Is Time Running
Out For Iran?
By Abid Mustafa
02 October, 2005
September 24 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed
a resolution to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear
programme. The 35-nation board of the IAEA in Vienna said that Iran
has a ``long history of concealment and deception''. The Bush administration
immediately seized on IAEA's decision and forecasted that it would eventually
lead to Iran's isolation. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said,"
We have a patient long-term strategy. It's to isolate Iran on this question;
it's to ratchet up the international pressure on Iran,' and assemble
the kind of global coalition against Iran."After having spent nine
months supporting Germany, Britain and France (EU-3) in getting Iran
to surrender her nuclear ambitions, America finally took one step closer
towards confronting Tehran and controlling Iran's vast energy reserves.
From the outset
the EU-3 talks with Iran were destined to fail. EU diplomats struggled
to reach the necessary economic guarantees promised to Iran in Paris
in November 2004. Under the Paris agreement, the EU-3 agreed on Iran's
right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce the nuclear
fuel necessary for its reactors in exchange for Iran giving up its ambition
to produce nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the EU agreed to invest in
Iran and also invite it to join a club of nuclear fuel-producing countries.
In February 2005,
the US reneged on its previous stance of pouring scorn on the EU-3 initiative
and started to actively support EU-3 negotiations on the condition that
should the EU-3 fail to reach an agreement with Iran, they would have
to recommend Iran to the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, America worked
behind the scenes to scupper the EU-3 initiative. America threatened
a number of EU companies with punitive sanctions if they proceeded to
invest in Iran. This was aptly summed up by Lord Brown, the Chief executive
of BP who said,"Right now it is impractical for BP (to invest in
Iran) because 40% of BP is in the US and we are the largest producer
of oil and gas in the US. Politically Iran is not a flyer. One day I
hope it is." This left the EU-3 bereft of any meaningful incentives
to offer Iran and as a result, Iran had little choice, but to break
off negotiations with the EU-3.
Thus America succeeded
in Iran's referral to the UN Security Council. Her next step is to get
the referral approved by the IAEA board in November before moving on
to declare Iran in 'material breach' of any UN resolution that might
be reached in the foreseeable future. This maybe too much for some members
of the Security Council, but the Bush administration expects some form
of international legitimacy to emerge from the deliberations at the
UN. Even an iota of international cover will be enough for some in the
Bush administration to push for regime change in Iran. Before such an
outcome can be engineered a number of political obstacles must be surmounted
problem is that she has failed to make a compelling case about the threat
posed by Iran's nuclear capability. The fabricated lies about Iraq's
WMD to justify Iraq's invasion has not only blighted American and British
spy agencies but also made it extremely difficult for the US to put
forward any credible evidence that may serve to incriminate Iran. Besides
the intelligence debacle in Iraq, a US presidential commission investigating
pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons concluded in March this year
that US data on Iran's arms is "inadequate". Western intelligence
agencies and eminent think tanks have also revised their estimates about
Iran's nuclear bomb. On August 1 2005, the Washington Post reported
that US National Intelligence estimates that Iran's nuclear programme
is 10 years away from producing a nuclear bomb. John Chipman, director
of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies echoed similar
findings. He said, "If Iran threw caution to the wind and sought
a nuclear weapon capability as quickly as possible, without regard for
international reaction; it might be able to produce enough highly enriched
uranium for a single nuclear weapon by the end of this decade."
He also went on to say that technical problems could prolong the process
and that given international pressure; it was more likely to try to
accumulate the capability over 10 to 15 years. In the light of these
and other reports it is difficult to imagine how the Bush administration
is going to present Iran's nuclear programme as one that is on the verge
of producing a nuclear bomb.
Israel is the only
country that continues to propagate the view that Iran's nuclear bomb
is months away. Sylvan Shalom, Israel's Foreign Minister told a meeting
of Jewish leaders in New York: "According to our people, security
and intelligence, they are very, very close. It may be only six months
before they will have that full knowledge."
