The United States and Iran will meet in Istanbul on Saturday, April 14, to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and other issues.
But don’t hold your breath. The likelihood of a compromise from both sides is very low. Many informed analysts believe that the list of demands by the Obama administration to Iran are deliberately high and unrealistic so as to make Iran look like the one who is spoiling the good vibes and unwilling to commit to peace.
The Western message to Tehran seems pretty clear: we might be willing to tolerate some sort of Iranian nuclear program, but only one consisting of facilities that would suffer significant damage if we, or the Israelis, later decide to bomb it. In other words, we insist on holding Iranian nuclear facilities hostage to armed attack. Not the sort of formula that inspires trust among Iranian leaders and gives them much incentive to move toward an agreement.
If the goal is to further the deadlock between Iran and the West then the Obama administration’s strategy of high demands will succeed, and pave the way for war. Trita Parsi, the director of the National Iranian American Council, says: “The problem is not necessarily the demands, but the imbalance between what is demanded and what is offered.”
America is taking the Godfather’s approach to diplomacy, making offers that amount to: surrender, or die. That is not statesmanship; that is thuggery. Is the whole world supposed to be afraid of the Big Bad America and collapse at its feet of clay like slaves? Death is a better option.
The U.S. stand-off against Iran is so crazy because Iran already compromised, twice, but the U.S. rejected Iran both times. In 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran offered America the “Grand Bargain” but the Bush administration spat in the face of Iran and told it to go to hell.
The second time was in May 2010, when Brazil and Turkey reached an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program after President Obama specifically requested that they get together and strike a deal. But President Obama quickly turned his back on the deal and decided instead to impose sanctions on Iran. That is why Obama is known as a two-faced rat.
Obama and his masters always wanted to bomb Iran. The peace talks is just a stalling tactic. How can anyone trust two-faced rats like Obama and Netanyahu to sit down like gentlemen and make peace? They have no respect for Iran or for any nation. Like Bush and Cheney, Obama deserves the death penalty, not a Nobel peace prize.
Posted by Saman Mohammadi at 3:43 PM
- The CIA’s ‘Persia House’ Has Been Sending Stealth Drones Deep Into Iran For Years (businessinsider.com)
Israel will only strike Iranian nuclear facilities in September or after the United States presidential elections in November, a White House official told the British Sunday Times newspaper after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama last week.
According to the report, Obama has taken Israel’s warnings about a possible strike in Iran very seriously. The Washington source added that the president “might visit in the summer to reassure the Israelis that the US commitment to defend Israel is unshakable and thus thwart a possible autumn attack.”
Obama insisted that any attack on Iran should be postponed until after the US presidential elections in November, possibly even until next spring. The source revealed that Netanyahu consented to delaying a strike, but wished to know until when. “The question is how much time,” he reportedly said.
The White House source added that Netanyahu presented a number of demands Iran must fulfill in order to avoid an Israeli attack, including transferring 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of enriched uranium to a third party, stopping the enrichment process at the Fordow site near Qom and ceasing any further enrichment beyond the 3.5% required for power generation.
The source reported that Israel’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror presented US administration and military officials with new intelligence data about Iran’s nuclear program. The findings included “Project 111,” a project to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile warhead and conduct large-scale high-explosive experiments, the Sunday Times reported. Amidror also noted that a Russian expert in Tehran had been involved for the past six years in helping develop Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel rejected US claims that any official order from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to develop a nuclear bomb would soon reach them.
In the meeting, one Israel official told the Americans: “We’ll not know beforehand about such an order, you’ll not know, and probably Allah himself will not know. The time we’ll know for sure is when we wake up to a nuclear test.”
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA | Mon Mar 5, 2012 7:36am EST
(Reuters) – Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and the U.N. nuclear watchdog has “serious concerns” about possible military dimensions to Tehran‘s atomic activities, the agency’s chief said on Monday.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also told the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors about the lack of progress in two rounds of talks between the Vienna-based U.N. agency and Tehran this year.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to meet shortly in Washington to discuss Iran, deeply at odds over the timing for possible last-resort military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
Even though Obama offered assurances of stiffened U.S. resolve against Iran before the White House meeting, the two allies remained far apart over explicit nuclear “red lines” that Tehran should not be allowed to cross.
