Friday January 13, 2006
Hysteria and hypocrisy
By Shyam Bhatia
The western world is engaged in a double- speak with regard to the Iranian declaration
Traces of both hysteria and hypocrisy are evident in the way the US, its European allies and Israel have responded to Iran's announcement that it will revive elements of its nuclear research programme.
The Iranian declaration does not mean Teheran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear weapons state. By any measure the Iranians are still a long way away. And the related key issue of whether the Iranians will pursue nuclear fuel enrichment, which will bring it closer to weapons capability, has also been disavowed, at least for the time being.
In fact Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said, "What we resume is merely in the field of research. Production of nuclear fuel remains suspended." The uncovering of the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz in central Iran has fuelled speculation that Teheran is keeping open its nuclear options. But in that respect the aspirations of the Iranians are no different to those of many other countries. So what explains the ferocity of the US-led response to Iran? In London a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the international community was "running out of patience" with Teheran.
The explanation for these reactions lies in concerns within Washington and other Western capitals that Israel will over react by attacking Iran sparking off a wider conflict within West Asia. Ever since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the severity of the Holocaust and suggested that the Jewish state be relocated in Europe, the Iranian regime has been the equivalent of the devil incarnate in Israeli eyes. The additional input of Teheran's nuclear ambitions has been enough to shake the dust off Jerusalem's battle plans for the immediate future.
Hence the deliberate leaks that Israel is updating plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities which could be launched as soon as the end of March with the assistance of long-range F-15E bombers and cruise missiles. According to the leaked reports the prime targets would be the Natanz enrichment plant, 150 miles south of Teheran, a heavy-water production site at Arak, 120 miles south-west of the capital, and a site near Isfahan in central Iran which makes uranium hexafluoride gas. The Iranians have dispersed production facilities and ringed key sites with missile batteries and radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns
Whether US criticism of Iran will be enough to stay Israel's hand remains to be seen, although this is the point where the Americans stand accused of double standards. Those who support US attempts to block the proliferation of nuclear weapons also accepted the argument that more nuclear weapons states is inherently destabilising and makes the world a more dangerous place. Hence the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which supposedly created a barrier to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. In return for forswearing the nuclear option, the rest of the international community was assured by the US and other existing nuclear states that they would take steps to reduce their own stockpiles.
In practice nothing of the sort has happened. The US continues to upgrade its nuclear strike force, so do the Russians and to a lesser extent the Chinese. Is it surprising then that since 1968, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all entered the nuclear club?
It is all very well for the Americans to admonish Iran, but if Washington was serious about halting nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, or in any other part of the world, it could start with leading by example. A return to the basics of the NPT by freezing the modernisation of its own nuclear strike force, pending a reduction in the actual US weapons stockpiles, would have a longer lasting effect than simply threatening Teheran. Otherwise, as the Iranians themselves have pointed out, why should they pay any attention to the double speak that is coming out of Western capitals?