With the new IAEA Report on Iran, the international media is abuzz with reports of its gravity and the possibility of air strikes by the US, UK and Israel.
The pitch has been raised further with reports emanating from Israeli media that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to muster a majority in the Israeli cabinet for even a unilateral attack. This has been accompanied by news about air drills being conducted by Israeli Air Force in a NATO base in Sardinia, Italy and long-range missile tests. Obviously, the temperature on Iran is being raised for something, if not a military strike on Iran.
The Iran issue had fallen into a predictable pattern; every time there is a new IAEA Report on Iran, a flurry of newspaper reports are planted about the gravity of the nuclear threat and the need for military strikes to stop Iran. The end result of all this is to turn the screws further on the UN sanctions, and if unsuccessful, at least increased sanctions by the US and its allies.
The media campaign that that starts even before the Report is published
, unnamed western sources leak “new evidence” of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Once the report is public as it is now, very few people actually check up to see what the IAEA is actually saying – what sticks in public mind that IAEA has unearthed new evidence on Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Recently, a similar exercise was done regarding Syria and the Basher Al Assad regime there. An IAEA investigations was quoted by unnamed western sources claiming that the Al Hasakah textile factory in Syria was a cover for a uranium fuel processing facility. The “proof” using satellite imagery of the plant “showed” that it matched the blueprint of a uranium reprocessing plant, which AQ Khan had provided Libya. It needed only two individuals – Jeffrey Lewis from ArmsControlWonk (ArmsControlWonk.com) and German journalist Paul-Anton Krueger to debunk this claim. They found incontrovertible evidence
that it is, and always was, a textile plant, even locating the 62-year old German engineer who had built this plant in the early 80's.
Once the story is shown to be false, that news is however buried in some small corner of the papers, if it is published at all. Remember Niger yellow cake story which was paraded as proof of Saddam's nuclear program? New York Times did print the refutation of its earlier front page stories, buried so deep in the paper that hardly anybody noticed it.
This time also the same game seems to be in progress. As I go through all the reports that are appearing in the international media – from the more strident ones to the more apparently reasonable ones – the orchestra is the same. IAEA has found “new evidence” and this will be disclosed shortly – this is the song that unnamed western sources who have “seen” the report are singing. So what is allegedly “new” in this IAEA Report?
The major claim is that Iran is developing a nuclear trigger and IAEA has undeniable proof of this. I went through various IAEA reports from 2008; all of them have referred to Iran's possible development of high explosive testing and have referred to dubious member states intelligence reports. In May 2008, the DG IAEA had submitted a 9-page report and in the Annex, it talked of documents in its possession:
A “Exploding Bridgewire (EBW) Detonator Test Results”
A “schematic diagram for an underground testing arrangement”
A “five page document in English describing experimentation undertaken with a complex multipoint initiation system to detonate a substantial amount of high explosive in hemispherical geometry”
This was repeated in subsequent IAEA reports. In the current report, the only new evidence is satellite imagery of a “bus-sized container” in Parchin, a military base near Tehran, which IAEA believes could be used in tests for such explosive testing. Why Iranians should use an overground container for this when they have schematic for an underground testing arrangement, when they have buried much of their nuclear facilities underground, beats me completely. The Syrian fiasco clearly shows how misleading such satellite imagery can be. The proof that Iran is building nuclear bombs because there is a large container in Parchin must be strain the credulity of the most gullible.
Individually taken, all the elements that IAEA believes is a part of Iran's nuclear weapons program have also other uses. For example, such multipoint ignition systems and coordinated explosions are used for making industrial grade nano diamonds. The Ukrainian scientist, Vyacheslav Danilenko, a nuclear scientist according to western media, who is supposed to have parted with this technology when he was teaching in Iran, is a part of a Czech establishment which does precisely this. And he never was a nuclear expert – all his work has been on production of nano diamonds by coordinated explosions.
If we look at the stories that are being planted by the so-called “western sources”, clearly a part of a massive media operation by western countries, none of it is neither new nor does it provide any smoking gun. The key issue of breach of NPT provisions would lie if Iran proceeded to withdraw fissile material out of safeguards and reprocess it to weapons grade. This, IAEA admits Iran has not done. The report says there is no evidence Iran has made a strategic decision to actually build a nuclear bomb.
