From Baghdad to Tehran?

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Posted by Andreas from ( on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 at 12:08PM :

1) From Baghdad to Tehran?
2) Will Iran Be Next?


From Baghdad to Tehran?

By Jim Lobe | May 7, 2003
Editor: John Gershman, Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)
Editor's Note: This piece was commissioned under the auspices of the Project
Against the Present Danger.

With Iraq under U.S. occupation and Syria's leaders shaken by a series of
high-level threats from top Bush administration officials, Iran has come
under increased U.S. pressure. As officials in Washington talk about
"Iranian agents" crossing the border into Iraq to foment trouble for the
U.S. occupation, a leading neoconservative strategist Monday said the United
States is already in a "death struggle" with Tehran, and he urged the
administration of President George W. Bush to "take the fight to Iran,"
through "covert operations," among other measures.

The appeal by the chief editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol,
followed last week's surprise announcement that U.S. military forces had
signed a surrender agreement with rebel Iranian forces based in Iraq that
permits them to retain their weapons and equipment, including tanks, despite
their formal designation by the State Department as a terrorist group. The
agreement between the military and the Mujahedeen Khalq sparked speculation
that Washington may deploy the group, which had been supported by Baghdad
for more than 20 years, against Tehran or its allies in Iraq, despite its
terrorist tactics.

"The liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of the
Middle East," wrote Kristol in the Standard's latest issue. "The next great
battle--not, we hope, a military battle--will be for Iran. We are already in
a death struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq," added the editor, who
is closely associated with Richard Perle and other neoconservatives in the
Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB).

Hawks and Realists Tangle Again

Kristol's blast reflects the ongoing and increasingly intense policy debate
within the administration between hawks centered in the Defense Department
and Vice President Dick Cheney's office on the one hand and "realists" in
the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on the other.

The Islamic government in Tehran, long accused by Washington of being the
word's most active supporter of international terrorism, primarily due to
its backing of Lebanon's Hezbollah, has been a particular target for
neoconservatives like Kristol, who see it as the greatest long-term threat
to Israel, especially now that Baghdad is in U.S. hands.

In an open letter to Bush sent on Sep. 20, 2001--just nine days after the
September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the influential
Project for the New American Century (PNAC), chaired by Kristol, called for
Washington to deliver an ultimatum to both Syria and Iran demanding a halt
to their support for Hezbollah. "Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the
administration should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against
these known state sponsors of terrorism," urged the letter, whose agenda for
the anti-terrorist campaign so far has been followed in virtually each
detail, from the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq, to
the cutting off of U.S. support for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In
fact, intelligence reports claim that supplies to Hezbollah have fallen off
fairly sharply in the past year, but the neoconservatives and other hawks
are now claiming that Tehran is determined to make Washington's stay in Iraq

Despite informal but relatively high-level diplomatic contacts between the
two countries--which broke off formal ties after the U.S. embassy seizure in
Tehran in late 1979--in the run-up to the war, the hawks are claiming that
Iran failed to cooperate during the actual hostilities and is now actively
undermining U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq. In an article appearing in last
week's The New Republic, Eli Lake, a reporter with close ties to
administration hardliners, claimed that Iran has not only provided safe
haven to a number of Iraqi and Islamist fugitives wanted by Washington, but
has also planned to infiltrate its own paramilitary units to create
confusion on the ground.

In addition, U.S. media reports for the past two weeks have been filled with
assertions about "Iranian agents" in the Shiite community in Iraq whose goal
is to back local clerics in a bid to create an "Iranian-style Islamic
Republic." Shiites constitute about 60% of Iraq's population. Their main
instrument for this effort, according to the accounts, is the Tehran-based
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) headed by
Abdulaziz Hakim and his brother Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim. They have
been coy about their participation in U.S. efforts to establish an Iraqi
governing council over the next month.
Kristol's article reflects the thinking of a number of neoconservative
strategists who have been arguing virtually since September 11 that the
Iranian people, especially the youth, are ready to rise up against the
mullahs, including the reformists led by President Mohammed Khatami, the
minute Washington installs a secular, democratic government next door in
Iraq. "The theocrats ruling Iran understand that the stakes are now double
or nothing," according to Kristol. "They can stay in power by disrupting
efforts to create a pluralist, non-theocratic, Shia-majority state next
door--or they can fail, as success in Iraq sounds the death knell for the
Iranian revolution."

The hawks have been encouraged in that view by much of the Iranian exile
community, according to Gary Sick, a Columbia University expert who served
on the National Security Council under the Carter administration. "The
argument among the American ayatollahs (of conservatism) is that the only
solution for Iran is to get rid of the regime," says Sick. "They say that
the Iranian people are ready to rise up, the regime is about to collapse,
but people in Iran say this is just nonsense. The situation in Iran was far
more unsettled in 1999 than it is now," added Sick, who noted that
suspicions among Iranians that Washington is already trying to manipulate
the internal situation is "complicating the life of (Iran's) reformers."

