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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Iran nuclear threat is real

If Iran does, in fact, develop a nuclear bomb — the best intelligence estimates for its possible date are 2008 — the chances of the governing mullahs actually ever using it are infinitesimal.

For the sake of killing some Israelis or Americans, the mullahs would, a few hours later, pay the price of their own obliteration and of that of many millions of their countrymen.

Thus, the crisis now rapidly building up over Iran's nuclear program — with, at best, talk of economic sanctions, and at worst of military strikes — is, if not outright phoney, grossly exaggerated.

Not in the least. The potential nuclear threat that Iran poses is real and it is exceedingly frightening. The true source of the threat isn't Iran itself, though. It's Al Qaeda-type terrorists.

Once Tehran has acquired the bomb, the Iran government would be tempted to pass it to terrorists. It is a supporter of terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, (as Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, never was). As well, Iran is the only state in the Middle East to officially refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Terrorists would have no fears about using a bomb since they themselves are invisible, and, anyway would be delighted to become martyrs. Any military retaliation against Iran becomes incomparably more difficult diplomatically when Iran's involvement can only be suspected, rather than irrefutably proven by the flight track of its missile.

The United States and Israel, thus, are quite justified in being exceedingly alarmed. In turn, their aggressive response is wholly justified.

All of this is pretty straightforward. From this point on, though, almost every aspect of this crisis is irredeemably complicated.

The "doves," such as the European Union and the United Nations, are equally justified in their more cautious stance. Both are trying to talk Tehran into accepting some kind of a diplomatic deal. The complication here is that force cannot legally be used against Iran because its nuclear program is in no way illegal. It's no more illegal, indeed, than Canada's nuclear program.

Iran's claim that its nuclear research — including its controversial production of enriched uranium and of progress towards a nuclear "cycle" — is only for the purposes of developing nuclear power may well be fraudulent. Almost certainly, it is.

Such research, though, is specifically provided for by the Non-Proliferation Treaty that Iran signed in 1970. Moreover, and unlike Israel, Iran has signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency providing for regular inspection of its facilities.

Further, even if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, this policy is pretty understandable. Today, Iran faces threats from two nuclear neighbours — Israel and Pakistan. Above all, Iranians have observed the differences in the way the U.S. treats non-nuclear "rogue states" such as Iraq (by invading them) and nuclear ones, like North Korea (by lots of talk).

Lastly, in practical terms, a military strike, by the U.S. or Israel, would both fail to destroy all the dispersed facilities and would unite the nation behind the very mullahs who are the source of the problem.

The crisis seems intractable. The latest comments from Tehran are defiant and unyielding. Those from Washington are as belligerent. But there is a solution.

On the U.S.' side, this would have to involve a guarantee of Iran's security against attacks, and an end to all threats of sanctions. For its part, Iran would have to give up not just nuclear weapons but supporting terrorism, and, most difficult of all, recognize Israel's right to exist.

For each side, this would involve a huge loss of face. Therefore, the crisis is going to have to get a lot worse before there's any chance of it getting better.


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