Will Benjamin Nethanyahu go down in history as the Israeli prime minister who allowed Iran to build an existential threat to the Jewish state? This is how he and others read the development. In January, Defense Minister Barak said they had nine months to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Then it would be too late. In the Israeli government, it is these two who control the relationship with Iran, and they work closely together.
- What is the law and not the law within the non-proliferation agreement?
- Who are the parties to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program?
- How consistent is the outside world in its criticism of Iran?
- Where did the dialogue-oriented Obama go?
2: The escalation
When President Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq in the spring of 2003, Iran was a possible next target. During Kjell Magne Bondevik’s visit to the White House in the early summer, Bush thought highly of that possibility, but the problems in Iraq made him think about it. In 2008, the issue was raised again on Israeli initiative. Then Bush made it clear that a military attack was not on the map for the rest of his presidency. Instead, tougher sanctions, assassinations of Iranian physicists and sabotage of military and nuclear facilities followed. A computer worm, known as Stuxnet, destroyed several hundred centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant. Everything to save time.
In the autumn of 2011, tensions built up again, first with the assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador to Washington, which the United States claims was behind Iran. Then came a new IAEA report (from the International Atomic Energy Agency ) on the Iranian nuclear program. The report made extensive use of disturbing information from various Western intelligence agencies. This was followed by warnings of new Western sanctions and an attack by protesters at the British Embassy in Tehran.
At the turn of the year, Iran carried out a major military exercise in the Persian Gulf (Note our New Year’s change: Iran celebrates the New Year on the vernal equinox), and the war of words escalated. Accusations of assassination of Iranian physicists and assassination attempts on Israeli diplomats – back and forth between Iran and Israel – continue. A new round of US and European sanctions is being phased in, and in the US, the Republican presidential candidates are competing in power language against Iran.
3: Is Iran becoming a nuclear power?
The answer is that we do not know . US intelligence says that Iran had a weapons-related program until 2003, but that the weapons-oriented activities were stopped that year and have not resumed since. The head of US intelligence, James Clapper, reiterated this in a recent Senate hearing, saying it was “a high degree of certainty”.
Recent reports from the IAEA , however, show that there are indications that some of the weapons-related activities continued after 2003 and that some of them may continue to this day. Israel claims they know the Iranians are making nuclear weapons, and many Western politicians talk as if they know the same thing.
In any case, the Iranians have been slow to act . On top of the shah’s large investments in nuclear energy in the 1970s, the enrichment program – which will eventually produce the weapons material – has been going on for 25 years. In comparison, Pakistan and South Africa (no longer nuclear power) spent 12-15 years acquiring nuclear weapons.
In the West, many have been calling wolves for 10 years and saying that in one, two or three years Iran will be a nuclear power. Then they have updated their alarming predictions from year to next. Former IAEA chief Muhammed El Baradei says he has not seen any evidence, only contrived allegations. His predecessor Hans Blix is reminiscent of Iraq, where the United States and Britain claimed that there were weapons, which later turned out not to exist. It was determined by inspectors from both the UN and the United States.
Now Western countries are trying to prove intentions that may not exist. El Baradei’s successor, the Japanese Amano, has been heavily criticized for his Western orientation, and the Iran reports made under his leadership are controversial .
4: Does Iran meet its international obligations?
According to SUNGLASSESWILL, Iran is a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT) and the NPT gives member states the right to exploit nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. All countries that do not have nuclear weapons must report their nuclear activities to the IAEA, which checks that the activities are not being abused for military purposes. Until 2003, however, the enrichment program was kept secret: Thus, it was clear that Iran had violated the safeguard agreement with the IAEA. The agency listed a large number of activities that should have been reported.
That year , Iran changed course and gave the IAEA ample opportunity to inspect the facilities. The Agency (IAEA) was allowed to apply the so-called Additional Protocol to the Security Control Agreement . This makes it possible to look for activities that may not have been reported. Iran also opened up for inspection of some military installations on a voluntary basis.
