Iran’s Imminent Nuclear Weapon

Here’s some context behind the claims that Iran will imminently possess a nuclear weapon.

It started a long time ago (but not, unfortunately, in a galaxy far, far away):

1984: Soon after West German engineers visit the unfinished Bushehr nuclear reactor, Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes West German intelligence sources saying that Iran’s production of a bomb “is entering its final stages.”US Senator Alan Cranston claims Iran is seven years away from making a weapon.

Seven years away? And did they have a bomb in 1991?

1992: Israeli parliamentarian Binyamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the US.”

1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells French TV that Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999. “Iran is the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East,” Peres warned, “because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militancy.”

1992: Joseph Alpher, a former official of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, says “Iran has to be identified as Enemy No. 1.” Iran’s nascent nuclear program, he told The New York Times, “really gives Israel the jitters.”

So was there a bomb by the late 1990s?

1995: The New York Times conveys the fears of senior US and Israeli officials that “Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought” – about five years away – and that Iran’s nuclear bomb is “at the top of the list” of dangers in the coming decade. The report speaks of an “acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program,” claims that Iran “began an intensive campaign to develop and acquire nuclear weapons” in 1987, and says Iran was “believed” to have recruited scientists from the former Soviet Union and Pakistan to advise them.

1997: The Christian Science Monitor reports that US pressure on Iran’s nuclear suppliers had “forced Iran to adjust its suspected timetable for a bomb. Experts now say Iran is unlikely to acquire nuclear weapons for eight or 10 years.

So now we’re looking at a nuclear-armed Iran by 2007. Scary stuff, right?

2007: President Bush warns that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III.” Vice President Dick Cheney had previously warned of “serious consequences” if Iran did not give up its nuclear program.

2007: A month later, an unclassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran is released, which controversially judges with “high confidence” that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons effort in fall 2003.

June 2008: Then-US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton predicts that Israel will attack Iran before January 2009, taking advantage of a window before the next US president came to office.

May 2009: US Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports states: “There is no sign that Iran’s leaders have ordered up a bomb.”

And Iran still doesn’t have a bomb today — all of those reports, all of that scaremongering and warmongering was wrong. Both the CIA and Mossad agree that there is no specific evidence that Iran is working on nuclear weapons today. And many experts believe that even if Iran were working on a bomb it could take up to ten to fifteen years.

Yet, it seems that nothing except a war will satisfy Binyamin Netanyahu, who felt the same way about Iraq:

There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is working towards nuclear weapons.

And how did that work out? A hugely expensive war and occupation, American imperial overstretch, thousands of dead soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and no weapons of mass destruction. We should judge people on their predictive record.

On one level, I understand Netanyahu’s paranoia especially in the context of the 20th Century and the holocaust. Iranian Generals have talked about annihilating Israel.

In August 2012, Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, who heads Iran’s Passive Defence Organisation, said “No other way exists apart from resolve and strength to completely eliminate the aggressive nature and to destroy Israel.”  And just six days ago in September 2012 Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh threatened to attack Israel and trigger World War III, saying that “it is possible that we will make a pre-emptive attack” which would “turn into World War III.” In the same statement, Hajizadeh threatened to attack American bases in the Middle East as well. Hajizadeh said that as a result of this attack, Israel would “sustain heavy damage and that will be a prelude to its obliteration.”

All disturbing rhetoric, yet almost certainly baseless threats given the context of Iran’s technological and military disadvantage. Iranian missiles fired at Israel would likely be shot down long before they reached Israeli airspace by Israel’s advanced missile defence systems that can intercept even short-range fire from Gaza and Lebanon. And Israel’s nuclear submarines in the Persian Gulf would almost certainly retaliate in kind. As Shimon Peres noted in 2006: “The President of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map.” Most importantly, if Iran attacked Israel, it seems far less likely that other powers would come to Iran’s aid.

Yet an attack on Iran by Israel could well trigger a larger conflict, sucking in Iran’s trade partners who do not want to see the flow of oil and resources out of Iran disrupted. Just this week China announced new contracts to provide super-tankers to deliver oil from Iran to China. Would Russia and China sit idly by and see their Iranian investments liquidated while America and Israel invade Iran and destroy its infrastructure? Would they sit idly by and see their ally deposed? China and Pakistan have both hinted that they could defend Iran if Iran were attacked. An attack on or invasion of Iran is an incredibly risky adventure — and in my view the real danger to Israel. And for what? To discover that like Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad is not working on a nuclear weapon, and all the hot air about weapons of mass destruction is once again just bullshit?

