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03/08/13 Bookmark and Share
Crying wolf over Iran's nuclear program

By Farhang Jahanpour (source: TFF Associates & Themes Blog)

Crying wolf - the evidence

After producing his comic diagram during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last September, drawing a red line in order to stop Iran’s alleged imminent nuclear bomb, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for immediate action against Iran before it was too late.

However, as the result of President Barack Obama’s insistence that he wanted to resolve the dispute by peaceful means, the war fever subsided to some extent. However, on the eve of the meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the forthcoming visit of President Obama to Israel, Netanyahu has once again started to press the panic button about Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Referring to Iran’s announcement that she was installing new centrifuges for enriching uranium, and undaunted by his earlier false predictions, Netanyahu once again claimed that the new centrifuges could cut by a third the time needed to create a bomb.1)

However, when Israel’s intense campaign to start a war with Iran stalled, Israeli officials said that their original assessment about the deadline for dealing with Iran had been false. As Jacques E. C. Hymans points out in his recent article in Foreign Affairs, Israeli intelligence officials have now downgraded their assessment of Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb.2) Now, they say: “Iran won’t be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015 or 2016, pushing back by several years previous assessments of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”3)

It is interesting to note that after Netanyahu’s vote margin dropped in Israel’s general election and his friend Mitt Romney failed to win the American presidential election, miraculously Iran has become less of a threat. An Israeli intelligence officer pointed out that he could not attribute the delay in Iran’s nuclear program to accidents and sabotage alone, but to the fact that there had been no indication that Iran had been rushing to manufacture a nuclear bomb. He added: “There has not been the run towards a nuclear bomb that some people feared. There is a deliberate slowing on their end.”4)

Writing in Yediot Ahronot, a military correspondent Alex Fishman pointed out: “Officials responsible for assessing the state of the Iranian nuclear program, both in the West and in the International Atomic Energy Agency, believe that while the Iranians have continued to pursue their nuclear program, they have been doing so cautiously and slowly, making sure not to cross the point of no return.” He further said that the assessment had been unpopular in Israel’s highest political echelons, as Netanyahu had repeatedly called 2013 a “decisive year” for Iran’s nuclear program.5)

In the above-mentioned article, pretending that the false predictions had been merely due to an intelligence failure, Jacques E. C. Hymans complained: ‘This was a serious intelligence failure, one that has led some of Israel’s own officials to wonder aloud, “Did we cry wolf too early?”’

The fact of the matter is that Israeli politicians have regularly falsified Iran’s intentions behind her nuclear program. As early as 1992, the then Israeli prime minister and now Israeli president, Shimon Perez, had predicted that Iran would be producing nuclear weapons by 1999.6) In 1996, he went further, declaring that Iran was even more dangerous than Nazism. He said: “Iran is the center of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is in my view more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb, whereas the Iranians are trying to perfect a nuclear option.”7)

In January 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset “Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb.”8) The present Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in 1996 that Iran would be producing nuclear weapons by 2004.9) For over two decades, with monotonous regularity, Netanyahu and other leading Israeli officials have claimed that Iran would have a nuclear weapon within a few years. Although such exaggerated fears could be understandable in view of the Jewish history and their feeling of vulnerability and victimhood, the rest of the world should adopt a more cautious and realistic attitude towards such claims.

To their credit, a number of former of leading Israeli intelligence officials openly contradicted Netanyahu’s assertions about an existential threat from Iran, accusing him of messianic ambitions and saying that they did not trust him to be in charge of Israel’s national destiny.

Iran has moved in the opposite direction of nuclear weapons

In fact, far from intensifying its efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons, Iran has moved towards the opposite direction. The IAEA and even Israeli intelligence admitted publicly last October that Iran was diverting much of its enriched uranium to the production of medical isotopes. A UN report due this week is expected to detail a decrease in Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium because it is diverting much of the material to make fuel.10)

Both Americans and Israelis know that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, but just as in the case of Iraq, they find it convenient to use the fear of weapons of mass destruction in order to demonize Iran and achieve their other goals.

