Editorial: Don't overreact to war of words

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Ah, Iran, Muslim masters of the mixed message.

That trait was on full display this week with Iran's decision to test-fire a reported nine medium- and long-range missiles as an apparent show of strength for Israel's eyes and America's. Well, maybe.

Indeed, just as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was downplaying the prospect of imminent war as a "funny joke," not going to happen, an aid to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was saying Tehran was preparing itself to meet any U.S. or Israeli aggression with a "crushing response" against Tel Aviv and the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Just as the Iran's air force commander was saying "our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles ... ready for launch," there were reports that Iranian-backed attacks in Iraq had dropped sharply.

We're not confident anyone in the West can say for certain what Iran is up to or who really calls the shots there. For all we know Iran is just responding tit for tat to Israel's own military exercise with Greece in the Mediterranean last month, or trying to build some leverage in advance of potential negotiations on its nuclear program. Already Iran has been accused of doctoring the photos to exaggerate the number of test missiles launched.

Meanwhile, it's fair to be suspect of any information coming out of America's National Intelligence Estimate, which for years indicated that Iran was well on its way to being in the mushroom-cloud business until backing way off that prediction eight months ago.

Look, we're not saying the West shouldn't take this Iranian exercise seriously - at least one of the missiles has a reported range of 1,250 miles, which means it could reach Israel and and other American allies - just that it's prudent not to overreact to what now is just a war of words. There are real consequences to letting the tempers flare.

First, the greater near-term threat is that Iran could attempt to disrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow gateway into the Persian Gulf that sees 40 percent of the world's oil traffic. With gas prices being what they are in this country, we trust the U.S. government will do everything in its power to prevent that.

Second, some high-ranking American officials already are exploiting Iran's missile test as justification for an anti-ballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe, which is likely to bring a reinvigorated Russia into the fray. Just when you thought the Cold War was over ...

The wild card here may be Israel. Its proximity to Iran means it has more at stake, and its history suggests no aversion to preemptively taking out a nation's nuclear potential (see Iraq, 1981). Israel has been hinting that could be in the works with Iran unless that nation backs off its nuclear ambitions.

While for the most part the rhetoric out of Washington was wisely reserved, all involved should take a deep breath, especially Iran's leaders. Indeed, while conflict in Iran would certainly not be a great situation for the U.S. - our troops and money are tied up elsewhere - it would be deadly foolish for Iran, whose missile defenses cannot approach this nation's arsenal or Israel's. If Iran's leadership cares a whit about the health and wealth of its civilian population, it will tread very cautiously here.

Meanwhile, let us ponder this thought: The nations of the world love to send their messages, hoping their adversaries are smart enough to recognize the one that is intended. The Bush administration has made it clear it favors diplomacy in this situation. So let's test that preference and start talking, face to face. Potentially less confusion that way, perhaps fewer misunderstandings that lead to bombs flying back and forth, maybe not so much blood and tears flowing in the streets.

If Iran's leaders won't play, we tried. The consequences, then, are of their choosing.

Peoria Journal Star