Iran denies suspicions that it is covertly seeking nuclear weapons capability, in part by coordinating efforts to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
But its refusal to curb sensitive atomic work that can have both civilian and military applications has drawn increasingly tough U.N. and Western sanctions against the major oil producer.
During the meetings in the Iranian capital in January and February, Iranian officials stonewalled the IAEA’s requests for access to a military site seen as central to its investigation into the nature of the Islamic state’s nuclear activity.
“The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” Amano told the closed-door meeting, according to a copy of his speech.
NO CREDIBLE ASSURANCES
The IAEA “is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” he added.
A report by the IAEA to member states last month said Iran was significantly stepping up uranium enrichment, a finding that sent oil prices higher on fears that tensions between Tehran and the West could boil over into military conflict.
Since the IAEA’s previous report in November, Amano said Iran has tripled monthly production of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent – well above the level usually needed to run nuclear power plants.
Though indicated by the IAEA’s confidential report last month, it was the first time Amano spoke in public about this rapid increase in Iran’s enrichment activities, which has stoked Western and Israeli suspicions about Tehran’s nuclear agenda.
The Islamic Republic says the more highly refined uranium will replenish the dwindling special fuel stocks of a Tehran reactor that produces medicinal isotopes.
But 20 percent enrichment, experts say, also represents most of the technical effort needed to attain the 90 percent threshold required for nuclear explosions.
Much of this work is carried out deep inside a mountain at Iran’s underground Fordow facility to better shield it against military strikes, and further expansion is planned.
Despite intensive discussions with Iran, Amano said, there had been no agreement on a “structured approach” to resolve outstanding issues with its nuclear program during the talks held in January and February.
Iran “did not address the agency’s concerns in a substantive manner,” Amano said.
Making clear, however, that he would keep trying to engage Iran on the issue, he added: “Regarding future steps, the agency will continue to address the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and in a constructive spirit.”
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
- IAEA meets to consider action on Iran’s nuclear programme (guardian.co.uk)
- Iran Holds Air Defense Drills As IAEA Says Iran Blocks Access To Key Nuclear Site (mb50.wordpress.com)
THE threat of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has pushed world oil prices up by 15 per cent in the past month and raised fears that the fissile geopolitics of the Middle East might once again spell global economic havoc.
Israel believes Iran’s nuclear program is approaching a point of no return beyond which it would be impossible to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.
Facing an election in November and enjoying the first rays of economic sunshine since the 2008 global financial crisis, Obama does not need a Middle East war and soaring oil prices.
However, there is a strong push in Israel for military action.
“If we do not stop Iran now, later on it will be impossible,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon says.
Israel, which is understood to have its own nuclear weapons, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.
Saudi Arabia has indicated it would seek nuclear capability if Iran achieved it, adding further uncertainty to the stability of the world’s richest oil region.
The next three months are the most likely time for an attack as Iranian skies are clearest during the northern spring.
Iran has declared it will close the Strait of Hormuz as a first point of retaliation for any Israeli raid.
The strait is the seaway through which the oil of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran and the United Arab Emirates is shipped.
Giant oil tankers carrying 18 million barrels of oil every day travel down the 10km-wide outbound shipping channel. This represents a quarter of the world’s oil supply and 40 per cent of seaborne oil trade.
If Iran could block the strait, it would represent a greater disruption to the world’s supplies than those that followed the 1973 oil embargo after the Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Iranian revolution, the 1980 Iraq-Iran conflict or the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that the world is ill-prepared for a new oil crisis. In a paper prepared for last weekend’s G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Mexico and released on Friday, the IMF said developed countries had run down their emergency stocks while spare capacity in the OPEC countries was no more than average.
“A halt of Iran’s exports to OECD economies without offset from other sources could trigger an initial oil price increase of around 20-30 per cent,” the fund said. “A sustained blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would lead to a much stronger and unprecedented disruption of global oil supply.”
The Australian government is expressing confidence that a crisis could be managed; however, the scale of the turmoil that would flow from a Hormuz Strait closure would far exceed the government’s contingency planning.