But, notes Richard Augustus Norton, an expert on Shia Islam at Boston
University and a retired U.S. army colonel who served in UN operations in
Lebanon, the neoconservative approach "plays into the hands of the
hard-liners [in Iran]. The Bush people are certainly right that there is a
large constituency within Iran that favors better ties [with the U.S.]. But
most Iranians, including the reformers, regard the government as
legitimate." Norton continued, "It seems that Kristol and others are more
intent on creating chaos and instability than they are with changing things
for the better."

The fact that prominent neoconservatives closely tied to administration
hawks are now calling for covert action against Tehran, combined with the
surrender accord with the Mujahedeen, will, in any case, make it far more
difficult for forces with influence in Iran to press for cooperation with
Washington. Sick said he was "totally surprised" by the surrender accord,
whose details still have not been released. "The notion that we would join
forces with (the Mujahedeen) really undercuts the whole idea of our war on
terrorism," he noted, and will preclude "any kind of working arrangement
with Iran."

But Kristol and his comrades in and out of the administration insist that
there is no point in working with Tehran anyway and much to be gained by
helping oust the "theocrats." "Iran is the tipping point in the war on
proliferation, the war on terror, and the effort to reshape the Middle East.
If Iran goes pro-Western and anti-terror, positive changes in Syria and
Saudi Arabia will follow much more easily. And the chances for an
Israeli-Palestinian settlement will greatly improve," wrote Kristol.

(Jim Lobe <> is a political analyst with Foreign Policy
in Focus (online at He also writes regularly for Inter Press


Will Iran Be Next?

by Mark Gaffney:

05/08/03: (Information Clearing House) Those who have hoped that a U.S.
military victory in Iraq would somehow bring about a more peaceful world are
in for a rude awakening. The final resolution of this war and the U.S.
occupation of Iraq will likely not be the end, rather, only the prelude to a
succession of future crises: in Kashmir, Syria, North Korea, and Iran. This
article will focus primarily on the latter case.

In the coming months the United States and its ally Israel will either
accede to the existence of an Iranian nuclear power program, or take steps
to prevent it. At the eye of the storm is Iran's nuclear power plant at
Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, currently under construction. The reactor is
scheduled for completion later this year. Its nuclear fuel rods will then be
delivered. By June 2004 it should be fully operational. The controversial
project has been in the works for more than a quarter century. As it nears
completion, tensions between Iran and the U.S./Israel are sure to rise. Iran
is a signatory of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which affirms the right
of states in good standing to develop nuclear power for peaceful use.
Although there is no evidence Iran has yet violated the NPT, the U.S. and
Israel believe that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. This is the crux of the
problem. And two recently discovered Iranian nuclear sites, at Arak and at
Natanz, have only heightened suspicions.

It is very possible--some would say probable--that the U.S., possibly in
conjunction with Israel, will launch a "preventive" raid and destroy the
Bushehr reactor before it goes on line. Such a raid would be fateful for the
region and the world. It would trigger another Mideast war, and possibly a
confrontation with Russia, with effects that are difficult to predict. A war
with Iran might bring about the collapse of the NPT, lead to a new arms
race, and plunge the world into nuclear chaos. Such a crisis holds the
potential to bring the world to the nuclear brink. This article will review
the background, and provide an analysis. I will discuss the reactor at
Bushehr first, then the other suspect sites.

The Reactor at Bushehr

The Bushehr nuclear plant has a long history. Launched in 1974, the project
was the showcase of the late Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. The original plan
called for the construction of two 1200-1300 megawatt reactors on the
southern Iran coast, side by side. The contractor was the Siemens company, a
well-known German firm. The project was 85% finished at the time of the 1979
Iranian revolution, when work was halted. During Iran's subsequent war with
Iraq the unfinished reactors were bombed repeatedly, and severely damaged.
After the war Iran attempted to persuade Siemens to finish the project,
without success, due to increased proliferation concerns and heavy U.S.
pressure on Germany.

U.S. support for the Shah's dictatorial regime undoubtedly set the stage for
the 1979 Islamic revolution, when radical students, backed by the Ayatollah
Khomeini, seized the U.S. embassy and held American diplomats hostage for
444 days. The resulting break in U.S.-Iran relations has never healed.
During the 1981-1988 Iran-Iraq war the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein, who
was perceived as a bulwark against revolutionary Shi'ism, just as Hitler,
many years before, was mistakenly perceived by some in the West as a bulwark
against Soviet communism. Nevertheless, the U.S. supplied both sides with
arms. During the war, the U.S. policy was: let them destroy each other--a
policy that was unworthy of a Christian nation.

