The Iranian Quest for Nuclear Weapons
July 08, 2004
The United States, the Western World, and the International Atomic Energy Agency all are involved now in trying to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
Even if one does not accept the large body of evidence which has accumulated since the regime of the Ayatollahs came to power in 1979 and conclude that Iran is a dangerous exporter of terrorism, whose radical Islamic doctrines mean its aim is expansion and domination of its neighbors, one can still be very concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons. For Iran has powerful neighbors--Turkey, Saudi Arabia--who are strongly suspicious of her and would not allow Iranian nuclear weapons to threaten them unilaterally. An unprecedented nuclear arms race would soon be underway. In another context, Iranian leaders have bluntly stated their intention to use nuclear weapons against Israel, another prospect that certainly should not delight the world. And the far stronger Israel, with its anti-missile defense system and its reported 150 to 200 nuclear warheads, would most likely not suffer the attack passively. A nuclear exchange anywhere in the world would mean untold human suffering and environmental damage to the world as a whole. It is clearly in everyones interest, including the Iranians themselves, to prevent their acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Yet the steps taken by the IAEA, the European powers, and the U.S. government seem very unlikely to deter Iran. To understand truly the ineffectiveness of such steps, one should look at the Pakistani precedent. Pakistan, another self-defined Islamic republic, over a period of close to thirty years brought its nuclear development program to a successful conclusion, from its point of view, despite all the threats, the UN warnings, and the U.S. sanctions against it. Pakistan showed the world the way defiance of the international community works. And here it must be remembered that Pakistan is a much weaker country than Iran. Its an overpopulated, extremely poor country without many natural resources, and certainly with nothing like the Iranian oil-wealth. Also, Pakistan had--and has--no civilian nuclear structure, and it moved ahead despite lacking, at times, all kinds of equipment and expertise.
This is one major lesson of the Pakistani experience. No matter how weak and dependent on others, even for food and fuel, a state is, if it has the will it can push through its own nuclear program, spiting those far more powerful than it so long as those opposed are only ready to use peaceful means of persuasion. Pakistan was cut off more than once by the U.S. The Symington amendment at one point, and the Solarz amendment at another, denied Pakistan aid. But that did not stop them from going ahead with their program.
And this leads to a second important lesson of the Pakistani development. It is always possible to get by with a little help from ones friends. When the Pakistani program after years of development seemed stuck in 1983, the Chinese supplied them with the centrifuges and separation technology they could not make themselves. Pakistans rocket program would not have gotten very far without the aid of fellow nuclear bandit, North Korea. Now, while it might seem that the noose of control is tightening around Iran, there are still powers who seem willing to aid it. The Russian technicians at Bushehr continue to build this vast facility despite all U.S. pressures. The Chinese may have stopped supplying physical equipment to Iran, but they are ready to aid Iran politically, and will impose a veto on any sanctions the UN Security Council may bring up. Irans vast oil resources mean, in an energy-hungry world, that along with its radical Islamic allies it will find many other friends willing, for a sum, to supply goods and services vital to the Iranian program.
For years, the Pakistanis lied, deceived, delayed inspections, and hid various facilities. To this day, the world does not really know the extent and location of Pakistans nuclear facilities. The Iranians have already shown that they are masters of the art of deception. After having lied about their nuclear program for nineteen years, they immediately found a way out by making new promises which they broke in a few months. Here, it often seems that international inspecting teams aid those they supervise rather than impede them, for those under inspection time and again replace one set of broken commitments with another, one set of promises with another. This happens because these international bodies have by themselves no enforcement mechanisms and are reliant on the decisions of the various nations that make up the UN.
Iran can learn from Pakistan the great advantage of belonging to the large Islamic bloc, and the larger third world bloc. Again, the Pakistanis taught that it is possible to get away with it. The Iranians have by themselves been exemplifying this, but can draw additional strength from the Pakistani precedent.
The Pakistanis did, however, have an advantage that Iran lacks, at least vis-a-vis the United States. It was because the Americans needed Pakistan in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan that they chose to look the other way in the early eighties. And it is because they need the Pakistanis now in their fight against Al Qaeda and Islamic terror that the Americans are now about to raise the status of Pakistan to preferred ally. The Iranians might be worried that they are not of value to the U.S. in the same way, that they are in fact everywhere in opposition to the Americans. But then, for the Iranians, there are the Russians, the Chinese, and in another way the Europeans. There are those who can find considerable advantage in trading and doing business with Iran, and whose business interests are far more important to them than is the question of Irans nuclear power.
The great lesson, then, is that one can always find a way to rely on the cynical self-interest of some faction in world politics to push ones way forward. In this, one can expect that Irans Machiavellian artfulness will not be any less than Pakistans.