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Netanyahu’s Red Line

Netanyahu wants a red line on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East:

Where exactly should we draw it?

As Justin Raimondo notes:

Here is a nation which refuses to even admit it acquired nukes long ago, and which disdains the Nonproliferation Treaty, making the case for war against a neighbor that has indeed signed the NPT and is abiding by its requirements.

That treaty gives Tehran the right to develop nuclear power. Furthermore, there is zero evidence Iran is embarked on a nuclear weapons program: our own intelligence community tells us they gave that up in 2003 and show no signs of resuming it. Their own religious and political leaders have denounced the possession of nuclear weapons as sinful: the Israelis, on the other hand, haven’t bothered reassuring us they would never use the nuke they won’t admit they have.

In a rational world, Israel would be in the dock, answering for its unwillingness to come out of the nuclear closet and admit what the whole world knows by now.

The West has sent out a message that the only way for unpopular regimes to avoid invasion is to obtain nuclear weapons. North Korea sought and obtained nuclear weapons and their vicious and economically-failed regime has stayed in power. Qaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions, and was soon deposed by British, French and American airpower. If Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon — and the CIA and Mossad, as well as the IAEA agree they that they are not currently doing so — perhaps the fact that nuclear-armed Israel and the nuclear-armed United States keep threatening non-nuclear Iran with attack has something to do with it?

And even assuming that they are going for a nuclear weapon, how close is Iran to a nuclear weapon? According to former IAEA consultant Clinton Bastin, possibly as much as ten to fifteen years away:

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

Iran may be in your red zone, but can not score.

Sure, Iran could divert a few tons of 3.5% or a ton of 20% enriched uranium hexaflouride gas for enrichment to 90+%. But what then?

No one has ever made a nuclear weapon from gas. It must be converted to metal and fabricated into components which are then assembled with high explosives.

Iran lacks experience with and facilities for these processes which are very dangerous because of potential for a criticality accident or nuclear explosion. Iran would not jeopardize its important, fully safeguarded nuclear programs by an attempt to have a deliverable, one kiloton yield nuclear weapon ten to fifteen years later.

IMPORTANT NOTE: North Korea was able to make and test a nuclear explosive soon after withdrawing from safeguards because plutonium for reactor recycle was in a form usable for a weapon.

So let’s be clear about who is threatening who:

How would Americans feel if Iran had stationed troops and aircraft on the Mexican and Canadian borders and conducted military excursions into American territory, including funding and training armed dissidents to overthrow the American government (as happened to Iran in 1953 when America overthrew a democratically-elected Iranian government and imposed a dictatorship there)? How would Americans feel if Iran, Russia and China were blowing up American scientists and using computer viruses to attack American infrastructure? How would Americans feel if Iran, Russia and China imposed sanctions on America that led to hyperinflation of the dollar?  Under those circumstances, would America not seek the means to defend itself?

Iran is not blameless, and continues to provoke Israel through its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and through eliminationist rhetoric. But given the level of provocation from the Israeli and American side, it is astonishing that Iran remains free of nuclear weapons. Yet it is a fact that Iran is not armed with nuclear weapons, and it remains a fact that Iran has not attacked nor occupied any foreign lands since World War 2. Iran is not an expansionistic country.

As neocon provocateur Patrick Clawson essentially admitted in advocating for a false flag attack to get America to war, Iran is not likely to attack either the United States or Israel. So when it comes to drawing red lines, we in the West would do well to draw a red line around our behaviour — because right now, we in the West are the ones who are stirring up trouble by threatening to strike first.

More Americans Fear Iran Than Soviet Russia


From the Atlantic:

According to the November 1985 poll, 76 percent of Americans viewed the Soviet Union as a “very serious” or “moderately serious” threat. Only 32 percent of respondents classified the Evil Empire as a “very serious” threat. This week, CNN released a poll asking the same question, this time about Iran and other hostile nations. It estimates that 81 percent of Americans believe Iran is a “very serious” or “moderately serious” threat, with 48 percent calling it “very serious.” 

The problem with that?

Iran — according to the CIA, the IAEA and Mossad — does not have any nuclear weapons.

In 1985, 39,000 Soviet nuclear warheads were pointed at the rest of the world, enough of them ready on push-button alert to destroy the United States near-instantaneously and many times over.

Certainly, Americans are free to be concerned about whatever they want. But let’s just say that a 39,000 warhead disparity — as well as the fact that the Soviet Union was one of the largest, most powerful militaries in world history, and one that successfully defeated Nazi Germany, while Iran’s last war with Iraq ended as a pathetic stalemate —  puts today’s reality into perspective.

UPDATE:

In the interests of inciting some fierce debate, here’s my back-of-an-envelope estimate of the top nation states that are a threat to America’s national interest:

  1. America
  2. China
  3. Russia
  4. Pakistan
  5. Iran

The Diminishing Chances of an Israeli Strike

From Haaretz:

At 8:58 P.M. on Tuesday, Israel’s 2012 war against Iran came to a quiet end. The capricious plans for a huge aerial attack were returned to the deep recesses of safes and hearts. The war may not have been canceled but it has certainly been postponed. For a while, at least, we can sound the all clear: It won’t happen this year. Until further notice, Israel Air Force Flight 007 will not be taking off.

According to a war simulation conducted by the U.S. Central Command, the Iranians could kill 200 Americans with a single missile response to an Israeli attack. An investigative committee would not spare any admiral or general, minister or president. The meaning of this U.S. scenario is that the blood of these 200 would be on Israel’s head.

Yeah. But I don’t really think that there was any real chance of a strike, even before that, and I haven’t for a long time.

As I wrote in January:

The real threat to Israel and America is not inaction on Iran, but excessive force. Iran poses little threat, but military intervention to effect regime change in Tehran runs the risk of huge and widespread blowback throughout the Muslim world: terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and deeper intergovernmental hostility, a breakdown of regional trade, and even a wider land war involving Eurasian nations who wish to protect Iran, including China and Russia.

The curious thing is that if the critical wargame was one involving a retaliatory Iranian missile strike, perhaps the people at the Pentagon would be wiser to allocate their not inconsiderable resources to a closure of the Strait of Hormuz, instead? After all, the economic damage of destabilising global trade seems a much greater danger to global, American and Israeli security than an Iranian retaliation.

From the Huffington Post:

Blocking the Strait of Hormuz would create an international and economic calamity of unprecedented severity. Here are the crude realities. America uses approximately 19 to 20 million barrels of oil per day, almost half of which is imported. If we lose just 1 million barrels per day, or suffer the type of damage sustained from Hurricane Katrina, our government will open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which offers a mere six- to eight-week supply of unrefined crude oil. If we lose 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, we will ask our allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to open their SPRs and otherwise assist. If we lose 2 million barrels per day, or 10 percent, for a protracted period, government crisis monitors say the chaos will be so catastrophic, they cannot even model it. One government oil crisis source recently told me: “We cannot put a price tag on it. If it happens, just cash in your 401(k).”

Of course, there are plenty of examples of nations enacting policies that end up damaging their own interests, not least America’s costly, destructive and illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. But given the deep and serious opposition that Netanyahu faces from within the Israeli establishment (e.g. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief), it seems unlikely that they will at any point engage in such a strike. The rhetoric appears to be mostly designed stir up resistance to the Iranian regime (although frankly this appears to have had the opposite effect — galvanising the Iranian people to rally around a relatively unpopular regime).

Does Israel Seriously Believe Iran is a Threat?

From Zero Hedge:

Israeli political sources believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has majority Cabinet support for Israeli military action against Iran without American approval.

Really? Is second-strike-capable 200 megaton Israel really afraid of piddly little Iran? Do they not understand that Iran cannot lay a (nuclear) finger on them, for fear of sheer nuclear obliteration?

As I noted back in January:

Even Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad recognises that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel.

Upon leaving his post, Dagan publicly warned against Israel attacking Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In his latest comments, he said that if Israel attacks Iran, it will find itself at the centre of a regional war that would endanger the state’s existence. Dagan’s intervention is dangerous for Netanyahu because it comes from the right wing of Israeli opinion rather than the left, where the prime minister would expect criticism.

