Iran is either bluffing or telling the truth regarding its nuclear intentions, or perhaps it is still making up its mind. This ancient nation is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation pact. It insists that it is only seeking to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as under that pact it is fully entitled to do.
That has not been shown to be untrue.
It is the job of the IAEA to monitor what is happening in the nuclear field but of course, the intelligence services of many countries have set out to do that as well. But, as was shown over Iraq, their product is not necessarily trustworthy. The continuing problem for many observers is that Iran combines a regime cruel to its own people, with a loudmouth president who talks particularly belligerent talk, specifically threatening Israel.
Iran is one of the world’s oldest and proudest nations. In addition it has the world’s largest concentration of Shi’ite Moslems and for this reason is feared by it’s Sunni neighbours, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, where Shi’ite citizens are secondary to the majority Sunni. To make matters even more complicated, Iran is a ‘Theocracy’ where belief must conform to what is the official religious line. If there is any contradiction, established facts are outweighed by religious teachings from the senior approved priests. So belief trumps rationality – very dangerous for everyone else when such a government owns nuclear weapons and could make irrational decisions to use them.
From Iran’s point of view they are surrounded by enemies because of these religious differences, and they have no formal national allies of any substance. They have identified Israel as their enemy because it is militarily the regional superpower, and they see it as the enemy of the Moslems of all persuasions. In the time of the Shah, Iran set out to be the regional superpower but were undone, partly by the upheavals of overthrowing that tyrant, and then by nationalising the western oil companies who ran their oil industry. Thus, they made enemies of the western nations as well, particularly their intelligence agencies that had tried unsuccessfully to overthrow them. Then came the terrible war against their neighbour Iraq which both countries fought for years, to an eventual mutually exhausted standstill.
All of these are elements in the current situation. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein at the hands of the US has seen neighbouring Iraq’s majority Shi’ite population do best, in the new political power game. The Sunni who are a large minority in Iraq have been unable to prevail against the Iraqi Shi’ites and inevitably are facing a subsidiary role, so the government of Iraq and its leaders are in some respects subordinate, and certainly individually well connected to neighbouring Iran.
This is the incendiary mix in which IRAN is seeking to be a nuclear state – harmless and legitimate if it is a peaceful nuclear power; absolutely unacceptable if it seeks a nuclear weapon.
Israel and their hawkish friends in the US, not necessarily in government, would like to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations without further evidence being necessary. Apart from the fact that Iran has not yet demonstrated by its actions either that it is, or is not seeking a military nuclear capacity (at this stage of development either is a possibility), so the violent military pre-emption that Israel wants could not be justified. It would clearly be illegal, just as the invasion of Iraq was illegal. After all, since in 2003, the world was conned by the US and British governments about Iraq’s WMD capabilities, there is consequently little trust about speculative intelligence reports that fall short of convincing evidence, in what is not a dissimilar situation.
It should be remembered that in 2002/3 the IAEA did not and would not report that Iraq had a nuclear capability, despite all kinds of pressure by the Bush government, and as a consequence, the UN would not legitimise the illegal IRAQ invasion which from then on had the status of a military adventure. Therefore the IAEA which after all is charged by the UN with the purpose of monitoring Iran, should be trustworthy on this distinction between military and peaceful use of nuclear energy, and in reporting back to the UN’s member states .
The parallel with 2003 is that Israel is ready to bomb Iran’s supposed nuclear development sites, purely as a pre-emptive measure. The US is clearly anxious that this should not happen – the implications are horrendous as IRAN would certainly strike back, not just at Israel, which is well defended, but at the US and its many interests in the region. Iraq’s Shi’ites would be enraged and their politicians would be hard put to it to restrain them. The waters of the Persian Gulf would become a war-zone with oil exports worldwide under threat. Saudi Arabia would go onto a war footing and at the end of the day, reflective people would conclude this was all down to the Israelis who themselves ignore UN resolutions, also have nuclear weapons which the US pretends not to see, and abuse their special relationship with the US in defying much of the rest of the world.
Our Prescription for Iran is that the tripwire requiring military or other intrusive action should depend on the monitoring by the IAEA, and then worst case, the UN should be asked to take the necessary action, through whatever countries would be prepared to deal with this militarily, or otherwise. There must be no more illegal wars at the behest of any nation state or politician, as the awful experience of IRAQ must surely have demonstrated.