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Edition 1 Volume 4 - January 05, 2006

A nuclear Iran?
Uneasy neighbors  - Irfan Husain

If Iran's nuclear dreams are suddenly shattered through outside intervention, most of the tears shed in Pakistan will be crocodile tears.

A challenge to Israel's strategic primacy  - Trita Parsi

At the heart of Israel's campaign are the regional and strategic consequences of nuclear technology parity in the region.

Wagging the wolf  - Mark Perry

The US seems less concerned with nuclear weapons and more concerned with Iran.

The Israeli perspective  - Zeev Schiff

Why won't Sunni Arab states fear an extremist Shi'ite Iran that has acquired nuclear weapons?

Iranian nationalism and the nuclear issue  - Sadegh Zibakalam

Many Iranians believe US pressure is a conspiracy to keep Iran backward and dependent on the West.


Uneasy neighbors
 Irfan Husain

As the confrontation sharpens over Iran's nuclear program, few Pakistani analysts have expressed much concern over the possibility of atomic weapons arrayed on their western border. Thus far, most people are more irked over perceived American bullying of an Islamic neighbor than they are nervous about a possible threat.

But given the ongoing Shi'ite-Sunni tensions that have often turned violent, it is only a matter of time before the situation changes. Pakistan's relations with Iran underwent a sea-change with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the following civil war. Earlier, especially under the Shah, Iran was one of Pakistan's closest friends and allies. The Khomeini revolution brought about a measure of rethinking as Pakistan's elite, despite lip service to Islam, certainly did not want a Khomeini-style revolution. And with then-President Zia ul-Haq's increasing reliance on the mullahs for support, it became important to emphasize the doctrinaire differences between orthodox Shi'ite and Sunni beliefs, minor though they are. Zia's encouragement of violent Sunni groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi bred a number of hydra-headed terrorist gangs that have declared Shi'ites as non-Muslims.

This growing sectarian divide was reflected in the conduct of the Afghan civil war, in which Pakistan supported the most radical Sunni groups, finally settling on the benighted Taliban. Iran, on the other hand, armed Shi'ite groups like Shah Ahmed Masoud's in the Panjshir Valley. These differences often spilled out in the open, and led to increasing rivalry between the military and intelligence organizations in both countries.

As Pakistan continues its slide into an ideological Sunni state, its competition with Shi'ite Iran is bound to sharpen. There are already tensions over Pakistan's support for the United States. Iranian President Ahmadinezhad's public rebuke to Muslim states talking to Israel was clearly aimed at Islamabad. Thus far Iran's nuclear program, while not perceived as a threat, has certainly not been well-received by anti-Shi'ite groups.

Another factor that causes unease among defense analysts is India's growing commercial relations with Iran. While encirclement is too strong a term for the current threat analysis, New Delhi's increasing influence with Tehran cannot bode well for Islamabad, which has traditionally viewed its western neighbor as a source of strategic depth in case of an armed conflict with India.

One reason for Iran to run the gauntlet to acquire nuclear weapons is the knowledge that Pakistan, a Sunni state, already has them. More than Washington and Tel Aviv, Tehran has reason to fear Sunni zealots in Islamabad with access to a nuclear arsenal and a delivery system. If this is the West's worst nightmare, so is it Iran's.

If Pakistan is not yet wary of Iran's nuclear ambitions, it is because they have not yet registered on Pakistan's political and security radar. Another view is that between Washington and Tel Aviv, somebody else will sort out this problem. So if a few cruise missiles do take out some Iranian nuclear installations not many genuine tears will be shed, although many editorials and street protests will condemn this act.

Given the ideological differences that have surfaced between Iran and Pakistan over the last two decades, it is increasingly obvious that their strategic interests are now widely divergent. Pakistan, while an increasingly Islamic state, sees its future as linked to the West. Iran, with the luxury of vast oil reserves, can afford more extreme ideological and anti-western postures. In Tehran, intellectuals openly sneer at President Pervez Musharraf's pro-Bush policy, and this is often reflected in the officially condoned media.

