by Ziad AbuZayyad
The ongoing controversy regarding Iranís nuclear program brought to the table many related arguments globally and regionally. These included the questions of how to deal with Iran, and whether it is possible to prevent it from achieving a nuclear option. Why is the focus placed only on Iran? What about Israelís nuclear option? Does a double standard apply here, too, and is Israel not accountable to the international community?
The revelations that came after the Iraq War showed that the issue of the Iraqi nuclear option was a deliberate fabrication designed to facilitate and legitimize the war against Iraq simply to topple Saddam Husseinís regime. This war is a new form of colonization based on the ability of specific Western countries to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, to change their rulers and replace them with those who serve their interests. There is no doubt that Husseinís regime was brutal and undemocratic, but this cannot and should not be an excuse for destroying a whole nation only to get rid of its dictator, whoever he might be. The destruction of Iraq and its human losses can only be categorized as a crime against humanity.
In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejadís regime is also unpopular in the West, and the fear is that the same tragedy that befell Iraq is to be replicated in Iran. If this happens, then the Iraqi precedent may threaten other Third-World countries. There is no concrete evidence that Iran is on its way to obtaining nuclear weapons, but, even if there were indications to this effect, the issue should be handled with maximum caution in order to avoid another Iraq scenario in Iran.
We should keep in mind what the potential consequences would be if the military option is adopted in order to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear program and getting away with it. But if it does, then we may witness a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The questions then arise: What would be the motives behind such a race? And who stands to benefit from it and who would be at a disadvantage? Some may argue that an Iranian nuclear option would be a positive factor that would bring mutual deterrence to the region and, as such, bring balanced security and stability, and others will argue to the opposite. But we should all agree that all efforts must go towards creating a new Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone. No one country should be excluded or ignored. The Arab-Israeli conflict ó with its core issue, the Palestinian question ó is a factor which plays a major role in this regard.
Placing Its Neighbors at Risk
The Middle East is a small region and, practically speaking, the geographic proximity of the countries there makes it almost impossible for one country to launch a nuclear attack against another without harming itself, or without a third party suffering the consequences of such an attack. Thirdparty countries that are not party to the war will inevitably be victimized, while both the attacking country and the one attacked will be sacrificed.
Needless to say, the maintenance of nuclear weapons presents a constant danger to those who possess them if they cannot meet the required technical expertise for the purpose or if they fail to do the job properly. Neighboring Arab countries feel they are at risk if Israel continues to have its own nuclear installations and is unwilling to reconsider its nuclear program and its implications and to accept international inspections of its installations.
The general impression in Middle Eastern countries is that Israel aspires to keep its regional hegemony by being the only military superpower ó having its nuclear option in addition to its superiority in all other aspects of its war industry. This feeling generates fear, insecurity and the need to balance this threat. Though Israelís desire to maintain its superiority in the field of conventional weapons may be explained by the background and circumstances of the stateís creation and its continued policy of occupation and expansion at the expense of its neighbors, there is no logical explanation to justify why Israel should continue to have its nuclear weapons and to threaten the whole region. Such weapons cannot be used in any confrontation with its neighbors simply because of the reasons mentioned above.
Jordanian media reports have repeatedly noted a rising percentage in the number of cancer patients in southern Jordanian cities across the border from Israelís Dimona nuclear plant. Their conclusion is that Dimona is becoming outdated and radiation emissions are increasing, further raising alarm for those who, in principle, are opposed to nuclear weapons.
On the regional level, neighboring Arab countries feel uneasy living with the Israeli nuclear threat. There are voices within these countries echoing this fear and demanding the acquisition of a nuclear option. These voices will be heard more loudly if Iran gets away with its nuclear program.
The Liquidation of the Iraqi Regime ó A Boon for Iran
Obviously, some elements in Iran are motivated by the aspiration to become a major regional power in the Middle East. These elements are a combination of the nationalists who long for the days of the Persian Empire, and of the religious who believe in obtaining military power to guarantee Iranís role as a regional power at a time when tensions between Sunni and Shiía are surging, encouraged by the rise of Shiía power in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Husseinís regime and the release of the ethnic/sectarian genie.
The liquidation of Husseinís regime in Iraq by the United States and its allies has presented Iran with a historic opportunity to become a dominant power, not only in the Gulf region, but in the Middle East as a whole. While the West was busy sinking into the Iraq quagmire, Iran was busy building its military power, including its nuclear capabilities, whether for peaceful or military purposes.
Cleary, Iran is holding a number of regional strings with which to manipulate and to maneuver, progressing slowly but surely towards its goal. The continued Arab-Israeli conflict plays into the hands of Iran as does the situation in post-war Iraq. Its special relationship with Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Shiía in Iraq is a strategic asset for Iran.
