The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Is Iran a Nuclear Threat?

The GOP contenders appears to firmly believe that Iran is an evil in the world that needs to be dealt with appropriately.  Rick Santorum has accused Iran of initiating aggression toward the United States since 1979. Santorum believes firmly that Iran’s hostilities towards the United States stems from its opposition to the American propagation freedom in the region “I don’t apologize for the Iranian people being free for a long time and now they are under a mullacracy that tramples the rights of women and gay.”  Likewise, Gingrich had some choice words for Iran.  “We have failed for a decade to deal with Iran” stated Gingrich.  A decade? At least Santorum is willing to go back further in history.  Perhaps Gingrich should have marked the inauguration of the controversial Iranian president as a starting point.

Not surprisingly Michelle Bachman has considered the Nuclear Iran a major issue in the Middle East . An issue that Mr."one-time president" Barack Obama is avoiding. Somehow Bachman forgets that Obama said about Iran. In an interview with Katie Couric, Obama said that he supported Israel’s attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor. Why wouldn’t Obama support a similar attack against an Iranian nuclear reactor if its under the pretense of “defense?” How can anyone mistake Obama’s ingratiating nature towards Israel. Most of the GOP candidates lack any sapience on Iranian-U.S. history.  Of course not all GOP candidates agree on Iran. Ron Paul’s pertinacious views on foreign policy have often made him a target of criticism from other members of the GOP. 

The main reason why GOP candidates are critical of the Iranian regime originates from statements made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that were erroneously mistranslated.  In a speech delivered by the newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Ministry of Interior conference hall in Tehran in 2005, Ahmadinejad is reported as saying that Israel “Should be wiped off the map.” Even Israel apologist Alan Dershowitz acknowledged that the phrase “Wipe Israel off the Map” is a mistranslation. However, this is not the first time the Iranian leader has used inflammatory language against Israel. During the same speech at the “World without Zionism” conference Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is alleged to have made the following statement: “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”  In one of the most portentous statements, the Iranian leader has been quoted as saying that if America intervenes with Iran’s nuclear program it will be “Punched in the mouth. The Iranian nation will go on its war with power.” Ahmadinejad’s combative rhetoric combined with his denial of the holocaust has been a major source of tension.


It is worth noting that Iranian political capital is not the sole propriety of the president. Most of the power in Iran is concentrated in the hands of the Supreme Leader who oversees all policies, controls the states military and police branches. The picture gets further complicated because the Assembly of Experts, a governmental body consisting of 86 Islamic Scholars, is in charge of deciding the religious leader. The membership into the Assembly of Experts is decided by the Council of Guardians, another governmental body that is partially controlled by the supreme leader.

In contrast, the President serves a ceremonial role and is both accountable to the Majis and the Supreme Leader. The president signs bills into laws once they have passed through the Majis. The president also has the power to award ministerial appointments.  

It is within this complicated political context that emerges a potenially "Nuclear Iran" from the perspective of the U.S.. The evidence in support of a "Nuclear-armed Iran"s is ambivalent at best. In 2007 a report by the National Intelligent Report said that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. Not everyone arrived at the same conclusions. In an op-ed piece written for the New York Times, Nuclear arms control experts, Valery Lincy and Gary Milhollin said that Iran is building a water reactor that can be used to produce plutonium--the main ingredient for making a nuclear bomb.  Furthermore, Dershowitz said that intelligence agency recently discovered a military facility buried deep in the mountains of the holy city of Qom. According to an article written in Foreign Affairs, Matthew Kroening, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that Iranian nuclear facilities should be attacked when Iran installs advanced centrifuges in Qom, or when its current “stockpiles of Uranium reaches weapon grade levels of 90 percent.”

    Not everyone agrees that Iran is enriching Uranium explicitly for nuclear weapons.  In a blog post by political commentator Nima Shirazi, Iranian enrichment has reached approximately 20 percent. The Uranium was not used to build weapons of Mass destruction but to create Medical diagnostic isotopes to treat and scan 800,000 cancer patients. While many neocons are convinced Iran has a nuclear bomb Shirazi’s article in Foreign Policy Journal provides strong evidence to the Contrary.

The skepticism some have over  Iran’s intention is not without merit. Iran’s history toward Israel has not always been amicable. In 1992 Iran was accused of attacking the Israel Embassy in 1992. Two years later Iran is accused of bombing the Argentina Jewish Mutual Association. It also does not help when weapons from Hamas and Hezbollah are traced back to Iran.
The United States has also been a victim of Iranian hostilities including the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, the Hizbollah bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks and embassy in Beirut in 1982 and the bombing of the U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. Given these events its clear why most politicians are adamant towards the truculent president.

Although, to be fair, Iran has also been the victim of state-sponsored violence including in the late 80s  when the  USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian flight containing 300 passengers. In addition to the bombings of Oil Platforms, America was also responsible for a political coup in 1953 that overthrew a democratically elected leader in favor of a brutal despot. Perhaps one of the most memorable examples is the U.S. support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The use of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons on civilian and military targets against Iran has lead Iran to question Washington’s commitment to peace in the region.
Also the United States has encirciled Iran literally. In addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the United States has logistical support in the UAE and Oman. Furthermore, the United States also has a military presence in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Given this environment its no wonder why Iran might be inclined to obtain nuclear weapons as a preventative measure.

The source of Iran’s tensions with the west is based on economics as well as regional ambitions. Dershowitz claimed that the allocation of Iranian funds to Palestine and Hezbollah has crippled the Iranian economy and caused inflation to increase by twenty percent and unemployment by ten percent. Dershowitz quotes an Iranian who alleged that one percent of the Iranian budget is earmarked for Palestine. The truth is more complicated. Twenty percent is not a big deal considering that inflation soared to 600 percent from 1978-1990.