At the start of the Bush Presidency there were signs that relations with
Tehran might improve. Positive statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell
were reciprocated by Iran's foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi. Then came Bush'
s "axis of evil" speech, which dashed hopes of a thaw. The current U.S.
policy of vilification has been attributed to Pentagon hawks and to Israeli
PM Ariel Sharon's supporters in the Bush administration. Last November,
Sharon called upon the U.S. to bring about regime change in Tehran, after
first dealing with Iraq. (Mansour Farhang, "A Triangle of Realpolitik" The
Nation, March 17, 2003) And similar statements have been made by rightist
commentators in the U.S. press.

The U.S. blocked several attempts by Iran to enlist a contractor to complete
the Bushehr reactor; until, finally, in 1995, after ten years of shopping,
Iran signed a $800 million deal with Victor Mikhailov, chief of Minatom, the
Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy. The Russians agreed to finish reactor-1,
and have been on site ever since. The project has been plagued by technical
problems and repeated delays. The Russian engineers were compelled to modify
the original German design. But, apparently, all of the problems have now
been overcome, and reactor-1, slightly downsized to 1000 Megawatts, is
finally nearing completion. It will go on line as early as December 2003.
But reactor-1 is only the beginning. Iran envisions as many as five
additional 1000 megawatt reactors. Iran has received nuclear technology from
China, Russia, and several other nations. But Russia has been the principal
supplier since the mid-90s .

The Russians have stubbornly resisted U.S. pressure to cancel the project.
Russia, perennially strapped for cash, desperately needs the foreign
exchange. One Minatom official claimed that the project had already
generated 20,000 Russian jobs, with the promise of more to come. The
Russians foresee an expanding nuclear relationship, and have rejected U.S.
enticements. Moscow clearly regards its commerce with Iran as a matter of
national pride/prestige.

Russia has also refused the U.S. demand for special inspections. The
Russians point out that the reactor will be subject to International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight. The IAEA visited Bushehr and other suspect
sites after the first Gulf War, and as recently as February 2003, with no
violations reported. Washington remains unconvinced, however. While all of
Iran's nuclear facilities are subject to IAEA oversight, Iran has refused,
thus far, to accept the new safeguards introduced in 1993 to overcome past
failings. The strengthened protocols are "capable of detecting future
Iraqs," according to Khidhir Hamza, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist. Iran's
refusal has undermined confidence. (Khidhir Hamza, "Inside Saddam's secret
nuclear program," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 1998)

Russia did agree to drop the most objectionable part of the deal, the
transfer of gas centrifuge technology. The light water reactor will be
fueled with low enriched uranium (LEU) supplied by Russia. LEU fuel is not
suitable for bombs. Moscow also made another concession: it agreed to return
the reactor's spent fuel to Russia for storage. This will greatly reduce the
risk of a diversion of plutonium. To allow for this the Russian government
had to modify existing Russian law. (Christine Kucia, "Russia, Iran Finalize
Spent Fuel Agreement," Arms Control Today, January/February 2003)

After failing to block the deal outright, President Clinton imposed sweeping
sanctions on Iran to prevent the sale of dual-use technologies. Some of Iran
's procurement activities had raised eyebrows in Washington. The U.S. also
lobbied others to join in the embargo, with only limited success. Germany
and France took umbrage at the policy.

The Iranian government has flatly denied the charges of proliferation. The
Iranians have also protested the punitive U.S. treatment, which they regard
as a violation of their right under article IV of the Nonproliferation
Treaty (NPT) to develop nuclear power for peaceful use. In May 1995 Iranian
President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told ABC News that Iran was not
seeking nuclear weapons. Rafsanjani challenged the critics to produce
evidence of a secret bomb program. As recently as December 2002 the current
Iranian president Mohammad Khatami stated that his country's willingness to
return the spent fuel to Russia shows good faith, and demonstrates that his
country has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. Iranian officials
have stressed that the Bushehr reactor is urgently needed to fill a
shortfall of electric-generating capacity. Iran, like other countries, needs
electricity for development.

Israel and the U.S. have not been mollified. Israeli officials questioned
why Iran, blessed with an abundance of oil, needs reactors for electrical
generation. And recent statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell echoed
this theme. The point is well taken. Iran's leaders are badly informed if
they believe nuclear power is the long-term solution to their energy needs.
Nuclear power is inappropriate for Iran for the same reasons that it is
inappropriate for any state, including the U.S. The reasons include the
grave risks of nuclear accidents and terrorism, as well as the unresolved
waste disposal problem-not to mention the diabolical possibility, however
remote, that spent fuel might be diverted for reprocessing and bombmaking.
The Iranians need to understand that such a diversion would ultimately
threaten them.

