Thursday, January 11, 2007

Israel vs. Iran: Potential Nuclear Escalation by Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs

January 11, 2007

Be prepared for the possibility of a nuclear strike by Israel against Iran. The Sunday Times of London reports that Israel has ordered that its armed forces to be ready to be deployed against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities by the end of March. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has denied the veracity of the report.

Concerns about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program are particularly relevant considering Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vocal criticism of the State of Israel.

Speaking recently, both the American and Israeli governments have said that something needs to be done about Iran within the next couple of months. It is likely that any offensive military action will wait for the release of a report on Iran by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei. However, reports from within the Israeli Defence establishment, which has been conducting an intensive intelligence gathering operation on Iran ever since the potential for nuclear armament was made apparent, have suggested that Iran would have the capability to build a warhead in 2 to 4 years.

Talk about the potential for military strikes against Iran has been in the news since Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker in April of 2006. In his piece, entitled ‘Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?’ Hersh cited insider sources saying that the U.S. was considering the option of dropping tactical nukes, known as “bunker-busters” on Iran in order to delay or destroy the country’s nuclear capabilities. The same kind of plan has now informally been set out by Israel. According to DemocracyNow!, they would use bombs that would be one-fifteenth the strength of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While the plans outlined by Hersh are for a uniquely air-offensive, the Times reports that an Israeli invasion would include land and air units. Not burdened by an existing ground war, as is the United States, Israel would probably be able to sustain such an excursion. However Lebanon has also proven that while a sustained ground assault might be unlikely to successfully achieve the objective, tactical air strikes are devastatingly efficient at destroying key infrastructure. A ground offensive would best succeed if it were limited to rapid raids rather than an all out ground assault.

Meanwhile, throughout all the subtle and not-so subtle threats by both the American and Israeli Administrations, Iran maintains that its uranium enrichment plans are for peaceful purposes only.

Iran is correct in affirming that it has the right to enrich uranium under the Non Proliferation Treaty. The United States, which is also a signatory, has contravened the treaty by ignoring the demand to disarm, and most strikingly, by making more nuclear warheads. It holds by far the most nuclear weapons in the world, and is the only country to have ever used them. The demand for an end to uranium enrichment is pure hypocrisy on the part of the United States. Israel, for its part, has not even acknowledged that it has nuclear weapons, except in a slip-up by President Ehud Olmert on German television, which was quickly denied. It is not a signatory to the treaty and is showing just as much hypocrisy as the United States in demanding a stop to any nuclear ambitions.

There is almost no way that Iran could counter-attack against Israel, which has the second largest air force and one of the most powerful armies in the world. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is partly funded by the American government, with U.S. weapons’ manufacturers supplying it with state of the art equipment. In all likelihood a counter-attack would come from within Iraq, where there are strong Shi’a links. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute has said that Iran “could make Iraq hell” for the occupying force by exerting its influence within the country and helping the Shi’a rebels in their defence of Iraq.

In light of the expected policy by Bush to increase troop levels in Iraq by 20,000 individuals, as reported by DemocracyNow!, any Iranian move to bolster the resistance would be perilous for American lives. The question is whether the potential for additional failures in Iraq is worth the potential for the destruction of nuclear sites in Iran.

It seems unlikely that any air strike will completely eliminate Iran’s entire nuclear capabilities. Most intelligence reports say that Iran has learned from the destruction of the Osirak reactor during the Iran-Iraq war and has spread out its operations in some 30-40 sites. Knowing where these sites are located is a problem, but one probably already solved by Israeli and American intelligence. Bombing them is another issue, and one that might not be wholly solved by the bunker-buster nukes that are at the disposal of the IDF.

Any attack by Israel, which would no doubt be backed by the United States diplomatically if not militarily, has dubious prospects. It would further inflame the anger Arabs in the region feel towards Israel, compounding the hate that springs from the occupation of Palestinian land, the choking off of its resources, and the killing of its people.

What also comes to mind is the recent “Summer Rain” offensive in Lebanon. The retaliation to the death of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of several others was severe, and occurred without an attempt at diplomacy. Many people in the region felt incensed by what they saw as an act of aggression and indiscriminate collateral damage against a country that had not condoned the initial affront against Israel.

The same kind of collateral damage will occur if there is a tactical nuclear strike against nuclear sites in Iran. The fallout will be immense, even if the bunker busters are supposed to emit fewer radiations because they explode beneath ground. Hundreds, if not thousands of people will die, many of them civilians who have nothing to do with the projects of their government. The environment will be toxic for the generations that follow.

Most of all, any attack against Iran will constitute an act of aggression and a crime against peace, the number one war crime under the Nuremberg Tribunal. Using nukes would compound the atrocity sparking the use of illegal weapon the likes of which the world has been fortunate to not see for 50 years. Finally the sheer hypocrisy of a nuclear attack to take out nuclear sites borders on the absurd.

But the chance of diminishing the scope of Iranian power might be too tempting to miss. Iran remains the primary opponent of an Israel-centered Middle East and because of its influence it is setting a widely recognized example of defiance to the demands of the West. Iran is demonstrating a strong political will, which others may follow, in pushing forward a program that has aroused the ire of the most powerful nations in the world. Destroying Iran’s ambitions would send a message to the other countries in the region about who they should look up to.

The U.S. has already proven that it will attack other countries preemptively and Israel has shown that it is inclined to retaliate with the utmost aggression to actions it deems offensive. Until now, diplomatic talks have all but failed. With Iran flatly refusing to stop enrichment, the question becomes “What next?” It seems that question may now be answered.