  In the past there were multiple factors that increased the rate of inflation including the migration of workers to Iran who received higher salaries than their domestic Iranian counterparts. One of the major causes of inflation is sanctions. In the 80s Ronald Reagan issued an executive order prohibiting Iranian goods from being sold in America except for news, and crude oil refined. As a result of this policy intermediary goods were rerouted causing the price for imports to rise.

Given these facts it is easier to understand the complexity that is underlying the nuclear standoff between Iran and the United States.

Moreover, if the United States wants to have leverage over Iran’s nuclear ambition then it needs to be consistent with its position on nuclear proliferation. In 2000 the U.S. rejected some of the 13 recommendations for nuclear disarmament proposed by the Non-proliferation treaty review conference.

The United States has yet to criticize India for its accumulation of nuclear weapon while simultaneously rejecting the content of the NPT. In addition, Iran has offered to suspend enrichment if the European Union guarantees security against American aggression provoked by Israel. Yet the European Union has refused to agree to this stipulation.

Iran has stated previously that its nuclear technology is for civilian use such as electricity. Critics of Iran’s nuclear program state that Iran has plenty of oil to meet its energy needs and are using this as an excuse to deceive the world of its true and nefarious intentions. These same critics appear to willfully forget Iranian history. During the governance of the shah, the U.S. encouraged Iran to develop nuclear technology. According to MIT professor Noam Chomsky, MIT was encouraged to train Iranian nuclear engineers. Even Henry Kissinger admits to this historical blunder. At the time, Kissinger stated that Iran should develop nuclear technology to free up their oil reserves.


Inevitably, it is hard to discuss the consequences of a military strike against a nuclear facility in the Middle East without mentioning Israel’s attack against the Osriak site in 1981. From a pro-Israeli perspective Israel attack on Iraq discourage the country from future nuclear plans. International Relations scholar Kenneth Waltz disagreed and said that the event encouraged other Arab states to support Iraq in its pursuit of a nuclear bomb. In his book the Case Against Israel’s Enemies Dershowitz, claimed that Iraqi leaders said that a nuclear bomb was being built “specifically” for Israel. Yet Dershowitz provides no footnotes that link to specific quotes from specific Iraqi leaders. What makes Dershowitz’s comments more susceptible to criticism is when he writes:

“Iran is the only country that has actually threatened to use nuclear weapons to attack its enemies”

 On the contrary, nuclear physicist, Richard Wilson found that the Osriak site was unsuitable for plutonium production.   In the aftermath of the attack, the mission was condemned by both Margaret Thatcher and Jean Kirpatrick , the then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. There is even a lack of consensus on the number of causalities. Dershowitz asserted that only one person died. On the other hand, Blogger Nima Shirazi claimed that the military strike killed ten Iraqis and one French civilian researcher.

How are we to know if the military strike against Iran is appropriate if we cannot come to a consensus on the impact of the Osriak strike?


There is one crucial difference between Osriak and a potential   pre-emptive strike against Iran. Unlike Iraq, an attack on Iran could have serious international implications.

Both Russia and China have strong ties to Tehran. Most of Iran’s nuclear material is exported from Russia, and much of Iran’s oil is exported to China. According to Aijaz Ahmad Iran could be a part of an Asian Energy Security Grid that acts as a counterbalance against Western dominance of energy supplies. However, this might change if India and China engage in a joint agreement to develop hydrocarbon exploration and production, which could have a noticeable impact on oil dependency in the future.

Russia’s relationship with Iran has not always been cordial. Since the war between the two countries in the 19th century Iranian-Russian relations have fluctuated.  Issues such as access to the Caspian Sea, and the treatment of Muslims in Chechnya have soured the two countries relationship. Still, there are instances of Iran-Russia cooperation. This is particularly demonstrated in Russia’s continual technical support of the Iranian missile program

It is important to understand that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facility could result in massive civilian causalities given the urban geography of most of the sites.  

Even if Iran’s critics are correct there are other means of deterrence that should be explored other than war to disturb the Iranian Nuclear program such as The Stuxnet computer worm that has been used to attack Iran’s computer programs and has led to a suspension of enriching  Uranium. Other methods might include sabotage, bribery and Targeted killings.

Of Course these are recommendations under the pretense that Iran will attain Nuclear weapons to assault Israel.  Notwithstanding, Israel is not the only country in the region that wants to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia is notorious for stating that the U.S. should “cut off the head of the snake” referring to Iran.  Part of the peninsular country’s concern stems from increasing Iranian influence in Iraq.  In a Wikileaks cable titled “Saudi King Abdullah and Senior Princes on Saudi policy Toward Iraq,” the Foreign Minister, Prince Murqrin, said that the kingdom should help United States in curtailing Iranian “subversion.” The Prince added that more travel bans and restrictions on bank lending should be imposed on Iran by the international community.

The political vacuity that has defined the debate over Iran’s nuclear goals is astonishing. There is no doubt that Israel and Saudi Arabia have legitimate concerns regarding Iran. It also does not help that Ahmadinejad has made some pugnacious remarks referring to Israel and the west. Still, given America's record of intervention in Iran, it is conceivable why Iran would want to secure a weapon as a measure of detterence. If the United States wants to curtail the spread of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East then it needs to start understanding the political, international, economical context from which a nuclear Iran is emerging. Even if there was a coordinated attack on an Iranian facility that would not improve relations between the United States, and Iran or between Iran and Israel but it would make it more dangerous. Until all countries come together to explore their differences in a spirt of cooperation there will never be peace in the region with or without nuclear weapons.  

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