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.



reality check

Nov 9, 2011 at 8:05pm

Jeez, now this dimwit is supporting Iran? Credibility down the drain. Iran has "no history of attacking it's neighbors" - yeah right. Why would Iran build a nuclear weapon - um, to destroy Israel. That is a stated goal of the Iranian "partially democratic" (read partially NOT democratic) regime. Besides, everyone knows it doesn't matter what the President of Iran thinks - he doesn't rule his country, the whacked out ayatollah is the real power. AhMADinejad is just the face to detract from what is really going on. You know, kinda like W and Cheney. Of course Israel attacking Iran is a bad idea. It doesn't mean that the leaders of Iran are stable. Iran is a great country in Dyer's eyes - look at how it treats it own citizens. And of course this useful idiot couldn't pass up an opportunity to attack America. His prejudices and unbalanced thinking invalidate his argument.

Pat Crowe

Nov 9, 2011 at 10:54pm

The last time I read Gwyn's perception of Iran regarding Israel I have not considered his opinions relevant since. This article reinforces my stand.


Nov 9, 2011 at 11:14pm

@reality check

'Iran has "no history of attacking it's neighbors" - yeah right.'

OK, so when exactly did Iran ever initiate an attack on its neighbours? Perhaps you could enlighten us.

Taxpayers R Us

Nov 10, 2011 at 12:03am

I'd hate to make an ad hominem attack, but Dyer is so anti-Israel that whatever ultra-lefty god exists Herself could tell him that they had nuclear weapons and he'd still deny it.

Paul C

Nov 10, 2011 at 2:43am

Iran's neighbours are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Aremenia, Turkey and Iraq. Thirty years ago Iraq attacked Iran. That's the last military action Iran has been involved in, minus the USS Vincennes violating Iranian waters and shooting down an Iranian airliner. They do semi-secretly support Hezbollah, but hey, the CIA and Mossad play those games too.

Is it a good thing for regional stability for Iran to have such an aggressive nuclear program? Not at all. But then, it isn't good for Israel to have actual nuclear missiles either. Nor is it good for the US to be prosecuting wars on two of Iran's borders. However the world has survived these things, and it will survive a nuclear Iran just as it has survived a nuclear Pakistan and a nuclear North Korea, and a nuclear South Africa, and an (infinitely more dangerous) nuclear Soviet Union. This is Dyer's point, no more, no less.

To be fair, the world will survive an American attack on Iran as well, but I for one have seen enough wars of stupidity to last a lifetime, and really, does the economy need another five trillion dollar hit right now?

Jan Burton

Nov 10, 2011 at 6:18am

@reality check

"Why would Iran build a nuclear weapon - um, to destroy Israel."


Umm, no. Iran wants nukes for the same reason why all other nuclear powers wanted them: deterrence!

Can you blame them? Iraq and Libya gave up their WMD and North Korea did not. Which regime is still with us?


Nov 10, 2011 at 6:42am

Reading the news these days, realizing just what a pack of dolts is running this world - financially, environmentally, militarily - there's a case to be made for anarchy.


Nov 10, 2011 at 9:16am

If Iran had a nuke and decided to 'destroy' Israel, then Iran itself would be mostly glass before their nuke even hit the Jewish nation. As soon as that Iranian nuke launches there would be a massive response from the 'good guys' from the various subs in the immediate vicinity. It would be complete suicide for Iran. They'd be gone before their alleged lust to destroy Israel could be realized.

All you fools who believe the "madman" hype are the same fools who once believed that the Russians wanted us all dead and could nuke us 'any moment' during the Cold war. I used to believe the Russkies would nuke us and go all Red Dawn on N. America. Forgive me, I was a kid back then.

Luckily I grew up and my intellect evolved to realize that the good guys are just as corrupt and twisted as the bad guys. I realize that these so called "enemies" are actually just what our leaders want - an excuse to possibly move in and take whatever they want, as they've been doing since I was a kid.

Iran can do as they please. It's what we in the West have always done - without the consideration of others. Look in the frickin mirror FFS

Pat Crowe

Nov 10, 2011 at 9:59am

Gwyn, I just can't buy into hard line Islamists playing nice with fissionable weapons. Iran may not have attacked it's enemies up front in modern times but the evidence of covert, logistical support for right wing extremism is clear. The argument that America plays poorly on the international stage vs. Irans right to nuclear self preservation is apples to oranges.
Appeasement will fail in this case. Again.


Nov 10, 2011 at 1:22pm

I agree that when a country has many enemies and is constantly spewing propaganda and hate and threats of violence, they should probably be thoroughly attacked just to be on the safe side.

Clearly the United States needs to be stopped.