From the end of 2003 to February 2006, Iran accepted more extensive inspections than any other country in the world. But when a majority in the IAEA board decided to send the Iran issue to the UN Security Council with a view to sanctions, the Iranians reverted to the original security control agreement. And it gives little opportunity to check if something is kept hidden. Since then, the Agency has gradually lost track of what is happening. Instead, it has begun loading national intelligence into its reports .
5: The historical backdrop
The strained relationship between Iran and the Western powers has deep historical roots. England and Russia fought for a long time for influence in Iran. The Tsar hijacked land, while England seized the oil. When the elected Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq came to power in 1951 and nationalized the oil industry, the British appealed to the United States to remove him. It happened in 1953, and young Muhammad Reza Pahlawi was put on the throne as the United States’ extended arm in the country . In Iran, there is still an undercurrent of suspicion against both the British and the Russians, and after the revolution in 1979, the United States is referred to as “the big satan” and Israel as the small one.
The revolution and the hostage drama – 52 US embassy employees were held hostage for 444 days – created an irreconcilable attitude in the United States. The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since then, and Americans are not allowed to have contact with Iranians unless it is politically clear. Iran is the number one enemy image of the United States . As the nuclear issue is part of a broad and deep conflict , it is difficult to find a separate solution to it regardless of the conflict in general.
6: Geopolitics and dispersal
The Iran issue is important not only in the Middle East but also globally . It is about both geopolitics and the future of the international non-proliferation regime . Geopolitically, it is a question of Iran’s future position between the West and the rapidly growing powers in the east and south, primarily the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). There are more and more indications that the basic aim of American policy is a change of regime in Iran, and the BRICS – especially China and Russia – will avoid this.
The conflict is reflected in the Syrian conflict . There, the West wants to deprive Iran of an ally while the BRICS opposes all talk of military intervention and unilateral support for the rebels. For the non-proliferation regime, it is about more than Iran. If Iran crosses the threshold and becomes a nuclear power, more countries can go in the same direction, not just in the Middle East.
That is why the Iran conflict is the same as the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians: the whole world is concerned about it. Nevertheless, the question boils down more and more to the relationship between three states: Iran, Israel and the United States. They are the ones who decide what will happen. The focus is on negotiations, sanctions, state terrorism and the use of military force.
From the end of 2003, Iran and the EU / EU3 (France, Britain and Germany) negotiated a solution to the conflict. During the negotiations, Iran suspended its enrichment activities. In August 2005, the EU came up with an offer that was rather thin. For example, many had expected that Europeans would assist Iran with power reactors, ie with peaceful use of nuclear energy, but the offer only said that they would not do anything that could prevent the market from functioning normally. But if the EU3 did not want to do anything on its own initiative, the Americans could stop selling from the EU through their patent rights. Iran perceived the whole thing as a provocation .
The United States never believed in the negotiations. At the time, the White House believed that the United States was so powerful that it was not necessary to negotiate. Conversations should rather be a reward for those who behaved as the United States wanted. Talking to the axis of evil – Iran, North Korea and Iraq – was under no circumstances relevant. In retrospect, it may seem that the Europeans were influenced by this way of thinking and therefore did not think it was necessary to offer Iran that much. In February 2006, the case went to the Security Council with a view to sanctions, and since then the conflict has intensified.
When Barack Obama became president, he said he was ready to talk to US opponents without conditions. The first negotiation meeting took place on October 1, 2009. It was a confidence-building measure: the Iranians were to give up 1,200 kg of lava-enriched uranium that they had produced themselves, in exchange for recovering fuel rods for a research reactor in Tehran. What was left in Iran would not be enough to be further refined for weapons purposes.
In new talks three weeks later, it became clear that the Iranians were unsure whether the Western powers and the Russians would keep their part of the agreement. They were the ones to deliver the fuel rods. Moreover, the internal power struggle was in Tehran after this summer’s presidential election so strong that no leader was able to pursue effective diplomacy. Obama was under pressure from an Iran-hostile opposition and had a bad time. The negotiations were therefore fruitless, and at the turn of the year 2009-2010, Obama was back on the Bush administration’s sanctions track.