As the former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta pointed out, current U.S. intelligence indicates that Iranian leaders have not made a decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, he went on to say: “But every indication is they want to continue to increase their nuclear capability, and that’s a concern. And that’s what we’re asking them to stop doing.”11) It should be noted that Leon Panetta was also a former head of the CIA and is in the best position to know about Iran’s nuclear program.

Clearly what Israel and the United States want is for Iran to stop her legal nuclear activities, something that Iran has refused to do. For the Israelis, the crippling sanctions that the US Congress has imposed on Iran are not just a means to an end, but also an end in themselves. Israel’s first priority is for America to launch an attack on Iran in order to weaken that country and downgrade her status as a geopolitical rival to Israel. However, failing that, they would like to impose sanctions in order to bring about a regime change.

At one point, Netanyahu was certain that he could force America to launch a military attack on Iran or at least get America’s green light for an Israeli preemptive attack on Iran. During his speech at AIPAC, President Obama played into Netanyahu’s hands when he spoke of “Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”12) According to Haaretz, in a speech to the Knesset upon his return from the United States, Netanyahu ‘hinted’ at President Obama’s tacit endorsement of an attack “under the guise of Opposition”. He went on to say: “Obama will speak out against it but act for it, just as in the past U.S. administrations speak against settlements in the territories but allow their expansion.”13)

Crippling Iran by sanctions

However, short of instigating a war, the Israeli prime minister is content to impose crippling sanctions on Iran. An article published in Yediot Ahronot on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last year was headlined “Israeli officials: Starve Iranians to stop nukes.” It reported: “Iran’s citizens should be starved in order to curb Tehran’s nuclear program...” The article quoted an unnamed official as saying: “Suffocating sanctions could lead to a grave economic situation in Iran and to a shortage of food. This would force the regime to consider whether the nuclear adventure is worthwhile, while the Persian people have nothing to eat and may rise as was the case in Syria, Tunisia and other Arab States.”14)

This ignores the fact that harsh sanctions on Iraq for over a decade that killed more than one million Iraqis, including half a million children, failed to achieve their intended results and America was forced to wage a massive military invasion to replace Saddam Hussein.

While Israeli intentions vis--vis Iran are quite clear, the international community should be equally clear that the West should not engage in another devastating war in the Middle East under false pretenses.

Many people in the West and indeed in Iran may not like the present Iranian regime, but using the nuclear excuse to bring about regime change is dangerous and counterproductive. Experience has shown that openness and interaction are better tools for enlightening the public and bringing them closer to the West than either war or sanctions. The experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan should at least have taught us that much.

Iranians are strongly oriented toward the West

Iranian people are the most pro-Western and pro-American people in the Middle East. In fact, the bulk of the Iranian population does not have any problem with Israel either, as the mutual campaign of friendship launched by Israelis and Iranians showed. The predominantly young Iranian population wishes to have contact and interaction with the West and does not wish to remain forever isolated.

In the past, Iranian students constituted the largest number of foreign students in Europe and America. At the moment, there are more than four million university students in Iran who are longing for an opening to the West and want to learn about Western culture and scientific achievement. There are over one million Americans of Iranian decent who still maintain their links with their extended families in Iran. These are all positive assets for an eventual rapprochement between Iran and the West. These opportunities should not be wasted and these people should not be pushed into the arms of the mullahs.

The U.S. turning down Iranian proposals - the Axis of Evil

Iran’s next presidential election is just over three months away. Despite many Iranian overtures to the West under President Khatami, including an incredible proposal through the Swiss Embassy that was in charge of American interests in Iran for a grand bargain over all the contested issues, President George W. Bush responded with “the Axis of Evil” speech.

More than anything else, that rebuff by the West resulted in the election of Mahmud Ahmadinezhad who advocated a tough policy towards the West.

The 2005 election in which Ahmadinezhad was declared the winner was called “entakhabat-e padegani” or “the election of the barracks” by many Iranians. Iran’s Supreme Leader and senior Iranian officials made sure that the next president would be a hardliner and from the ranks of the Revolution Guards, and they made preparations to confront the West, feeling that a policy of compromise and reconciliation had failed.