The question of identifying what is nuclear weapons technology and what is not is neither easy nor is there physically a clear defining line. A missile system that can carry conventional warheads can also carry a nuclear warhead. Each of the items described above can be used for different purposes. The issue is how do we then say whether a country is in breach of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty?
The western campaign on Iran and NPT seeks to cloud whether Iran's fuel cycle violates NPT provisions. It does not if the fuel cycle is for nuclear energy
, which Iran has always claimed it is. The problem for the west is that the same fuel enrichment technology – centrifuging – that can enrich uranium to fuel level – 3.5% or medical imaging level –19.75% or weapons level of 90%. The western arguments on denying Iran the fuel cycle crucially hinges on the two IAEA Board resolutions – the ones that India broke ranks with the non-aligned nations on and voted with the US – that pronounced Iran in breach of NPT and referring them to the UN Security Council. The legal position of US and other western powers is that by this breach, Iran has forfeited its rights under NPT and must get them back by only by “satisfactorily” resolving this breach. And as we know, a satisfactory resolution will only take place if there is a regime change in Iran – a regime that the US “likes”. That is why the two IAEA resolutions were so dangerous – it has made global policy on Iran now a hostage to the US.
The second issue of NPT violations is regarding the other steps that Iran is taking, eg. the high explosive hemispherical testing and missile capability. Here again, the NPT explicitly bars only “manufacture of nuclear weapons”. Does research on high explosive testing come under manufacture? Does computer simulation? The western spin doctors are fully aware that individually, none of these can be held in breach of NPT provisions. Particularly, as all of these are also dual use technologies – they have other non-nuclear weapon uses. Therefore, the argument that all of these must be taken together and if a country is developing break-out capability, then it should be held to be in breach of nuclear weapons manufacture clause of NPT, even though it is not manufacturing any nuclear weapon.
Both these are very flimsy as arguments. However, as we have seen in the past, a tenuous legal argument does not inhibit the western powers. We have seen in Libya how a right-to-protect civilians mandate in Libya was converted to a mission of regime change. The barbaric killing of Gaddafi was done with the full participation of NATO forces – they were the ones that struck Gaddafi's convoy when it had broken out of Sirte, the so-called National Transitional Council forces only performing the final act of lynching.
The game-plan is clear on Iran. First, use the IAEA to prepare a report reiterating various things it has said in the past regarding Iran's nuclear program. IAEA, under the current Director General Yukiya Amano, is far more willing to bend to the US demands and do what the US wants. While it will not contain any smoking gun regarding Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions, it can be dressed up through a media blitz as a new threat. A campaign on the need for a military strike and how Israel may do it unilaterally can then be used to stampede the international community to impose much harsher sanctions. The extremely dubious US claims on the Iranian plot for assassinating the Saudi Ambassador also then falls into place as a precursor to the current media hype.
Why does not Iran give up working on any technology that may be construed as constituting break-out capability? The problem is Gaddafi did precisely that in 2003 and had assurances that the west would not seeks a regime change in Libya as a quid pro quo. We have seen how much such assurances are worth. Does anybody doubt that Libya would have reinforced the position in Iran that having nuclear weapons capability can be a possible deterrent to the US, giving it up achieves nothing?
Avner Cohen, an expert on Israel's nuclear arsenal and a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies has said that no one in Israel seriously believes that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against Israel, but they believe it might be necessary to go to war to preserve its relative power in the Middle East. "Ultimately this is a fight over the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the region," Cohen said
. (Guardian, Iran working on advanced nuclear warhead, Nov 7, 2011.) A country of six million should have a sole nuclear monopoly over a region containing 400 million people. This is what Israel wants and the US and western powers back. This is the crux of the issue.
It is time that we put not only Iran's nuclear disarmament but global nuclear disarmament back on the agenda. A status that has some nuclear weapon states and the vast majority without them, can last only when the technology for developing nuclear weapons is difficult. Once this is seen to be easy – and it increasingly will be – such a disequilibrium cannot last. One cannot use NPT provisions against Iran while wilfully flouting NPT's other provision calling for universal nuclear disarmament and good faith negotiations.