Secular Pakistanis who opposed the country's nuclear program view the introduction of any new WMDs into this volatile region with alarm. Mullahs are not the most rational people to have in control over such dangerous weapons. The risk is that, lacking a scientific education, they will see nuclear warheads as just bigger bombs to smite their foes with. With their sights fixed on the afterlife with all its promised delights, they would be more prone to pull the nuclear trigger than more skeptical souls.

Despite these real and potential concerns, the pressure being applied by Washington and Tel Aviv on a fellow Muslim country is causing public anger in Pakistan. The usual argument is trotted out: if Israel can have a nuclear arsenal, why cannot Iran? The truth is that most people in Pakistan cheered when the country's scientists first tested their bombs in 1998. Few considered or analyzed the implications of acquiring such weapons. Now, seven years later, some of us realize we may be more, not less, vulnerable: in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Musharraf cited the threat to Pakistan's nuclear installations as one reason for his agreeing to support Bush's war against terror and Washington's toppling of the Taliban.

All said and done, if Iran's nuclear dreams are suddenly shattered through outside intervention, most of the tears shed in Pakistan will be crocodile tears.- Published 5/1/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org


Irfan Husain writes two columns a week for Dawn, Pakistan's widest circulating and most influential daily. After a career in the civil service spanning 30 years, he was president of a university in Pakistan for five years. He now divides his time between England and Pakistan.


A challenge to Israel's strategic primacy
 Trita Parsi

For more than 14 years, Israel has been the primary force countering Iran's nuclear advances. Though Israel presents the prospect of a nuclear Iran as a global rather than an Israeli problem, it has compelled Washington to adopt its own red lines and not those of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

To Israel, nuclear know-how is tantamount to a nuclear bomb; once Iran controls the fuel cycle, Israel maintains, it can weaponize at will in spite of its obligations under the NPT. Consequently, Israel's position has held that Iran's nuclear program should be halted well ahead of the red line of uranium enrichment, even though enrichment is permitted by the NPT and is conducted by numerous states.

What lies at the heart of Israel's campaign to halt Iran's nuclear advances, however, is not necessarily the fear of a nuclear clash, but the regional and strategic consequences nuclear technology parity in the Middle East will have for Israel.

In spite of its rhetoric, Israel views the regime in Tehran as rational (but extremist), calculating and risk-averse. Even those Israeli officials who believe that Iran is hell-bent on destroying the Jewish state recognize that Tehran is unlikely to attack Israel with nuclear weapons due to the destruction Israel would inflict on Iran through its second-strike capability. With its nuclear-equipped submarines, Israel has a guaranteed second-strike capability. "Whatever measure [the Iranians] have, they can't destroy Israel's capability to respond," Ranaan Gissin, spokesperson for Israel's prime minister, told me.

Instead, the real danger a nuclear-capable Iran brings with it for Israel is twofold. First, an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons--but that can build them--will significantly damage Israel's ability to deter militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations. It will damage the image of Israel as the sole nuclear-armed state in the region and undercut the myth of its invincibility. Gone would be the days when Israel's military supremacy would enable it to dictate the parameters of peace and pursue unilateral peace plans. "We cannot afford a nuclear bomb in the hands of our enemies, period. They don't have to use it; the fact that they have it is enough," Member of Knesset Ephraim Sneh explained to me.

This could force Israel to accept territorial compromises with its neighbors in order to deprive Iran of points of hostility that it could use against the Jewish state. Israel simply would not be able to afford a nuclear rivalry with Iran and continued territorial disputes with the Arabs at the same time. "I don't want the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be held under the shadow of an Iranian nuclear bomb," Sneh continued.