Dagan has been in charge of aggressive Israeli actions abroad in recent years, that have included assassinations in Lebanon, Syria and Dubai and an air attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. He also criticised Israel’s failure to offer any initiative to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians .

The absence of any workable plan, he said, will leave Israel in a dangerous and weak situation.

This really echoes my thinking: the real threat to Israel, and America is not inaction on Iran, but excessive force. Iran poses little threat, but military intervention to effect regime change in Tehran runs the risk of huge and widespread blowback throughout the Muslim world: terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and deeper intergovernmental hostility, a breakdown of regional trade, and even a wider land war involving Eurasian nations who wish to protect Iran, including China and Russia.

For all the verbiage thrown at determining whether or not Iran is “rational”, and despite the obvious fact that there are many “rational” people like Meir Dagan in power in Israel, perhaps we should have looked more closely at the question of whether the Israeli cabinet is “rational” or not.

Does the possibility of creating a wider war not trouble them?  Did they not pay attention to the recent bellicose statements from other Eurasian states in support of Iran? Do they — unlike the Israeli public — honestly believe that a war with Iran can be won without regime change in Iran, and do they believe they have the time, the resources, and the manpower to achieve such a thing? Do they honestly believe that the United States under Obama will back-up an Israeli attack on Iran, should a larger power move to support Iran? Do they honestly believe that the rest of world will be happy to see oil prices spiking as a result of an Israeli attack? Do they honestly believe that Israeli public opinion will countenance more resources being spent on war, and less on health, housing and public services?

In light of all these problems, I find it hard to believe that Israel will hit Iran. I believe instead that Israel and America will continue their covert war against the Iranian regime and hope to foment an Arab Spring-style revolution in Iran.

But that is to assume that Netanyahu and his cabinet are rational. Maybe they want a big, dangerous and scary war that imperils the Jewish state?

Iran Squeezes the Petrodollar

I have, these last few months, been documenting the current state of geopolitics —specifically the growing isolation of the West, the ditching of the dollar as the global reserve currency, the growing unity between the authoritarian Eurasian nations, and the brewing storm in the middle east between Israel and Iran.

Now another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

From Zero Hedge:

Much has been spun in recent weeks to indicate that as a result of collapsing trade, Iran’s economy is in shambles and that the financial embargo hoisted upon the country by the insolvent, pardon, developed world is working. We had a totally different perspective on things “A Very Different Take On The “Iran Barters Gold For Food” Story” in which we essentially said that Iran, with the complicity of major trading partners like China, India and Russia is preparing to phase out the petrodollar: a move which would be impossible if key bilateral trade partners would not agree to it. Gradually it appears this is increasingly the case following a just released Reuters report that “Iran will take payment from its trading partners in gold instead of dollars, the Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted the central bank governor as saying on Tuesday.”

The Eurasian powers — centred around the troika of Russia, China, and Iran — continue to ransack the dollar’s legitimacy as the global reserve currency.

Meanwhile, in a Foreign Affairs piece, the architect of our current world order, Henry Kissinger, seems to see the writing on the wall:

The current world order was built largely without Chinese participation, and hence China sometimes feels less bound than others by its rules. Where the order does not suit Chinese preferences, Beijing has set up alternative arrangements, such as in the separate currency channels being established with Brazil and Japan and other countries. If the pattern becomes routine and spreads into many spheres of activity, competing world orders could evolve. Absent common goals coupled with agreed rules of restraint, institutionalized rivalry is likely to escalate beyond the calculations and intentions of its advocates. In an era in which unprecedented offensive capabilities and intrusive technologies multiply, the penalties of such a course could be drastic and perhaps irrevocable.

