A BASIC fizzle? Will Iran’s quest to develop nuclear weapons be stopped in time?

A guest post by Oded Ben-Joseph, a Tel Aviv-based freelance writer

Fizzle – industry jargon for the failure of a nuclear device to fully detonate.

The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) seems to be rising from the ashes of its reign by Mohammed ElBardei.

Finally, it is unequivocally recognizing that Iran isn’t merely interested in nuclear fission for reducing its utility bills. This resounding yet belated IAEA  affirmation of the existential threat on Israel relieves somewhat its decade long isolation on this issue, enduring many a call to be patient, have faith in partial sanctions and refrain from acting militarily. Understanding the roots of the international climate belittling the danger shows how the pursuit of nuclear disarmament fails miserably and even predictably, when trying to apply cold war paradigms – that had some success in the past – to today’s realities.   

A few weeks before the new IAEA report, the British-American Security Information Council (BASIC) released its own study of global nuclear developments. BASIC is a think tank based in the US and UK which admirably seeks to promote a nuclear weapon free world, by transforming the “[nuclear] debate into a cooperative search for global security”.

In its report, BASIC chronicles the forecasted multi-billion dollar investments and developments amongst the “widely accepted” nuclear powers, in a warning against a rising global danger of nuclear catastrophes and weapon proliferation. Its main conclusion warns of an impending, dangerous “New era of global nuclear force modernization and growth”.

If one accepts the underlying assumption that the nuclear genie can be bottled back, this worthy initiative would be quite in its element, but for leaving one or two major protagonists – Iran is not mentioned anywhere in it – and mis-prioritizing others.

Curiously, the US seems to be at the top list of BASIC’s worries, as its planned $700bn nuclear forces upgrade budget leaves the statistics of all other countries in the dust, a fact that seems to impress BASIC’s researches no end. Russia, (or its report figures, at least) trails behind with a mere $70bn figure. Despite the attempt to convey “The story behind the numbers”, the report fizzles* out completely in this regard. 

The US and its western allies lead the world not just in nuclear investments, but nuclear transparency, down to reporting the number of warheads. The same can hardly be said for most of the Eastern nuclear powers where transparency tends to remain exclusively in the jargon of opticians and fashion designers rather than government officials, particularly concerning military matters. 

While the report does touch on this point, it could be blunter in making the comparison – however easier it is to vilify the US and other democracies than places where critics are an endangered species; where tradition has swifter means of plugging leaks than with investigative congress committees.    

“Because nuclear accidents happen, and can kill millions” (A tag from the BASIC website).

The unasked question remains: what is more dangerous, storing 10,000 warheads under a rational, relatively scrutinized and secure chain of command, under the executive powers of elected officials, or having a mere 5 bombs running amok in a rogue state with terror group connections, their millions of intended victims at the mercy of a tyrannical leader’s many sided prophetic soul? 

In the post-cold-war era, it sometimes seems only an accident will save humanity. Can the quantitatively obsessed BASIC researches honestly not get the difference between nations that will use the bomb only in a desperate situation – those that celebrate the end of wars, from those that celebrate their beginning?

Taking refuge behind the eminent academic cloak of remit, by claiming that their study was limited to declared or widely believed nuclear weapon holding states, does not hold (heavy) water anymore; one wonders what proof would satisfy the report to increase its girth to include Iran in the “widely believed” category – the latest IAEA report or a million bodies?

Perhaps not even that will suffice for that kind of myopic scrutiny, as the Iranians might use one of the many terror factions under their influence to carry out the holy task deniably. In a 2004 interview with Al-Ahram, ELBardei expressed concern of nuclear weapons “leaking” to terrorists, but said: “Such groups cannot be deterred by any deterrent, nuclear or other.” ElBardei misses the point – terror groups can so far only get nuclear weapons from states, and those most emphatically are deterred by a variety of measures; and imposing a “nuclear weapon free” Middle East, as he wanted, will only play into the hands of those regimes that aren’t accountable to anyone (least of all to their citizens), because on the ground it would really only apply to Israel.

There is also a prejudiced, disproportionate attitude towards Iran and Israel. Israel was held by the media as “known to have nuclear weapons” for many years even when the evidence available was only circumstantial, such as CIA reports citing “Israeli acquisition of large quantities of uranium, partly by clandestine means” to support a conclusion that “Israel already has produced nuclear weapons.”  