The U.S. Record

Nevertheless, the critics, especially those in the U.S., have conveniently
forgotten the central role the U.S. played over many years in touting the
"many peaceful applications of nuclear energy." The critics need to be
reminded that it was the U.S., no one else, who, beginning in the 1950s,
aggressively promoted the miracle of cheap and inexhaustible nuclear energy
for world economic development. That "vision" was conceived in Washington,
not Tehran. Are we now to hold the Iranians responsible because the failed
U.S. policy succeeded too well? Are the Iranians to blame because they
internalized the false values that Washington strove mightily to inculcate
worldwide? The Iranians are not alone. In recent years China and India have
also purchased reactors from Russia. And China has even begun exporting
reactor technology. China and Russia are both driven by the need for foreign
exchange. In this they mirror past policy decisions born in the U.S.A.

We must be honest about this. Despite the optimistic forecasts of the early
years, and the promises of an end to world poverty, the U.S. Atoms for Peace
program was not motivated by altruism. From the outset, Washington's atomic
program was driven by self-interest. The U.S. nuclear industry figured to
cash in on the "vision." The export of safe and clean nuclear technology was
to become a major growth industry. Little or no thought, until much later,
was given to the dark underside, the grave risks and many hidden costs. No
one thought to ask whether the nuclear path itself might be the problem. In
the words of Amory Lovins, "Atoms for Peace was one of the stupidest ideas
of our time, conceived in a spirit of political daydreaming, commercial
euphoria, and scientific amnesia." In our enthusiasm to promote nuclear we
happily supplied know-how, including research reactors, all with indirect
military utility, to just about anyone, including Israel, the Shah, and many
others. If the "hard path" still radiates prestige in world capitols, we in
the U.S. have only ourselves to blame. The heady promises of cheap, clean
and unlimited electricity for economic development have become sand in an
hourglass that is about to run out.

Had we in the U.S. wisely acknowledged that our commitment to nuclear was a
mistake, had we renounced the nuclear path, had we launched a Manhattan
Project, urgently needed, to convert the U.S. economy to run on clean
hydrogen fuel and other renewables, we would now be in a position of world
leadership. Unfortunately, it never happened. One searches the U.S. record
in vain for moral high ground. The half-life of President Clinton's 1994
decision to supply North Korea with two light-water reactors will haunt
Washington for years to come. Clinton's reactor deal with Pyongyang made a
mockery of his opposition to Russia's similar assistance to Iran. Clinton's
policy position that Russian light-water reactors are dangerous, while ours
are safe, was laid to rest by a 1999 Congressional study which revealed that
the spent fuel from the reactors planned for North Korea would not be as
"proliferation resistant" as claimed. Sufficient plutonium for as much as
fifty bombs/year could be extracted from the waste. Despite the report,
construction of the North Korean reactors started last year, and continues,
though it is a safe bet they will never be completed.

The Bush-Cheney White House likes to blame Clinton. But the Bush-Cheney
record is no better. During the run-up to the last presidential election
V.P. candidate Dick Cheney vigorously touted the benefits of nuclear power.
As late as May 2001 Cheney was promoting the next generation of nuclear
reactors as safe, and also good for the environment, since they emit few
greenhouse gases. I should add: the V.P. made a point of explicitly
rejecting conservation and renewable alternatives. Then came 911, and the
slow dawning realization of the true risks of nuclear terrorism. As my
friend Harvey Wasserman at Greenpeace likes to point out, had the two planes
hit the Indian Point nuclear reactor located just a few miles north of
Manhattan instead of the World Trade Towers, most of New England today would
be a toxic wasteland, rendered uninhabitable for thousands of years. This is
the plain truth, no exaggeration. Unfortunately, reality is in short supply
at the White House. The facts have not yet penetrated what Seymour Hersh
calls the advisory "cocoon" around the president. The Bush policy is: never
speak ill of industry. Despite 911, there has been no retreat from nuclear
by the U.S., here where it counts most, however well-advised such a retreat
might be.

Regarding nuclear weapons, the U.S. record is just as bleak. In February
2003 there was a White House leak--probably intended--that next summer
President Bush will convene a conference of experts to discuss the next
generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. (Julian Borger, "U.S. Plan For New
Nuclear Arsenal: Secret Talks May Lead to Breaking Treaties," The Guardian
UK, February 19, 2003) The leak was no surprise, given the change in U.S.
military doctrine announced last September to a policy of preemptive attack.
That change paved the way for the "preventive" invasion of Iraq, which has
effectively frozen further U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions. The shift
in military doctrine was unprecedented, yet stirred hardly a ripple in the
U.S. media. Most Americans probably do not even know that it happened, or do
not understand the significance. The fact that the U.S. government has
embraced a first-strike nuclear posture is America's best-kept open secret.
No doubt, the next generation of U.S. nukes will be smarter and leaner,
designed not for deterrence but for actual use. And, no doubt, we will be
told that their purpose is defensive, i.e., to save the lives of U.S.
servicemen and women. Tell a small lie and you only make people suspicious.
Tell a whopper and they fall at your feet.

