Saturday, September 29, 2012

the red line

 Many politicians and much of the media have been claiming Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons since the mid-1980’s ignoring the fact that Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and repeatedly refuses a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (MENWFZ) to be established as a means of ending the stand-off with Tehran, despite majority support from the Israeli public.

House Republican Research Committee in 1992: “98 percent certainty that Iran already had all (or virtually all) of the components required for two or three operational nuclear weapons.” Also in 1992, then-member of parliament Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that Iran was 3 to 5 years from having a nuclear weapon—and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

Yet in 2007 the National Intelligence Estimate (a compilation of data evaluated by America’s 17 intelligence agencies): “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program” which as re-confirmed by the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that declared there were no serious revisions to the 2007 NIE.

These findings echo reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has also concluded that no conclusive evidence existed that Iran was building nuclear weapons.While the IAEA report on Iran from August 30, 2012 documented an increase in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure (underground centrifuge production, etc.) it also stated that their stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium—the only material capable of being enriched further to 85% or weapons grade—had actually diminished as a result of conversion to fuel plates for use in the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is entitled to enrich uranium to low levels for domestic power consumption and medical treatment, such as radiation therapy for cancer patients. Before Iran can convert a civilian nuclear energy into a weapons programme , it must break the IAEA monitoring seals on its uranium stockpile, which is also under constant camera detection. It must also kick out international inspectors, who currently have unfettered access to all of Iran’s nuclear sites. Those would be the first true warning indicators that Iran was building nuclear weapons.

According to Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister: “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel.” While Dan Halutz, former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Commander of the Israeli Air Force concedes “Iran poses a serious threat, but not an existential one. The use of this terminology is misleading. If it is intended to encourage a strike on Iran, it’s a mistake." A view supported by Tamir Pardo, Director of the Mossad: “Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.”

 Those familiar with the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) know that when confronted with the possibility of your own annihilation, so the theory goes, you’re incentivized to refrain from launching a first strike.  Israel’s own stockpile, estimated at a several hundred high-yield warheads, and Israel’s fleet German-made Dolphin class submarines equipped with nuclear missiles assures that even if a first strike were to be carried out on the Jewish state, the perpetrator would still be subject to a retaliatory strike ensures that Tehran would not engage in a first-strike. It is , however, argued that the Iran’s leadership is fanatical and suicidal. But General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has declared that  “We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.” and the Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz stated that  “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” While Iran’s governmental structure is religiously based and can be described as a vicious theocratic regime which oppresses its own people,  it is hardly unique. Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, enforces religious doctrine as viciously if not more so than Iran does.

Despite war hysteria in Israel, fanned by political rhetoric, and legitimate conventional security concerns for the Jewish state, Israeli security and military officials recognize that an attack upon Iran would be a mistake. Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan said a future Israeli Air Force strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” and former Internal Security Chief Yuval Diskin: “…attacking Iran will encourage them to develop a bomb all the faster.” An opinion seconded by former CIA Director Michael Hayden who commented upon war deliberations within the Bush administration: “the consensus was that [a brief bombing campaign] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent: an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.” Many proponents of a strike have cited the Israeli raid on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 as a precedent that could be emulated ignoring that the U.S. intelligence concluded that the 1981 attack didn’t stop Saddam’s nuclear weapons program—it accelerated it. It was actually the consequences of Saddam’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait that brought Iraq’s bomb program to a halt.

In a March 2012 poll 58% of Israelis oppose a unilateral strike on Iran. An August 2012 showed only 27% of Jewish Israelis in favor of a unilateral strike on Iran. While public opinion are malleable, surveys show Israelis are very skeptical about war with Iran and it is true that survey responses vary depending on how the question is asked. When confronted with the baseless assertion that Iran is building nuclear weapons, many respondents aver that military action is worth it. But when given the correct facts, they conclude that the downsides of military force aren’t worth the payoff.

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