It is clear that the way some Western circles are dealing with the Iran file elicits feelings of national pride and dignity among Iranians and pushes them towards confrontation, seriously reducing the chances for dialogue and a diplomatic settlement to the nuclear issue. This can explain, for example, why Iran refuses to send all the low-enriched uranium (LEU) it has ó 1,200 kg ó in one package to Russia and France in return for nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and insists on sending it in installments. The louder the threatening voices against Iran, the more Iranian leaders can play on nationalist emotions to generate public support for the regime and its willingness to proceed with its nuclear program.
The Iranian leaders know very well how to maneuver between the two international trends vis-ŗ-vis the Iranian nuclear issue. It is common knowledge that many Israeli leaders and their conservative allies in the U.S. and Europe are calling for harsh sanctions against Iran to force it to give up its nuclear program; if not, they say, it must be stopped by military force.
This group argues that Iranís nuclear weapons are an existential threat to Israel and to global security. This group demands that Iran should be treated in the same way in which Saddam Hussein was treated.
On the other hand, there is the group that calls for dialogue and diplomacy to convince Iran to abide by the wishes of the international community. This group is led by China, Turkey, Brazil and the Arab countries. China, Iranís most important commercial partner, plays a prominent role in this respect. Chinaís foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, said in Paris recently that speaking about sanctions at this time only complicates the situation and may constitute an obstacle to a diplomatic solution to the crisis. A few weeks later, he said that the time had not yet come to talk about sanctions. But there is an absence of one logical group, adopting one standard policy towards both Iran and Israel, demanding that they do their share in taking the first practical steps to make the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
Dealing with the Iranian Crisis
Arab countries in the Gulf fear a nuclear Iran, but they also fear Israel. The Arab Leagueís secretary-general, Amr Moussa, recently called for dialogue between the Arab world and Iran to work out a regional security arrangement between the two sides.
Speaking in practical terms, there are three options for dealing with the Iranian crisis:
* The military option, which means war against Iran to destroy its nuclear
installations and to force it to give up its program. This does not seem an
easy option and it could lead to a potential regional explosion involving
other countries and organizations. No one can predict its consequences,
except that it will bring disaster to the already-troubled Middle East.
* Economic and other forms of sanctions, such as blocking flights in and
out of Iran, preventing any maintenance of Iranís commercial airplanes,
preventing shipment of any kind of weapons or ammunition, downgrading
diplomatic relations and freezing all Iranian financial assets. The question
remains: How long can these sanctions be sustained, and whether, in
spite of all the above, Iran will not still surprise the world by joining the
* Diplomacy and dialogue coexisting with a nuclear Iran, recognizing its
regional role and reevaluating the roles of other regional countries.
Pakistan has succeeded in obtaining nuclear weapons, though its efforts in this direction did not gain the blessing of the West. It is reported that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once threatened then- Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that harsh sanctions would be imposed on Pakistan if it did not stop its plan to obtain nuclear weapons. These threats did not work. Pakistan achieved its goal to counterbalance the Indian threat. Later, the U.S. accepted this reality and lived with it. The difference between Pakistan and Iran is that Pakistan has remained in the circle of U.S. strategic interests, while Iran sees the U.S. as the great Satan and the strategic ally and supporter of Israel and the threat it poses to the region, and the U.S. sees Iran as the godfather of terrorism and a major component in the ďaxis of evil.Ē
It is likely that Iran will proceed with its program, and the only thing left to consider is how to contain it and to dissipate all its fears and justifications that are pushing it in this direction. All depends on the capacity of the U.S. not to go far in its planned sanctions against Iran; the readiness of Iran to open up to the world and, first and foremost, to its regional sea, starting with its Arab neighbors; and on Israelís understanding that war is not an option, since it may become a protracted war that would spiral out of control.
It is hard to predict which of the above options will finally be adopted by the international community. But whether Iran will carry on with its plans to obtain nuclear weapons or not, we should all agree that the future of humanity and the planet we live on requires genuine and sincere efforts to free the world from the threat of a nuclear disaster. The non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is a must, and its implementation must begin with practical steps towards ridding our planet of the nuclear threat. Latin America sets a good example in this respect.
Israel must allow international inspection of its nuclear plants, and must agree to start a process of disposing of these weapons. Achieving a comprehensive peace settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict will bring peace and security to all the countries in the Middle East, including Israel. Such an agreement will put an end to Israelís claim that it needs such weapons to confront any existential threat and to Iranís argument that Israeli hegemony should be counterbalanced, and it will give a sense of legitimacy to the international demands made on Iran to refrain from achieving nuclear capability. Achieving a comprehensive peace settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict