NEW YORK - The confusion over Iran’s nuclear program mounts as accusations and denials intensify.
In an effort to browbeat Iran into nuclear submission, the US, Britain and France staged a bravura performance of political theatre last week by claiming to have just `discovered’ a secret Iran uranium enrichment plant near Qum. On cue, a carefully orchestrated media blitz trumpeted warnings of the alleged Iranian nuclear threat and `long-ranged missiles.’
In reality, the Qum plant was detected by US spy satellites over two years ago, and was known to the intelligence community. Iran claimed the plant will not begin enriching uranium for peaceful power for another 540 days. UN nuclear rules, to which Iran adheres, calls for 180 days notice.
But Iran cast suspicion on itself by hastily alerting the UN’s nuclear agency, IAEA, right after the `revelation’ of the Qum plant and inviting inspection. Iran may not have been actually guilty of anything, but it looked guilty – in western eyes.
Iran can hardly be eager to reveal the locations of its nuclear sites or military secrets given the steady stream of threats by Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear plants and the beating of war drums in the United States. Iran also recalls Iraq, where half the UN `nuclear inspectors’ were actually spies for CIA or Israel’s Mossad. This may explain some of Iran’s secretive behavior.
The US, Britain, France and Israel have been even less forthcoming about their nuclear secrets. Israel and India reject all outside requests for information.
Iran’s test of some useless short ranged missiles, and an inaccurate 2,000-km medium ranged Shahab-3, provoked more hysteria. In a choice example of media scaremongering, one leading North American newspaper printed a picture of a 1960’s vintage SAM-2 antiaircraft missile being launched, with a caption warning of the `grave threat’ Iran posed to `international peace and security.’
Welcome to Iraq déjà vu, and another manufactured crisis. US intelligence and UN inspectors say Iran has no nuclear weapons and certainly no nuclear warheads and is only enriching uranium to 5%. Nuclear weapons require 95%. Iran’s nuclear facilities are under constant UN inspection and US surveillance.
The US, its allies, and Israel insist Iran is secretly developing nuclear warheads. They demand Tehran prove a negative: that is has no nuclear weapons. Iraq was also put to the same impossible test, then attacked when it naturally could not comply.
Now, the US government is again leaking claims that Iran is working on a nuclear warhead for its Shahah-3 medium-ranged missile. Iran says the data supposedly backing up this claim is a fake concocted by Israel’s Mossad. Forged data was also used to accuse Iraq.
Israel is deeply alarmed by Iran’s challenge to its Mideast nuclear monopoly. Chances of an Israeli attack on Iran are growing weekly, though the US is still restraining Israel.
The contrived uproar about the Qum plant was a ploy to intensify pressure on Iran to cease nuclear enrichment – though it has every right to do so under international agreements. The problem is that Iran has many good reasons for developing nuclear weapons for self-defense even though Tehran insists it is not.
More pressure was applied at last week’s meeting near Geneva between the Western powers and Iran. The Iranians then fooled everyone by actually agreeing to ship a good part of their enriched uranium to Russia for safekeeping, thus taking the wind out of the sails of the war party in Washington, London and Paris – at least for a while.
You could almost hear the outraged neocons in Washington yelling, `hey you sneaky Iranians, fight fair!’
Why does Ahmadinejad antagonize the West and act belligerent when he should be taking a very low profile? Why would Iran face devastating Israeli or US attack to keep enriching uranium when it can import such fuel from Russia?
Civilian nuclear power has become the keystone of Iranian national pride. As noted in my new book, `American Raj,’ Iran’s leadership insists the West has denied the Muslim world modern technology and tries to keep it backwards and subservient. Tehran believes it can withstand all western sanctions.
In my view, Iran appears to be very slowly developing a `breakout’ capability to produce a small number of nuclear weapons on short notice - for defensive purposes. Iraq’s invasion of Iran cost Iran one million casualties. Iran demands the same right of nuclear self defense enjoyed by neighbors Israel, India and Pakistan.
But Iran’s multi-level leadership is also split over the question of whether or not to actually build nuclear weapons. Iran is just as fearful of an Israeli nuclear attack as Israel is of an Iranian nuclear attack. For the record, President Ahmadinejad did not call for Israel to be `wiped off the face of the map,’ but quoted an old Imam Khomeini speech calling for Zionism to be wiped away and replaced by a state for Jews, Muslims and Christians.
What Iran really wants is an end to 30-years of US efforts to overthrow its Islamic regime. The US is still waging economic warfare against Iran and trying to overthrow the Tehran government. Like North Korea, Iran wants explicit guarantees from Washington that this siege warfare will stop and relations with the US will be normalized.
As Flynt and Hillary Leverett conclude in their excellent, must-read 29 September NY Times article about Iran’s nuclear program, détente with Iran will be bitterly opposed by `those who attach value to failed policies that have damaged America’s interests in the Middle East…’