The latest article raising fear and concern about Iran and its nuclear ambitions, 'Iran Plays the Waiting Game', is by Reuel Marc Gerecht, published in the March 13 issue of N. Y. Times.
Every time something shakes the house of the Middle East all kinds of "experts" suddenly crawl out of the woodwork to volunteer their sage analyses and advice. Television networks and print media welcome such events by fanning the fire of fear and anxiety for the sake of the bottom line, of course. And, when it comes to the Middle East, they can always draw from the pool of conservative think tanks with blatant pro-Israel bend - it sells better that way.
It is remarkable how a cunningly creative use of verbiage in a superficially objective reportage can impart the writer's ulterior intentions upon the unwary reader. The gist of his article is to demonstrate the following as irrefutable facts, not conjecture or fantasy on his part: a-Iran is a supporter of international terrorism. b-Iran has always had the ambition to develop nuclear weapons. c-Once that goal is achieved, the world, particularly Israel and the United States, better watch out - they'll have us over the barrel!
After reading his fantastic, almost surreal, scenario, I felt the whole thing was too artificially concocted to deserve an analysis. After all, the guy was just doing a job even though the rooster's tail was clearly visible! Instead, I felt it would be more productive to examine the two fundamental issues of concern at this juncture in current affairs, those of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction.)
The problem of terrorism, whether international or restricted to one region, has now the potential to gain an unprecedented dimension. Today gaining access to lethal amounts of chemical or biological agents is simply too easy and relatively inexpensive. Portable nuclear devices may already be as available as hand-held global positioning gadgets were twenty years ago.
There is no question that terrorism in all its manifestations is the concern of every nation in the world today, particularly when terrorism can be carried out with weapons that cause immense damage to vast areas and populations.
Let us begin by attempting to define terrorism: Not so easy, is it?!
Who hasn't heard it said that one man's terrorist could be another man's freedom fighter? Were the members of French resistance or Fifth Column during the German occupation of France in WW II a bunch of terrorists? Germans obviously thought so. How about the Lebanese Shi'ites, the Hezbollah, who were struggling against the Israeli occupation forces violating all those Security Council resolutions for over seventeen years? Israel certainly thinks so. The same Mojahedin who were freedom fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan, became terrorists once the stage was turned around; yet, they were still doing exactly the same thing! Nelson Mandela who was a terrorist in the eyes of the South African apartheid regime won the Nobel peace prize and is one of the most highly respected world leaders today.
There is, of course, an internationally accepted definition for terrorism. It is generally accepted that, even in wartime, deliberate acts of violence committed against non-combatant civilians constitute terrorism, and in the case of the military, war crimes. In a smaller scale, even isolated acts of terror, political assassination or sabotage committed by states outside their territories also constitute international terrorism. The reader should now stop and think for a minute: How does Iran rank among contributors to international terrorism? Is Iran really The Number One supporter of international terrorism in the world, as California Rep. Tom Lantos, maintains? Can you see the rooster's tail?
We all know that horrendous human tragedies have taken place as unavoidable consequences of wars waged for 'just causes'. We must therefore accept the caveat that a just cause can rationalize and legitimize intentional devastation of even the most awesome magnitude. The question now becomes the definition of a just cause. And, here we go again!
This line of argument can be taken to its logical limits where the only sane conclusion that everyone can accept becomes self evident: Terrorism is an act of violence as defined in those general terms, only when such act is committed against me or mine! A just cause is always my reason to commit acts that my enemy classifies as terrorism. In the absence of a Divine authority that everyone can accept, perhaps an international court of justice of some sort could best be the ultimate arbiter. But, alas, in the latest attempt to create such a court, the three global super giants, the United States, Russia, and China, have refused to join up! After all, might always makes right.
The logic in this line of reasoning is so rudimentary that it borders on the ridiculous!
a-I know that I am a morally righteous person; if I didn't think so, I would definitely change into one.
b-It therefore follows logically that my position must also be a righteous position.
c-Then, if you are opposed to my position, you are by definition opposed to righteousness, therefore you must be classified as evil - no doubt about it.
d-Engaging in any campaign to eradicate evil is a righteous act, almost a religious duty, therefore the cause is a just cause by definition.
It is ironic that the likes of Bin Laden have used exactly the same line of reasoning to rationalize their terror campaigns.
Now that we have succeeded in defining what terrorism is, let us further confuse ourselves by addressing the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
We know that the use of chemical and biological weapons was banned by international treaties after WW I. One must wonder how it is that most countries still possess or are developing stockpiles of these weapons; what do they need them for? We, right here in the U.S., have the world's largest such stockpiles; but of course we will never use such weapons, that is unless we find a 'just cause' to do so. This is perhaps why we shouldn't get rid of them, just like the case with land mines!