Second, the deterrence and power Iran would gain by mastering the fuel cycle could compel Washington to cut a deal with Tehran in which Iran would be recognized as a regional power and gain strategic significance in the Middle East at the expense of Israel. This has been a major Israeli fear since the end of the Cold War, when Israel's strategic utility to Washington lost considerable justification due to the absence of a Soviet threat. Under these circumstances, US-Iran negotiations could damage Israel's strategic standing, since common interests shared by Iran and the US would overshadow Israel's concerns with Tehran and leave Israel alone in facing its Iranian rival. The Great Satan will eventually make up with the ayatollahs and forget about the Jewish state, Israeli officials fear.

A US-Iran breakthrough would alter the order of the Middle East in favor of Israel's strategic rival, Iran. Over the past 15 years, Israeli-Iranian tensions have peaked at every opportunity to reconfigure the Middle East's geopolitical map. The end of the Cold War and the launch of the peace process made Iran a front-line state against Israel, a position it had actively avoided during the first decade of the revolution. The tremors that shook the Middle East system after the 9/11 attacks, in turn, put Israel again in a position in which it risked becoming a burden rather than an asset to the US, while Iran's help in Afghanistan was sorely needed.

The recent plethora of leaks and hints of Israel's readiness to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities should be seen in light of Israel's fear of a US-Iran deal. The Israeli leaks have not coincided with major advances in Iran's nuclear program, but rather with hints of an American preparedness to strike a compromise with Tehran that would grant it the dreaded know-how and limit Israel's strategic maneuverability.

Since Israel itself is incapable of neutralizing Iran's program through air strikes, the veiled threats coming out of Tel Aviv are aimed at pressuring Washington not to moderate its stance, by warning it about the real consequences of an Israeli assault on Iran: a major escalation of the violence in the region that ultimately would fall into America's lap. Whether it liked it or not, Washington would get sucked into the ensuing mess. And whether Washington gave a green light to the assault or not, it would escape neither the blame nor the responsibility to restore order.

Using this as leverage against the US, Israel is playing hardball to prevent Washington from cutting a deal with Tehran that could benefit America, but deprive Israel of its military and strategic supremacy.- Published 5/1/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org


Trita Parsi is the author of Treacherous Alliance--The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US and a silver medal recipient of the Council on Foreign Relations' Arthur Ross Book Award.


Wagging the wolf
 Mark Perry

To help explain the Middle East, a senior leader of an organization that my government describes as "terrorist" recently told me a parable. "There was once a wolf and a goat," he said. "The wolf was guarding a spring and the goat was drinking from the pond below. The wolf growled at the goat: 'I'm going to kill you because you're drinking my water.' The goat shook his head: 'you're not going to kill me because I'm drinking your water,' he bleated. 'You're going to kill me because you're the wolf--and I'm the goat.'"

My friend's parable seems particularly pertinent just now, as rumors are once again circulating that the US is considering a military strike that would destroy Iran's nuclear capacity. The reports have been sparked by Iran's announcement that it will resume nuclear research that includes uranium enrichment, a step essential to the building of a nuclear weapon. Even defenders of Iran view this announcement with trepidation, as nuclear weapons are "inherently destabilizing"--that is to say, really dangerous.

Oddly, the US seems less concerned with nuclear weapons and more concerned with Iran. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns made this clear in a speech last November 30. Iran should be barred from enriching uranium, Burns said, because it supports international terrorism (they "fund" Hizballah which "represents a threat to Lebanon's fragile peace"--the views of Lebanon's voters notwithstanding), because Iran is "undermining Iraqi sovereignty" (breathtaking, really, when you think about it), because Iran has an "abysmal" human rights record (as opposed to China), and because Iran is not a democracy (like, say, Pakistan).

Nowhere did Burns mention that our government considers the development of nuclear weapons bad in itself because the consequences of their use are too horrible to consider. Rather, Burns seemed to be saying that if Iran ceased funding Hizballah, stopped interfering in Iraq, opened its jails and became more democratic, well then by golly it could have its nuclear weapons. In truth, this is much less ludicrous than it seems. There's even a precedent for it: India has nuclear weapons, and we think that's just fine. Despite the fact that India never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which Iran, ahem, has signed), the US lifted sanctions against India when the Indian government signed on to the war against terrorism. The message was clear: the US will reward a country that breaks the rules, so long as it is an American ally.

