Four and a half years after September 11–which was supposed to awaken us to the threat of devastating attacks by state-sponsored terrorists–America is finally beginning to confront the world’s largest and most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For the past week, newspapers and magazines have been filled with discussion of possible military action against Iran. The debate, so far, is between those who merely want to “threaten” the use of force, and those who argue that the Iranian threat is illusory. No one is yet willing to face the fact that Iran is already at war with the United States–and that Iran is the central enemy we have to defeat if we are going to win the War on Terrorism.

In all of the obfuscation generated by the backward-looking debate over what happened to Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, it has been easy for some to claim that the Iranian threat is being blown out of proportion by the Bush administration. But grasping the case against Iran doesn’t depend on secret dossiers and obscure intelligence reports. All it requires is that you open up your newspaper and read the pronouncements of Iran’s own leaders.

In early April, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a pep rally at which dancers in traditional Persian garb held aloft vials of refined uranium, while Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had succeeding in enriching uranium, the first step toward producing a nuclear bomb. Iran “has joined the club of nuclear countries,” he boasted. An Iranian official followed up by announcing that Iran would immediately take the next step, expanding uranium enrichment to an industrial scale, allowing Iran to start building its nuclear arsenal as early as the end of this year.

Why does Iran want to enrich uranium? Ahmadinejad isn’t interested so much in joining a nuclear club as he is in wielding a nuclear club. He has openly boasted that Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map.” Is Ahmadinejad just a wild-eyed “radical,” out of touch with the rest of the Iranian regime? A few years ago, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani–a man considered “moderate” by the standards of the Iranian regime–boasted that “a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel.” In case you don’t think they’re serious, Iran’s religious establishment recently released a fatwa sanctioning the use of nuclear weapons.

But the biggest threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon is not in Israel, but in Iraq–where Iran is already fighting a proxy war against America and its allies.

In the Iraqi conflict, Iran has been playing both ends against the middle–that is, against the United States. In Western Iraq, the Sunni insurgency is supported by a flow of terrorists, weapons, and money from Syria–a key Iranian ally. In Southern Iraq, Shiite insurgents have been using sophisticated Iranian-built shaped charges in their bomb attacks on American convoys. But this is the least of the Iranian threat. Violent Shiite militias that seek to impose an Islamist dictatorship are funded, organized, and take their ideological inspiration from Iran. The leader of the most pro-Iranian faction, Muqtada al-Sadr, has publicly pledged to fight on Iran’s behalf if it is attacked by America.

There is no need to invoke the doctrine of pre-emption against Iran. Iran is already fighting a war against the United States. We just haven’t been fighting back. We have held our fire as if Iran were protected by a shield of nuclear weapons. How much more aggressive will the Iranians become when they are actually protected by such a nuclear shield?

Iran’s reach is not limited to Iraq. Late last year, when Bashar Assad’s Syrian dictatorship was reeling from the loss of Lebanon, Ahmadinejad made a trip to Damascus in which he urged Assad to stand fast and pledged Iranian support. The Assad regime, which had been sending up trial balloons about political liberalization, instead threw hundreds of dissidents into prison. At the same time, Ahmadinejad met with leaders of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist militia in Southern Lebanon, and representatives of two Palestinian terrorist groups: Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Now that Hamas has won the Palestinian elections, it is looking for diplomatic and financial support from–where else?–Iran.

Iran’s tentacles even extend beyond the Middle East. Iran has been cultivating an alliance with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, including discussions about providing the anti-American firebrand and prot

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Robert W Tracinski

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.