By K. P. Fabian
ON February 11, Iran will be celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the 1979 Revolution. I watched it from close quarters as I was then posted at the Indian Embassy in Tehran (from 1976 to 1979).
When I left Tehran in April 1979, the Shah was in exile. President Carter of the US accorded political asylum to him against the advice of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Carter made that cardinal mistake leading to the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by revolutionaries; 52 diplomats and others were kept as hostages for 444 days. Carter tried to get the hostages freed by sending a secret military mission that failed miserably. The hostage issue was the main cause for Carter’s defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The US has made serious mistakes in its policy towards Iran in the recent past. It has not learnt from those mistakes. It is likely to commit more mistakes.
If Israel attacks Iran in the near future, the primary reason for it is the failure of the US to understand the issues involved, to prevail upon Israel and prevent miscalculated adventurism on its part. The US gives enormous aid to Israel, which has received $106 billion in 60 years starting in 1949. But the US hardly has any influence on Israel as the situation prevails today. It is Israel that influences US policy enormously.
There are clear signals from Israel that it is planning to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. Israel has argued that Iran might not be engaged in making a bomb. But Iran is fast acquiring the capability to make one. It is necessary to strike at the right time. Otherwise, Iran would have acquired the capability, and have its sites in bunkers, making it almost impossible to destroy the nuclear facilities by resorting to bombardment.
“The dividing line may pass”, Defence Minister Barak has argued, “not where the Iranians decide to break out of the non-proliferation treaty and move toward a nuclear device or weapon, but at the place where the dispersal, protection and survivability efforts will cross a point that would make a physical strike impractical…. Whoever says ‘later’ may find that later is too late.”
The US has adopted the policy of tightening economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran with two aims. One, the more important, to prevent Israel from resorting to military action. Second, to compel Iran to stop the enrichment of uranium.
The US policy is deeply flawed. Those who know Iran know that it will not surrender under pressure and threats. The pro-bomb lobby in Iran, assuming that there is one, will only derive strength from US opposition to the enrichment of uranium. That lobby can argue convincingly that Iran is entitled to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and that the West is encroaching upon Iran’s sovereignty by making such a demand. Further, it can be argued that given the implacable hostility of the US, Iran really needs a bomb or two to protect itself. In other words, the current policy of the US is to push Iran in the direction of making a bomb in the interest of national security.
Is Iran engaged in making a bomb? It may be, and this writer thinks it is the case that Iran desires a bomb. But it does not follow that Iran is making one. So far, no evidence has been adduced by the US or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is making one. In any case, the international community should take with a pinch of salt any evidence to be produced by the US in view of the lies propagated about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
What is Israel’s game plan? Israel wants to put pressure on Iran by killing its nuclear scientists, carrying out sabotage and strangling Iran’s economy, hoping that Iran might send missiles to Israel or blockade the Straits of Hormuz. In either case, Israel is sure that the US will militarily intervene. Should Iran fail to be provoked, Israel has the option of bombing the nuclear sites with the full confidence that the US will come to Israel’s rescue if Iran retaliates. As regards the likely hike in oil prices endangering the fragile recovery of the Western economies, frankly, Israel could not care less. In any case, Israel believes that such hike will be temporary.
Israel knows that Obama, if re-elected, will stop Israel from going ahead with its plans for Iran. The June 1981 Israeli strike on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak was unnecessary as the French had designed it in a manner not usable for making a bomb. The bombing took place three weeks before the election to the Knesset. The Likud party that was trailing in opinion polls came back to power mainly because of the strike. The next election in Israel should be held before February 2013. It is possible to advance the election and choose the best time for bombing Iran.
If Israel thinks that Iran is incapable of retaliating as Iraq in 1981 was, it might be sadly mistaken. Iran has missiles that can reach Israel, and the US Patriot interceptor missiles might not prove fully effective. Hezbollah and Hamas also can send missiles to Israel. Iran can make life difficult for President Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan. The planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the pullout from Iraq that has already happened can be made to look like disastrous national security decisions crippling Obama’s re-election strategy.
In short, it is in the interest of everyone, including Israel’s, to prevent it from bombing Iran. But it does not follow that the US will act wisely. A war is highly likely.
It is in India’s interest to prevent a war. The repeated mantra that it is not in India’s interest to have a nuclear-armed Iran is not of much help in policy formulation. The primary threat from Iran is to Israel, which probably has around 100 bombs. In fact, there is hardly any threat to India’s security from a nuclear-armed Iran.
In any case, Iran knows that the use of bombs or any other kind of attack on Israel will lead to severe punishment by the US. It is obvious that the wise thing to do is to agree to Iran’s right to enrich uranium and flood Iran with IAEA inspectors. India can suggest this, but it lacks the clout to be listened to.
Meanwhile, India is trying to arrange for paying for oil imports from Iran. There is much talk of multi-polarity. But there is a pocket of unipolarity in the international financial sector. The US can punish any financial entity that disobeys its orders to stop dealing with Iran. There is a BRICS summit due in Delhi in March. Can one expect the summit to address this issue? I doubt.
The writer is a former ambassador of India.