Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ron Smith: Iran, Israel and Nuclear Weapons

A couple of critics of my recent posting (29 September) on the Iranian nuclear weapon programme commented that I had failed to notice the already existing substantial arsenal possessed by Israel.  There are a number of observations that might be made about this criticism and the most obvious of these is that they represent the classic ‘change the subject’ move.  The fact that Israel has a substantial nuclear arsenal, and has had such weapons for nearly fifty years, is quite beside the point.

Iran is not saying that it ought to be allowed to develop nuclear weapons because another party in the region has such weapons.  It is saying that it has no nuclear weapon programme and that its present nuclear activities are entirely peaceful. 

That is the point that I was addressing and it is significant that neither of the critics commented on this beyond (in one case) suggesting that I hadn’t ‘proved’ my point.  Readers may judge this latter assertion for themselves.  It is clear from the insistence of the international community (as represented through the UN Security Council by the P5+1 group) that there is a case to answer, and the UN group are presently in Geneva putting it to Iranian representatives.

It is also noteworthy that Iran is a signatory to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, through which it unequivocally committed itself (under Article II of the treaty), ‘not to manufacture, or otherwise acquire’ nuclear weapons.  It thus cannot claim a ‘right’ to engage in such activities, whether or not there are other parties that have such weapons.  By contrast, Israel, like India and Pakistan, did not sign the Treaty and is thus not in breach of it by the development of a nuclear arsenal. 

On the other hand, Iran can claim a right to engage in certain of what are called ‘dual-use’ technologies.  These include the sorts of process (such as uranium enrichment) that was the focus of my previous posting.  However, the point to be noted here is that a state may only claim such a right (and engage in such activity) if it accepts certain protocols to the 1968 treaty, which provide for thorough reporting and periodic inspection of its nuclear establishment.  This includes acceptance of the principle of ‘no-warning’ inspections. 

As noted in the previous blog and other blogs as far back as 2009 (6 & 19 September), Iran is manifestly in breach of these obligations.  In major part, this is the reason why Iran has been the subject of persistent sanctions over recent years.

Of course, Iran could ‘tidy-up’ many of these matters by repudiating its membership of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It would thus relieve itself of its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Authority and its inspectorate.  This is just what North Korea did a few years ago.  Iran could then proceed with its nuclear weapons programme, without these annoyances, although it might be expected that this would only intensify the sanctions regime. 

So what should be our view of this?  Should we see an Iranian programme as no worse than the Israeli nuclear programme, as my critics seem to imply?  Well, perhaps not!  The problem is not only that Iran might actually use any nuclear weapon capacity it had but also that it might provide weapon’s grade material, or a weapon, to third parties. 

In regard to the first of these possibilities, one of my critics is dismissive, ‘Does anyone really think that Iran would use one of these devices when they know that next day the world would respond and their country would be toast.’  I am not at all sure about the ‘world’ here but given that the actual target was nuclear-capable, the argument is plausible.  It is, in fact, the usual understanding of deterrence, and, of course, it works both ways.  If, as I presume, we are talking about Israel, it seems very likely that they would strike back and they have the capability to do so, but there may be some question as to whether Iran is deterrable in the usual way.  It would depend upon how important they considered the destruction of Israel to be and what they might be prepared to sacrifice to achieve it.  The two states differ in their ‘strategic depth’ (effectively, the size of the country), so the calculation is patently different for the two sides.

There is another aspect to all this and that is the possibility that, once it has it, Iran might give weapons-grade nuclear material, or a made-up device, to a third-party: a terrorist group.  This is what former president, Ahmadinejad, is quoted as having said, six years ago:
‘Iran will place its nuclear technology at the service of those determined to confront the US and other Western countries’.
(I first discussed this in a series of blogs in September of 2011)
As many commentators have pointed out, terrorists are not at all deterrable in the conventional way.  They have no reciprocal target that might be attacked by way of retaliation.  The only way to re-introduce the deterrent principle is to say that, in the event of a terrorist nuclear attack, the retaliation would be against the party that supplied the weapons-grade material (nuclear forensics would make this a plausible project).  Of course, if we are thinking of Iran here, the earlier doubt about Iran’s deterrability re-emerges.

This leads me back to the conclusion of my previous posting: either Iran gives up its nuclear weapons programme, or there is a serious risk of a preventative strike by Israel on the infrastructure of that programme, with all that that would entail.


Anonymous said...

