Monday 14 November 2011

Iran Back in the Headlines

Following an eventful summer which has seen the Arab Spring dominate the headlines, Iran's nuclear program is back in the headlines again.  And not too soon.  The fact that the Iranians have had a period of peace while world attention has been focused elsewhere, has allowed them to stay under the radar while continuing to build a nuclear bomb.  The report delivered by the International Atomic Energy Agency last week confirmed this fact, and the world is no longer in a situation where it is forced to rely on seemingly biased intelligence produced by the Israelis or the Americans.

I have heard it said that Iran has the same right as anybody else to build a nuclear bomb.  Nuclear countries, including Israel which continues to maintain nuclear ambiguity, have been accused of double standards by keeping nuclear weapons themselves while trying to deny the Iranians a right to run a nuclear program.  The question is why some countries have the right, while others come under huge international pressure to prevent them from building a nuclear arsenal?  The answer is fairly simple.  It is all down to who has his or her finger on the trigger.  It seems obvious that there is a huge difference between allowing the leader of a democratic country to hold the trigger, and allowing the likes of Ahmadinejad, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gadaffi to have this right.  Ahmadinejad has succeeded in clinging onto power in Iran only by rigging elections to cheat his rivals, and by silencing and eliminating those who oppose him.  He spends little or no effort dealing with the main issues which confront his country i.e. dealing with economic challenges.  Instead, he spends most of his time and energy on the international stage trying to create some sort of an international personality for himself.  He never misses an opportunity to threaten the destruction of Israel, the USA and other western countries.  Is he the sort of person that we can trust to hold the trigger of a nuclear weapon?  I don't think so.

It has been interesting to watch the development of the Iranian nuclear story.  Initially, there were many denials about whether Iran has a nuclear program at all.  Later, when it was proved beyond a doubt, there was disagreement whether this was focused on civilian or military purposes.  In 2007, US intelligence announced that Iran had ended "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work" in 2003.  Last week's IAEA report has shown that statement to be completely inaccurate.  And now, even when it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Iran is building a nuclear bomb, the world seems to stand by and watch from a distance.  Sanctions have proven to be wholly ineffective, and world events such as the Arab Spring and financial crises have served to divert attention elsewhere.   This week, when Iran is back in the headlines, a survey conducted in the USA shows that 57% of Americans think that Israel should attack Iran.  I know that  the Americans are war weary, but surely this seems a crazy expectation?  Why should it be Israel's responsibility to protect the world from one crazy, unpredictable mad person who is building a nuclear weapon?  It is well understood that Iranian missiles can easily hit American targets, and those of many other countries.  The answer may have something to do with the fact that Israel has proved itself capable in these types of attacks before, and has shown sheer audacity in carrying them out on two previous occasions.

As it turns out, the Israeli government also seems to be warming to the idea.  It is well-known that PM Netanyahu is a supporter of such an attack.  Defence Minister Barak, previously opposed to the idea, now seems to be won around.  Indications are that, if a cabinet vote was taken today, the Israeli cabinet would support such a move in principle.  The real challenge is to conceive a plan that would succeed in doing the required damage, and not place Israel in mortal danger of her existence at the same time.  The Iranians have more than a few Shihab missile launchers trained in Israel's direction.  They could do a great deal of damage and result in high numbers of casualties, and would certainly be used to retaliate any strike by Israel on Iran.  It is not clear what sort of attack the Israeli government could approve that would achieve the objective of eliminating Iran's nuclear reactors, while not bringing undue harm to Israel and her citizens.  This is particularly true under the current circumstances, where every newspaper and TV news station in the world is filled with speculation as to what Israel will do next.

And yet, the IDF has a reputation for being highly inventive as well as daring.  The rescue of the hostages under the noses of the terrorists at Entebbe is probably one of the best examples.  The destruction of the Iraqi nuclear at Osirak in 1981 is another example.  Could it be that the IDF has dreamed up something so unexpected and unusual, that the Iranians will not be ready for it when it hits them?  I wouldn't rule this out completely, although the response by Iran when they finally discover what has happened, will be a magnitude larger than Iraq's reaction 30 years ago.

The willingness by Ahmadinejad and his Ayatollahs to fly in the face of world opinion in the construction of the nuclear program, shows that they will stop at nothing.  No sanctions, international condemnation nor diplomatic actions will make any difference to what they are doing.  The only language that they will understand, is the language of force.  This requires a short, sharp strike that will entirely destroy the heart of the program pursued by Iran.  It is true that Israel seems the best qualified, and the country with the greatest incentive, to carry out this attack.  As a very minimum, I would like to believe that other NATO countries will provide some sort of backup, and give Israel all the help and support that she needs to succeed in this highly risky mission.  The consequences of not carrying this out, or not succeeding with such an assignment, seems a much more risky option.  But, who will have the guts to take the required decision, and to carry out the mission?  If this responsibility lands on Israel, will the support there in the way that it should be?  Time will surely tell.

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