Almost exactly one year ago, George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the creation of a new US-India "strategic partnership." The partnership includes joint development of commercial satellites, the transfer of previously barred US technology, expanded trade and deeper military cooperation. The new partnership was not a surprise: it was signaled by Israel's public opening to the Indian government in September of 2001 (in a visit by Israeli Major General Uzi Dayan, during which they discussed combating "Islamic terrorism"), by the creation of a US-India Institute for Strategic Policy (endorsed by then Under Secretary of Defense Doug Feith), by State Department approval of Israeli-Indian cooperation--"we're always glad when our friends make friends with each other," the State Department's Richard Boucher said--and by US approval of the sale of three Israeli Phalcon airborne early warning systems to New Delhi.

Our other ally, Pakistan (which also, alas, has nuclear weapons), was initially outraged by the US-India partnership and called the transfer of Phalcon technology "a matter of serious concern." But these Pakistani criticisms had been heard first in September of 2003, when Ariel Sharon made a highly publicized visit to New Delhi. Welcomed as a partner (and the largest supplier of India's military establishment), the Sharon visit led Pakistani officials to quietly suggest that President Pervez Musharraf follow suit by building his own relationship with Israel. When Musharraf visited Washington, President Bush reportedly urged him to consider improving relations with Israel. The Pakistani president proved he knows how to take a hint and rushed to tell reporters at Camp David that opening relations with Israel was not out of the question. Inevitably, Musharraf's statement was followed by a meeting of Pakistan's and Israel's foreign ministers in Istanbul on September 1 of last year. We all note, proudly, that this rapprochement has provided new stability in the region--because it's important that our friends make friends with each other.

The Iranian leadership might be condemned for viewing these series of events with deep cynicism. That we would urge our allies to recognize Israel should not come as a surprise. But regardless of their cynicism they know how to read newspapers (even Pakistani newspapers). These were the same newspapers that urged Musharraf to build a "new relationship" between their country and Israel. The reason? Because "recognition of Israel would reduce the risk of an Israeli strike against Pakistan's nuclear resources." We might be loathe to draw our own conclusions from such statements, discomfiting as they are: US policy toward Iran has a lot less to do with democracy or terrorism or Hizballah or human rights (or nuclear weapons, for that matter) than it does with serving the needs of Israel. That may well be false. It may be that the US is acting in good faith. It may be that recognition of Israel is not a condition of being a nuclear power. It may be that my government is actually working to stop the spread of nuclear weapons because they're bad weapons. But we have to say that and we have to say it now. We have to make it clear: we're angry with Iran for good reason, and its not because they're the goat--it's because they're drinking from the pool.- Published 5/1/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org


Mark Perry is the author of "Partners in Command, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace". His most recent book is "Talking To Terrorists" (Basic Books, 2010).


The Israeli perspective
 Zeev Schiff

For 18 years Iran misled the International Atomic Energy Agency, violated the safeguards agreement and failed to report the full scope of its nuclear activities to the IAEA. Then one fine day it decided to admit its deception. Israel was perhaps the only country that detected what was happening in Iran at an early stage, and it had repeatedly claimed that Iran was deceiving the IAEA. We recall that regarding Iraq, too, it was Israel that argued in the late 1970s-early 1980s that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weaponry. Washington initially rejected these reports, and ultimately Israel was obliged to invoke a military solution and bomb the Iraqi reactor in 1981--but only after the Iranians tried first, and failed.

Israel appears to possess extensive intelligence information on Iranian nuclear activities. While those activities have suffered a variety of delays, there can be no doubt that military nuclear development is the objective of the Tehran regime. Israel views this as a serious threat, frequently defining it as existential in nature. Iran's diplomatic maneuvers--one step back, two steps forward--are intended to play for time until it achieves the status of regional nuclear power. This assessment is now shared by the United States and leading European countries.

