Iran Misses an Oppportunity 28.2.2006

Iran Misses an Opportunity

Today, Singapore, 28/02/2006

President Ahmadinejad has been advancing aggressively on a collision course with the West over Iran’s intentions to go ahead with Uranium enrichment, purportedly for peaceful applications although evidence that has accumulated, not only at the IAEA, leaves too much doubt for comfort. This is happening on the background of repeated Iranian threats against Israel and its right to exist and Anti-Semitic statements calling into question the Holocaust.

 Israel began to develop its nuclear capabilities in the 60ties of the last century before the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was completed, precisely to counter such potential threats by means of deterrence. Nuclear threats have only lately begun to resurface after a potential Iraqi nuclear menace was removed by Israel’s preemptive strike against the Osiraq reactor in 1981 and later by the US and its allies in the Gulf wars. Throughout these years, Israel has practiced a policy of ambiguity to maintain its perceived nuclear power status unchallenged and away from the prying eyes of international supervision. Now that the need for Israel’s nuclear deterrent capability is more tangible than ever, the international community, through a resolution of the IAEA and in a spurious effort at evenhandedness after having put futile pressure on Iran to desist from its enrichment efforts, raises a flag: We want the Middle East free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

 While such a quest is surely noble and called for, essential preconditions are missing. Israel, in line with its policy of ambiguity, has never acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, nor, for that matter, other WMD and has never used any. Iran, in addition to owning (and having used) chemical weapons, is developing nuclear weapons on the sly and countries like Egypt and Syria reportedly have non-nuclear WMD in the form of chemical and/or biological munitions. Let’s face it, none of them are likely to own up to their arsenals as long as Israel is not required to do so as well. Left undeclared, WMD in the Middle East can hardly be limited by agreement in any kind of framework.

 The IAEA’s resolution calling for a Middle East without WMD appears to be, more than anything else, a concession to complaints by primarily Muslim nations that Iran is being singled out unjustly on the nuclear issue while Israel is not taken to task at all. One thing is clear however:  Iran as a signatory to the NPT is presently in contravention of its legal commitments to the international community. Israel is not, having never signed the NPT or renounced its right to develop nuclear weapons. Had Israel not chosen a policy of ambiguity with regard to its nuclear status, it would today have the same standing as the five original member states of the nuclear club.

 Iran undoubtedly perceives itself threatened by Israel’s undeclared nuclear capabilities. If its leaders would project a more peaceful and conciliatory image, they could, without too much trouble bring to bear international pressure to compel Israel to come clean on the nuclear issue. Iran could then conceivably trade away some of it’s nuclear ambitions in return for Israeli concessions in the framework of a yet to be created Middle Eastern WMD control regime. Benefiting everyone, such a move could garner a lot of international pressure on all the parties involved, increasing its chances for success. Unfortunately, Iran is not performing in this scenario and instead of projecting the image of a well behaved player trying to level the field by getting Israel subjected to some international nuclear scrutiny as well, insists on playing the rogue part to the hilt.

 Under these conditions it is extremely unlikely that the recent IAEA resolution will go anywhere. As a matter of fact Teheran’s ongoing antics are likely to convince even those who are pushing for a more evenhanded policy on WMD in the Middle East, that Israel really has something to worry about. That should be something to contemplate in Teheran – last time Israel was worried about a nuclear threat was in 1981 and it dealt with it by destroying the Osiraq reactor.

 If the Russian initiative for a last ditch compromise with Iran on the enrichment issue does not pan out, the international community should consider if efforts at evenhandedness will contribute to stability or whether it would not be safer to reign in Teheran with international sanctions now, once and for all.

 UN sponsored sanctions against Teheran while the Muslim world is still reeling over perceived humiliations by the West and Iraq is burning are not likely to be crowd pleasers, but possible alternatives, forceful preemptive measures lead by the US and NATO or Israel on its own, may well cause troubles on a scale as yet unheard of. Nuclear is the adjective that comes to mind.

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