The sorry conclusion of all this is quite simple and quite sad. It is that there is no peaceful means in the world, no art of persuasion, no sanction, economic or political, which is going to halt the Iranian nuclear program. As Pakistan defied the world, so will Iran. As Pakistan lied and broke promises and got away with it, so will Iran.
And this leads to another lesson. Whether true or not, there were many rumors and reports through the years that the Pakistani program was about to be stopped. One time the rumor had to do with U.S. political and economic sanctions, and another time with the Indian threat of making war. Still another time, and this the most critical, it had to do with proposed military action against the Pakistani reactor. It was even at one point speculated that Israel and India had colluded, and that Israeli jets stationed on the Iranian-Pakistani border were waiting to receive the order to take out the Pakistani facilities in the way they took out those in Iraq. But this military action never got underway, most likely because India feared that its own citizens might be damaged by radiation that the exploded reactor would give off. There was also Indian concern about a possible Chinese response in support of Pakistan. In any case, the military operation never took place, and this enabled the Pakistani program to continue.
Iran has already made genocidal threats against Israel, and at times these have been threats of retaliation if Israel dares attack its nuclear facilities. Iran has warned the United States that it is capable of reaching U.S. Army servicemen throughout the Middle East. And, in fact, Iran is involved in action already against the U.S. in Iraq. But the point is that Iran, like Pakistan, has many ways of threatening and maneuvering so as to delay, and ultimately escape from, the military option. Pakistan reportedly had a cold bomb in 1987 but did not test until 1998, and this in response to the Indian nuclear tests the year before. No one knows for certain at this point whether or not Iran does have a few operational devices. And perhaps it is even worse than this; perhaps Iran at some site we do not know about has already produced a few nuclear weapons. In any case, the Pakistani method of continuing to go ahead with the work despite the worlds talk is probably the modus operandi of Iran also. It is working to reach the point that Pakistan has reached, where it attains so much power that the military option is simply too dangerous for the other side to try.
Pakistan got the bomb by buying a little time, and then buying a little more time. And the international supervising bodies, and now with Iran the IAEA, play the game in such a way as to be always eager to give more time. Here, too, it is important to note the decision or indecision of the major players on the other side. Essentially, every U.S. President from Nixon on who dealt with the Pakistani nuclear program put off the decision to take out these facilities by force. Every one thought that there was a little more time. This attitude of delaying and putting it off for the next guy was exploited by Pakistan. Now Iran, looking at the U.S. bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, understanding that President Bush can ill-afford a third front at this moment, will be buying time until well after the next election. The General Security Organization says Iran will have nuclear weapons by 2006. Others suggest it will be earlier, including estimates that it will be in 2004. The U.S. is not going to stop Iran before then. And so the Pakistani lesson and precedent will apparently be one appropriate to the story of Iranian nuclear development. It also does not seem likely that the overburdened Israeli government, so set on withdrawal from Gaza, wants to look at the Iranian option now. And it is very likely indeed, then, that in a few years time there will be another Islamic bomb in the world. Only this one will not be held by a relatively conservative regime of Army officers, but rather by a jihading group of religious fanatics bent on enclosing the world in their own narrow system.
Shalom Freedman is a writer living in Jerusalem, Israel.
Student protesters held in Iran
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CAIRO, Egypt -- Iranian authorities should release student protesters detained in violent demonstrations at Tehran University that began five years ago Thursday, a New York-based human rights group said.
Human Rights Watch said that an unknown number of students remained in custody out of the thousands it claimed were initially arrested. One student died during the demonstrations.
"Five years after the Tehran University protests, it's time for the Iranian government to release the peaceful protesters," Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Division, said in a statement.
"The government also needs to hold plainclothes militia accountable for the attacks on students that year."
Security forces raided a student dormitory following a peaceful demonstration, the statement said, beating students and trapping many in their rooms. The demonstrations lasted for a week, involving more than 25,000 people.
Human Rights Watch said several students had been sentenced to death, but authorities later commuted their punishments to time in prison. It also accused Iranian security authorities of torturing many imprisoned students and preventing them from seeing their lawyers.
"While many of those initially detained were released, an unknown number of student protesters remain in prison," the group alleged.
The anniversary of the beginning of the 1999 protests is usually accompanied by student demonstrations against the country's hard-line authorities, which are controlled by ruling conservative Shiite Muslim clerics.
Subsequent protests marking the 1999 demonstrations, which were the biggest and most violent anti-government action since the 1979 Islamic revolution that installed the Islamic regime, have been met by crackdowns by Iranian authorities.