So given the paucity
of data on Iran's nuclear programme and the admission by western agencies
that Iran's nuclear bomb will be ready by 2015, the best case the US
can make against Iran, is that the country's nuclear aspirations contravene
international norms. This is despite the fact that Iran's nuclear programme
is legal under NPT and Iran is doing nothing more then exercising its
right under the treaty. Penalising Iran's observance of NPT, while rewarding
India (a non-signatory to NPT) with the right to produce nuclear fuel
and remaining silent on Israel's nuclear bombs, sends an unequivocal
message that America is an avid practitioner of nuclear apartheid.
Another hurdle for
America to overcome is the lack of consensus at the UN about Iran's
nuclear programme and the measures needed to curtail it. This was evident
at the IAEA board meeting where its members voted by a slim majority
to refer Iran to the UN. Divisions amongst UN Security Council
members over Iran are much more pronounced, particularly amongst the
Three years ago,
the UN Security Council was severely damaged in the run up to the Iraq
war, with Germany, France and Russia standing against America and Britain.
Bush's visit to Europe and Russia early this year was intended to repair
schisms over Iraq. It was also an implicit admission that the
neoconservative inspired Bush doctrine had collapsed and an olive branch
was extended to old Europe to heal the transatlantic rift.
the visit there was unanimity between America and Europe that Tehran
should not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, but disagreement remained
on how to punish Iran's non-compliance with their wishes. Bush echoed
these differences when he said, "Great Britain, Germany and France
are negotiating with the ayatollahs to achieve our common objective.
This notion that the US is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.
Having said that, all options are on the table." But despite Bush's
assurance not to attack Iran, doubts in Europe still linger to this
day over American intentions to use military force against Iran.
with Russia and China over Iran are much more precarious. Both countries
view an attack on Iran as Washington's way of attempting to control
the world's oil supply. The recent announcement by Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO) demanding America to vacate military bases in Afghanistan
and Central Asia, as well as the unprecedented Russian-Chinese military
exercises are intended to remind America that any advances against Iran
will be vehemently opposed. If such a standoff were to transpire over
Iran the likelihood for a new world war could increase
Given these differences
it is very unlikely that America will be able to pass a resolution that
justifies use of military force against Iran. Not only are the Chinese
and Russians opposed to military action but so are the Europeans. In
August 2005, Chancellor Schroeder responding to Bush said, "My
answer to that is: 'Dear friends in Europe and America, let's develop
a strong negotiating position towards Iran, but take the military option
off the table."On September 3 2005, after wide-ranging talks with
the EU's 25 foreign ministers in Newport, south Wales, and Britain's
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told journalists: "Nobody is proposing
military action in regard of Iran. This is an issue that needs to be
resolved, and can only be resolved, by diplomatic means." Nonetheless
the Europeans are more likely to support economic sanctions than their
Russian and Chinese counterparts. However, the Europeans would never
support robust sanctions against Tehran, as this would hurt their commercial
interests in Iran.
Whether the sanctions
are watered down or not, to some in the Bush administration the very
notion of sanctions represents a failure of US policy on Iran and a
return to the old policy of containment pursued by previous Democratic
and Republican administrations.
The issue of containment/engagement
versus military force to change Tehran's behaviour has plagued the Bush
administration ever since Bush rose to office - often resulting in mixed
signals from Washington. This has become a major stumbling block in
formulating a coherent policy to deal with Iran. At the heart of the
issue is a fierce dispute between the realists and the neoconservatives
regarding the best approach towards Iran. The row has permeated all
sections of the US government and has divided institutions like the
State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA. The disagreements over Iran
came to ahead in July 2004 with the publication of the report entitled
"Iran: Time for a New Approach" which was prepared by the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) under the direction of Dr. Zbigniew
Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. The
report argued that Iran was not ripe for regime change as advocated
by the neoconservatives. The report stated: ""[D]espite considerable
political flux and popular dissatisfaction. Iran is not on the verge
of another revolution. Those forces that are committed to preserving
Iran's current system remain firmly in control." The report also
stressed, that a "grand bargain" to settle all outstanding
conflicts between Washington and Tehran is unrealistic and that talks
should focus instead on making "incremental progress" on a
variety of key issues, including regional stability and Iran's nuclear
of the report were instantly dismissed by the neoconservatives who are
closely associated with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld. Arch neoconservative Micheal Ledeen, who considers
Tehran the global capital of Islamist "terror masters," wrote
in National Review Online that the CFR recommendations were "humiliating"
and constituted "appeasement".