Arak and Natanz

Events took a dangerous turn in August 2002 when an Iranian opposition
group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), staged a press
conference in Washington DC and reported the existence of two previously
unknown nuclear facilities in Iran. The first, located at Arak, 150
kilometers south of Tehran, is believed to be a plant for manufacturing
heavy-water. The other, at Natanz, about 100 kilometers north of Esfahan, is
probably a uranium-enrichment facility. Neither is operational yet--both are
under construction. Satellite photoanalysis of the Natanz site shows that
part of the facility is being constructed below ground, and hardened with
thick concrete walls. (Click here for photos and commentary)

Days later, Iranian officials acknowledged the sites. They also announced
long-range plans for a complete nuclear fuel cycle. The Iranians, in other
words, intend to develop their own fuel processing capability. The country
has an abundance of uranium ore. In March 2003 Iranian officials announced
the completion of a fuel fabrication plant near Esfahan that will soon start
production. (Paul Kerr, "IAEA 'Taken Aback' By Speed Of Iran's Nuclear
Program," Arms Control Today April 2003)

All of this raises troubling questions about Iran's nuclear intentions.
Heavy-water is used as a moderator in some reactors. The problem is that
this type of reactor lends itself to the production of plutonium for bombs.
Israel is known to have made the plutonium for its nuclear arsenal in a
reactor of this kind. The reactor at Bushehr was specifically designed to
use light-water to make recovery of plutonium more difficult. Why, then, do
the Iranians need heavy-water, when light-water reactors could supply the
needed electricity with greater transparency? A heavy-water plant implies a
heavy-water reactor. As of yet, however, its location remains unknown.

Also: Why does Iran need a uranium-enrichment plant, given that Russia will
provide LEU fuel for the Bushehr reactor, and could do the same for future
reactors? Why are buildings at Natanz being constructed underground? Why are
they being hardened? The fact that Iran is building a uranium-enrichment
facility means that Iran already has gas centrifuge technology. Who supplied

While there is no evidence that Iran has violated the NPT--yet--the facts
are alarming. The NPT stipulates that each signatory must work out a
safeguards arrangement with the IAEA. Both of the recently disclosed nuclear
sites will be subject to IAEA inspections. However, Iran's agreement does
not require inspections of a new facility until six months prior to the
first arrival of nuclear material. The facilities at Arak and Natanz appear
to be considerably more than six months from completion; hence, no
violation. Still, questions remain. Why did Iran inform the IAEA about these
plants only after the NCRI forced the issue? The fact that Iran intends to
make its own LEU will make transparency more problematic. Even if Natanz is
inspected regularly, what would stop Iran from enriching uranium to
weapons-grade, i.e., 90%+, at a hidden facility? Clearly, Iran's leaders are
playing a dangerous game, staying within the letter of the NPT, yet building
up a nuclear infrastructure that could be used to make bombs in the future.

Israel's record

The Israelis have charged that Russia's nuclear commerce with Iran is
politically motivated: aimed at the U.S. presence in the Gulf. While there
is probably some truth to this, the same criticism could be leveled at
Israel. During the Apartheid years Israel engaged in massive nuclear
commerce with Pretoria, with effects that were felt throughout southern
Africa. The alliance included trade in uranium, transfers of weapons
technology, and cooperation in staging at least one joint nuclear test--for
which Israel has never been held accountable. (See my book Dimona the Third
Temple, 1989, chapters four and five) The relationship flourished for more
than a decade. And though it did not survive the dissolution of Apartheid,
the Israeli government simply shifted venues. India became the latest
partner of convenience. By the year 2000 Israel's nuclear commerce with
India reportedly reached $500 million per year. (Yossi Melman, "India's
Visiting strongman Wants to Expand Nuclear Cooperation with Israel,"
Ha'aretz, June 16, 2000)

The relationship with India has continued to expand, and is surely causing
grave concerns in Islamabad. If the recent reports are correct that Pakistan
supplied gas centrifuge technology to North Korea in exchange for missiles,
this means an arms race is currently raging out of control in southern Asia.
("U.S. Says Pakistan Gave Technology to North Korea," The New York Times,
Oct. 18, 2002) Such a move by Pakistan smacks of desperation. The prospect
of future transfers of Pakistani gas centrifuge technology is frightening.
But Israel's role in all of this, making a bad situation worse, has never
been discussed, or even mentioned, in American discourse, insofar as I know.
It is simply assumed that Israel can do as it pleases. Israel's nuclear
trade with India raises serious questions, not the least of which is whether
Israel could be destabilizing the Indian sub-continent.

I should add: the U.S. record in South Asia is no better. U.S.
nonproliferation policy vis-a-vis Pakistan over many years has been a model
of inconsistency and short-term expedience. The facts are disgraceful, and
reveal Washington's total lack of seriousness about limiting the spread of
nuclear weapons.