The shock from soaring oil prices would also undermine the emerging hopes for a global economic recovery, damaging consumer and business confidence and depressing the terms of trade for oil-importing nations.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told The Australian that any reduction of oil throughput in the Strait of Hormuz would inevitably affect global supply.
“The possible impact on Australia will depend on a range of factors, including the length of disruption.”
He said the national energy security assessment completed last year had established that the security of Australia’s supplies of liquid fuels was “robust, with resilience enabling the market to adjust to meet demand in the event of temporary global shocks”.
However, the Australian government is as politically exposed to a new oil crisis as is the Obama administration. Already, the rising oil price is feeding the Coalition’s argument that Australia can ill afford to be introducing carbon taxes.
It will put increasing pressure on the cost of living.
If rising prices turn into a full-blown oil crisis over the next few months, the case for abandoning the introduction of the July 1 start-up for the carbon tax would become overwhelming.
Australia is far more vulnerable to an oil crisis than the level of direct imports from the Middle East would suggest.
Australia’s oil refineries, which still supply 70 per cent of domestic petroleum products, depend on the Middle East for barely 15 per cent of their crude oil supplies.
Domestic oil wells, mostly in Bass Strait, supply 20 per cent, while the balance comes from more than 20 nations including Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria and New Zealand.
However, Australia also imports 30 per cent of its refined petroleum products, mostly from Singapore, which depends on the Middle East for more than 80 per cent of its supplies.
The Australian government conducted a review of its energy security late last year. The consulting firm ACIL Tasman modelled a supply disruption in which Singapore’s refineries were out of action for 30 days, depriving the region of 1.4 million barrels a day of production.
This would be similar to the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which knocked out Gulf of Mexico oil production and US oil refining in 2005.
One of the study’s authors, Alan Smart, says the shortfall pushed up prices but this was sufficient to close the gap, with demand falling and new supplies becoming available.
“When the price spiked, the market responded very quickly with the gap filled within six days.”
The study concluded that the same could be expected were Australia to lose access to Singapore supplies, with spare capacity elsewhere in Asia quickly brought onstream.
The study found that although prices would rise by 18 per cent, there would be no interruption to economic activity in Australia.
Smart cautions, however, that a localised or regional supply problem such as a refinery shutdown, may be very different from the results of a war in the Middle East.
Singapore analyst with the oil research company Wood Mackenzie Sushant Gupta says that scenarios for a closure of the strait show a major impact on oil supplies throughout the Asian region.
“There is a high dependency on Middle East crude, not just in Singapore, with some economies taking more than 90 per cent of their crude from there.”
Gupta says the spare capacity in the Asian refining industry would be of no use to Australia if the refineries could not get access to crude supplies.
Moreover, countries throughout the region would be principally concerned to secure their own domestic supplies. Countries such as South Korea, which import petroleum but export refined products would divert more of their output to their own market.
Exports from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia could also fall, at least as a short-term response.
Gupta says that in the event of shortages, Australia would suffer from being at the greatest distance from the regional refineries.
“All the Asian countries will be competing for the same barrels of produce from Singapore. The premium on the products will increase and the countries closest physically to Singapore will have the advantage due to freight.”
Gupta said there would be no additional supplies coming forward to meet shortfalls from Singapore, so it would be up to the market, with a spike in prices, to reduce demand.
So, although Australia currently draws the bulk of its supplies from non-Middle East supplies, the reality is that it is self-sufficient for only 20 per cent of supplies, and the market’s ability to supply the rest would be tested by an extended blockade in the Gulf.
An immediate response would be the drawdown of emergency supplies kept by all nations that are members of the International Energy Agency.
The IEA was established among oil importing countries in the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and requires all members to keep a minimum of 90 days’ supplies.
In Australia’s case, the reserves are held by the major oil companies as part of their normal commercial operations. The steady slide in Australia’s domestic oil supply has meant that Australia’s reserves are falling short of the requirement, currently standing at 88 days.
ACIL-Tasman warns that the shortfall is likely to increase over coming years; however, it is not enough to make a meaningful difference to Australia’s ability to withstand a crisis.
