Sunday 27 September 2009

Iran Does Not Surprise Me

The statements issued at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh by Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy about the latest state of the Iranian nuclear program came as a huge surprise to me and many others. I suspect, however, that my surprise is probably not for the same reasons that others are surprised.

Political leaders and press alike expressed their surprise that Iran's nuclear facilities are more extensive and further developed than have previously been acknowledged. They also seemed to express surprise that Iran was concealing and lying about so many aspects of its nuclear reactors.

I am really not surprised about the current status of the Iranian nuclear program, nor the confirmations issued at the G20 summit about further reactors. After all, Iran's intentions have been made clear for the longest time. Although recent reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been very limited in the information that they detail emanating from Iran, there have been sufficient rumours circulating in the market to understand that these reports have probably concealed more than they have revealed. The Israeli government has been actively pushing the Iran issue onto the front burner at every opportunity. Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent "secret" and urgent trip to Russia is just one more action in a lengthy list of attempts to raise this issue to the top of every government's agenda.

Against this backdrop, I am surprised about two things. The first thing that surprises me is the surprise that is being expressed following the G20 revelations. With all that has been happening over the past few years in Iran, and with clear evidence that the Iranian regime is not to be trusted, who can honestly feel surprise at what we now know to be fact. If this new information is surprising, the world had better brace itself for more surprising news. For what has now been revealed still only represents the tip of the iceberg of the reality of the nuclear production activities in Iran.

The second thing that I am surprised about is the fact that the world has done so little to date in response to the massive threat posed by Iran. It is now understood that the revelations at the G20 contained information that has been known by western governments for at least a year. So why has more not been done to oppose this and to prevent Iran from making such significant progress with its nuclear production? In fairness, the attempts by the IAEA to police and control the Iranians have been feeble. Efforts by the key western powers have been equally lacklustre and entirely ineffective. With the significant threat posed by allowing nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of somebody as unpredictable as Ahmadinejad, surely much more should have been done to put a stop to this.

Maybe the inaction on the part of the western powers is down to the fact that they don't really view their countries as being under threat. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated in his address to the UN General Assembly last week that Israel is not alone in the risk posed by Iran. Weapons currently in its possession can reach most countries in Europe, and the range is likely to expand until it will reach the US before long. It already certainly has the ability to attack US interests in the Middle East and Europe. The threats posed by nuclear weapons being in the hands of a fundamentalist government like that of Iran should cause all logical people not to sleep easily, no matter where they are.

In its previous actions, Israel has shown a willingness to take steps to prevent the build-up of such a threat on its doorstep. The most well-known of these actions was the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. Although Israel is willing and able to take on Iran to prevent a further escalation of the threat posed by its nuclear activities, it seems on this occasion that the responsibility needs to be shared more broadly. It seems illogical that Israel should be responsible for bearing the entire burden of the consequences of such action when the threat is clearly a world-wide threat.

Having said that, it is clear that Israel is under significant threat. This is not only because of Israel's proximity to Iran which puts it clearly in reach of Iran's weaponry, it is also because of the constant tirade of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli vitriol that Ahmadinejad issues at every opportunity. If one considers the audience given to Ahmadinejad at the recent UN General Assembly meeting and how many delegates found fit to stay in the session to give him a hearing, this threat is still being ignored by many governments around the world. By contrast, the walkout on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showed the number of governments that are not interested in hearing of the threat that Iran poses to the world. If the UN was living up to its ideals, a man like Ahmadinejad would not be allowed to address the General Assembly at all. All of this suggests that, in the absence of stronger responses on the part of the western powers, Israel may be forced to go it alone once again.

Following the statements made by the G20 leaders on Friday, there have been further discussions about increasing sanctions, there have been discussions about increasing the investigation activities of the IAEA and there have been expressions of surprise and condemnation. In stark contract Iran has responded by test firing two short range missiles and testing a multiple missile launcher. These tests have been surreptitiously timed to coincide with the eve of Judaism's holiest day, Yom Kippur, and the anniversary of one of Israel's hardest-fought wars.

The difference in style of the two responses unfortunately also does not surprise me.

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