U.S. policy has been more consistent in the case of Iran, probably because
there is no official relationship. Under U.S. pressure, Russia agreed to
drop several missile technology deals with Tehran in the late 1990s, a
positive move. (Scott Peterson, "Russian nuclear know-how pours into Iran,"
Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2002) Still, the Israelis complain that
Russian assistance, including missile guidance technology, has continued.
Especially troubling is the specter of "loose" Russian scientists, which
prompted the Clinton administration to slap sanctions on several Russian
scientific institutions/companies. (Aluf Benn, "The Russian-Iranian
Connection," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2001) While
the slow and halting development of an Iranian intermediate range missile is
cause for concern, given Israel's tiny size, hence its unique vulnerability,
similar charges, again, could be leveled at Israel, which acquired French
missile technology as early as 1963. Israel's Jericho missile makes Iran's
efforts look primitive. Israel even has a space program, and has been
launching satellites since 1988.

The U.S. has sought to thwart the transfer of Russian missile technology to
Iran. But did the U.S. similarly try to block Israel's acquisition from
Germany a few years ago of three Dolphin-class submarines capable of
launching conventional and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles? Did the U.S. even
complain? Of course not. As I've observed, it is assumed that Israel can do
as it pleases. The 1,720-ton diesel-electric submarines are among the most
technically advanced subs of their kind in the world. Each can be equipped
with four cruise missiles, which Israel reportedly tested in the Indian
Ocean in 1999. (Uzi Mahnaimi and Matthew Campbell, "Israel Makes Nuclear
Waves with Submarine Missile Test," London Sunday Times, June 18, 2000) The
subs will cruise the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and, ominously, the Persian
Gulf--which tends to confirm the views of the late Israeli scholar, Israel
Shahak, a leading dissident, who argued that Israel's strategic goal is
hegemony from Morocco to Pakistan. (See Israel Shahak, Open Secrets, 1997,
chapters four and eight)

The prospect of nuclear-armed Israeli subs patrolling the coasts of Iran and
Pakistan is disturbing. The forward deployment of Israeli nukes is
unprecedented, and dangerous. It can only inflame tensions in the region. As
early as 1983 a U.S. Naval commander, E.V. Ortlieb, warned against the
forward deployment of nukes, which can put a naval officer in the unenviable
position of having to use his weapons, or face losing them. (E.V. Ortlieb,
"Forward Deployments: Deterrent, or Temptation?", Proceedings, U.S. Naval
Institute, December, 1983)

Even if Israel makes a determined effort to avoid a confrontation on the
high seas, the Israeli patrols could still trigger a crisis. Accidents do
happen, as we know from two recent incidents: the unfortunate collision near
Pearl Harbor of a U.S. Navy submarine with a Japanese fishing boat, and the
mid-air encounter of a U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter while on patrol
off the coast of China. If such snafus can happen to the U.S., they can
certainly happen to Israel, and in circumstances that are far from
congenial. Has the U.S. protested Israel's forward deployment of nukes on
the high seas? Of course not. Washington does not protest weapons that
(officially) do not exist. The U.S. government has never acknowledged that
Israel possesses nuclear weapons, even though the world knows otherwise,
thanks to the whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu. (London Sunday Times, Oct. 5,
1986) The continuing policy of denial can only hinder efforts to "rein in"
Israel in the event of a nuclear crisis. One could hardly imagine a more
explosive mix.

Israel's decision to patrol Persian Gulf waters with nuclear-armed subs
seems perversely calculated to strengthen Iranian fundamentalists while
undermining moderates who would prefer to denuclearize the Middle East and
pursue a less costly and much less risky path of negotiations and military
disengagement. Of course, President Bush's decision to invade neighboring
Iraq, and the continuing presence of the nuclear-armed U.S. fleet in the
Gulf have, no doubt, produced the same effect, probably magnified several

Current U.S/Israeli policies have all the earmarks of a self-fulfilling
prophecy. President Bush lied to Congress when he presented forged documents
about Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons program. (Seymour Hersh, "Who Lied to
Whom?", The New Yorker, March 20, 2003) The documents were phony. But that
didn't matter. The president got his sanction for war. Bush went on to
invade a nation that did NOT have nukes (Iraq), while studiously ignoring
the provocations of North Korea, which included nuclear taunts. The men
around Bush were determined to follow their Iraqi playbook. North Korean
leader Kim Jong-il spoiled everything by inconveniently rearing his ugly
head out of turn. Consider the resounding signal that Bush's war sent like a
shot 'round the world. We were told that the war's purpose was to roll back
Iraqi WMD (none of which have so far been found). But the actual message was
different. Indeed, as the U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix pointed out, Bush
sent precisely the wrong signal. The actual message is that the U.S. only
attacks countries that cannot defend themselves. Under the circumstances,
who could blame Iran's leaders if they should take the actual message to
heart, and decide tomorrow to withdraw from the NPT, as North Korea has
done, and openly develop nuclear weapons? Who could blame them for
concluding that their best chance to avert U.S. aggression is to arm
themselves with nukes as soon as possible?

