Gwynne Dyer: Reports of Iran's nuclear ambitions sound like a repeat of Iraq eight years ago
“We will not build two (nuclear) bombs in the face of (America’s) 20,000,” said Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency report this week that accuses Iran of doing just that. He called Yukiya Amano, the head of the IAEA, a U.S. puppet, saying: “This person does not publish a report about America and its allies' nuclear arsenals.”
Well, that’s true, actually. Amano will never publish a report about America’s nuclear weapons (only 5,133 of them now, actually). He hasn’t said anything about Israel’s, Britain’s, and France’s weapons of mass destruction either. And his report is largely based on information fed to him by Western intelligence agencies.
But apart from that, Amano is as impartial and free from U.S. influence as you would expect a career Japanese diplomat to be. Only cynical people will see any resemblance to Colin Powell’s performance at the United Nations in 2003, when the U.S. defense secretary held up a test tube and assured us all that Iraq really was working on germ warfare.
Iraq was allegedly working on nuclear weapons, too: former president George Bush’s famous “smoking gun,” which also subsequently went missing. And on the basis of this “intelligence” about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” the United States and its more gullible allies invaded the country. Hundreds of thousands died, no weapons were found, and nothing was learned. Here we go again.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The same intelligence agencies are producing the same sort of reports about Iran that we heard eight years ago about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, and interpreting the information in the same highly prejudiced way.
Many people in the West realise that they are being hustled into yet another attack on a Middle Eastern country, but they don’t really worry about it too much. After all, it will only be air strikes, and we all know that an air-only war is practically casualty-free for the side with air superiority. Look at Libya, for example.
But how many citizens of the United States or Britain know that Iran has ten times as many people as Libya? Maybe one in 10, maybe one in 20. How many know that Iran is a partially democratic, technologically proficient state with no history of attacking its neighbours, not a tinpot dictatorship run by a vicious loon? About the same number. How many realise that the war would not end with a few days of air strikes? Practically none.
The interesting exception to all this is Israel, where people do know those things, and where there is a vigorous debate about whether attacking Iran is a good idea. A lot think it is not, and that also goes for both of Israel’s intelligence agencies, Mossad and Shin Bet. Meir Dagan, the recently retired head of Mossad, said last January that an attack on Iran was “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard.
So Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak, who do both want to attack Iran (or rather, have the United States do it for them), have gone public. If the Western powers don’t act at once, they warn, then Iran will get nuclear weapons and Armageddon will be just around the corner.
There are two things wrong with this proposition. One is the evidence. If you believe it all, it shows that Iran wants the knowledge and equipment that would let it build a nuclear weapon very quickly if necessary: an Israeli nuclear threat, a military coup in nuclear-armed Pakistan that brings young Shia-hating officers to power, whatever.
The evidence does not show that Iran is actually building a nuclear weapon now, or has any present intention of doing so. And having the knowledge and equipment that would let you do so fast in an emergency is entirely legal under IAEA rules.
The other problem with the accusations against Iran is the logic behind them. Building a nuclear weapon now would be extremely costly for Iran in terms of economic sanctions, global diplomatic isolation and the like if it became known. But it would be completely pointless from a deterrence point of view if it remained secret.
Deterrence is the only logical reason that Iran would ever want nuclear weapons, since it would be suicidal for it to attack anybody with them. As Mahmoud Ahmadnejadi pointed out (above), it would have at the most a few nuclear warheads. The United States has thousands of them, Israel has hundreds of them, and even Pakistan has dozens.
If Iran’s leaders were completely logical in their thinking, they wouldn’t waste a minute thinking about nuclear deterrence. They’d just rely on the fact that their military can completely shut the Gulf to oil traffic and bring the global economy to its knees if anybody attacks them. However, they are still a lot more rational than their Western counterparts— or at least than their Western counterparts can afford to seem in public.
You heard about that recent exchange between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. president Barack Obama that went out on an open microphone? Sarko said “I can’t stand (Netanyahu) any more. He’s a liar.” And Obama replied: “You're sick of him? I have to deal with him every day.” What about? One gets you 10 that it’s about bombing Iran.