Just a bit naive Ron.Mine was the Toast comment. The USA is the biggest sabre rattler in this dispute and according to ex 4 star general Wesley Clark Iran is on the 7 country US hit list now in progress.(put"General Wesley Clark: Wars Were Planned - Seven Countries In Five Years" into youtube search engine if you are unaware of his comments) If I know this, do you think the Iranians do not? How would you feel if NZ was on that hit list with no deterrent against it. You don't think that the Iranians love their kids too and want their country to survive.Just like the USA and Israel they are religious fanatics I know, but I don't think they want to see their country obliterated. I am sure they are aware that if there was a nuclear strike, terrorist or otherwise, the champions of false flag operations the good old USA,would not be looking for proof who did it before launching a strike on Iran. Just like 9/11 when Irak was implicated with no evidence what so ever and got what they have right now. A ruined occupied country.Do you think that fact is lost on the Iranians? You don't think that if the Israelis found it in their interests to supply another state with a Nuke they would not do it.Very Naive Ron.
Check Wikipedia on Nuclear weapons and Israel.Particularly liked this quote "The news led Ben-Gurion to make the only statement by an Israeli Prime Minister about Dimona. On December 21 he announced to the Knesset that the government was building a 24 megawatt reactor "which will serve the needs of industry, agriculture, health, and science", and that it "is designed exclusively for peaceful purposes"
Right ! Sound familiar Ron. Nobody wants any more nuclear weapons on this planet but while media keep omitting to mention Israeli nuclear capability credibility in the debate is non existent.But we have come to expect hypocrisy as the norm from the war mongering US and the Israelis and it is up to you to address that issue as a journalist. Why don't you do a piece on Wesley Clark's input? Pretty credible source I would think.

Brian said...

To Anonymous
The Muslim leaders all wish to destroy Israel; Iran is quite open about this, the others quietly passive until the time is ripe. Quite obviously you consider the USA and Israel as the aggressors, despite the huge amount of terrorist operations which are financed by Iran and other Muslim States against the West.
By its actions Iran, like North Korea is a pariah, its focus being the elimination of Israel coupled with the religious fanaticism in the final establishment of a Muslim world. If you are unable to understand this, then the word naive is certainly more appropriate your comments.
I would suggest that “Anonymous” read a history of the events of the late 1920’s and 1930’s on the effects of appeasement. No, this is not a different age that such a comparison cannot be made; for Iran and the Muslim world are at war with us and like Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, they aim to win.
Take the USA out of the equation and just how long do you think we, as an independent nation would last.....dying to the last man, women and child for New Zealand?
As young 18 year old National Service recruits we faced our first parade and the grizzled regular army Sergeant who shouted at us all.
“One pace forward all those who are prepared to die for this country, to a man we all stepped forward. The Sergeant merely said “You silly buggers, I don’t want to train men to die for this country, I want the other side’s silly buggers to die for theirs!”
Nuclear weapons and nuclear threats are here to stay, this is one hell of a very unsafe world...get used to it. As Mao once said “If you want peace, prepare for War, and carry the biggest stick”.

Dave said...

Have to agree with Brian, (anonymous) is naive beyond comprehension. For years Iran has said it wants to destroy Israel and the West and establish a new world order that is totally Muslim. Destroy means to kill, murder every single one of us who is either Christian, atheist or some other religion, anything that is not Muslim. To die for Allah is a glorious end for brainwashed radical Muslims. So Iran would be prepared to take a nuclear hit if it accomplished its goal of Murdering every Israelite and as many in the West as possible.
Most Arab states, plus Pakistan, China, North Korea will not openly support Iran in its hatred of the West but behind the scenes in the Mosques and the dictators board rooms they all support this mad 'hate the West' rhetoric.
One day unfortunately all this hate could lead to war.
The USA might not be perfect but I would much rather have them as a friend than Iran or its Arab and terrorist allies.

Anonymous said...

If Iran sends a nuclear device on Israel, they will destroy a sizeable number of Muslims as Israel is small and narrow and the range of the missile is large. It may be Iran thinks it is OK to do this and the Muslims all die a hero's death. It is OK for suicide bombers but I doubt that the total population will agree. Iran has also said that it would attack the US simultaneously to detract their attention from Israel. In either case they will unleash WWIII! Obama as a pro-Islamist (he has (1) a family member who is Muslim, hence his name, (2) studied the Koran for 2 years in Indonesia) is trying to always have talks and more talks thus giving Iran more time. The only democracy in the middle-East is little Israel but everyone is attacking her like a horde of baying dogs.

Peter said...

To Anonymous
All this Muslims want to kill us all is a little far fetched folks. I know Iranians who don't want to destroy me and who were brought up Muslims because they were born in a predominately muslim country. You Christians were born in a culture where the majority is Christian. That is the only reason you are Christians. If you had been born in Saudi Arabia.for instance, you would be a Muslim. Think about that.It is what you have been indoctrinated with as a child. Check out and see how many Dieties man has created for himself over the millenium.At the moment around 2500.Can't you see that these big religions are divisive. We need a lot more solidarity for mankind on this planet then we would not be as likely to want to blow each other up.
And which Muslim countries can realistically take on Western Military might? Irans leaders say a lot of things but they are not always the populations views, as do most governments, even here with this deep sea drilling bill in Parliament. How is Iran going to effectively attack the US. As I posted before that would be the end of their country. The yanks would not hesitate with oil involved.No pesky people around to object. The most peaceful and effective way to deal with the Muslim threat is to not pay them to breed in Western Countries. The more they breed in their own countries the less resources their government will have to wage war.
Truly,are you really worried about Iran invading NZ?