July 02, 2005

Israel and Iran

Haaretz is running an in-depth article looking at Israel's strategic thinking on the question of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Most analysts, not surprisingly, think a nuclear-armed Iran will be a disaster, although a few unnamed experts think "a nuclear Iran would actually stabilize the region" by making deterrence the new strategic game. Meanwhile, experts tend to agree—although they'll never say it publicly—that Israeli really doesn't have an effective military option to disable Iran's nuclear facilities.
The only analyst I'd quibble with here is Dan Eldar, a former Mossad researcher, who thinks the United States is relenting on its hard-line towards Iran nowadays. Wish it was true, but what's the evidence? Eldar points out that the White House dropped its opposition to Mohammed elBaradei's third term at the IAEA earlier this month. But the Cheney crowd didn't have any choice on the matter—and elBaradei is hardly "soft" on Iran, unless you believe John Bolton (don't). Eldar then notes that the government has decided to try Larry Franklin, noted Iran hawk and Pentagon analyst who tried to push U.S. policy in a more militant by leaking sensitive information to the Israeli lobbying group, AIPAC. But again, that doesn't mean hawkishness is going out of style; the FBI has been handling the Franklin case, and the FBI's moves on this front can, I think, be fairly separated from whatever Bush's National Security Council is actually contemplating with regards to Iran.

That doesn't mean war is likely. From all appearances, the situation now seems the same as it was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that: there's no Iran policy. There are still prominent hawks in the NSC, like Dick Cheney, but they just want to be "hawkish," thwarting diplomacy but without actually thinking seriously about military strikes or fomenting regime change. So nothing happens. And I'm not entirely sure Ahmadinejad's role in the 1979 hostage crisis, if true, will change any of that—if anything, it will just keep the gridlock going strong. No, I think George Perkovich's prediction as to what will happen over the coming months seems more and more likely by the day:
Between now and September 2005, Iran will move to resume operating the uranium conversion plant at Esfahan, and it perhaps will resume testing centrifuges. Iranian officials will insist that such activities are entirely within Iran's rights under the NPT, and that they will be conducted in accord with IAEA safeguards. They will argue that the demands being made by Europe exceed any legal requirement, and that Iran is ending its voluntary suspension of enrichment activity because certain countries—read the United States and Israel—will never relent in their attempt to make Iran a backward, weak country. At the behest of these hostile states, the European Union will reject Iran's offer of the most intrusive possible monitoring and inspections of its nuclear activities. Iran will publish what it has offered and let the world judge who is being reasonable or not. Iran will not be able to do anything more to demonstrate that it will play by the rules in exercising its right to nuclear technology. Rather than be bullied by the United States, Iran will decide that it must rightfully resume its nuclear program.

The United States will seize on Iran's ending of its suspension and insist that the E.U.-3 should "do what they have promised" and take Iran to the U.N. Security Council. Popular opinion and many political figures in these countries will balk. Officials will leak that the United States was unprepared to take steps that "everyone" knew would be necessary to persuade Iran to accede to demands that it permanently cease uranium enrichment and plutonium separation activities. "How can Iran be expected to give up its nuclear capability if the United States is threatening regime change?" Many in Europe and elsewhere will argue that America intended all along to repeat the Iraq scenario and manufacture a case for war against Iran. As the E.U.-3 countries waver about when to refer Iran's case to the Security Council and what action to take there, members of the U.S. Congress will denounce French perfidy and German equivocation. Transatlantic recriminations will mount. In the IAEA and the United Nations, developing countries will decry U.S.-led efforts to ignore their rights and to impose a new form of nuclear apartheid.

In Iran, the U.S. Congress's reauthorization of secondary sanctions and the George W. Bush administration's eagerness to refer the Iran case to the U.N. Security Council straightaway will strengthen the feeling that Iran must hunker down to defend its rights to technological development. Known political reformers will not dissent. Student demonstrations will occur, demanding that Iran not give up its nuclear program. The new Iranian president will take a defiant stance, and all factions of the Parliament will unite to insist on exercising the "right" to enrich uranium. Iranian leaders will travel to China to sign new deals for investment in Iran's energy resources...
Of course, betting against this crowd dragging us into another ill-advised and bloody foreign policy conflict is a mug's game if there ever was one.

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-- Brad Plumer 10:43 PM || ||