Incidentally, I wonder if the newly developed MOAB bomb we intend to use in Iraq should be classified as a weapon of mass destruction. We might perhaps add addiction to nicotine as another lethal weapon of mass destruction, the slower-acting kind.
When it comes to nuclear weapons the dilemma takes on a different configuration. Thanks to the Cold War détente between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, this ultimate weapon of mass devastation became a deterrent rather than a threat. It was during this period that the euphemism 'defense' replaced the term 'war' in referring to departments or ministries in charge of various nations' military establishments.
It soon became evident that every country capable of acquiring nuclear weapons was aspiring to do so as its natural right to provide its citizens with the ultimate deterrent against any potential aggression. This naturally didn't sit well with the members of the exclusive nuclear club of the times, as the whole structure of global hierarchy would thus fall apart. So, very wisely, the idea of an international treaty to stop the proliferation of nuclear weaponry was introduced. Those already in possession of the technology agreed to prevent the spread of this menace, and those not yet in that clique agreed to not attempt to develop or acquire such weapons. Among states that were on the way to developing a nuclear weapons industry we can name South Africa, which became a signatory to this international treaty and abandoned all efforts. However, there were many who chose not to join this treaty, each for its own self-righteous reason.
Nuclear technology, as we know, is not limited to its military use; in fact, many believe that the cleanest and most efficient means of energy production in the future world will be through nuclear fission, and ultimately fusion, technology. Many European countries draw the bulk of their electricity from nuclear power plants. Countries with vast oil and gas reserves, such as Russia and the United States, opt for nuclear plants to supplement and to ultimately replace fossil fuel for energy production. Nuclear research also has vital applications in the medical field and other scientific areas.
The United States and Russia still possess the bulk of the world's nuclear arsenal. Great Britain has a relatively modest nuclear arsenal, considering its historic global dominance. China joined the club in a much smaller scale more recently. India and Pakistan have already tested their devices and are armed with these weapons. And, last but not least, a tiny pimple on the map, Israel, has armed itself with what is believed to be the world's fourth largest arsenal of nuclear weapons; the logic being the fact that Israel is really a tiny pimple on the map and needs all the protection it can muster.
Countries that chose not to adopt the non-proliferation treaty have gone ahead with their nuclear weapons development projects unhampered by UN observers or international objections. North Korea, a country facing economic collapse, decided to drop out of the NPT and openly embark on nuclear weapons development, possibly to draw attention to itself.
In the Middle East the problem, or the suspicion, of nuclear weapons developments have taken on an especially heated dimension. The United States administration's concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology, particularly among 'rogue' states in the area, are well known. But, before going any further, it helps to, again, attempt to define what a rogue state is.
Like a rogue elephant, a rogue state is one that pays no attention to the accepted norms or rules of conduct, and carries on with its own agendas. Hmmmm! Let's see now. How does Iran rank among other states in the region or elsewhere that violate international norms?
It doesn't take a genius to figure out how the title of rogue was bestowed upon certain specific countries. If a state is clearly in violation of accepted rules of conduct or international norms, but remains our staunch ally, we call it a symbol of democracy, a true Western model. If such a state doesn't particularly like us but remains obedient to our mandates, it is classified as a 'friendly' state. Those who are marginal or non-committal, but not outwardly antagonistic toward us, are labeled 'moderates'. Finally, there are those who refuse allegiance to our cause in the region and insist on carrying on with their own national interests. These states are the 'rogue' or disobedient states, and it makes no difference whether they are really in violation of international norms or not.
We can now see the logic that many states in the Middle East fail to understand or have problem with: Why is Israel entitled to harbor all kinds of weapons of mass destruction with ability to reach as far as Moscow or Beijing to Washington? Here is the rationale:
a-Israel is just a tiny pimple on the map and needs to defend itself.
b-Israel is our ally, a Western style democracy upholding our moral values.
c-Israel will never use its weapons of mass destruction, unless it is for a just cause.
d-Since the best defense is an effective offense, taking preemptive offensive measures to prevent potential attacks by perceived enemies constitutes just cause for action.
Clearly, no other state in the region can possibly qualify for this privileged status. We can also see why this administration is so supportive of Israel's agendas no matter what the rest of the world might think of this passionate love affair. Is it any surprise then that regional powers that might pose a potential threat to Israel, or are supporting groups that are struggling against Israel, are automatically regarded as rogue states and supporters of international terrorism by the Unites States?
We must now try to define what the term potential implies.
There is a wide range between the possible and the impossible. Somewhere close to possible we have probable. Then, there are degrees of probability, from highly unlikely to almost certain. But the term potential may be applied to any degree of probability, all the way to the level of the possible. In other words, the only way anything can be possible is if it has a potential for happening.