At this juncture it seems unlikely that Iran can allay the current high
level of distrust and avoid a confrontation simply by agreeing to the
strengthened IAEA protocols. Inspections anywhere, anytime are certainly
needed, and a step in the right direction. But this will probably not be
enough. What would stop Iran in the future from bolting the NPT, and
building bombs?

A Sane Solution to the Current Crisis

The cases of Iran and North Korea reveal the fundamental weakness of the
NPT. If the nonproliferation regime is to survive, sweeping reforms must be
introduced. The sane path would be for the U.S. to immediately convene an
international conference, at which all of the signatories would sit down (in
concert with the U.N.) and hammer out a resolution of the impasse. This
might be achieved by: 1. Revoking the withdrawal clause (under article X);
and 2. Providing a robust mechanism for common security. Drastic action
would be needed, because the only effective way to provide for common
security would be to replace the U.N. Security Council veto with a simple
2/3 majority vote in the event of an overt nuclear threat/attack. This would
enable the Security Council to swiftly come to the assistance of a member
state. The absence of such a provision has long plagued the U.N., and
probably explains why India and Israel refused to sign the NPT in 1968. In
the absence of credible security guarantees, both opted to provide for their
own security needs. And Pakistan was compelled to follow suit simply to
match rival India. The key to a new global security framework would depend
upon success in persuading the current non-signatories to realize the many
benefits of common security at a tiny fraction of the immense costs and
risks of building and maintaining a nuclear deterrent. (Avner Cohen, Israel
and the Bomb, 1998, pp. 123-7, 287-9; also see William Epstein, The Last
Chance, 1976, p. 222)

The two reforms would work together in synergy. The revocation of the
withdrawal clause is also essential, because the commitment to
non-proliferation must be made irreversible. Locking states into the NPT
would create strong incentives to remain honest. The threat of U.N.
sanctions would be a powerful deterrent. Of course, to win the support of
member states like Iran for such reform, Israel, Pakistan and India would
have to enter into the discussions, agree to sign a strengthened treaty,
open their nuclear sites to inspection, and begin to deconstruct their
nuclear arsenals. If this sounds like fantasy, the alternative future, i.e.,
nuclear terrorism, is positively surreal.

The above proposal--I recognize--is no substitute for global conversion to
clean hydrogen fuel and renewable wind and solar. But it would have the
salutary effect of buying time for the NPT: it would create a breathing
space in which a transition to clean energy might proceed. Such a proposal
is reasonable. Yes, and for this reason it probably has no chance of gaining
serious consideration in the Bush White House. The men around the president
have already demonstrated their contempt for international treaties and for
the hard work of negotiations. Diplomacy? That's for wimps and hand
wringers. The administration has already rejected out of hand the Kyoto
protocols for climate change, and has refused to participate in the
International War Crimes Tribunal. It has scrapped its own ABM treaty, and
shredded the U.N. Charter. So it is probably too much to expect that Bush
would attempt, at this date, to strengthen the NPT through existing legal
frameworks. Nor is it likely, in any event, that the U.S. would voluntarily
surrender its U.N. veto, even to prevent nuclear war. The U.S.--recall--has
itself refused to rule out nuclear first use. How ironic that the Bush
administration would view a robust mechanism for global security as a
hindrance to unilateralism! The only remaining question is: what treaty will
Bush trash next? The NPT?

Tensions in the Gulf will mount in the coming months. The reactor at Bushehr
could be the flash-point. Israeli officials have warned that they will not
tolerate their enemies to develop nuclear power, even for peaceful use. The
shock waves of a raid on Bushehr would be felt far beyond the Mideast.


The precedent for such a raid occurred on June 7, 1981, when Israeli PM
Menachem Begin ordered an attack on the Osirak nuclear plant near Baghdad.
Within hours a squadron of Israeli F-15s and F-16s reduced Osirak to smoking
rubble. The reactor was scheduled to go on line within days or weeks. Much
of the world responded by condemning Israel. The reactor had been under
French contract, and, like Bushehr, was also subject to IAEA inspections.
Most believed, at the time, that Iraq was in full compliance with the NPT.
While there is no evidence Iraq planned to secretly divert plutonium from
the reactor for reprocessing and weapons, after the 1991 Gulf War U.N.
Special Committee (UNSCOM) inspectors discovered massive evidence of a
clandestine Iraqi uranium-enrichment program, involving calutrons
(cyclotrons). At which point, many observers dropped their former criticism
and began to praise the Israeli logic of preemption. Today, those "lessons"
have become official U.S. military doctrine.