Kissinger recognises the Eurasian endgame — also described by me quite throughly over the six months:

Some American strategic thinkers argue that Chinese policy pursues two long-term objectives: displacing the United States as the preeminent power in the western Pacific and consolidating Asia into an exclusionary bloc deferring to Chinese economic and foreign policy interests. In this conception, even though China’s absolute military capacities are not formally equal to those of the United States, Beijing possesses the ability to pose unacceptable risks in a conflict with Washington and is developing increasingly sophisticated means to negate traditional U.S. advantages. Its invulnerable second-strike nuclear capability will eventually be paired with an expanding range of antiship ballistic missiles and asymmetric capabilities in new domains such as cyberspace and space.China could secure a dominant naval position through a series of island chains on its periphery, some fear, and once such a screen exists, China’s neighbors, dependent as they are on Chinese trade and uncertain of the United States’ ability to react, might adjust their policies according to Chinese preferences. Eventually, this could lead to the creation of a Sinocentric Asian bloc dominating the western Pacific. The most recent U.S. defense strategy report reflects, at least implicitly, some of these apprehensions.

He ends the piece flatly:

Both sides should be open to conceiving of each other’s activities as a normal part of international life and not in themselves as a cause for alarm. The inevitable tendency to impinge on each other should not be equated with a conscious drive to contain or dominate, so long as both can maintain the distinction and calibrate their actions accordingly. China and the United States will not necessarily transcend the ordinary operation of great-power rivalry. But they owe it to themselves, and the world, to make an effort to do so.

But — in reality — American and Western policy is nothing like as respectful toward China as Kissinger might hope.

As I wrote earlier this month:

The last hope for American imperial hegemony is to bring the Arab Spring to Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Islamabad.

Kissinger — while not explicitly endorsing such an eventuality — recognises the possibility:

The political scientist Aaron Friedberg writes, for example, that “a liberal democratic China will have little cause to fear its democratic counterparts, still less to use force against them.” Therefore, “stripped of diplomatic niceties, the ultimate aim of the American strategy [should be] to hasten a revolution, albeit a peaceful one, that will sweep away China’s one-party authoritarian state and leave a liberal democracy in its place.”

And — for all the hullabaloo about war with Iran —the Arab Spring model is the State Department’s last best hope for maintaining American primacy in the face of (as Tyler Durden puts it) insolvency. War, proxy war, or trade war with the Eurasian powers is too costly, too risky, too open-ended for America today.

Jeffrey Goldberg Calls For War With Iran?

Jeffrey Goldberg, foreign policy hawk, is making the case for some more “liberal” interventionism.

From Bloomberg:

An Iran with nuclear weapons may be unbearable for Israel. It would further empower Israel’s terrorist enemies, who would be able to commit atrocities under the protection of an atomic umbrella. It would mean the end of the peace process, as no Arab state in the shadow of a nuclear Iran would dare make a separate peace with Israel. And it isn’t too much to imagine that some of Iran’s more mystically minded leaders, mesmerized by visions of the apocalypse, would actually consider using a nuclear weapon on Israel — a country so small that a single detonation could cripple it permanently.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who once told me he believes that Iran is led by a “messianic, apocalyptic cult,” is correct to view Iran as a threat to his country’s existence.

[President Barack Obama] has said, repeatedly, that an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable to the U.S. Many Israelis, and many Americans, think Obama is soft on such matters. But I believe, based on interviews inside and outside the White House, that he would consider using force — missile strikes, mainly — to stop the Iranians from crossing the nuclear threshold.

We’ve been here before.

From Goldberg’s 2002  New Yorker piece calling for American intervention in Iraq:

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power … There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon … There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons.

The trouble is, no evidence was ever found that Saddam Hussein had any weapons of mass-destruction. But that didn’t stop the military-Keynesians who steamrollered into Baghdad before embarking on almost a decade of wasteful, expensive occupation at cost to the American taxpayer.

In a late 2002 debate in Slate, Goldberg described Hussein as “uniquely evil” and advocated an invasion on a moral basis:

There is consensus belief now that Saddam could have an atomic bomb within months of acquiring fissile material. … The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Yes — profound morality.

Because, of course, war, imperialism, torture and mutilation are “profoundly moral” acts.

For those with strong stomachs, here’s some more explicit pictures of that “profound morality” guiding American “liberal” interventionism.

Goldberg was wrong about Iraq, and he’s wrong about Iran. Far from plunging the middle east into the throes of war, an Iranian nuclear weapon could very well stabilise the region under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction — the same force that stabilised relations between the Soviet Union and America.

The big difference, though is that with Iraq there was no threat that any “liberal” interventionism would spill over into a wider regional war.