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Iran after the NIE report: exploring the issues, exploding the myths


By Westminster Committee on Iran, London


The 2007 National Intelligence Evidence report (NIE) was seen by some as a fatal blow to the military planners arguing the need for military intervention against Iran. However, in its analysis, the Westminster Committee on Iran conclude that the NIE could be used to strengthen rather than weaken the case for military action against Iran and that diplomatic efforts to increase dialogue between Washington and Tehran should be intensified. This document explores some issues and explodes some myths around the need for military action against Iran.


The NIE report has removed the possibility of a US-led attack on Iran

The NIE report's conclusion that Iran had a secret nuclear weaponisation programme in the past which could be restarted at any time, combined with predictions that Iran could manufacture a nuclear warhead within the space of 2 years could still be used to justify attacks against Iran. The 16 intelligence agencies whose information forms the basis of this report, are the same agencies whose faulty intelligence led to the invasion of Iraq. A more reliable source of intelligence is the International Atomic Energy Agency, the only international authority qualified to study Iran's nuclear dossier. The IAEA was accurate in its assessment of Iraq's weapons capacity in 2003 and it is continuing to conduct exhaustive inspections on all of Iran's nuclear-enrichment sites.


Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons
UN inspections have found no evidence of a nuclear weaponisation programme, past or present. Since 2004 there have been over 2300 person/hours of inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Mohammed El Baradei has stated that there is no evidence that Iran has a weapons programme. On 15 November 2007 an IAEA report essentially cleared Iran of all outstanding ambiguities regarding its past nuclear programme.


Iran has been blocking inspections of its nuclear plants
Iran has complied with IAEA inspections and has met its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran voluntarily accepted and enforced safeguards stricter than IAEA's Additional Protocol until February 2006. The November IAEA report found that  "Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan". IAEA inspections are on going, most recently in December 2007 where inspectors completed five days of inspections of the first consignment of Russian fuel for Iran's nuclear power plant at Bushehr.


Inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium
In 2004 IAEA inspectors did find traces of highly enriched uranium in the plant in Natanz. In 2005 the IAEA confirmed that this highly enriched uranium was Pakistani and came to Natanz as a result of imported centrifuges.


US forces are too overstretched to take military action against Iran

A full ground invasion of Iran is highly unlikely. It would be possible, however, for the US to use their massive air power to destroy Iran's civilian and military infrastructure. A limited ground invasion could be used to take over Khuzestan province which borders Iraq and contains 90 percent of Iran's oil and gas reserves. The US could claim that this province is being occupied to provide a buffer zone to stop insurgents coming over the border into Iraq.


Military action against Iran would be too unpopular with the US public opinion
The deployment of an extra 28,500 troops to Iraq has shown that George Bush is willing to suffer unpopularity with his voters. The concerted media campaign arguing "Iran's nuclear ambitions must be stopped before its too late" could swing public opinion in favour of military action.


An attack on Iran could not happen soon

By adding Iran's Revolutionary Guard to the US list of terrorist organisations, have explicitly linking the Iranian elite guard to the post-9/11 "global war on terror" President Bush's lawyers now have an option to argue that any military strike on Iran is now covered by the October 2002 authorisation passed by Congress to use military force in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has made it possible for the US to wage pre-emptive strikes against Iran at any time without having to consult Congress.


The US troop surge meant thousands of additional US troops deployed in Iraq mainly in Diyala province directly between Baghdad and the Iranian border. In Barqa, four miles from the Iranian border, the Americans have built a large military base and a series of fortified checkpoints are being constructed along the frontier. The US and French naval presence in the Gulf has been bolstered to three aircraft carrier groups, the largest naval force since the 2003 invasion.


The Western media is balanced in its portrayal of Iran

A 2007 survey, Iran and the British Print Media, found that the portrayal of Iran in the British print media is "overly negative and frequently misleading". There is a danger that sustained inaccurate reporting in the media might build a consensus of opinion on Iran which is not grounded in reality.


The UN would not pass a resolution unless Iran had done something wrong
There is no basis for Resolution 1737 under international law and questions have been raised as to whether political pressure was exerted on the Security Council members to vote in favour of it. The fact that even the NIE report finds that Iran is not  diverting its civilian nuclear activities into a weaponisation programme and has fully cooperated with the IAEA, means that there were no grounds within the NPT either to refer Iran to the UN Security Council in the first place.


The International Community support sanctions

In June 2006, 56 nations signed the Baku Declaration which stated "the only way to resolve Iran's nuclear issue is to resume negotiations without any preconditions and to enhance cooperation with the involvement of all relevant parties". Similarly the Non-Aligned movement representing the majority of the international community has recognised Iran's right for a civilian nuclear technology.


Iran is harbouring Al Qaeda and supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents
There is no evidence that Iran has in any way collaborated with Al Qaeda. There is also no evidence linking the Iranian government to Iraqi insurgents. General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted at a Pentagon news conference in January 2007, that there was no evidence of the Iranian government sending any military equipment or personnel into Iraq. In December 2007 US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and General Petraeus both stated that Iran was helping to stop the flow of weapons into Iran.


Iran wants to "wipe Israel off the map"  
In fact the Farsi phrase used by President Amadinejad was "Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad." This translates directly as "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. This statement is very wise". Whatever the interpretation of this translation, "a regime vanishing from the page of time" is very different from a threat to wipe a nation off the map. Whilst there is no doubt that some of President Amadinejad's rhetoric against Israel is inflammatory, a distinction must be drawn between angry rhetoric and genuine threats.


The targeting of Iran has nothing to do with oil or gas
Iran holds the world's largest supplies of oil after Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and holds more oil and gas combined than any other country on the planet. As Peak Oil rapidly approaches, the US demand to control the lion's share of what is left. Iran has also just shifted its petrodollars into a Euro-based bourse. The effect on the value of the dollar will be significant. Khuzestan province which borders Iraq and contains 90 percent of Iran's oil and gas reserves is likely to be occupied during any military intervention by the US against Iran.


Democracy should be installed in Iran
Iran has an active indigenous democracy movement. Ultimately they are the ones who can secure a sustainable democracy. There is a danger that any military assault on the country will hugely strengthen the anti-democratic political forces in Iran.


About: Founded in London in 2006 the Westminster Committee on Iran is an independent cross-party committee which aims to increase dialogue and understanding between Tehran and British parliamentarians and with a view to preventing military intervention against Iran.

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