By Syed Arif Hussaini

  February 04, 2005

Iran the Next Target, but …

Just hours before the inaugural address of President Bush on January 20, Vice President Dick Cheney identified Iran as the top threat to world peace and warned that Israel “might well decide to act first” militarily to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities if the US and its allies fail to solve the standoff with Teheran diplomatically.

Seymour Hersh fueled further the speculation of an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations with his report in The New Yorker of January 24-31 revealing that under cover US operatives were already in Iran collecting intelligence on the sites of nuclear installations.

Hersh, an eminent and well-connected investigative journalist, is the author of some ten books and is credited with disclosing the story of My Lai massacre in Vietnam. His voluminous work ‘The Price of Power’ is a gripping account of the Nixon and Kissinger years in the White House. His story on ‘The Coming Wars’ is based on extensive interviews with senior officials both serving and retired. For instance, he has quoted a former high-level intelligence official as saying: “This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign.

The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone. Next we are going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah ---we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.” Iran, a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has allowed inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to check its nuclear sites since it insists that its nuclear program is for the generation of electricity and for other peaceful purposes and not for the production of any weapon of mass destruction (WMD).

The IAEA has so far found no evidence to the contrary. The IAEA report of September 2004 said: “All declared nuclear material in Iran had been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.” Yet, pressure is being put on the country to demolish all its nuclear establishments. Iran remains in defiance of this demand as it maintains that its program is permitted under the NPT. The US and other Western intelligence agencies believe that Iran is hiding its weapon-oriented installations. Yet, they agree that Iran is three to five years from nuclear warheads production capability.

The civilian leadership in Pentagon believes, according to Hersh, that without a credible threat of military action the Iranian leadership will not be amenable to diplomatic overtures. “The only thing the Iranians understand is pressure. And that they also need to be whacked.” On the other hand, the European powers - France, Germany and Britain in particular - hold that the issue can be and should be resolved with Iran through negotiations. With that in view, they signed an initial agreement with Iran in mid-November 2004 to freeze Iran’s uranium enrichment program in return for talks about a broader deal on economic and technical cooperation.

The move was clearly signed at preempting any aggressive action by the new Bush administration, which had indicated earlier that it would push at the IAEA meeting for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. Iran has been under US sanctions for quarter of a century ever since the hostage crisis of 1979. Taking advantage of this standoff, the European powers have entered into agreements for exploration, drilling and refining of Iranian oil.

Companies of China, Japan , Malaysia and Russia have also made such agreements. Iran has the fourth largest crude oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserves in the world. While Britain was totally with the US in the war on Iraq, it has been advising the US against any military action on Iran. China and Russia are likely to use their veto power to thwart any resolution that the US might bring in the Security Council for the use of force against Iran.

Given the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and Washington’s intimate backing for Israel, which is said to have a secret stockpile of some 300 nuclear warheads, Iran could conclude that it needs to acquire nuclear weapons to defend itself. The US has for over a decade pressed China, Russia and others to cut off supply of vital technology and know-how to Iran. This supply-side non-proliferation strategy has been somewhat successful and slowed down Iran’s nuclear program.

The US has been pressing Russia to pull out of its contract for completing the Bushehr power reactor in southern Iran. Moscow has rebuffed such demands. Fact of the matter is that neither the supply side embargo, nor the agreement with the European powers to suspend enrichment, mentioned above, are likely to make Iran abandon the acquisition of nuclear technology. For, the country has invested too much pride, money, and technical talent in building it nascent nuclear infrastructure to abandon it completely.

Also, it has spread out its nuclear set-ups to obviate their destruction at one go like in the case of Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak in 1981. In the case of Iraq, worldwide demonstrations of millions of people were held opposing the war. The US following its doctrine of preemptive strike ignored all such protests and went ahead with its invasion of the country. But, it meticulously avoided including Israel in the coalition in order to save that country from possible wrath of its neighbors. In the case of Iran, it has openly hinted that Israel may take the initiative as it is directly under threat.

Israel might point out that the US is in a better position to do the job as it is in occupation of the neighbors of Iran on both sides apart from having bases in Central Asian states. From the point of view of Iran and the international community, it makes little difference as to who takes the initiative. Iran, however, is not Iraq. Iraq was an arbitrary creation yoking together three disparate Ottoman provinces. It has lacked the sense of common identity that underpins civic patriotism. Iranians have unbroken history for over 2,500 years.

They have a fully evolved society with an educated middle class. If handled tactfully, the Iranian youth would throw out the clerics and set up a progressive, democratic polity and join the comity of civilized nations. If saner councils prevail over the current bellicose emotionalism, such a development would be advantageous for the US as much as for Israel. Let us remember that right now the US economy is registering unprecedented deficits – some 450 billion dollars next fiscal year. It is unwise to keep digging further when one is already in a hole. (



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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
© 2004 . All Rights Reserved.