RUMORS OF WAR, REVISITED
RUMORS OF WAR, REVISITED
"(Reuters) - Iran has sharply stepped up its controversial uranium enrichment drive, the United Nations' nuclear agency said Friday in a report that will further inflame Israeli fears that the Islamic Republic is pushing ahead with atomic bomb plans.
The nuclear watchdog also gave details of its mission to Tehran this week where Iran failed to respond to allegations of research relevant to developing nuclear arms - a blow to the possible resumption of diplomatic talks that could help defuse fears of a new war in the Middle East.
"The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a quarterly report about Iran issued to its member states.
The Islamic Republic's increase of work which can have both civilian and military purposes underlines that it has no intention of backing down in a long-running row with the West that has sparked fears of war....
In what would be a big expansion, Iran has increased the number of centrifuge machines enriching uranium - material which can be used to make atomic bombs if refined much further - by roughly a third since late last year, the report indicated.
Preparatory work to install thousands more centrifuges is under way, potentially shortening the time needed to make high-grade uranium for a nuclear weapons".
(Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri in Tehran, Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
Fredrik Dahl, "Iran has expanded sensitive nuclear work: UN Agency." Reuters. 24 February 2012, in www.reuters.com.
"The question of whether a war will break out over Iran’s nuclear programme has been around for so long that it is easy to become almost blasé. In 2006 Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was already asserting dramatically: “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.”
This year, however, feels different. The threat of war is much more real. A conflict would begin with an Israeli bombing raid on Iran. But it would be likely swiftly to draw in the US – probably the UK and France, as well, and possibly the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli fears are driving the process. Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, has talked of Iran entering a “zone of immunity” – in which its nuclear programme becomes unstoppable – in the coming months. The Israelis are particularly concerned about plans to put Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities into hardened underground bunkers. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, is said to believe there is a strong possibility of an Israeli attack in April, May or June.
But Israel is not the only factor. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are also obsessed with the need to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons. Barack Obama is still very keen to avoid conflict. But in a presidential election year, it is harder for him to rein in Israel. Britain and France – the two most important European military powers – are also seriously contemplating the prospect of conflict with Iran. Indeed, in marked contrast to the run-up to the Iraq war, the British and the French seem to be more bellicose than the Americans.
One European decision-maker recently laid out the possible cycle of escalation and counter-escalation. Israel would mount a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The US would not condemn the raid, while Europeans would speak out against the attack – but only halfheartedly. When Iran retaliated against Israel, the Europeans and Americans would come to Israel’s aid, with defensive measures: perhaps, initially, in the form of naval protection.
But it is also thought likely that Iranian retaliation would be aimed not just at Israel but also at western interests – and perhaps even at the Gulf states. That would lead to a much wider conflict. US air power would be used to knock out Iranian retaliatory capacity. Any Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would be swiftly challenged by the US navy, with some token European support. While the Gulf states could never support an Israeli attack on Iran, they might get involved in this second round of military action – if Iran were foolish enough to attack them first. All the discussion, however, is of the use of air and naval power. There is no appetite for sending ground troops.
Among some European decision-makers these steps are discussed with a calm – and even a hint of relish – that is slightly startling".
Gideon Rachmann, "The drift towards War with Iran [Persia, sic!]. The Financial Times. 21 February 2012, in www.ft.com.
Gideon Rachmann's article is of interest as it discusses a future event which many see as having an immediate likelihood 1. How plausible is this and if indeed plausible should it be endorsed or condemned in advanced? Getting down to cases, I for one do not see any likelihood of the regime of Mullahs in Tehran launching an unprovoked attack on either the Western Powers, Israel or the Gulf States. Indeed, the rhetoric of a few weeks back that Persia was about to endeavor to blockade the Persian Gulf, in retaliation for the European Union's forthcoming decision to stop all imports of Persian oil, has in the aftermath of the same, suddenly stopped. A non-event which can only be explained by the fact that it was communicated quite directly to the Persians the heavy, indeed onerous costs involved in any such action. Short of an attempt at a naval blockade by the Western Powers (unfortunately not in the offing), it is extremely unlikely that Tehran and or its dwindling band of allies, will unilaterally strike at any Western targets in the region. That being said, we come then to the more plausible scenario which is discussed by Rachmann (among many others of course), which is: an Israeli missile and air strike on alleged nuclear-related targets in Persia. No one of course can predict how truly anxious the Israelis are at this particular moment. And whether that anxiety is so great at this particular juncture that they will take advantage of the American Presidential election-cycle to launch a strike or a series of strikes on Persia. Leaving aside the factum that if there ever was an 'open window' to launch such an attack on Persia, the period from say July to early October would be optimum time to do so, there is the crucial question to my mind of Israel's ability to in fact successfully destroy Persia's nuclear processing and other sites. As per the American military analyst and commentator, Anthony Cordesman, Israel's ability to successfuly destroy not only the primary but the secondary sites in question is somewhat questionable. As per Cordesman:
"A military strike by Israel against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible and the optimum route would be along the Syrian-Turkish border then over a small portion of Iraq then into Iran, and back the same route. However, the number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate" 2
With this being said, it would seem to my mind quite questionable to presuppose that the Israelis will unilaterally launch an air strike or missile strike on Persia without either: i) a much greater degree of evidence that Persia is within walking distance of achieving status of a being a nuclear armed state; ii) and American de facto if not de jure agreement to such a course. The latter is of course, almost out of the question. The current American Administration, would of course, not necessarily condemn outright, post-facto an Israeli attack. It simply would not be willing ex-ante to either endorse or assist in such a policy. Indeed for the current American administration, an Israeli attack on Persia, would be as close to a strategic nightmare as one may allow. Which, if one does indeed agree with Cordesman's analysis (as I indeed do) as to the likelihood of its success, then one may indeed agree with the American Administration on this point. If there is anything worse than a Persia which has nuclear weapons capability, it would be a Persia which has nuclear weapons capability notwithstanding an Israeli attack which has failed to prevent this state of affairs from occurring.
With all that being said, what are the possible policy options for the Western Powers in this matter? I for one, would argue first for a naval blockade in conjunction with even more stringent economic sanctions on Persia (admittedly now rather strict). The hope being not per se that said policies would force Persia to abandon its policy, but that when added to plausible modus vivendi proposal, which while safeguarding Western interests, would still leave a figleaf for the Persians to retain a sense of amour propre by claiming that they have not capitulated completely, will offer the best route to a solution to the Persian nuclear conundrum. As the American commentator, Ray Takeh recently and cogently stated:
"It may still be possible to disarm Iran without using force. The key figure remains Khamenei, who maintains the authority and stature to impose a decision on his reluctant disciples. A coercive strategy that exploits not just Khamenei's economic distress but his political vulnerabilities may cause him to reach beyond his narrow circle, broaden his coalition and inject a measure of pragmatism into his state's deliberations. As with most ideologues, Iran's supreme leader worries more about political dissent than economic privation. Such a strategy requires not additional sanctions but considerable imagination" 3.
1. James Blitz, "Hague resists ruling out armed action on Iran [Persia]. The Financial Times. 20 February 2012, in www.ft.com.
2. Anthony Cordesman, "Study of Possible Israeli Strike on Iran [Persia] Nuclear Development facilities." Center for Strategic and International Studies.
16 March 2012, in www.csis.org
3 Ray Takeh, "Why Iran thinks that it needs the Bomb." Council on Foreign Relations. 17 February 2012, in www.cfr.org.