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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  April 2008

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE April 2008

Subject:

The Iranian Nuclear Challenge, by Efraim Inbar

From:

Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 6 Apr 2008 11:59:39 +1200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (330 lines)

If & when Iran needs more electricity, the fastest & cheapest
way is to build standard steam-electric (including tandem-cycle)
power stations. It is obvious that Iran's production of fissile
materials is for nuclear bombs. The claim that their nuclear
programme is for electricity is a blatant lie. And yet some fans of
the fanatical regime pretend that these are not facts, and even
mention Iran's gestures toward wind-power as a "refutation".

RM

-----

Foreign Policy Research Institute
Over 50 Years of Ideas in Service to Our Nation
www.fpri.org

E-Notes
Distributed Exclusively via Fax & Email

AN ISRAELI VIEW OF THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR CHALLENGE
by Efraim Inbar

April 4, 2008

Efraim Inbar is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan
University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for
Strategic Studies (Israel). His most recent book is Israel's
National Security: Issues and Challenges since the Yom
Kippur War (Routledge, January 2008). This enote is based on
his Members Seminar talk at FPRI on February 13, 2008.


       AN ISRAELI VIEW OF THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR CHALLENGE

                       by Efraim Inbar

My thinking on Iran is more or less mainstream thinking in
Israel, what many Israelis within the defense and foreign
policy establishments feel, even if they say it in a more
diplomatic way.

Today's Iran is multi-layered. It is an imperial power, just
as Persia was once an imperial power toward the Middle East
and other parts of the world. It is also a regional power,
one of the largest states in the Middle East demographically
(66 million people), along with Turkey, Egypt, and Israel.
Iran has long had aspirations to lead the region, not just
under the current regime.

The current regime represents another, Islamic layer in
Iran's identity as a state. This layer has been very clear
since the Islamic Revolution in 1979; Iran propagates a
particular, very radical version of Islam, and has a
jihadist agenda to spread this version of Islam everywhere --
not only to Palestine but also to Andalusia (Spain of
today), once the domain of the Islamic empire. To put
today's Iran in strategic terms, I would use Yehezkel Dror's
category of crazy states, which means that it a state that
has far-reaching goals, much beyond its border, it is
revisionist, it has a great commitment to achieve those
goals, it is even willing to pay a heavy price domestically
in order to achieve its goals, and it has a quite
unconventional style, which one sees, for example, in how
Ahmadinejad speaks about Israel. This is quite unusual in
today's international discourse.

Why does Iran want nuclear weapons? First, as an insurance
policy for the regime, which fully understands that it is
more difficult to destabilize a country armed with nuclear
weapons. Outsiders do not know what kind of people will get
their hands on the weapons in case of an external
intervention designed to destabilize the regime--witness
what is happening nowadays in Pakistan. The U.S.
administration accepted Musharraf the dictator; we did not
want anyone to mess with nuclear weapons. Moreover, a
nuclear weapon is in Iran's view a weapon able to deter an
American invasion. As a member of the "Axis of Evil," they
observe that the U.S. preferred to attack Iraq, which did
not have nuclear weapons at that time, rather than go after
North Korea, which had a much more advanced program.

Tehran also views the nuclear weapon as a way to achieve
regional hegemony in a way similar to how the French looked
upon it. It signifies a certain status in the region. They
believe that their past entitles them to have a nuclear bomb
and to put them in the same rank as the large, important
powers of the world.

Finally, Iran's nuclear program is also designed to try to
block Western influence in the region. Iranians have a very
ambivalent attitude toward the West. On the one hand, they
see it as a dying, decadent civilization, but at the same
time they are very much afraid of the corrupting influence
of Western culture and morals.

The Iranians' nuclear strategy is simple: it's to talk and
build. They are ready to talk. The bazaars of Tehran offer
good guidance in how to bargain with the West, and the
gullible West has been ready to talk to Iranians already for
15 years, and we all know the result of the talk and
diplomacy. It's basically a North Korean model; North Korea
adopted the same strategy and was successful. Tehran is
ready to talk to the Europeans, the International Agency on
Atomic Energy, but its goal is to gain time. It wants to
bring about a fait accompli and present the world with an
Iranian bomb.

An Iranian nuclear bomb would be very dangerous. A nuclear
Iran will be a clear threat to anyone in the radius of its
range--they now have a missile with a range exceeding 2000-
2500 km, within which is the whole Middle East, Eastern
Europe, India, Pakistan, even part of China. It is a real
threat to a very large area.