Ferguson retains sweeping powers under the Liquid Fuels Emergency Act to order the oil companies to give priority to essential fuel users in the event that the nation were confronted with physical fuel shortages.
It is not certain that Iran would succeed in an effort to block the strait, despite the total width of the waterway narrowing to 40km.
Many tankers were sunk during the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s; however, shipping technology has greatly advanced since then.
Although modern ships ostensibly make a much larger target, carrying as much as two million barrels of oil each, they are divided into sealed compartments with double-hulls and are much harder to stop or sink, even than warships.
US analysis finds that an attack on one of these vessels by three anti-ship cruise missiles would have only a 12 per cent chance of stopping it.
The same research project found Iran would have to sow a minefield with more than 1000 advanced mines, a task that would take several months, to disrupt shipping, and that would succeed in disabling only half a dozen ships.
The head of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, has said Iran would have the capacity to block the strait, but only for a short period.
“We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.”
The US Fifth Fleet, stationed on the other side of the Persian Gulf in Bahrain, including more than 20 ships including aircraft carriers, could overwhelm the sort of “small suicide boat” attacks which the US believes Iran is planning and provides a credible support to tanker fleet.
American oil researcher Amy Myers Jaffe says it would be difficult for Iran to stop the flow of oil from the Arabian Gulf for long, if at all.
What is beyond doubt, however, is that the moment Israeli aircraft start bombing Iran, the oil price will jump. It has already risen from about $US105 a barrel to $US125 since the start of the year.
The impact on Australia has been diluted by the strength of our currency, which means wholesale petrol prices have risen by only 5.5 per cent this year, but further rises are in prospect.
An analysis by Barclays Capital suggests the oil price would rise to $US150 to $US200 a barrel in the event of an attack; however, estimates are imprecise.
As well as the loss of supply, there would be additional demand from buyers seeking precautionary stocks.
Westpac’s head of international economics, Huw McKay says the world economy remains vulnerable to oil price spikes and adds this was shown in the first half of last year when the Arab Spring pushed oil prices higher.
“That put a spanner in the works for the United States economy at a time when it had finished calendar 2010 with a bit of an upswing. When it ran into the high oil prices and then the Japanese tsunami, the US had a very underwhelming first half year.”
Mr McKay says the situation is similar, with consumers beginning to show a revival in demand. “What the US consumer doesn’t need is a fuel tax hitting them.”
The jump in petrol prices both damages consumer spending and causes an exodus from US motor vehicle industry.
Higher oil prices will also damage the economies of Asia. In several Asian economies, including India and Indonesia, government subsidies to petrol means that rising fuel prices results in a loss of control over the budget.
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/21/2012 22:59 -0500
As if the market needed another bizarro catalyst to ramp even higher courtesy of an even more pronounced drop in corporate earnings courtesy of soaring energy costs, that is just what it is about to get following news of further deterioration in the Nash equilibrium in Iran, where on one hand we learn that IAEA just pronounced Iran nuclear talks a failure (this is bad), and on the other Press TV reports that the Iran army just started a 4 day air defense exercise in a 190,000 square kilometer area in southern Iran (this is just as bad). The escalation “ball” is now in the Western court. And if Iraq is any indication, after IAEA talks “failure” (no matter how grossly manipulated by the media), the aftermath is usually always one and the same…
From The Guardian:
The UN nuclear agency has declared its latest inspection visit to Iran a failure, with the regime blocking access to a key site suspected of hosting covert nuclear weapon research and no agreement reached on how to resolve other unanswered questions.
The statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency was issued shortly after an Iranian general warned of a pre-emptive strike against any nation that threatens Iran.
“We engaged in a constructive spirit but no agreement was reached,” the statement quoted IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as saying.
The communique said that Iran did not grant requests by the IAEA mission to visit Parchin, a military site thought to be used for explosives testing related to triggering a nuclear weapon. Amano called this decision “disappointing”. No agreement was reached on how to begin “clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions”, the statement said.
