From JIM HOULE
After several years of nuclear weapons-rattling by Israel, threatening Iran with total or at least partial devastation should they move any closer to producing weapons grade or even fuel grade enriched uranium, we may be seeing a pull back by the Netanyahu government. “The Obama Administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, is trying to persuade Israel that it would take roughly a year and perhaps longer – for Iran to complete what one senior official called ‘a dash’ for nuclear weapons. “One year is a very long time”, the official, Gary Samore, reassured us (NYTimes 8/17/10).
Anxious to convince America to join in their proposed attack, Israel had planted stories in the Times of London and elsewhere that they already had two nuclear-armed submarines in the Persian Gulf; that they had flight clearance to attack through Saudi Arabia; and were even setting up a resupply and refueling base someplace in the Arabian desert. And then, our former UN Ambassador John Bolton warned just last week that we had only an eight-day window in which to bomb the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant before Iran was capable of recovering plutonium from the spent fuel rods in the two newly commissioned reactors. To bomb Bushehr any later would risk irradiating thousands of innocent civilians, said Bolton, exhibiting what seemed like a new level of humanitarian concern from this normally rabid war monger.
And while Netanyahu may be showing a certain timidity, his Finance Minister Steinitz continues to encourage the US to “issue a clear ultimatum to Iran that if it does not change its behavior within weeks, the military option will now become relevant” (YNetNews.com 8/20/10). The September Atlantic Monthly carries an article that plays both sides of the street a bit: it argues first that the Obama Administration must take a much more menacing line with Iran’s nuclear program or risk an attack by Israel. It then explains that senior figures in the Israeli intelligence and military actually oppose such a strike. The author, a former Israeli Army Corporal and now a Atlantic national correspondent, says Israelis rate the probability of their government launching a pre-emptive attack at fifty-fifty.
IRAN’S SUPPOSED NUCLEAR AMBITIONS
This one-year dash to a bomb would require that Iran (1) had thrown out the IAEA inspectors, (2) successfully started up the power plant and run it at full bore for a year to accumulate enough plutonium from its spent fuel rods to convert into one or two bombs, (3) built a reprocessing plant to extract Plutonium from the spent fuel rods, (4) developed and manufactured nuclear warheads, (5) built a missile capable of delivering this weapon, and (6) accepted with resignation the likelihood that they would all probably be reduced to a smoldering ash heap by the retaliatory strike from Israel’s 200 ready-to-go nukes and a US arsenal of at least 1500 more. That could add up to a very long 12 months indeed. In other words, given the apparent lack of activity so far by Iran in designing nuclear warheads, plutonium processing facilities, long-range missiles, and even starting up and running the Bushehr facility for a year, there is no way in the world Iran could come up with a deliverable bomb for quite a few years, even if they concentrated all their resources towards this totally self-destructive goal. Their other alternative is by enriching fuel grade uranium (3-5% U235) from their existing pilot-scale enrichment facilities up to a level of 90% – not an easy task at all and not known to be on their agenda, although it remains a long term (more than five years) possibility.
STRATFOR 8/19/10 feels that destruction of Bushehr would not effect the heart of Iran’s nuclear efforts, which consists of the nuclear enrichment facilities cited above that are deeply imbedded in the mountains. “Israel cannot destroy Iran’s nuclear program on its own and the question has always been whether the US is willing to conduct such an air campaign” at the probable cost of Iranian blockage of oil tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz. “So far, Washington has declined to attack Iran, for reasons that have nothing at all to do with the timetable for Bushehr becoming operational”.
WHAT IF THE PROBLEM IS NOT ABOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS AT ALL?
Perhaps the conflict is not a race towards nuclear annihilation but about who is the dominant power in the Middle East. Iran under the Shah (1953-1970) was first seen by Israel as an ally against the nationalist Arab bloc led by Gamal Abdul Nasser. While the Shah harbored ambitions of becoming the hegemon in the Gulf and used US arms and training missions to support this, it did not trouble the Israelis too much, given their own developing nuclear arsenal. With the Shah’s overthrow, Israel found the militancy of the Ayatollah and his aid to the Palestinians, to Syria and to the Hezbollah in Lebanon to be threatening to Israel’s military dominance of its Moslem neighbors.
Now, with Iraq tied up in political wrangling amongst the Shi’a parties, and the Sunni effectively removed from the political scene thanks to the short-sightedness of the US, Iran will have considerable influence upon whatever coalition is seated in Baghdad and some ability to prevent any group from becoming dominant for long. After their disastrous losses in the 1980s war with Sadaam Hussein, Iran sees a weak neighbor as a good neighbor. Meanwhile, the US shows no desire to remove their remaining ‘combat-trained’ 50,000 soldier/trainers, and thus a weak central government must look good in the Pentagon as well as in Tehran. If the US long term strategy involves maintaining well fortified bases throughout the Middle East and Central Asia capable of wreaking havoc upon anyone who gets too uppity, then the likelihood of pulling all our troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011, as stated in the current Status of Forces Agreement, is very remote. It might be seen in Washington as virtually handing over Iraq to its neighbor. And therein lies the basis for a modus operandi between Washington and Tehran: the US allows Iran to meddle in Baghdad politically to assure no strong party takes power and rebuilds the Iraqi Army; in return, Iran allows the US military bases to remain so long as the Pentagon doesn’t get serious about using their 50,000 boots to actually train a new Iraqi Army.
But what about Hamas’ rudderless rockets, Israel’s continued humiliation of one million in Gaza, Hezbullah’s military strength, Israel’s lust for revenge after their 2006 defeat in Lebanon, and finally what about Israel’s 200 nukes? You will just have to wait for another Edition of Obama-Watch.com.