Iran the Next Target?
By Syed Arif Hussaini
Following the reelection of George
W. Bush, it is but natural to ask whether Iran would
be the next target for attack during his second
term. His doctrine of “preemptive attack”
expounded in justification of the invasion of Iraq
has been reprised by him several times during the
election campaign. As recently as October 30, 2004,
he asserted: “We are on the offensive around
the world, because the best way to prevent future
attacks is to go after the enemy”.
In his State of the Union address of January 20,
2004, he had included Iran as a component of “the
axis of evil”. He had done so because he said,
“Iran aggressively pursues these (nuclear)
weapons and exports terror”.
According to the Newsweek of September 26, 2004,
military top brass were “updating plans for
possible US military action in Syria and Iran”.
Researcher, author and commentator, Mark Gaffney,
has warned that the United States and its ally Israel
will either accede to the existence of an Iranian
nuclear program or take steps to prevent it.
A word here about US-Iran relations. Exemplary friendship
existed between the two bilaterally, as well as
multilaterally under CENTO, till a group of revolutionaries
led by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew in
1979 the US-backed Pahlavi monarchy. On November
4, 1979, a group of Iranian students invaded the
US Embassy in Teheran and took some 55 staff members
as hostage. The hostages were released after 444
days in January 1981 in a give and take deal. Relations
have remained strained till now. During 1997-98
friendly gestures by President Khatami of Iran and
President Clinton of the US held out hopeful signs
Benefits of reconciliation are significant for both
countries. Iran is a preferred pipeline route for
Caspian Sea and Central Asian oil. Better relations
will help augment economic growth of Iran. Considering
the low standing of Iran economically and militarily,
a reconciliation with the US would have been quite
easy. But, Iran is viewed by Israel as a potential
threat to its very existence. And, Iran is conscious
of Israel’s antagonism, its nuclear arsenal,
and the steps it has already taken in concert with
the US, to de-fang, and turn into rubble, all those
neighboring states that do not cater to its design
of a greater Israel overarching the region.
Iran’s anxiety to go nuclear appears to emanate
from this challenge and apprehension. And, in view
of what Mr. Bush calls “unique relationship
of the US with Israel” any threat to Israel
is regarded as a threat to the US Iraq was no threat
to the US but it certainly was one to Israel. Saddam
was financing the families of suicide bombers of
Iran might not be too far from accomplishing its
nuclear ambitions. Would not Israel persuade the
US to agree to a preemptive strike on Iran’s
nuclear sites before it is too late?
The victory in the elections and the ensuing euphoria,
the pressure of the neo-cons who passionately support
Israel, and the enormous military might of the U.S.,
might incite President Bush to indulge in his doctrine
of preemptive strike. But, certain factors create
doubts about his adopting such a course. To begin
with, he is badly entangled in the Iraqi quagmire.
Instead of the cake walk, flower petals and read
carpet, the U.S. finds itself entangled in an ugly
insurgency that is not tapering off. And, the large
military budget expended in Iraq is already creating
fiscal pressures on the treasury. The economy of
the country is not yet out of the doldrums. The
dollar has gone down in value vis-à-vis the
Euro and other currencies. If the tre nd continues
owing to additional war expenditure in Iran, the
Euro might bid to replace the dollar as the international
reserve currency. One of the reasons for attack
on Iraq, some economists point out, was Saddam’s
preference of Euro over dollar for payment of Iraqi
That brings us back to the possibility of a negotiated
settlement of Iran’s nuclear crisis. The Group
of Eight industrialized states are already seeking
a negotiated resolution. Iran has been offered economic
aid and assistance for its civilian nuclear energy
program. But, Iran is equivocal.
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog,
is likely to come up with some proposals at its
November 25 meeting. The IAEA has not yet found
palpable evidence of Iran working towards nuclear
weapons. There is no smoking gun. It cannot therefore
recommend to the Security Council imposition of
As for direct talks between the US and Iran, the
authorities of Iran do not rule them out but maintain
that talks could take place “if America drops
its position of threats”. At the same time
Iran has assured European governments that Iran
would enrich uranium only to the level required
for the use in its nuclear reactors, as permitted
under the NPT - a treaty already signed by Iran.
It has all along maintained that, despite its vast
petroleum reserves, it needs to enrich uranium to
fuel its nuclear power plants. It cannot rely on
offers of fuel from foreign countries either.
President George Bush has many a time called a nuclear-armed
Iran “unacceptable” to his government.
US officials are unwilling to deal direct with Iranian
authorities. They are nevertheless not advocating
any unilateral action. They would want the Security
Council to deal with the matter. If that body found
Iran in noncompliance with the NPT, the US may press
for UN sanctions.
China, Russia and several European countries have
interests in Iran’s oil industry and would
likely oppose sanctions that interfered with their
respective national objectives..
As for the US going it alone or in concert with
Israel, the possibility appears quite thin. For,
the US military is already stretched too much in
Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. A venture in Iran
will hardly have any domestic support.
The US or Israel could carry out a disabling pre-emptive
strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But,
the Iranians are said to have spread out their facilities
in such a way that a one-time strike would not throw
the entire project out of gear. It has to be a full-fledged
invasion and occupation like that of Iraq.
For a variety of reasons, Iran is seeking nuclear
weapons. The main reason is its perception of the
hostility of the US and Israel. The fear is not
without foundation, as already mentioned above.
The war in Iraq has diverted the attention of its
antagonists, giving it more time to pursue its ambitions.
As the former President Carter has said: “We
can’t deal with the impulse to get the bomb,
but we can stop them from getting further”.
Let us hope that this is done through negotiations
and not through a preemptive strike with all its
short and long term adverse effects on the future
of this great country.
November 4, 2004