At the systemic level, Iran challenges American dominance in
world affairs. Seeing America as the enemy, Iran allies
itself with people like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. It is in
the company of North Korea. An Iranian nuclear bomb will be
a poke in America's eye. It will be very dangerous to the
NPT regime, which to its credit has to some extent
stabilized many regions of the world and been successful at
preventing nuclear proliferation. An Iranian nuclear bomb,
like the North Korean nuclear explosion, will be an
additional blow to this type of arms control diplomacy.

Nuclear weapons will give Iran tremendous influence over the
energy sector of the world economy. Not only is Iran
situated along the Gulf, but it also is located along the
Caspian Sea. We can speak about an energy ellipse which
encompasses the Caspian Basin and the Gulf area that
includes some 70-80 percent of the world's oil reserves.
Nuclear weapons will give them great influence over the
countries in that region and a much greater voice in the
area of energy. As long as the world consumes oil and gas,
as it will have to for some time to come, I don't think it's
a good idea to give the Iranians even a larger voice in that
sector.

A nuclear Iran will also embolden all radicals, Islamists as
well as others, and allow them to feel that they have a
nuclear umbrella, a strong country they can rely upon that
plays an important role in world affairs.

At the regional level, nuclear weapons will greatly
strengthen the regime. Few attempts have been made to
destabilize this regime, and after Iran becomes nuclear
there will be even less. We will see regional hegemony, many
countries around Iran will bandwagon--they'll get closer to
Iran rather than ally against it. We see already a cozier
relationship between Egypt and Iran, the Gulf states trying
to get closer to Iran, because they're afraid that if they
ally against Iran, they will pay a heavy price. The alliance
of Sunnis against Shiites exists more on paper. We don't
really see much action in the Middle East of the Sunnis
allying against the Shiite threat coming from Iran.

Indeed, nuclear weapons will help Iran export its Islamic
revolution, particularly to the Shiites in the Gulf--Bahrain
and Iraq. Of course, Iran already has great influence in
southern Iraq, and it will gain influence in Saudi Arabia,
where most of the oil is in the northeastern province, which
is populated by Shiites.

A nuclear Iran will strengthen all its regional radical
allies, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in
Palestine, who will feel much more secure with a strong
patron.

Another important repercussion of a nuclear Iran concerns
Turkey, which is now undergoing an identity crisis. We see
in recent years that a more Islamic party is gaining power,
and there is a real struggle over the country's future
identity over to what extent the Islamic dimension will be
part of modern Turkey. In the past we've seen the Iranians
attempt to help terrorist organizations against Turkey,
because Turkey is anathema to Iran. Secular Turkey is an
alternative model for the Muslim world. While Tehran
espouses "Islam is the solution," the Turks have a different
view on how the Muslim world should modernize. Of course the
ayatollahs think their model should be emulated, and after
the nuclearization of Iran we may see greater attempts on
part of Iran to destabilize Turkey, which is a very
important country. If Turkey fell under Islamic rule, it
would be very bad news to the West. Turkey is playing a
difficult game nowadays with this type of government, but it
is definitely in danger should Iran become nuclear.

Another area where the West will lose is Central Asia. Since
gaining independence after the end of the cold war, most of
the new republics adopted some kind of pro-Western
orientation, which was strengthened after 9/11 and the U.S.
invasion of Afghanistan. A nuclear Iran will put an end to
this orientation. The countries in Central Asia will either
bandwagon, becoming closer to Iran, or alternatively, try to
find some nuclear umbrella in powers which are much closer
to the region--Russia and China. A nuclear Iran could well
bring about the elimination of Western influence in Central
Asia. The West will lose the Great Game.

A nuclear Iran would also affect the subcontinent. The
Iranians are very close to India, which is just 300 km away.
It will have a domino effect on the precarious Indian-
Pakistani nuclear balance. Pakistan, which borders Iran,
will have to adjust its nuclear posture to a nuclear Iran.
Whatever it does will influence India. This is the basic
security dilemma we teach in International Relations
courses. So we may see a negative influence on the India-
Pakistan nuclear balance, which could reverberate even to
China, and we shouldn't forget that India and Pakistan were
close to a nuclear exchange during the Kargil war.

A nuclear Iran may not hesitate to transfer nuclear
technology to other bad guys in the region. It's not likely,
but we may even see the transfer of nuclear weapons to
terrorists or radical states. The danger of nuclear bombs
falling in the hands of extremists if chaos comes to Iran is
obviously something we have to think about.