Iran’s upcoming elections

The rejection of Iran’s extended hand on the eve of the next presidential election would ensure the victory of another rightwing president and a further deterioration in relations between Iran and the West. Of course, Iranian elections cannot be regarded as democratic elections as they are known in the West. Ever since the 2005 election and the rejection of the reformists who provided the possibility of better relations with the West, all Iranian elections have been rigged.

If in the past, the Guardian Council that vets the credentials of presidential candidates allowed some representatives of the reformist movement to take part in the election, the 2009 election was clearly rigged to prevent Mir-Hoseyn Musavi from winning. Iran’s Supreme Leader may now regret his decision to back Ahmadinezhad against the reformist candidate, but he still feels that in the face of constant threats from the West he does not have any choice but to appoint one of his hardline cronies as the next president.

On the other hand, if the Iranians can see a light at the end of the tunnel and the prospects of better relations with the West, there is every possibility that the leadership may allow a freer, more transparent and more competitive race. Under those circumstances, it is possible that a more moderate candidate would come forward and win the election, and it would pave the way for a real breakthrough with the Obama Administration that is intent on finding a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s Supreme Leader must appreciate the gravity of the situation and allow free and fair elections that would enable the true representative of the nation to speak on their behalf. Such a person would have much more credibility on world stage and would be better able to resolve the deadlock than someone who would continue the futile and dangerous confrontation with the West.

At the same time, Iran should realize that her radical and hostile stance towards Israel is a major obstacle to finding a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear program. The West will not accept Iran’s peaceful intentions so long as she continues its harsh and racist language against Israel. Iran cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. While both the Palestinian Authority and even HAMAS and the entire Arab League have recognized the existence of Israel behind its 1967 borders, Iran cannot insist on “wiping the Zionist regime from the annals of time.” It should join the Palestinians in demanding a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel on pre-1967 borders.

Equally, in order to ensure the success of the talks, Iran should take a bold step and move beyond using the same tired excuses about Iran’s inalienable right to enrich uranium. As Iran suspended her enrichment for over two years under President Mohammad Khatami, if needs be it would be useful to do the same while substantial talks with the West are continuing.

As it has already enriched enough uranium to 20 per cent to provide fuel for the reactor in Tehran, Iran should announce her willingness to stop her enrichment at that level in return for the West recognizing Iran’s right to low level enrichment.

The West should assure Iran that in return for full transparency, the sanctions will be lifted and Iran will be able to resume her peaceful nuclear program under IAEA supervision. In the long-term, the issue of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons must also be addressed in order to prevent proliferation in the Middle East.

It should be clear to both Iranian and Western leaders that if Iran and the West fail to break the current deadlock under the present US Administration, the likelihood is that the situation will be much more dangerous under the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic. This is why it is important to use the forthcoming talks for ending the current deadlock.

While as the result of many domestic and foreign constraints President Obama may not be able to move as fast as he would like the other members of the P5+1 can help him find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Instead of playing second fiddle to the United States or remaining as a mere observer, Europe must take the initiative to break the logjam and usher in a new era of cooperation and a more enlightened relationship between Iran and the West.

Notes

  1. “New Iran centrifuges could shorten path to atomic bomb: Netanyahu”, Reuters, 11 February 2013.
  2. Jacques E. C. Hymans, “Iran is Still Botching the Bomb: It is Time for Israel and the United States To Stop Overracting”, Foreign Affairs, February 18, 2013.
  3. Sheera Frankel, “Israel: Iran slowing nuclear program, won’t have bomb before 2015”, McClatchy, January 28, 2013.
  4. ibid.
  5. ibid.
  6. Roger Cohen, Israel Cries Wolf, New York Times, April 8, 2009.
  7. ibid.
  8. Gary Sick, “How to Keep Iran in Check Without War,” The Daily Beast, Sep 23, 2009.
  9. Roger Cohen, Israel Cries Wolf, New York Times, April 8, 2009.
  10. SeeReuters February 20, 2013.
  11. Reuters report, 3 February 2013.
  12. “Obama’s AIPAC speech”, The Guardian, 4 March 2012.
  13. “Netanyahu is preparing Israeli public opinion for a war on Iran”, Haaretz, March 15, 2012.
  14. Attila Somfalvi, “Israeli officials: Starve Iranians to stop nukes”, Ynet News, 02,29.12/


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