Apparently it is Iran’s fault for seeing right through the IAEA’s track record of being nothing but the catalyst for all out aggression. Here is a reminder why, courtesy of Hans Blix. And with that out of the way, we continue:
The fact that the statement was issued early Wednesday, shortly after midnight and just after the IAEA experts left Tehran, reflected the urgency the agency attached to announcing the failed outcome. The language of the statement clearly if indirectly blamed Tehran for the lack of progress.
We can already see the statements from Clinton, who will do anything to make her transition to head of the World Bank as seamless and as “deserved” as pobssible.
In the meantime, Iran is not playing possum:
Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base started the four-day exercises codenamed Tharallah on Monday within an area of 190,000 square kilometers in southern Iran, with the key objective of boosting the country’s air defense near the Persian Gulf and the nation’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.
During the military drills slated in four tactical phases, the Iranian army will test and assess the operation of its surface-to-air and radar equipment, and will collect new data on the procedures.
State-of -the-art radar, artillery and missile systems as well as interceptor fighter aircraft of the Air Force will be used in the military drills.
In the first phase of the drills, the fighter aircraft of the hypothetical enemy launched attacks against local air defense forces as part of an electronic warfare exercise.
Using passive and active sensors and multilevel data collection and communications systems, the air defense forces managed to thwart the mock enemy’s measures promptly and effectively, and safeguard the country’s radar network.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces wrapped up another drill codenamed Val Fajr in the central province of Yazd on Monday, to further enhance the combat preparedness of Iranian armed forces.
Why is Iran doing this now?
Iran maintains that the military drills are defensive in nature and meant to convey a message of peace and friendship to regional countries.
Tehran has also sent a public invitation to regional states to conduct joint naval drills with Iranian forces.
Rhetorical questions aside, we hope our readers stocked up on gasoline. Because things are about to get uglier. And by that we mean more expensive. But courtesy of hedonic adjustments, more expensive means cheaper, at least to the US government.
- Iran nuclear talks a failure, says IAEA (guardian.co.uk)
- UN nuclear agency says Iran talks have failed (cbc.ca)
- IAEA Says No Deal With Iran (myfoxny.com)
- Inspectors barred from Iran site (bbc.co.uk)
- BBC News – Iran nuclear row: UN inspectors barred from Iran site (bbc.co.uk)
by Jean-Michel Berthoud, swissinfo.ch
The United States authorities have long been at odds with some Swiss banks, but could soon be turning their sights on Swiss-based commodity traders.
At issue are new economic sanctions against Iran passed by the US Congress at the end of last year, and which come into force on July 1.
Both the European Union and the US have imposed sanctions because they believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear progamme is for peaceful purposes only.
Switzerland has been unhappy about sanctions against Iran in the past, chiefly because it has represented US interests in Iran for over 30 years. It has also tried to mediate unofficially in the dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.
A year ago Switzerland stepped up its economic sanctions against Iran to bring them into line with those of the EU and the US, but only after coming under prolonged international pressure.
Now Switzerland finds itself being pushed into a corner once again. On January 23 the EU announced that it would step up its measures against Iran in the middle of 2012.
And on February 6 Barack Obama ratcheted up US sanctions yet further. He ordered an embargo on property and assets belonging to the Iranian government and to the Iranian central bank in the US. All Iranian financial institutions are also affected.
Switzerland stopped importing oil from Iran in 2006. According to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), in 2010 its imports of other items were worth only €27.4 million (SFr33 million). But its exports – mainly pharmaceuticals and machinery – were worth rather more: €562.6 million in 2010.
According to documents published by WikiLeaks, representatives of the US embassy in Bern have called on Seco to prevent the export of what are described as sensitive goods to Iran several times in the past few years. In most cases it seems that Seco immediately complied.
Seco deputy spokeswoman Marie Avet, could not confirm the truth of these leaks to swissinfo.ch, nor comment on them.
Christa Markwalder, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, reminded swissinfo.ch that the documents released by WikiLeaks were written for internal use by the US administration.
“I would not overrate Wikileaks,” she said. “After all, Switzerland is a sovereign state with its own foreign policy. We are also the protecting power for the US in Iran, which means we are of particular interest to the US as far as Iran is concerned.”