By contrast, in Iran’s case, the world seemingly insists on conscientious, immaculately researched proofs – Could it be that because Israel’s detractors know that if Israel has nuclear weapons, they don’t have to do anything about it, while if Iran does, they would?

While Israel’s main Dimona nuclear plant is located in its most barren area – the Negev Desert, the Iranian regime’s dispersal of its own facilities, mostly not exactly in the remotest areas of Iran, increases the risk to local population in an event of an attack, which would have to be devastating indeed to succeed.

The Hezbollah apple seemingly doesn’t fall too far from the tree here. 

What then, can the world do now, to put the glowing toothpaste back in its tube? The type of sanctions attempted until now, doesn’t seem to be working. What might have an effect is vocally supporting Israel’s right for self defence (dreaming here), or at least totally refraining from cautioning Israel and pleading for its patience – which it has already shown. 

Airtight international isolation – a severe trade and military blockade, and implicit support for an Israeli strike – doesn’t have to be public, “just as long as everybody knows”, a phrase so immortalized in the TV series ‘Yes Prime Minister’ – might actually convince Iran that the cost of constructing and testing its weapon are too high, and will then, at least temporarily, prevent an Israeli attack.

Fisking Ahmadinejad

A guest post by Oded Ben-Joseph, a freelance Tel-Aviv based writer.

Once again, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regales us with his annual view of the world, using the always willing UN General Assembly as a platform. One can only surmise from its content that those righteous souls in the UN must be in increasing despair, clinging to the several scraps of his political rhetoric which seem in tune with their charter.

Perhaps those UN policymakers are committing Neville Chamberlain’s error, thinking more about those charter terms that vow to practice “tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good Neighbors,”  conveniently setting aside the further clauses meditating on what ideals those neighbors should subscribe to, or even (considering the state of most of the UN member states today) merely aspire to aspire to:

“Reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…”

Unlike many other critiques of Ahmadinejad, there is no hint intended here of a comparison with Hitler. Chamberlain was only mentioned as a point of thought about his modern counterparts, not alluding to his historical foe. The said comparison would be absurd, if only for the reason that Hitler was Nazism and Nazism was Hitler. Without him, Nazi Germany would either not have materialized at all or would crumble much earlier.

Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, more than a leader, is a faithful representative of a wildly popular movement of thought (whether through choice or fear), which either directly supports or fails to resist certain, shall we as neutrally as possible say – inconsistencies – common in the Mideast, where inconsistency kills.

Perhaps it is dishonorable for the millions of living and dead victims to use the word “inconsistency”, but I’m trying to use language as neutral as possible, hoping that facts will shine forth even more brightly this way.

War commemorations vs. celebrations

In his speech, Ahmadinejad recognizes that “despite the general longing and aspiration to promote peace [Glad to hear it], progress, and fraternity, wars, mass-murder, widespread poverty, and socioeconomic and political crises continue to infringe upon the rights and sovereignty of nations, leaving behind irreparable damage worldwide…”

He later asks, “Who provoked and encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade and impose an eight-year war on Iran, and who assisted and equipped him to deploy chemical weapons against our cities and our people” [?]

Well said! So good of him to mention the Iran-Iraq war, “the longest conventional war of the twentieth century”.

Ahmadinejad’s doublespeak knows no boundaries here. If indeed the war was forced on his country, the most neutral observer might find it curious why Iran actually celebrates the war’s beginning – as they have been doing annually for the last 31 years – rather than the end.

Again, repeating: in Iran they mark the start of the Iran Iraq war – the bloodiest conflict in the history of the region, which resulted in about a million dead, suicide brigades of Iranian children marched to clear battlefield mines, long bouts of ballistic missile battles between Iranian and Iraqi cities, and widespread chemical weapons use that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands.

In short, one week of this war produced more suffering to its hapless participants than 10 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict (pick any decade or even the whole lot of them).

It's not Star Wars, just wars: An Iran-Iraq war anniversary parade in Teheran

Most countries that celebrate wars (an admittedly questionable practice, I’m sure even non-pacifists would agree) nevertheless commemorate their end, their result: peace, or at least the beginning of the end – an indication, perhaps, that although nationalistic militaristic sentiment exists, there is also a wish that it would have attained its goals peacefully.

