Monday, January 9, 2012
Ron Smith: Iran in 2012
One of these is a continuation of the present situation. In this scenario, Iran continues to position itself to make a deployable nuclear arsenal, by accumulating weapons-grade fissile material and developing the components of a workable device, without either testing, or overtly deploying such a device. This would be in defiance of the United Nations and, particularly, its nuclear proliferation watch-dog, the IAEA, but it probably would not provoke action from the UN, or, even the most directly involved party, Israel. President Obama, in an election year, is unlikely to give a ‘green-light’ and may not be relied upon to give support, should Israel act alone. The President has little more to lose, as far as the Jewish vote in the United States is concerned.
In these circumstances, it would be very foolish for Iran to ‘rock the boat’ by testing an actual device, or allowing itself to be caught in a new terrorist adventure, like the failed plots of last year to kill the Saudi Ambassador, or senior US officials, on US territory. But might it do so, anyway? The recent Iranian naval exercises in the Straits of Hormuz have raised another possibility. In retaliation to the recent intensification of international sanctions, could Iran attempt to close these straits to international commerce and thus cut off nearly half of the world’s oil? In the last few days, Iran has seemed to have said that it might. The crucial question is then, what would the world do? More particularly, what would the world’s dominant naval power do? There have been strong statements from the United States (and not simply from Republican presidential hopefuls) that to close international waterways like this, would be an act of war, to which the United States would be bound to respond. Any conflict precipitated by such a response could not be limited to naval matters. It would have to encompass Iran’s military capability in a general way and, inevitably, that would include its nuclear potential. In terms of Iranian interests, this would also be very ‘foolish’.
Of course, there is another way of looking at this. An America wishing to force the nuclear issue could attempt to provoke the Iranians into doing just this: closing the straits to international traffic. It is interesting that the American carrier naval group, normally based at Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, has recently come out through the Hormuz Straits. Insofar as this fleet was vulnerable to surprise attack from Iran, this vulnerability is much reduced. But insofar as a return of the fleet to its base could be seen in Tehran as provocation (or, indeed, ‘dressed’ particularly to seem so) it could precipitate the conflict envisaged in the paragraph above, and achieve the object of preventing the ‘unacceptable’. Well, maybe not in an election year.
So, for 2012, I expect more of the same. Iran will continue with its nuclear weapons’ programme and the world will continue to deal ineffectually with this coming threat. This is partly because major players, like Russia and China have interests that are more important to them: trade, oil, generally discomforting the United States. For some reason they do not see a nuclear armed, terrorist-sponsoring Iran as a threat. As has been widely observed (including by me in some of those earlier articles), the danger is not so much that Iran would acquire such an arsenal as to directly threaten a major nuclear state, as that it might supply terrorist groups with nuclear material from which they might make ‘dirty bombs’, or even crude nuclear explosive devices. President Ahmadinejad has already articulated such an intention, in respect of Israel and the US, but it is not clear to me why Islamic groups to the south of Russia, or in the north-west of China, could not also lay claim to such support. Then there is the matter of further proliferation. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are already thinking about their future.
Probably none of these things will happen in 2012 but on present trends, something has got to give. Either Iran is persuaded/obliged to give up its nuclear ambitions before it has significantly weaponised its nuclear programme, or there will be nothing to restrain a rampant Iran, with inevitable consequences for the Middle East and the wider world. There is also the possibility of nuclear war from a state that may not, itself, be as ‘deterrable’ as the nuclear adversaries of the Cold War.
at 8:29 AM