This had an interesting aftermath. In 2010, Turkey and Brazil reached an agreement with Iran on the same confidence-building measure, only with better assurances for Iran. But then the Americans were no longer interested. They wanted stronger sanctions, and were able to pass a resolution on this in the UN Security Council. However, the agreement showed that it is possible to make agreements with Iran.
8: Sanctions and terror – not on purpose
After four rounds of increasingly stronger sanctions , it is not possible to get the Security Council involved in more. Instead, the US and the EU are now imposing their own sanctions on Iran’s oil trade. The United States is pressuring other countries to reduce imports from Iran. Japan has already done so and is therefore exempt from the sanctions. Now the pressure is primarily on China, India, South Korea, Turkey and South Africa. The EU will suspend all imports from 1 July.
This is hurting the Iranian economy. The average Iranian is punished the most, even the middle class. But the regime still manages to channel resources to its high-priority programs, such as the nuclear program. In Iran, this high-tech prestige program has broad support. Therefore, the sanctions do not work as intended.
Nor do the computer attacks, the killings of Iranian nuclear physicists and the sabotage of military installations. On the contrary, such activities make it easier for the Iranian authorities to call for unity against Israel, the United States and other suspected culprits. Admittedly, the rivalry in the leadership is strong and the popular dissatisfaction with the regime is widespread, but the pressure from outside means that the opposition has poor working conditions.
9: Use of force
New negotiations are underway , but Obama has little room for maneuver (upcoming presidential elections, etc.). From the Israeli point of view, negotiations are a waste of time. There is no indication that the sanctions and terrorist acts will cause Iran to change its strategic calculations. Therefore, supporters of the bombing may soon claim that all other possibilities have been tried.
But not right yet. During Nethanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, the United States and Israel approached each other. Nethanyahu said he was willing to wait for the results of the sanctions and negotiations: both he and Barak now say they do not need to act in the coming weeks or months. Obama recognizes the Israelis’ right to act on their own and is supposed to give them more of their strongest conventional bombs.
He emphasizes that a new war in the Middle East is a lesser evil than Iran with nuclear weapons , and that he does not bluff when he says he will attack before Iran eventually crosses the threshold. Such a war would be a blatant violation of international law and trigger strong reactions around the world, but they seem to care little about it.
This is a high stakes game for a president who does not want a new war at all with unforeseen consequences in an election year. If Iran does not offer surprising concessions, the talks will be short-lived. The effect of the sanctions is also not much to wait for, because it is quite clear that they do not stop the nuclear program. In the early summer, the supporters of bombing may therefore have strengthened their case.
So why is Iran not giving in to the pressure on them? This is not the first time Tehran’s decision – makers have seen life and death in white. In the 1980s, they fought a bloody war against Saddam Hussein, who was backed by all the great powers except China. The war veterans – not just the Revolutionary Guards – have now taken leading political positions. They are not suicidal, but neither are they easily intimidated. Iran is a proud nation with rich traditions.
Attack routes and attack targets
The shortest route from Israel to Iran is across Jordan and Iraq. Israel can use aircraft and ground and submarine-based missiles and has received powerful conventional bombs, so-called bunker-busters, from the United States. Jordan will probably let the planes pass and Iraq is virtually without air force. There are also other possible routes, and there is speculation about the use of airports in Azerbaijan for stopovers.
The Natanz enrichment plant, a gas-to-gas uranium conversion plant near Esfahan , the Arak heavy water and reactor buildings and a new enrichment plant near Qom ( Fodo ) will be among the most important targets. The latter is built so deep into the mountains that it is difficult to destroy with conventional weapons. This is the facility the Israelis refer to when they say that time is running out. The nuclear program has many other known haunts and probably also many unknown ones, and Israel is hardly capable of carrying out many waves of attacks over such a great distance.
An attack will put the Iranian nuclear program back, but could quickly become a costly victory . For one thing, the countermeasures, which can set large parts of the Middle East on fire. Another is that the program will most likely continue afterwards, and then with renewed vigor and without inspection rights for the IAEA. If the target has not been nuclear weapons before, it will most likely be then.