Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

A nuclear Iran - Is it too late?

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With the world focussed on other issues, Iran is continuing to both illegally enrich uranium and rapidly building up the infrastructure to do so even more quickly and efficiently.

It is clear that Iran is already well along on its course towards developing nuclear weapons for military purposes - and it is appearing inceasingly unlikely that anyone will stop it. 

A nuclear Iran is also an immense danger to the Middle East. As former British PM Tony Blair, Peace Envoy for the Middle East, recently stated: 'If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons capability it would destabilise the region very, very badly."

Blair said that while Al Qaeda poses a significant threat to people across the world, he believes the bigger evil is Iran, which "support groups that are engaged with terrorism and the forces of reaction".

Blair said that he believes regime change in Iran is necessary and there needs to be military intervention if it acquires nuclear weapons capability.

But the truth is few countries seemed able to focus seriously on this danger at the moment.

Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues that the sanctions that are in place are not enough and have a become an end in themselves rather than a means to achieve the goal of stopping Iran's nuclear program. He says that there is therefore little appetite to look build on the sanctions to construct a more effective policy:

"Sanctions against Tehran however have so far failed to change its policies, because they have become an end in themselves, rather than means of making the regime vulnerable to other measures. Washington and Brussels have never followed through with a strategy to translate economic pressure into material support for the millions of Iranian dissidents who could overthrow the regime without foreign military intervention."

Given that the international community appears unwilling or unable to enforce regime change in Iran, and the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions on their own, some commentators have suggested that its time to give up and that Iran should already be treated as a de facto nuclear state.

Thus, Greg Jones writes in New Republic:

"Unfortunately, the time for hypotheticals has passed. Given the latest advances in Iran's enrichment program, and the weaknesses of the international community's existing monitoring, we must reckon with the fact that we likely won't have time to preempt Tehran's efforts to build a nuclear bomb. The international community has no choice but to already treat the Islamic Republic as a de facto nuclear state."

Meanwhile, the strategic implications of the Iranian nuclear weapon drive are changing as the Arab Spring re-writes the rules in the region.

Iran is dramatically losing popularity in the Middle East. A recent poll by the American-Arab Institute found that in Egypt, favorable views of Iran declined from 89 percent in 2006 to 37 percent. In Saudi Arabia they declined from 85 percent to 6 percent; and in Jordan from 75 percent to 23 percent.

Barry Rubin has commented on the poll, writing: "So where is Iran losing popularity? Among Sunni Muslim Arabs. Why? Because now they have their own Sunni Muslim Arab Islamists and don't need Iran's Shia Persians to be their patrons, leaders, or hope for the triumph of Islamism. Thus, this development shows the deepening schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Islamists, not declining support for radical, anti-Western, and Islamist politics."

Jonathan Spyer in the Guardian writes that the decline in Iranian support does not mean the end of Iran and its allies as a regional power bloc, but rather than Iranian appeal is more likely to be limited to Shia populations. Regarding the re-emergence of Sunni Islamism, he writes:

"The less good news, from Israel's point of view, is that the new forces on the rise in the region consist largely of one or another variant of Sunni Islamism. AKP-led Turkey has emerged as a key facilitator of the Syrian opposition, in which Sunni Islamist elements play a prominent role. Turkey appears to be in the process of making a bid for the regional leadership also sought by Iran. In Egypt, too, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces look set to reap an electoral dividend in November. The Sinai area has already become a zone of activity for Islamist terror directed against Israel, because of the breakdown in law and order in recent months. The attacks on the pipeline bringing Egyptian gas to Israel, and the recent terror attack in Eilat, are testimony to this."

Rivalry between Shia and Sunni Islamists in the Middle East looks certain to escalate dangerously if Iran is obtain nuclear weapons, setting off an arms race that could have tragic consequences.

Meanwhile, there are still some in the West who still insist that there is no "proof" that the Iranian nuclear program is intended for military use. The evidence is actually overwhelming and French expert Dr Bruno Tertrais has outlined it all in one place - an article entitled "10 Reasons we know Iran wants the bomb". A summary of the reasons include:

1. Iran has sought to hide its activities and installations from the IAEA
2. Iran's most sensitive activities are controlled by the Ministry of Defense
3. Iran's enrichment program has no economic logic
4. Iran's enrichment program is inconsistent with its stated goals
5. Iran possesses a document explaining how to cast uranium into hemispheres
6. Iran is building a heavy-water reactor without a clear scientific purpose
7. Iran has conducted weaponization-related experiments and studies
8. Iran has tested a nuclear-capable missile
9. Iran refuses to implement transparency measures
10. Iran rejects proposals for a resumption of the negotiations

Dr. Tertrais' article is a very useful collation of all the evidence to give to someone who is sceptical or ignorant of the extent of the evidence that the Iranian effort to get nuclear weapons is very real.