The problem is that the evidence does not support the conclusion. The
discovery by UNSCOM of the secret Iraqi bomb program showed the efficacy NOT
of preemption but of inspections. Although U.S. intelligence agencies may
have been aware that the Saudis were secretly funding an Iraqi bomb program,
the calutrons appear to have escaped detection by U.S. surveillance. Saddam'
s uranium-enrichment program was completely untouched during the war,
despite massive U.S. bombing. The calutrons were found and destroyed because
the international community, i.e., the U.N., made a firm commitment to
inspections. And this success story, which remains untold and largely
unknown in the U.S., happened despite the Clinton policy of regime change,
which often conflicted with the U.N.'s stated mission of disarming Iraq.
(Milan Rai,War Plan Iraq, 2002) Israel's 1981 raid may even have prodded
Saddam Hussein to launch (or accelerate) his clandestine bomb program.
Certainly the raid did not prevent an Iraqi bomb. For similar reasons, a
solo raid on Bushehr would not block Iran from developing nukes, and might
even provoke a decision in Tehran to do so.

A raid on Bushehr would likely be the opening salvo in another "preventive"
war: a series of air attacks aimed at Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Israel
could not mount such a campaign by itself, for geographic and logistical
reasons. It would require full U.S. involvement. Not surprisingly, Israel's
hard-line supporters have sought for many years to persuade Washington of
the need for just such a military solution to the Iranian "problem." No
sooner did the dust settle following the first Gulf War than the lobbying
began in earnest. And many of those who led the charge currently hold high
positions in the Bush government. Need I mention that such a war would only
confirm to the world what many in the region have long believed: that U.S.
Mideast policy is not only about oil. It is also about serving the narrow
interests of a recalcitrant Israel. (Israel Shahak, Open Secrets, 1997,
chapters four and eight)

Such an air war would be launched from bases in neighboring Iraq, and from
carriers in the Gulf. Israel might join in the attacks. U.S-Israeli military
cooperation increased after 911. Since 1997 the Israeli Air Force has
conducted annual training exercises in Turkey, presumably to prepare for
just such a war. Turkey has rugged terrain similar to Iran's. According to
Noam Chomsky, before the current conflict some 10% of the Israeli Air Force
was permanently based in Turkey. (personal communication, April 16, 2003)

Would such an air war succeed? Yes, perhaps, then again, maybe not. In their
current state of hubris the men around the president obviously believe they
can accomplish anything with U.S. military power, now supreme on the planet.
However, our leaders are not infallible. For every action there is a
reaction, and, all too often, unintended consequences. Such a war would
undoubtedly be perceived by the world as a serious escalation, and would
likely produce a new anti-U.S coalition. Various states, in defiance of U.S.
threats, might even come to Iran's assistance. The common border shared by
Russia and Iran raises the stakes. To understand why, we need only consider
how the U.S. would respond to a foreign attack on, say, Mexico. The Russians
might supply Iran with advanced military arms, ground-to-air missiles, etc.

Pakistani strong-man Pervez Musharraf would face growing pressure at home to
assist a fellow Islamic state. With assistance from Russia and/or Pakistan,
the Iranians might reconstitute their nuclear program in deep tunnels carved
out of the country's rugged mountains, impervious to bombardment. To insure
military success, the U.S. might be compelled to launch commando assaults
with special forces, or even invade and occupy the country. Notice, this
implies regime change, precisely what Ariel Sharon has advocated. Such a
path--I hasten to add--would be insane, for reasons that should be apparent
to anyone who can find Iran on a map. Iran is not Iraq! Iran is five times
larger, a rugged mountainous country of sixty-five million people.

What if invading U.S. forces should meet return fire, in kind? One shudders
at the reaction in Washington should the Iranians turn on U.S. troops the
same depleted uranium weapons that the U.S. has been using with such
horrible effect on others. That would bring George W. Bush
eyeball-to-eyeball with Vladimir Putin, the obvious supplier, and who knows,
possibly with Pervez Musharraf. Lest we forget, both are nuclear-armed
(unlike Saddam Hussein) and capable of defending themselves. The assumption
that Putin will back down in a crisis on his own border could be a serious
miscalculation. If U.S. hawks insist on victory, and escalate, events could
spin out of control...

To prevent such a catastrophe we must all work together. We must stop Bush's
next war BEFORE it starts.


Mark Gaffney is a researcher, writer, poet, environmentalist, anti-nuclear
activist, and organic gardener. Mark was the principal organizer of the
first Earth Day in April 1970 at Colorado State University. Mark's first
book was a pioneering 1989 study of the Israeli nuke program: DIMONA THE
THIRD TEMPLE. From 1989-1993 Mark helped National Audubon Society inventory
and map Oregon's remaining old growth forests. Mark's forthcoming book is a
radical study of early Christianity: SECRETS OF THE NAASSENE SERMON. Mark
can be reached for comment at

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