Iran in trouble?
Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, west has had an uncomfortable relationship with Iran, with USA dealing with Iran in an indirect manner only. The end of cold war and post 9/11 scenario has enabled the West to step up pressure on Iran. Iranian nuclear programme has been the Achilles’ heel of the west. This raises the question if there could be a conflict between the west and Iran? And what form and shape can it take?
Possibility of such a conflict will have serious ramifications and implications for Pakistan, for which Pakistan needs to assess and evaluate its policy options based on realistic and correct understanding of the geo-strategic context.
However, Global power politics, energy equation, nuclear proliferation and anti Semitism has made Iran both an enigma and a puzzle. The United States, the sole superpower, has no relationship as unique, complex and difficult as it has with Iran. Add to this the fact Iran is perceived to be the greatest risk ever faced by Israel and is considered a major threat to the stability of Middle East and you have the ingredients of an imminent and explicit conflict between these two antagonists. This was not inevitable “It is perhaps the burden of history that is preventing Washington from engaging with Tehran”
The Iranians have never been far from trouble. Iran has a lot of enemies. The necons of present day USA consider Iran as an enemy. This was apparent when in the state of the union address to the Congress on 29th January 2002, President Bush stated that “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons, (of mass destruction) exports terror and constitute an axis of evil … the price of indifference would be catastrophic. As far as the US is concerned, after all, it (Iran) is still an axis of evil country”. President Trump has repeatedly stated that all options are on the table including a possible military strike, if Iran doesn’t comply with international standards.
To this must be added the Israeli factor. Israeli’s have been astutely but firmly aiming at neutralizing Iran. Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely has stated that “we should do everything we can to stop the Iranian effort to develop a nuclear bomb. He also stated that “Israel cannot live with Iran having a nuclear weapon” and that “such a country (Iran) that has nuclear weapon is a danger, not only to Israel and the Middle East but also Europe”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his latest interview to a state channel stated that “Iran should be prevented from acquiring such arms because one should avoid development of nuclear weapons by irresponsible countries.
The Charge Sheet
The first charge against Iran is that it is involved in clandestine nuclear activities. It was in 1996, during a congressional testimony, that director of CIA stated that “Iran was actively pursuing an indigenous nuclear weapons capability”. According to the Non Proliferation Policy Education Centre, Iran would be capable of producing 50 to 75 bombs. Iran on the other hand has insisted that it has a burgeoning population of nearly sixty seven million, which is likely to double in twenty years or so, thus it needs nuclear energy. In this context it is prudent to note that “According to a recent BP estimate, Iran will be an oil importer in 2024, if it continues to consume oil at present rates.
While there are varying estimates on the time framework within which Iran can build a nuclear weapon, ranging from six months to ten years, international institute for strategic studies (IISS) reported that “We estimate, if everything goes right, if they throw all their efforts into solving their problems, they might be able to produce enough weapon grade Uranium for a single nuclear weapon, within five years. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has treaded a very delicate path on this issue, since an action on its path can provide the smoking gun for a military action. In this regard Director General of IAEA has recently reported to board of governors that there is no evidence that the previously undeclared Nuclear material held by Iran and its activities were related to a nuclear weapons programe.
The latest diplomatic attempt out of this quagmire is the proposal to allow Iranian uranium enrichment on Russian soil. This plan has not made much headway. “It doesn’t look very positive” and “Western diplomats have warned that hopes are slim for getting Tehran to abandon its plan”. While there have been reports of a breakthrough, but there is no sign of Iran relenting on its core rights,
Apart from nuclear and energy issues, Terrorism & Human rights provide additional “fuel” to the argument for an attack on Iran. These two issues could provide a strong media profile to divert attention from the main causes of conflict. The US president Donald Trump has called Iran the “world’s primary state sponsor of terror.
Charge sheet against Iran also includes alleged abysmal human rights record. The West has often criticized Iran for abysmal Human Rights record. This incitement provoked Iran to summon Britain’s ambassador in Tehran to protest. This latest move increased strained relations between Tehran and London. It was reported in DAWN that “Iran has obstructed British imports and accused Britain of fomenting unrest, among the ethnic Arab minority in the south of the country”, a charge which London denies. the president of Iran has further fueled tensions. His statements have added to the charge sheet. “Wipe Israel from the map” has “changed the diplomatic environment at a stroke”. Israeli foreign ministry spokesmen stated that “he is not just Israel’s problem. He is a worry for the entire international community”. His next assertions of “European responsibility to give some land to the Zionist in Europe or in Germany or Austria” drew sharp rebuke from the West. Britain said that these remarks had “no place in civilized political debate”.
While military conflict is not the only option, but others options such as regime change or nuclear roll back or containment or a virtual nonstarter under the current environment. Even regime change envisages use of limited force and Trump administration hawks are “pinning their hopes on regime change in Tehran by covert means, preferably, but by force of arms if necessary.
Other Side Of The Coin
There are strong opposing voices to such an impending attack and these are coming from a wide array of US domestic and international fora. To begin with there is deafening silence at the UN. After the split on the Iraqi issue the UN is not likely to give way to a US led attack on Iran. While the Iraqi attack was launched despite the second resolution by the UN, the US is likely to be wary of another such unilateral action because of the Iraqi blowback. The UN factor, although not critical, but will be crucial for shaping the international environment.
A sizable no of US senate and congressmen have openly opposed any military action. US Senator Ron Paul, in a statement issued on 6th may 2004 stated that “It is somewhat ironic that we are again meddling in Iranian affairs”.
Senator Robert McFarlane and CIA ex director James Woolsey have been ardent opponents of such an attack. According to them the President of Iran has proclaimed repeatedly that any attack by the U.S. and Israel (which are now seen largely as one by the Muslim world) would lead to full scale Iranian resistance. Like any intelligent strategist, he who does not spell out what counterattacks they would make. But he states calmly and strongly that Iran has all the power needed to resist any attacks or invasion.
According to them Iran can declare a UN sanctioned defensive war against the attackers in accord with all UN and other treaties, call on the UN to support their legal, defensive war, then declare a wartime emergency allowing them to legally shut down their coastal waters to all attackers and their allies. They can then shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which at its narrowest point is only 35 miles wide.
I personally believe attacking Iran would probably be an economic Doomsday Scenario. No reasonable person would do it. But that is what vast number of other people, some in the CIA were screaming when the US invaded, annihilated, and got stuck catastrophically in Iraq. However let us all sit back and observe.
1 Afzaal Mahmood, “Mishandling Iranian Crisis” Dawn 20th August 2005.
3 Editorial, The News, 15th September 2005.
4 The indepe Afzaal Mahmood, “Mishandling Iranian Crisis” Dawn 20th August 2005.
ndent, 9 December 2005.
6The Independent, 29th October 2005.
8Iran’s Nuclear Saga” by Fauzia Qureshi, Defence Journal, May 2005, Page 36.
9“Europe and Iran must seize their chance” by Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Dawn 9th September 2005.
10Mr Gary Samore, Director of London Based Think Tank IISS, Dawn 7th September 2005.
11Khaleej Times : 21 Dec 2005.