Monday, January 9, 2012

Ron Smith: Iran in 2012

I’ve written about the Iranian nuclear weapon programme before. (In these columns, 6 and 19 September 2009, 6 April 2010, and 1 September 2010.). In some ways the situation has not changed from the first of these. Iran still does not appear to have deployable nuclear capability. On the other hand, its programme is continuing, despite escalating sanctions and the political difficulties those are causing. This is clear from recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has referred to continuing enrichment activities (to which the IAEA has not been given access), and experimentation with weapon design and technology. Also continuing, are strong statements about the threat and ‘unacceptability’ of all this, from regional neighbours (especially Israel) and various of the European powers and the USA. So what are the prospects for 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.


Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for deinate proof that Iran is heading toward a nuclear weapon.
If it were, so what, Iran has a right as a sovereign country to have weapons of choice to defend herself. A look back inb history shows that Iran has invaded no other country for at least 2000 years, when we look at the history of the US and it's allies we see a list that would take minutes to get through, all this in the name of DEMO CRACY? I think not.
The agenda of the west has already been shown in the meddling in the affairs of Egypt, Lybia, and soon to be Syria as well, who is left to invade before the ME is in the total control of the US etc - Iran. It is not Iran that the west should fear, it is the west itself that should be feared.

Cheers David.

Brian said...

Iran in 2012.
I was amused with what Anonymous said...
“I'm still waiting for definite? proof that Iran is heading toward a nuclear weapon.”
The main problem with that statement is the fact that by the time proof arrives to satisfy “Anonymous”, it will be in the nose cone of an atomic missile !
It is amazing that the vast number of New Zealanders have forgotten or rather have never taken notice of the lessons of history (that is, if they have ever been taught history in our today modernistic schools, which fail to concede that anything occurred prior to European settlement or the Maoris arriving in New Zealand.) Surely the lesson of the 1930’s stand out as an example of the failure of Governments and Nations to take decisive action in the face of oncoming aggression.
The recent threats by Iran to close an international waterway must have had ramifications worldwide, although there was the rather muted response from the United Nations. Which after all was to be expected from that august bureaucratic body; intent as it is upon enforcing the concept of world appeasement and peaceful solutions whatever the cost or eventual future outcome. A classical example of bureaucratic bungling in the face of reality.
Fortunately despite the Democratic policies of the United States President and a Europe pre-occupied domestically, only Israel is willing to face what is actually happening in the Middle East from the rising threat of militant Islam. For the rest of the Western World is chiefly concerned with its mounting debt, expecting as per usual that the U.S.A will continue to police the trouble spots around the globe; and more importantly, shoulder most of the burden of those costs, together with the insults and abuse for doing so.
The question of whether Iran succeeds in its nuclear ambition, is the “Factor of Fear” which hangs like the “Sword of Damocles” over the entire Middle East. What however is not acceptable is the Western Governments’ policy of appeasement at any price. Couple this with the United Nations craven acceptance of liberal options in foreign policy; when common sense demands actions not words, to deter Iran or rather Islamic fundamentalism from a venture too far. Brian

Ray U. said...

Very true Brian. We only need to look at Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler in the 30's. It's ludacris to think a similar thing couldn't happen. The world needs less nuclear weapons, less weapons full stop, less war. Ahmadinejad needs to be engaged and persuaded. Waging war should be the last resort. However I'm sure that Israel will step up to the plate if it is threatened. They probably have a better idea of the situation in Iran than the Americans. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Ray U.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Brian and Ray. Yes, people wouldn't believe what they could see happening in Germany under Hitler's rule would actually come to pass - but it did. Iran has said it WILL attack other countries and is doing its best to obtain the necessary military capabilities to do this effectively. What is it that causes people not to want to accept the obvious? Unless Iran is stopped, it will do as it has said because that is what it is working toward.

Anonymous said...

Given the recent history of iran the need for a nuclear programe is clear.
Within living memory this country has been iinvaded by the British on a false pretext,
Had a democratly elected Govenment overthrown by the cia again because of British lies.
It has been invaded by a neighbour who at the time was supported by both the British and the USA.
It has on one side a state founded by terrorists
that has had the bomb for 50years or more.
The USA continues to support and fund this regime and has never called for sanctions
A similiar situation is on the eastern border
Pakistan has been supporting the terrorist
Taliban who have over the last decade have killed untold thousands of inocent people
to say nothing of in excess of 5000 soldiers sent to try and help
the USA suspended aid for a short while in protest then resumed like before.
With North Korea sanctions did not work
What makes them think it will work now with the secound biggest oil exporter in the world?
Now they are on the path to war against a regional power thousands of years old
a great rich country with one of the highest educational standards in the world.
It is high time some reason was introduced into this issue
with luck Iran will shortly detonate a device and present the dictatorial powers with a done deal
Then the middle east can move forward with Iran as a major force for good in the region and in the wider world
Ralph Kearton