but Zelenskyy’s probing questions from last year continued to reverberate as “Open Reproof” to the leaders of the enlightened world.
Weakness invites evil. That is the first and most important lesson that the West must learn from this war. Many believed that in the 21st century, bloody wars might only occur in the more remote corners of the globe, between faltering third-world states. The reality of the situation in the heart of Europe delivered them an uppercut right to the chin. Though the specific characteristics of war might be constantly changing—impacted by technology and additional developments—the same cannot be said about the essential nature of war. The human element in war continues to be the most influential factor. In this respect, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
The acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote: “Wars happen because the ones who start them think they can win.” In other words, this is a question of expectations and a feeling that victory can be achieved. It is difficult to estimate to what extent U.S. policy on Afghanistan and the Middle East had an impact on developments in Europe, but it is evident that at the very least it certainly did not restrain the policymakers in Russia.
Iran’s arrogance and its self-confidence under the current policy of both the U.S. and Europe have firmly illustrated the erosion in their status. Tehran’s subsequent defiant conduct on the nuclear issue has included the following: The possibility that Iran has enriched uranium to a level of 84% purity; its ability to progress to 90%; the production of metallic uranium; the accumulation of volumes of fissile material at various levels of enrichment; preventing access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors at suspicious sites; and the refusal to answer the nuclear watchdog’s questions. And so too, Iran behaves in a similar manner in its subversive activity: Arming and operating Shiite militias and proxy forces, upgrading and expanding the production and export of its drones and missiles.
Iran is not only involved in the war in Ukraine, it occupies a highly significant position in the axis of states actively opposing the U.S. and the West. Tehran’s support for Moscow in the war and the growing, deeper collaboration between the two countries is taking place in parallel to its efforts to develop closer bonds with China, whose president recently voiced “support for Iran’s aspirations on the nuclear issue.”
The Iranian regime is positioning itself as an active player in the confrontation with the liberal democratic camp led by the U.S. It identifies the West’s weakness and is exploiting it as far as possible. Iran poses a danger to global stability and peace, not only to that of the Middle East. No additional evidence is required to demonstrate this.
The Western leaders are being presented with a clear opportunity to implement the lessons of the war in Ukraine here and now. They must take a hard and critical look at what is going on in Europe and make a decision on a change of approach regarding Iran. They need to assume that the Iranian regime’s current misdeeds will pale into insignificance compared to what it will allow itself to do should it have access to an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The first immediate step should be to declare the death of the “nuclear deal,” to make a decision on the full reimposition or “snapback” of sanctions, to universally designate the Revolutionary Guards and its proxy forces as terrorist organizations and to pose a credible military threat to Iran. Such steps do not necessarily have to lead to war. However, without them, the likelihood of military escalation would considerably increase.
The future of the entire global order is at stake. This is something that leaders in Washington and across Europe understand full well. The question is whether they will find the requisite courage and leadership to make the necessary decisions that might have a desired impact on the situation.
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).
Originally published by Israel Hayom.