Nuclear Mess Thickens

Iran is set to reject the latest batch of UN calls to reduce its nuclear development amid continued fears that it is developing a nuclear weapon. The collection of permanent members of the UN Security Council (the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, and France), with the addition of Germany, are to call for Iran to dismantle its underground nuclear facility at Fordo, as well as to stop uranium enrichment to levels as high as 20% and hand over any uranium already enriched to that level.

These latest demands come after severe sanctions have already been placed on Iran’s oil industry. Israel, undoubtedly the most vocally opposed to Iran’s nuclear research, had been pushing for these new sanctions, but is not averse to the use of military force for a pre-emptive strike either. Israel is, as has been mentioned in my previous article on Iran’s nuclear development (see Another Year. Another War?), widely assumed, but not confirmed, to have a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. President Obama still appears to support Israel, even refusing to rule out the use of military force to stop Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.

But why can’t the West assist Iran in its nuclear research and thereby ensure that Iran safely achieves nuclear power without becoming a nuclear threat? There is, after all, a difference between using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and using it to increase the maximum deathtoll that can be inflicted in war. According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 30 countries confirmed to have nuclear power reactors, but only 8 are known to have tested nuclear weapons (the UK, the US, China, Russia, France, Pakistan, India, and North Korea). Israel is suspected of having nuclear weapons, and some cite the Vela Incident of 1979, where a satellite picked up signs of a potential nuclear test somewhere in the Indian Ocean or South Atlantic, as proof of this claim. The particulars of this event, and its possible implications, would demand their own entry, or perhaps a series of entries, to merely scratch the surface of the debate that after decades still remains unsolved. Due to how the current sanctions are developing, with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu pressing for the aforementioned  sanctions last month, it is clear that Israel has an enormous degree of influence on how events are progressing. Israel, then, forms one barrier to the West assisting Iran in its nuclear development to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome. Another factor is the West’s distrust of Iran and vice versa. Previous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have complained of access restrictions, especially concerning the underground facility at Fordo. Also mentioned in the past post was the issue of President Mahmoud Mossadeq, a democratically elected President of Iran, who was deposed by a joint CIA/MI6 operation in the 1950s. A glance at history makes it obvious that, while Iran’s continued nuclear development and restrictions on the IAEA could be described as provocative, the West is not blameless either. As result of these, and a variety of other factors, it seems very unlikely that Iran will suddenly welcome international nuclear power watchdogs onto their soil with open arms.

The already thin diplomatic ledge that President Obama is having to stand on with regard to Iran

US nuclear test in 1954 as part of Operation Castle.

To further complicate this already precarious situation, Israel made clear earlier this year that it was seriously considering a pre-emptive strike on Iran. This forced the US to on the one hand support and attempt to placate its ally, Israel, while stressing the superiority of diplomacy as the solution. Israel’s continued use of military rhetoric can only have reduced the already thin diplomatic ledge that President Obama is having to stand on with regard to Iran. In an article published on the 8th April 2012, the Telegraph quoted the military journal Jane’s Defence Weekly as stating that Israel would not be able to easily wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities, citing the difficulty of damaging the underground nuclear plants enough to bring them offline. The military journal also cited the previous, successful, Israeli strikes on nuclear reactors in Syria and Iraq but repeated that a key factor in these cases was that the machinery concerned was above-ground. From this it seems appropriate to hypothesise that if Israel were to attack Iran, but fail to knock out its nuclear facilities, it would lead to a full-scale war. This would leave the US with a choice of intervening on the side of Israel, or remaining neutral but forsaking one of its oldest allies. Neither would be popular with the American people.

This issue is already starting to take on some of the same elements of the Cold War, the conflict of minds that nearly destroyed the world. Whether Israel will attack before Iran finishes its nuclear development is as yet unclear. As always, keep an eye on the news.

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