However, the beginning
of the second Bush presidency heralded the decline of the neoconservatives
in the Bush administration. Some of the neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz
and John Bolton were ushered out of foreign policy making roles and
given policy implementation roles at the World Bank and the UN, while
others like Douglas Feith was forced to leave. The departure of the
neoconservatives gave way to realism and soft power in the Bush administration.
To a large extent parity was restored between the influence of the US
State Department and Pentagon over foreign policy matters. Collaboration
with other nations to solve political crisis in Sudan, Lebanon, North
Korean, and Iran is reminiscent of multilateralism employed by previous
The ascendancy of
realism in the Bush administration has not completely silenced neoconservative
views on Iran. The ever present Dick Cheney an ardent supporter of neoconservatism
has taken it upon himself to ensure that should the opportunity avail
itself, America is prepared to use overwhelming force against Iran to
occupy its oil and gas fields.
For sometime now,
the Cheney faction in the Bush administration has been secretly preparing
to attack Iran. This came to the world's attention early this year,
when Seymour Hersh revealed in the New Yorker that American Special
Forces had conducted reconnaissance missions inside Iran for six
months. Apart from US commandos operations inside Iran, aerial surveillance
of the country has been rampant. On February 13 2005, The Washington
Post revealed that the US military had been flying surveillance drones
over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs
and detect weaknesses in air defences. The paper went on to state: "The
aerial espionage is standard in military preparations for an eventual
air attack and is also employed as a tool for intimidation".
America also enlisted
Musharraf to assist the American military and her surrogates to launch
attacks from inside Pakistan. Richard Sale, the intelligence correspondent
for United Press International, wrote that Musharraf had allowed Iranian
anti-regime fighters to operate from Pakistan's Balochistan province
that abuts Iran. Sale claimed that the fighters included those from
the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), which is officially listed as a terrorist
organization by the US State Department. Americans already have access
to DalBaladin airbase which is the largest airbase in Balochistan. The
current insurgency in Balochistan has been exploited by Musharraf to
build new military installations and other facilities that the Americans
can use in any confrontation with Iran. Such reports seem to be highly
credible when measured against the backdrop of the military activity
in Balochistan and Musharraf's statement on Iran, when he said,"
We hope the US doesn't attack Iran. In the event of an attack, Pakistan
will remain neutral."
to US military planners extends beyond Balochistan. He has helped American
soldiers to become familiar with the terrain of Tehran by facilitating
joint exercises between the Pakistani and the American army in Karachi.
The existence of such exercises was confirmed by a spokesman of the
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Colonel Tahir Idrees Malik,
who described them as anti-terrorist drills.
In May 2005, Rumsfeld
visited Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Pakistan to negotiate the use of
airbases as part of a plan to complete Iran's encirclement. In Afghanistan,
Rumsfeld met with Karzia to discuss the possibility of making several
American airbases permanent. A small proportion of these bases are in
close proximity to Iran. For instance the military base in Herat is
undergoing renovations by the US military. In December 2004, US Army
spokesman Major Mark McCann said, "We are building a base in Herat.
It is true." Another base of significance to US military planners
is Shindand Air Field inthe western province of Herat. Shindand is about
100 kilometres from the border with Iran, a location that makes it controversial.
According to the US-based think-tank Global Security, Shindand is the
largest air base in Afghanistan. The proximity of Shindand to Iran could
give Tehran cause for concern, says Paul Beaver, an independent defence
analyst based in London. In Azerbaijan, Rumsfeld discussed the prospect
of upgrading its military base in Baku. The upgraded base will host
a new rapid reaction force, called the Caspian Guard, as well as state
of the art radar equipment.America is also planning to use nuclear weapons
against Iran. Media reports are rife with speculation that these weapons
will be used to destroy Iranian bunkers impregnable to conventional
weapons. On May 15 2005, the Washington Post reported that Defence Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved a top secret "Interim Global Strike
Alert Order" directing the military to assume and maintain readiness
to attack hostile countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction,
specifically Iran and North Korea. The paper went on to state: "The
inclusion, therefore, of a nuclear weapons option in CONPLAN 8022 -
a specially configured earth-penetrating bomb to destroy deeply buried
facilities, if any exist - is particularly disconcerting. The global
strike plan holds the nuclear option in reserve if intelligence suggests
an "imminent" launch of an enemy nuclear strike on the United
States or if there is a need to destroy hard-to-reach targets".