The Iranian nuclearization issue should be understood as not restricted to Iran alone. The problem is far more comprehensive and dangerous because it is obvious that after Iran, additional Middle East states will seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Why, for example, shouldn't Egypt try? Why shouldn't Saudi Arabia attempt to acquire nuclear weaponry or know-how from Pakistan? Why won't Sunni Arab states fear an extremist Shi'ite Iran that has acquired nuclear weapons?

Concern over Iran is particularly great because of the nature and behavior of the regime that rules there. The negative ramifications are doubled when the finger on the nuclear trigger is that of an extremist Shi'ite ayatollah. Iran finances organizations like Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizballah and supports the use of violence against Israel and Israelis. Washington had good reason to define Iran as a member of the axis of evil. Most recently, Israel is doubly worried since the president of Iran called for its destruction and claimed that the Holocaust of WWII never took place, thereby earning the condemnation of leaders worldwide. This combination of a nuclear weapons program, calls for the annihilation of Israel and funding of acts of terror requires an aggressive response against Iran.

Obviously, Israel has good reason to prepare itself for every contingency, and this it is doing. It refrains from threatening Iran while preparing for the worst. Israel understands that Iran is not like Iraq. It is bigger, and its rulers have drawn lessons from the fate of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Israel's basic approach holds that the problem of a nuclear Iran is not its problem alone, but that of the broader international community--and not only the United States: Iran projects a threat to the entire Middle East and to global stability. The surface-to-surface missiles it is developing reach far beyond Israel. Already they cover Saudi Arabia as well as Turkey, a member of NATO; the next generation of Iranian missiles will cover most of the European subcontinent.

Is there a military option for stopping Iran's military nuclear project? If the question refers only to Israel, the answer is in the negative. If Israel senses a direct threat from the extremist regime in Tehran and feels the need to do so, it can severely punish Iran and cause a significant delay in its military nuclear development project. But I do not believe it can put a complete stop to the project by military means.

Undoubtedly, the US has a far greater military capability. Experts argue that it is not necessary to destroy all the nuclear targets in Iran in order to achieve this outcome. But for Washington the issue is not only military; it is political as well, particularly in view of the war in Iraq. In other words, this would have to be a military-political option for stopping Iran's military nuclear project. At a broader level the international community, if it shows the determination, possesses a military option for stopping the Iranian project. This could be the outcome if Iran, under the leadership of extremist ayatollahs, violates its international commitments and threatens its neighbors.

Yet it is important to note that diplomatic and political maneuvers on this issue have not been exhausted. The Russian proposal that Iran exercise its "right" to enrich uranium on Russian territory is a good opening for an agreement--on condition that Tehran honor it in all respects.- Published 5/1/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org


Zeev Schiff is the defense editor of Haaretz daily newspaper in Tel Aviv.


Iranian nationalism and the nuclear issue
 Sadegh Zibakalam

Many Iranians were indifferent to the latest round of talks between Iran and the three European Union countries, Britain, France and Germany, over the future of their country's nuclear program. The talks, which took place on December 21 in Paris, were the latest round in a three-year dispute between Iran and the West, led by the United States. A survey carried out by a reform-inclined newspaper on the eve of the December talks showed that more than 65 percent of Iranians had lost their initial interest in the issue.

This is perhaps understandable, given that talks in the past produced no concrete result, merely postponing the conflict. This round, too, produced the same result: announcing yet another round of future negotiations. Javad Vaheedi, The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) deputy for international affairs who headed the Iranian negotiating team, announced after nearly six hours of closed-door negotiations in Vienna that "the two sides expressed their outlooks on Iran's nuclear activities." He added, "the first round provided the negotiating parties with a good opportunity to get an idea of each other's approach toward the issue."

Lack of any meaningful progress on the subject was not due to a lack of relevant officials on the Iranian side. Indeed, the 12-member Iranian team was composed of many of the highest-ranking officials responsible for the issue, including SNSC Deputy for Economic Affairs Mohammad Nahavandian, Deputy Head of Iran Atomic Energy Organization for International Affairs Mohammad Saeedi, Iranian Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammad-Mehdi Akhoundzadeh and Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh, deputy director-general for political and international affairs of the Foreign Ministry. The hard-line government of recently elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad had newly appointed all the Iranian officials.

The talks were in fact the first round of negotiations between the two sides since last August, when Tehran announced that it would resume uranium conversion at its Isfahan facility. The very fact that the talks took place was portrayed as a victory by the Iranian media, since the three EU powers had stated that unless Iran halted its Isfahan operations they would not resume negotiations with Iran.

Iran's position on the future of its nuclear program is very clear. Iranian leaders have stated categorically that Iran would not give up its uranium enrichment program. The nuclear program has actually become a national issue in Iran. Even many Iranians who oppose the Islamic regime believe that Iran must continue its nuclear program despite disagreement and pressure from the West. The aforementioned December survey showed that more than 70 percent of Iranian students supported the country's nuclear program, while over 50 percent stated that Iran must not give in to pressure from the US, Israel and the EU over its nuclear program even if this means war.

Many Iranians believe that the US is simply trying to punish Iran for its defiance of American policies. A leading reformist writer wrote that the US is punishing the entire nation for its conflict with the Iranian hardliners. He was certainly echoing the feelings of many non-radical Iranians.

Many Iranians believe that US pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program is a conspiracy by the western powers to deny or prevent Iran from acquiring advanced technology and keep Iran backward and dependent on the West. Against this backdrop, no political faction in Iran can afford to argue for giving up to the West on the country's nuclear program. As one western observer on Iran put it prior to the recent presidential election, "[Former President] Khatami appears to be much more uncompromising than the conservatives on the country's nuclear program."

The West's approach toward Iranian intransigence on the nuclear issue has by and large been cautious. While the Americans have been pressing for a tougher stand against Iran, the rest of the world, notably the EU, has inclined toward a more conciliatory approach.

The US wants to take Iran to the UN Security Council and prepare the grounds for international sanctions. But Washington's complex problems in Iraq have given Iran some breathing space. Iranian leaders are aware that as soon as the US can wash its hands of the Iraqi problem, it will direct its attention to Iran and exert far more pressure. Iranians are of course also aware of the problems that a worldwide sanctions regime would generate for their country. The most important element of the proposed sanctions would be a ban on Iran's oil exports, the country's main source of foreign revenue.

The alternative approach to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power is to attack the country's nuclear sites. Many Iranians believe that even if the US, for its own reasons, does not attack Iran, Israel will.

Iran is nevertheless determined to continue with its nuclear program. Apart from the importance of the nuclear question as a national issue, Iranians are also aware that the West's options against Iran are limited. Sanctions, for example, would not be an easy option for the West. Given the present high price of oil, any ban on Iran's 2.5 million bpd share of OPEC's oil exports would only further raise oil prices.

Further, there are enormous practical problems in imposing sanctions. Who is to secure the country's huge land and sea borders, and how? There is a 1,000 km.-long border with Iraq that is literally impossible to control even when both countries are motivated to do so. A similar problem exists on the country's eastern border with Afghanistan, and the borders with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia, not to mention Turkey, are equally problematic. Nor do strikes by the US or Israel appear to be a realistic solution. In any case, given the popularity of the country's nuclear program among many Iranians, any strike against Iran's nuclear sites would generate automatic support and martyrdom status for the Islamic leader.

Given the bleak prospects the West faces vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program, the best scenario is the so-called "Russian solution". The Iranians have thus far rejected this alternative as well, but it is possible that in the final analysis Tehran will reluctantly agree to some version of this formula. Yet Iranian consent to carry out the enrichment of its uranium in Russia has to be matched with realistic concessions. The lifting of US sanctions against Iran and some kind of assurance that Iran would not be attacked by the US are the minimum concessions required by Tehran in order to put a halt to uranium enrichment inside Iran.- Published 5/1/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org


Sadegh Zibakalam is professor of political science at Tehran University.




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