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Unclear Iranian Nuclear Weapons Policy


Little has changed since I wrote about the unclear world response to Iran's nuclear development program last May, except that the Iranians continue to enrich uranium, continue to operationalize their heavy water reactor, and everyone else seems to dither about making speeches. Events took place and UN issues were resolved, and speeches were made, but in fact everything continues according to the same trajectory and with the same actors repeating the same lines.

It is clear that Iran is developing a bomb, or at least the capability to make one. There can be no mistake about the military exercises or the development of missiles or the clandestine heavy water reactor, or the significance of the development of the centrifuges without informing the IAEA, or the meaning of the fact that inspectors were denied access to certain facilities - which is especially ominous. (see here and here ) There can also be no doubt that Iran has defiantly flouted UN Security Council Resolution 1696, which called upon Iran to cease enrichment of uranium. There can also be no doubt about the nature of the Iranian regime, which has called for a world without Zionism and America, and is organizing a conference to try to prove that the Holocaust did not occur:

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said both opponents and proponents of the existence of the Holocaust could participate in the conference.

"God willing, a conference on the Holocaust will be held in the autumn. The Holocaust is not a sacred issue that one can't touch," he told reporters. "I have visited the Nazi camps in Eastern Europe. I think it is exaggerated."

Iranian President Ahmadinejad has mixed threats with professions of peace, like Adolf Hitler's "Freidensreden" of the 1930s. One day he calls for a world without Zionism and America, and insists that the Middle East crisis can only be solved by eliminating Israel. The next day he insists that Iran has no desire for war and will not attack Israel, and the day after that Iran stages impressive military exercises.

Iran, a poor country, is investing increasing sums of money in a nuclear development program, and in its armed forces, test firing new missiles and innovative weapons and conducting large scale military exercises. Iranians are satisfied that part of their military doctrine was proven in the recent war between Israel the Hezbollah.

Before the fall of Iraq, Iran had a legitimate military concern, since Saddam Hussein instigated and fought a long and bloody war against Iran that claimed about a million lives. Iraq, however, is no longer a threat to Iran. In fact, no country is a threat to Iran. History has shown that when a country begins an ambitious armament program, those arms are almost always used in a war. They have to be used, otherwise they become obsolete. Chekhov remarked that when there is a gun on the wall in the first act, it is going to be used in the third act.

In all probability, a nuclear armed Iran will not drop atom bombs on anyone, but it will use them as a shield to allow it to conduct aggressive activities against its neighbors in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, using hostility to Israel as a foil. Iran may be preparing its army to defend against a US invasion, but such an invasion would only come if Iran were to invade a neighboring state or had committed another egregious aggressive act. The conclusion is inescapable that Iran wants nuclear muscle as a shield for aggressive activities, which they euphemize as "achieving regional hegemony." An additional concern is that Iran will allow the weapons to get into the hands of the Iranian supported Hezbollah, who have likewise vowed to wipe out the "Zionist entity."

Supporters of Iran can point out that India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan all developed nuclear weapons apparently, and nothing was done to them. Moreover, Iran insists that its program is peaceful. On the face of it, there is no legal case, it is claimed, as Iran has complied with IAEA directives and its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. They neglect to mention that Iran developed its gas centrifuges and its breeder reactor in secret, and acquired fissionable materials and equipment illegally.

The question is, what can be done about it, and what should be done about it? Invasion of Iran is probably out of the question. The only country that could mount such an invasion is the US, which hasn't even got the stomach or the troops to send a small peacekeeping force to Lebanon. The Iraq fiasco has made the notion of invasion very unpopular. An invasion of Iran would require two or three times the number of troops in Iraq. A "surgical strike" such as Israel conducted against the Iraqi Osirak reactor is likewise out of the question. Iranian nuclear facilities are distributed in many locations and protected in underground bunkers. The poor Israeli experience in Lebanon shows that bombs are not effective against such bunkers.

President Bush has threatened "action":

There must be consequences for Iran's defiance.. and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons.

UN Security Council Resolution 1696 makes reference to Chapter 7 of the UN charter, and therefore violation of the resolution would seem to require effective action such as sanctions or blockade. Sanctions might be effective in bringing Iran to the negotiating table on reasonable terms. However, the US is having a hard time convincing other members of the UN Security Council to take action. China, Russia, France and other countries are more interested in developing their influence with Iran, and in lucrative oil exploration and trade deals. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Tehran and announced that:

I do not believe that sanctions are the solution to all problems... There are moments when a bit of patience produces lots of effects.

That may be so, but when a deadline has expired, patience is supposed to expire, and Annan knows that. If the UN was going to exercise "patience" after the deadline expired, what was the purpose of the resolution? Resolutions are not enforceable if one announces that they won't be enforced, and Annan knows that too. Even a credible threat of sanctions might more the Iranian regime to make concessions, but Annan has undermined that credibility. Sanctions are not the solution to all problems, but they are certainly a possible solution to this one. Iran's threat to stop the supply of oil has to be an empty threat, because their economy is dependent on oil export. One must point out that sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq didn't seem to have much effect. Sanctions should at least be tried, which there is still time to do so.

The point of the deadline was to get Iran to stop enrichment and allow a breathing space for negotiations. The point of Iran's defiance is evidently to allow a breathing space for continuation of enrichment. That is also the reason that the US, while it made the historic gesture of ending its refusal to talk to Iran, insisted that they must halt enrichment, a point often forgotten by those who say the US is refusing direct negotiations with Iran.

Failing the cooperation of other Security Council members, US ambassador to the UN John Bolton also threatened to go it alone:

Bolton said Security Council unanimity was not needed before taking action against Iran over its nuclear

There is always that possibility, but does anyone really believe the Seventh fleet is going to prevent Chinese or Russian or French ships from docking in Iran, or that the US will stop air freight or overland freight through Iran's northern neighbors? How would the US undertake to blockade Caspian sea ports?

Why, in all these months, was it not possible to come up with a coherent, agreed and doable strategy to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat? In the month that elapsed since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1696, nothing was done either, even though Iranian defiance could be anticipated. Given that no such strategy was found, and apparently no strategy could be found, what was the purpose of the whole exercise, which only served to annoy Iran? If nothing is done now, it will only serve to provide President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with another triumph against the west, and further indicate that the UN is no longer (if it ever was) an effective peace keeping instrument.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000505.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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