Is there any country in the world today that lacks the potential to have nuclear technology? The largest and most populous country in the Middle East, Iran, also has the most developed industrial infrastructure. Iran's nuclear industry had its beginning in the mid sixties, interrupted by the revolution of 1978, and restarted soon after. The stated purpose of the project has been for the production of electricity in areas far removed from hydroelectric generation sources. One can also assume that a nation with some of best centers of higher education and scientific research in the Middle East would not choose to avoid the field of nuclear physics and related technologies for paranoid reasons. Being a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty and open to inspection and monitoring by IAEA, Iran has continued the development of its nuclear industry for what that government states to be purely peaceful purposes.
The 'discovery' by satellite imagery of the Natanz and Arak facilities that have caused so much concern and alarm, should not have been such a surprise. The IAEA was formally informed of these plans long before their 'surprise' discovery, and proper inspections have already taken place. The nuclear fuel for these and other generating plants were to be provided by Russia, also involved in assisting in the technological phases of these projects.
Iran has its own uranium mines that were never brought to production in the past; I know, I was the chief of the bureau of mines in the late sixties and early seventies. There are very rich occurrences of uranium ore near Anarak, not far from Yazd. With the constant pressure by the United States to make it increasingly difficult for Russia to guarantee the supply of nuclear fuel, it would have been unwise for Iran not to explore the possibility of a local production of that fuel. The research that is being currently carried out in these sites, if shocking to the editors of Time Magazine, is no surprise to the IAEA who will be inspecting the process again and again as required by the treaty in order to ensure its peaceful intent.
So, what's the big deal?
Well, to understand the big concern we must dig into the politics of the region. Iran didn't just accidentally fall into the grouping with Iraq and North Korea as George W. Bush's Axis of Evil. Iran's support for groups designated by the administration as terrorist organizations classifies Iran as such. The main concern has always been Iran's support of the Lebanese Hezbollah, a gigantic thorn on Israel's side and the only Arab entity that finally succeeded in claiming some kind of victory over the invincible Israelis by making it too costly for them to maintain their presence in Lebanon any longer.
Israel, quite naturally, considers not only Hezbollah, but any group that resists its agenda, as terrorists. And why shouldn't it? In Spain the Bosque are considered terrorists, In Russia it is the Chechnians, in Sri Lanka the Tamil, and on and on. The problem here is that any militancy against Israeli interests or ambitions has also become defined as terrorism by the United States. This warped association has so deeply penetrated the American consciousness that a criticism of Israeli policies - remember, it is a foreign country - has become tantamount to anti Semitism and even anti Americanism.
Now, let us suppose Iran is indeed supporting international terrorism, therefore undeserving of owning weaponry that can reach beyond its own borders. By developing their nuclear energy technology, the Iranian scientists can potentially begin the process of activating weapons programs. So, by extension, Iran should not be allowed to own nuclear power plants. Continuing along the same logical line, Iranian universities should close down their nuclear physics departments, since it is in these academic centers that future potential nuclear bomb makers are trained. And as far as those Iranian nuclear scientists that could potentially become involved in weapons technology, they and their extended families should be provided safe passage to Florida or California, with citizenship and lucrative jobs upon arrival. If Iran still insists on continuing its potential nuclear weapons programs, Israel should be given the green light to exercise its prerogative to defend itself against a potential attack, and preemptively strike the Iranian facilities.
There are those who maintain that Iran has the right, like any sovereign nation, to develop a military parity as a deterrent to potential attacks. As long as there are aggressive and trigger-happy regimes in the area that possess weapons of mass destruction and have already demonstrated their readiness to use them, Iran should also arm itself with similar weapons. As one Iranian official has suggested, it is not enough to disarm Iraq alone; as long as even one country is allowed to harbor weapons of mass destruction in the region, and that includes Israel, no one can blame others for trying to neutralize that superiority by developing their own retaliatory weapons.
Realistically speaking, even though Iran is currently focusing its nuclear technology in the direction of peaceful energy production, believing that weapons development projects are not on the drawing boards would be naïve. Can a nation of seventy million people ever forgive its government for not ensuring its security against a potential attack from, say, a paranoid Israel, by not having an effective deterrent? Can Israel, in turn, voluntarily abandon its nuclear superiority when surrounded by unfriendly neighbors?
The solution can only come through an effective regional disarmament, accompanied by the United Nations Security Council guarantees to prevent any aggression, regardless of whose friends or allies are involved, meaning no veto power. The next step would be for the global economic superpowers to redress the problems of the region in a more evenhanded way, in order to promote socioeconomic developments that may be more conducive to prospects of democracy and peaceful coexistence.
About the author:
Kam Zarrabi is writer, lecturer, former president, World Affairs Council of San Diego, North County.
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