Whether America intends to use CONPLAN 8022 or not, largely depends
upon the ability of the US government to dupe the American public into
believing that there is a real and immediate threat from a known adversary.Right
now the American public is increasingly weary of US commitments abroad
and this represents a major challenge for the Bush administration-especially
for those in the administration who seek military confrontation with
The rising US casualties
in Iraq, the mounting costs of the Iraq occupation and the ferocity
of the ever-expanding resistance in Iraq have taken its toll the US
public. This has been further compounded by the inept response of the
US federal government to the relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina. This has prompted the American people to seriously question
the wisdom of maintaining US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Americans
are suffering at home. Majority of Americans on either sides of the
political divide want to bring the troops home and reduce the financial
burden of the Iraq war. Americans believe that the money saved could
be better spent on helping fellow Americans made destitute by Katrina
Even the Republican
Party has not been spared from the fallout of Katrina and Iraq. Differences
amongst the party ranks have threatened to destabilise the party over
Iraq and Katrina. To make matters worse, some Republicans have stopped
listening to the Whitehouse. Instead they are taking their queue from
their constituencies in order to reposition themselves for the forthcoming
elections in 2006. The stepping down of Tom Delay the Congress Majority
leader and the ethics charges against Bill First the Senate, Majority
Leader have added to Bush's growing political woes. Bush now has to
contend with charges of nepotism within his party.
With the American
public preoccupied with domestic issues and the Republican Party marred
with hubris and scandals, it is unlikely that President Bush will be
unable to muster support for a new military confrontation with Iran-should
the opportunity arise. However, if America were to experience another
9/11 type of attack the US public mood could be manipulated to support
military action against Iran.
But Tehran is not
taking any chances. The Iranian government has taken note of US military
deployments in the neighbouring countries and has taken several steps
to fortify Iran against a possible US invasion. The first sign came
in June with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who proceeded to purge
the military, the security apparatus, the civil service, state-owned
corporations and the media of moderate elements. The most significant
purges occurred in the military top brass. Among those replaced are
the commander-in-chief of the regular army and his four deputies, 11
senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and
five commanders of the paramilitary Mobilisation of the Dispossessed.
The minister of intelligence and security, and the minister of the interior
who controls the police and the gendarmerie, have also been replaced.
But, perhaps, the strongest sign of Iranian military preparedness stems
from the military build-up in the five provinces bordering Iraq. The
region, with a population of 20 million, has been put under the control
of the IRGC. Iran is estimated to have 250,000 troops in the area, its
biggest military deployment since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
Iran has also tightened its grip on Turkomen, Arabs, Baloch, and Kurds
who live in the southwest, southeast, and northwest of the country.
This is because Tehran fears a multiple prong attack from the US which
may result in separation of the Arab province of Khuzestan, the Kurdistan
province and the Baloch province of Khorasan from the motherland.
want to transform the region into territories controlled by Arab Shias,
but segregated from Sunni dominated areas. In many ways this is an offshoot
of the old American plan to divide Iraq into 3 segments and to gather
the Arab Shia's under America's leadership. The reason behind this,
is that the majority of the oil of the Middle East lies in Arab Shia
dominated lands such as Southern Iraq, Khuzestan, Bahrain and Eastern
Saudi Arabia. In short, the neoconservative vision for the region is
a magnified picture of Iraq-segregated oil rich US protectorates surrounded
by managed chaos. A recipe for perpetual wars, continuous occupation
of Arab lands and bloodshed- this is the neoconservative dream.
In conclusion, the
realists in the Bush administration have the upper hand. their preferred
method of dealing with Iran's nuclear programme is through multilaterism
and diplomacy, as opposed to unilateralism and military intervention.
However, the failure of the Bush administration to subdue those voices
who exhort military action against Iran continues to alarm the world.
But these concerns appear to be over-stated as Iraq, Katrina and scandals
in the GOP threaten to derail Bush's foreign policy agenda.