Iran didn’t even clearly win, at all: the war concluded in a stalemate. What, then, might the most neutral postmodern live and let live liberal thinker ask, are they celebrating over there?  Not all questions have to be answered, I hope. Another one: what concepts, about war and violence, are likely form in the mind of millions of Iranian children taken to watch such parades?

WWI? think again. Chances are you were already born when this image was taken, during the Iran-Iraq war , 1980-1988

On slaves and salvos

Onwards to slightly happier matters, Ahmadinejad begins a series of questions meditating on the topic of world evil, all which seem to have the same answer, such as:

“Who abducted forcefully tens of millions of people from their homes in Africa and other regions of the world during the dark period of slavery , making them a victim of their materialistic greed [?]”

Is Ahmadinejad hinting that slavery in Africa is over and done with – at least the kind perpetrated by his favorite Satans?

Today, others, and some not so others, continue the tradition. And one must be thankful for that mention of “other regions of the world”, in some of which slavery didn’t exactly abate into the pages of history, either. Where is it that women get death sentences for adultery? Happily, Iran promises not to execute people under the age of 18.

“Who imposed colonialism for over four centuries upon this world. Who occupied lands and massively plundered resources of other nations, destroyed talents, and alienated languages, cultures and identities of nations?

There are so many any eligible contenders from East and West, that only from reading elsewhere in the speech one gets the gist that Ahmadinejad is not talking about the Ottoman Empire.

“Who imposed, through deceits and hypocrisy, the Zionism and over sixty years of war, homelessness, terror and mass murder on the Palestinian people and on countries of the region”?

Ahh, Zionism.

Ahmadinejad’s humanitarian solution to it was not referred to in his recent speech for some reason, as perhaps he was apprehensive that it might stretch his luck with the UN’s moral elasticity, which might have its limits (if only there was some indication of what they were.)

In any case, the explanation by the Iranians and their western apologetics that the phrase “erasing a country off the map” doesn’t exist in Farsi can’t erase certain slogans vividly painted on long-range missile launchers in Teheran military parades.

Who governs the governors?

The speech continues in its Q&A format:

“It is as lucid as daylight that the same slave masters and colonial powers that once instigated the two world wars have caused widespread misery and disorder with far-reaching effects across the globe since then.”

“Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world [Better than the way the speaker runs his backyard, evidently]. Is it acceptable that they call themselves the sole defender of freedom, democracy, and human rights, while they militarily attack and occupy other countries?”

Ahmadinejad really should have named “they”, otherwise it is rather confusing as to whom he is referring in some paragraphs – perhaps to Iran’s terror attacks on other countries, or its Hizbullah columns occupying Southern Lebanon and potentially all of it?

Eventually the culprits are named more closely: “Can the flower of democracy blossom from NATO’s missiles, bombs and guns?”

A very good question!

Perhaps the insinuation here is that this flower can flourish in light of Iran’s leading humanitarian projects (centrifuges for peace?), persecution of gays or legal luminosity of its “civil justice” system, with Sharia judges so omniscient that they arrive at the correct verdict in 120 seconds per case?

Even military tribunals in Israel take at best months to conclude, sometimes years.

Ahmadinejad also complains that “They tolerate no question or criticism…”

Indeed. One can only hope that the next time someone dares poke fun at anything that annoys the Iranian regime, he won’t have to get bodyguards or go into hiding.

The speech closes with sentiments everyone should agree with, hopefully even the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

“The idea of creation of the United Nations remains a great and historical achievement of mankind. Its importance must be appreciated and its capacities must be used to the extent possible for our noble goals.”

“Let us salute love, freedom, justice, wisdom, and the bright future that awaits humankind.”

Well said. One can only hope that, in the future, the UN will start advancing towards those liberal goals by insisting on harboring in its midst only member states whose regimes show the barest minimum of inclination towards them. 

But, if you really think all of the above has been regurgitated here just as a smokescreen to distract you from Israeli crimes, I gladly offer you this deal: you support throwing out the ten worst human rights offenders out of the UN, and I’ll support throwing Israel out. Israel has little or nothing to lose (the end of prejudiced UN resolutions perhaps), and the UN has a lot to gain – such as the moral credibility of its founding charter.