Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A BREAKTHROUGH IN TEHRAN?

As per the papers, it would appear that there has been a possible breakthrough in the negotiations with Teheran by the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany), over the formers nuclear programme. According to the Financial Times, in meetings over the week-end, Tehran apparently floated a possible compromise in which Persia would voluntarily agree to ‘suspend’ for two months, nuclear enrichment. Simultaneously, formal negotiations, including Washington, would begin. While it is true that this is a concession on the part of the EU-3, since Security Resolution # 1696, of 31st of July had given Teheran until the 31st of August to comply with previous Security Council resolutions which, had mandated that Persia stop any and all enrichment activities, the EU-3, no doubt anxious to come away with something have tentatively agreed. The issue now becomes what Washington will say?

What ‘Washington will say’? Is indeed a subject for much thought at the present? In the past, it has been the pattern, for the Bush regime to pull the rug out underneath the Europeans, whenever there appeared to be the prospect, of some type of settlement of this issue. Something in which, the Neo-Conservative clique around Cheney, and their supporters in the press, have allies in the more hard-line sections of the regime in Tehran. Now, I am not, unlike say the editors of the Financial Times, a blind adherent of compromising with the Mullah’s regime in Persia. Far from it! In fact it is without a doubt, that Tehran, and not only messianic fanatics of the Ahmadinejad variety, has the bit between their teeth at the moment. For them, and in fact many commentators in the West, it is Tehran, ironies of ironies, which has triumphed at the overthrow of the Hussein regime and the subsequent morass of American policy subsequently. Indeed, fairly typical are the comments, by Chatham House in London, in a new report just issued:
“There is little doubt that Iran [Persia] has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East. The United States, with Coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran’s regional rival governments-the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in April 2003 – but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures…. Consequently, Iran [Persia] has moved to fill the regional void with an apparent ease that has disturbed both regional players and the United States and its European allies.” see:www.Chathamhouse.org.uk).

An atmosphere, which the Israeli debacle in Lebanon only reinforced. As the American online, security web service, Stratfor.com commented on 22nd August:

“Given the psychological impacts that Hezbollah’s successful resistance brings throughout the region, it is little surprise that Iran is surging forward with new, and probably excessive confidence. From Tehran’s standpoint, this is the perfect moment to press its advantage and establish itself as a regional hegemon and global player”.

Given this background, given the feeling that as the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh put it, in Monday’s Financial Times (FT), that Persia’s rulers ‘no longer feel compelled to offer concessions’, why has Tehran decided just to do that? Because, dear reader, while psychologically and in a negative sense, Tehran has been immensely strengthened, that strength is to a degree illusory. It is strength which comes from the absence of enemies (the Taliban, Saddam Hussein) and, not from any internal improvements to itself. As Kofi Annan noted in today’s FT, Persia is that strange amalgam of a major oil producer, who does not have a ‘single oil refinery’, and consequently, suffers from shortages in gasoline products constantly. As any Persian car driver will tell you. A country which suffers from fairly regular plane crashes because their airplanes ‘have no spare parts’. Similarly, in the military sphere while the regime is quite content to loudly proclaim their invulnerability to American or Israeli Air strikes, the reality are something quite different. As the American military strategist and researcher, Anthony Cordesman, has recently noted, Persia has no air force to speak of, and their air defense network is of essentially a late Sovietskaya Vlast vintage. Even the closure of the straits of Hormuz, is beyond, Tehran’s capabilities (see: “Iranian Nuclear Weapons?” in www.csis.org/reports/cordesman). So, the with perhaps more feeling for their vulnerability than one would necessarily credit for a regime which projects such an Ideological front, the Persians have thrown the ball back into the Western, nay the American court. What will Bush, Cheney et al., do with it? That is something that we will have to wait and see. I for one, anticipate a battle royal within the American administration, as each side: the ‘pragmatists’ around Dr. Rice and her deputy Mr. Burns, try to reason with the neo-conservative faction around Cheney. My own guess for what is it worth, is that with little likelihood of hard sanctions coming out of the security council anytime soon, and with the prospects of being split from the EU-3, if Washington attempts to veto the Persian demarche, the Bush regime might very well indeed, between clinched teeth, allow the talks to go forward. Reasoning that if need be, they can always be sabotaged later on, by Washington. Any attempt at trying to either veto negotiations now, or to railroad the Security Council, into voting on sanctions, will have the end result of the USA, rather than Persia being in a party of almost exactly one.
Splendid isolation indeed!

What can be said, in all seriousness, is that the idea of an American or an Israeli military strike as on simple one-off, `a la the Israeli strike on Iraqi nuclear facilities in 1981, is the grandest of all illusions. While no doubt both could hit and hit hard any facilities that Tehran does possess, the questions is whether the programme would survive such strikes, is not easy to answer. ‘Expert’ opinion runs from pessimistic see the relevant reports in GlobalSecurity.org) to somewhat optimistic views such as held by Anthony Cordesman. In terms of Israeli capabilities, the consensus, appears to be that while the IDF could no doubt, easily bomb and destroy Tehran’s aboveground facilities, it would not be able to capability to ‘generate and sustain the necessary number of strikes’ (Cordesman). The distance between Israel and Persia (at least 1,500-1,700 kilometer), as well as the lack of refueling facilities, make repeat strikes on given targets almost impossible. Particularly since, the entire operation would require that Israel, over fly of Arab air space. In the case of American military operations, none of these problems are apparent. Except that any such operation will require, in order to be able to assume that at least ‘80%-90%’ success (as per Cordesman), at least several weeks to a month of repeat bombing runs on any and all targets, with no doubt, the number of civilian dead and wounded running into the thousands, if not the tens of thousands. With all the diplomatic complications that implies. At the very least, there might very well be a concerted attempt by the various Shiite militias in Iraq to commence hostilities with American forces. Indeed, it is not, impossible (admittedly very unlikely though) that Iraq official forces might decide to attack American troops in Iraq, in retaliation for the ‘crime’ of killing fellow Shiites. It could well be that the end result of American military action against Persia, would be to almost make the American presence in Iraq, untenable. Not to speak of course, of possible attacks on American ‘soft targets’, throughout the region. Something which might also occur in the case of Israeli military action as well. To conclude, the dangers of Tehran possessing nuclear weapons are immense. However the dangers of premature, American or Israeli military action are also immense. Under the circumstances it is by far preferable that the EU-3 take all steps to try to negotiate a solution with the Mullah’s regime. Will that latter try to ‘spin out’ the talks so that they can proceed with enrichment, perhaps even on the sly? Yes, of course. It is almost a guarantee that they will attempt to do so. Particularly since any acceptable compromise formula, will require a good deal of internal negotiations in Tehran as well, as with the outside world. However, we do have some time, to resolve this problem in a manner In which force, can truly be a last resort. For force to be the first resort, would be in the current circumstances well neigh a disaster of the first magnitude.

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