The most important repercussion of a nuclear Iran is that it
would heighten threat perception in the Middle East. In
contrast to other parts of the world, in the Middle East,
threat perceptions are very high. It's not only the Israelis
who are concerned about security, Jordanians are afraid of
the Syrians and Iraqis, the Syrians are afraid of the Turks
and Israelis, and the Saudis are afraid of everybody. A
nuclear Iran will only heighten those threat perceptions and
bring about nuclear proliferation in this region. We see
already the first steps of many countries trying to gain
some nuclear technology. Turkey has renewed its civilian
nuclear program, which uses the same technology as nuclear
weapons. Egypt is doing the same. We cannot be sure that the
Pakistanis will not supply weapons to the Saudis, who have
subsidized part of their nuclear program.

Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a nightmare,
because a nuclear Middle East cannot be stable. It is very
dangerous to believe that the type of nuclear stability that
existed between the Soviet Union and United States can be
easily emulated in the Middle East. Americans like Kenneth
Waltz produce theories that the more weapons, the better,
that spreading nuclear weapons is bringing about stability
because leaders are afraid of conflicts escalating. I doubt
this. If the countries in the Middle East have nuclear
weapons, there's a greater chance than ever before they will
use them.

Of course, there is no extended deterrence. I don't think
the Arabs believe that an American nuclear umbrella is
effective, for the same reason the French didn't believe
that a U.S. umbrella would be effective-namely that
Americans would not risk Washington to save Paris. The same
type of rationale would be adopted by the Middle East elite,
who have seen Ottomans coming and going, French, British,
and I think they also see Americans coming and going and
don't know exactly how the Americans would play out the
Iraqi scenario. But many people in the Middle East believe
the Americans have already decided on an exit strategy and
are just groping for how to do it. So I don't think that an
American promise to the Arab countries to defend them in the
case of a nuclear attack will be trusted. And also there is
no defense against nuclear weapons at this stage. Israel's
Arrow system, which is attuned to intercept such ballistic
missiles, can intercept only 80-90 percent, but if it comes
to missiles armed with nuclear warheads, 90 percent is not
good enough.

Therefore, there is a regional consensus that Iran must be
stopped. There is wide agreement across the Middle East that
a nuclear Iran is very bad news. So what can be done?
Diplomacy has just about run its course. Actually, everyone
in the world is on a different page. The world has already
decided to go for sanctions. So far the sanctions were
rather vegetarian, and diplomacy without sharper teeth will
be ineffective.

Furthermore, I don't think economic sanctions alone would be
effective, because Iranians are willing to pay a heavy price
to get the bomb. The record is not encouraging. Cuba is
still under sanctions, Saddam Hussein was under sanctions
and he did not care whether the children in the streets of
Baghdad or Basra had enough medicine, he just blamed it on
the Americans. The same is true in Iran. If they had no
refined oil and gas, the ayatollahs would reconcile to
seeing their people ride donkeys rather than in cars.

As to regime change, don't hold your breath. We are talking
about a police state. It's true that this type of state does
not last forever, but the Iranian police state has been
successful so far at staying in power even though it's not
very well liked. There don't seem too many courageous
Iranians fighting the regime within Iran. I see opposition
here and in Los Angeles, but to be in opposition in Iran is
a different story.

That leaves us with two options. One is a credible threat to
act militarily, which I hoped could be effective in
supporting the diplomacy, but since the NIE report I think
the only thing we really have left is military action. A
credible threat means someone that Iranians are afraid of.
To great extent President Bush served this purpose before
the NIE because he was viewed in the Middle East as a
cowboy, ready to draw his gun. He has acted militarily in
Afghanistan, in Iraq, why not Iran? An ultimatum by
President Bush could have been useful in freezing the
nuclear program, primarily the uranium enrichment component.
This is no longer true. Perceptions are important. After the
NIE, the Iranians are at ease, believing that they're off
the hook. So what is really left is only military action to
try to destroy parts of the program which will slow down the
Iranian attempt and to gain time. Gaining time is an
important goal of foreign policy, it's doable by the U.S. if
it wants to. The U.S. is close in Iraq as well as in
Afghanistan, it has tremendous military power.

If the U.S. doesn't do this, and I preempt the question
already, the Israelis will have to think seriously about
whether to do it on their own. Israel has done such a
military feat in the past on Osirak in 1981. This is a
different type of operation nowadays, it's much more
complicated, but it can be done. In my view as a former
paratrooper there is no such thing as an impregnable target.
We just have to be ready to pay the price.


----------------------------------------------------------
Copyright Foreign Policy Research Institute
(http://www.fpri.org/). You may forward this essay as you
like provided that it is sent in its entirety and attributed
to FPRI. , provided that you send it in its entirety.

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