According to the respected German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, David S. Cohen, the US Treasury’s under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, visited Bern at the beginning of February for talks with various members of the Swiss administration, including Seco. Cohen is responsible for the implementation of sanctions against Iran.
“No comment,” said Avet.
However, Alexander N. Daniels, public affairs officer at the US embassy in Bern, was more forthcoming. He confirmed to swissinfo.ch that Cohen had been in Bern to explain the new US measures to the foreign ministry and Seco.
They include a boycott of Iran’s central bank, which has often acted recently as a financial intermediary for oil deals, and which is also thought to finance a large proportion of the imports for the Iranian nuclear programme.
Daniels added that Cohen had had similar talks in Britain and Germany.
Although Switzerland no longer imports Iranian oil, about one third of the world’s oil deals are thought to be brokered by five Swiss-based commodity-trading giants – Glencore, Gunvor, Vitol, Trafigura and Mercuria.
Avet assured swissinfo.ch that the commodity traders would follow the sanctions in business involving the US.
She said the same question had arisen over the EU sanctions. But there the problem is that the EU has only issued a decision, and it is not yet clear how the measures are to be implemented in practice.
“So at the moment we cannot give you any more information,” she told swissinfo.ch. “But clearly, in trading and doing business with countries which have introduced these sanctions, we shall keep to them.”
Markwalder pointed out that Switzerland is a major trading centre for raw materials, in particular oil products, and some large companies were deeply involved. But she added that it is not clear to what extent they would be affected as far as oil products from Iran are concerned, if at all.
“It would actually be in the interest of these firms to obey the sanctions. Since these businesses are involved in trade all over the world, they have no interest in losing market access, licences and so on in the US.”
The Swiss government is to consult about how it should react to the strengthened EU and US measures. It will take its decision on the basis of an assessment by Seco.
Markwalder said the foreign affairs committee would also be discussing the matter.
“Switzerland would need some very good arguments if it were to break ranks with the western states – that’s to say, the EU and US,” she said.
“It’s true that we play a rather special role as a protecting power in Iran, but we still cannot afford to stand aside and provide a platform for sanctions busting.”
Jean-Michel Berthoud, swissinfo.ch
(Translated from German by Julia Slater)
- America wants sanctions to hurt only Iran (nation.com.pk)
- You: Barak urges tougher Iran sanctions (japantimes.co.jp)
- Global bank hub ready to implement Iran sanctions (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Iran Reveals Details Of Stuxnet Virus Attack (huffingtonpost.com)
- Russian steel bent by Iranian sanctions (rt.com)
by ROBERT HADDICK
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius created a tempest last week when he reported U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s prediction that Israel will attack Iran and its nuclear complex “in April, May or June.” Ignatius’s column was as startling as it was exasperating. When the sitting U.S. defense secretary — presumably privy to facts not generally available to the public — makes such a prediction, observers have good reasons to pay attention. On the other hand, the international community has been openly dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue for nearly a decade, with similar crescendos of anticipation having occurred before, all to no effect. Why would this time be different?
Further, an Israeli air campaign against Iran would seem like an amazingly reckless act. And an unnecessary one, too, since international sanctions against Iran’s banks and oil market are just now tightening dramatically.
Yet from Israel’s point of view, time really has run out. The sanctions have come too late. And when Israeli policymakers consider their advantages and all of the alternatives available, an air campaign, while both regrettable and risky, is not reckless.
1. Time pressure
In his column, Ignatius mentioned this spring as the likely deadline for an Israeli strike. Why so soon? After all, the Iranian program is still under the supervision of IAEA inspectors and Iran has not made any moves to “break out” toward the production of bomb-grade highly enriched uranium.
But as a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center discusses, Iran’s uranium enrichment effort continues to advance, even after the Stuxnet computer attack and the assassination of several of its nuclear scientists. According to the report, Iran seems to be successfully installing advanced, high-efficiency uranium-enrichment centrifuges, which foreshadows a significant increase in enrichment capacity and output in the near future. More ominously from Israel’s perspective, Iran is now installing centrifuge cascades into the Fordow mountain site near Qom, a bunker that is too deep for Israeli bombs to penetrate.
On-site IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring Iran’s nuclear fuel production and would report any diversions to military use. As Tehran undoubtedly assumes, such a “breakout” (tossing out the inspectors and quickly enriching to the bomb-grade level) would be a casus belli, with air strikes from Israel likely to soon follow. Israeli leaders may have concluded that Iran could break out with impunity after the Fordow site is operational and the enrichment effort has produced enough low-enriched uranium feedstock for several bombs. According to the Bipartisan Center report, Iran will be in this position later this year. According to the New York Times, U.S. and Israeli officials differ over their calculations of when Iran will have crossed into a “zone of immunity.” Given their more precarious position, it is understandable that Israeli policymakers are adopting a more conservative assessment.
2. Alternatives to military action now fall short
Israeli leaders undoubtedly understand that starting a war is risky. There should be convincing reasons for discarding the non-military alternatives.
The international sanctions effort against Iran’s banking system and oil industry are inflicting damage on the country’s economy and seem to be delivering political punishment to the regime. But they have not slowed the nuclear program, nor are they likely to have any effect on the timeline described above. And as long as Russia, China, India, and others continue to support Iran economically and politically, the sanctions regime is unlikely to be harsh enough to change Israel’s calculation of the risks, at least within a meaningful time frame.
Why can’t Israel’s secret but widely assumed nuclear arsenal deter an Iranian nuclear strike? Israel’s territory and population are so small that even one nuclear blast would be devastating. Israel would very much like to possess a survivable and stabilizing second-strike retaliatory capability. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union achieved this mainly with their ballistic missile submarine fleets, which were always on patrol and held each others’ cities at risk. Israel does not have large numbers of submarines or any nuclear-powered subs capable of long submerged patrols. Nor can it be confident that its policymakers or command-and-control systems would survive an Iranian nuclear first strike.
Even if Iran sought a nuclear weapons capability solely to establish its own defensive deterrent, the outcome would be gross instability in the region, very likely leading to one side or the other attempting a preemptive attack (the Iranian government denies that its nuclear program has a military purpose). Very short missile flight times, fragile early-warning and command systems, and no survivable second-strike forces would lead to a hair-trigger “use it or lose it” dynamic. An Israeli attack now on Iran’s nuclear program would be an attempt to prevent this situation from occurring.
3. The benefits of escalation
A strike on Iran’s nuclear complex would be at the outer boundary of the Israeli Air Force‘s capabilities. The important targets in Iran are near the maximum range of Israel’s fighter-bombers. The fact that Iraq’s airspace, on the direct line between Israel and Iran, is for now undefended is one more reason why Israel’s leaders would want to strike sooner rather than later. Israel’s small inventory of bunker-buster bombs may damage the underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, but they will likely have no effect on the Fordow mountain complex. Iran has undoubtedly dispersed and hidden many other nuclear facilities. An Israeli strike is thus likely to have only a limited and temporary effect on Iran’s nuclear program.
If so, why bother, especially when such a strike risks sparking a wider war? Israel’s leaders may actually prefer a wider escalating conflict, especially before Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state. Under this theory, Israel would take the first shot with a narrowly tailored attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Paradoxically, Israel’s leaders might then prefer Iranian retaliation, which would then give Israel the justification for broader strikes against Iran’s oil industry, power grid, and communication systems. Even better if Iran were to block the Strait of Hormuz or attack U.S. forces in the region, which would bring U.S. Central Command into the war and result in even more punishment for Iran. Israel’s leaders may believe that they enjoy “escalation dominance,” meaning that the more the war escalates, the worse the consequences for Iran compared to Israel. Israel raided Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007. Neither Saddam Hussein nor Bashar al-Assad opted to retaliate, very likely because both knew that Israel, with its air power, possessed escalation dominance. Israel’s leaders have good reason to assume that Iran’s leaders will reach the same conclusion.
What about the rockets possessed by Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s proxies north and south of Israel’s population centers? Israel’s leaders may believe that they are much better prepared to respond to these threats than they were in 2006, when the Israeli army struggled against Hezbollah. There is no guarantee that Hezbollah and Hamas will follow orders from Tehran to attack — they understand the punishment the reformed Israeli army would inflict. Hezbollah may now have an excellent reason to exercise caution. Should the Assad regime in Damascus collapse, Hezbollah would likely lose its most important protector and could soon find itself cut off and surrounded by enemies. It would thus be a particularly bad time for Hezbollah to invite an Israeli ground assault into southern Lebanon.
4. Managing the endgame
An Israeli raid on Iran’s nuclear complex would probably not lead to the permanent collapse of the program. Iran could dig out the entrances to the Fordow site and establish new covert research and production facilities elsewhere, perhaps in bunkers dug under residential areas. Israel inflicted a major setback on Iraq’s program when it destroyed the unfinished Osirak reactor in 1981. Even so, Saddam Hussein covertly restarted the program. Israel should expect the same persistence from Iran.
So is there any favorable end-state for Israel? Israeli leaders may envision a long term war of attrition against Iran’s program, hoping to slow its progress to a crawl while waiting for regime change in Tehran. Through sporadic follow-up strikes against nuclear targets, Israel would attempt to demoralize the industry’s workforce, disrupt its operations, and greatly increase the costs of the program. Israeli leaders might hope that their attrition tactics, delivered through occasional air strikes, would bog down the nuclear program while international sanctions weaken the civilian economy and reduce political support for the regime. The stable and favorable outcome for Israel would be either Tehran’s abandonment of its nuclear program or an internal rebellion against the regime. Israel would be counting more on hope rather than a convincing set of actions to achieve these outcomes. But the imperative now for Israel is to halt the program, especially since no one else is under the same time pressure they are.
Israel should expect Tehran to mount a vigorous defense. Iran would attempt to acquire modern air defense systems from Russia or China. It would attempt to rally international support against Israeli aggression and get its international sanctions lifted and imposed on Israel instead. An Israeli assault on Iran would disrupt oil and financial markets with harmful consequences for the global economy. Israel would take the blame, with adverse political and economic consequences to follow.
But none of these consequences are likely enough to dissuade Israel from attacking. A nuclear capability is a red line that Israel has twice prevented its opponents from crossing. Iran won’t get across the line either. Just as happened in 1981 and 2007, Israel’s leaders have good reasons to conclude that its possession of escalation dominance will minimize the worst concerns about retaliation. Perhaps most importantly, Israel is under the greatest time pressure, which is why it will have to go it alone and start what will be a long and nerve-wracking war.
- At the Pentagon and in Israel, Plans Show the Difficulties of An Iran Strike (newsworldwide.wordpress.com)
- Panetta believes Israel may strike Iran this spring (telegraph.co.uk)
- Panetta believes Israel may strike Iran this spring: reports – Reuters (reuters.com)
Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option
In early October, U.S. officials accused Iranian operatives of planning to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States on American soil. Iran denied the charges, but the episode has already managed to increase tensions between Washington and Tehran. Although the Obama administration has not publicly threatened to retaliate with military force, the allegations have underscored the real and growing risk that the two sides could go to war sometime soon — particularly over Iran’s advancing nuclear program.
For several years now, starting long before this episode, American pundits and policymakers have been debating whether the United States should attack Iran and attempt to eliminate its nuclear facilities. Proponents of a strike have argued that the only thing worse than military action against Iran would be an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Critics, meanwhile, have warned that such a raid would likely fail and, even if it succeeded, would spark a full-fledged war and a global economic crisis. They have urged the United States to rely on nonmilitary options, such as diplomacy, sanctions, and covert operations, to prevent Iran from acquiring a bomb. Fearing the costs of a bombing campaign, most critics maintain that if these other tactics fail to impede Tehran’s progress, the United States should simply learn to live with a nuclear Iran.
But skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease — that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.
DANGERS OF DETERRENCE
- Group urges credible US military threat to Iran – Reuters India (in.reuters.com)
- Iran Launches Spanish TV In Jab At U.S. ‘Dominance’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Think Tank Calls On US To Deploy Another Warship To Threaten Iran (mountainrepublic.net)
- Optimistic UN nuclear team plans new Iran trip (cbsnews.com)