Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Iran, the IAEA and the Bomb

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Update from AIJAC

November 9, 2007
Number 11/07 #04

This Update is devoted to the Iranian nuclear issue, and the debate sparked in recent weeks by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed elBaradei, who has been making statements opposing both sanctions and force as a response to the Iranian nuclear stand-off, saying there is no evidence Iran is planning to make weapons, and anyway, it would take them three to eight years.

First up, Dr. Gerald Steinberg, Israeli academic specialist in conflict resolution and proliferation, gives his assessment of what the IAEA head is attempting to do and why. He points out that the public statements are not all that is going on - IAEA reports are also being downplayed - and argues that elBaradei may be overcompensating for his failure to prevent the Iraq war. For his full assessment of the reasons for and negative effects of this IAEA strategy, CLICK HERE. Both the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert have also criticised elBaradei's recent pronouncements. Pointing out some apparent contradictions in what he has to say about Iraq and Iran was Canadian columnist Lorne Gunter.

Next up, British columnist and Member of the European Parliament Danial Hannan responds to the argument of elBaradei and others that Iraq shows the main issue is to avoid any overheated rhetoric or talk of the use of force with respect to Iran. Hannan, who opposed the Iraq war, says Iran is clearly a different case, and there is not only ample evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons, but every reason to worry that Iran may use them if it gets them.  He says the  solution is escalating sanctions, and  avoiding continuing an existing pattern of appeasement. For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Pointing out that "The IAEA and the UN Security Council have determined that Iran has lied about its nuclear activities and has therefore at least temporarily forfeited its right to enrichment for peaceful purposes" is Washington Post veteran foreign affairs columnist Jim Hoagland.

Finally, Iranian-born novelist Roya Hakakian discusses the relationship between the Holocaust denial promulgated by Iranian leaders, and the attitude of the general population of Iran to Jews. She says that while Iranians know nothing about the Holocaust, the majority of the population has a rational attitude toward Jews and Israel, and can be taught about the Holocaust, beginning with Iran's own positive role in sheltering Jewish refugees. To read Hakakian's full comments, CLICK HERE. A representative example (among many) of official Holocaust denial in the Iranian media is here.


Why Are the IAEA and Dr. Mohammed El-Baradei Protecting Iran?

Gerald M. Steinberg

Jerusalem Issue Brief
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Vol. 7, No. 19   
4 November 2007
  • The evidence that Iran is making progress towards acquiring nuclear weapons is staring everyone in the face - the banks of centrifuges from A.Q. Khan's proliferation supermarket (used by Pakistan for its bomb) and other technology inappropriate for a civil power program; the subterfuge that kept these and other activities from the IAEA inspectors for many years; the import of components and evidence of facilities for testing weapons design.
  • For over three years, the quarterly IAEA reports on Iran contained the details of violations, obstruction of inspector's visits, important inconsistencies between official claims and the results of tests from samples taken from various facilities, and other forms of non-compliance. But the final assessment in each report, signed by the director-general, absurdly concluded that this evidence did not demonstrate that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.
  • El-Baradei may have chosen what he sees as the path of least resistance by acquiescing to Iran's aspirations to become a nuclear power. This was also the dominant view in Europe, at least until the rise of Ahmadinejad and the realization that stable deterrence based on the U.S.-Soviet Cold War model was not applicable to a nuclear-armed Iran.
  • El-Baradei's complicity in the Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons is counterproductive. The further that Iran advances, the higher the probability of confrontation and military action in the next two to four years.
  • Instead, if the IAEA and El-Baradei were to join in the effort to warn and deter the Iranian regime, it might still be possible to halt the uranium enrichment and similar activities, without needing to use force.
Denying the Obvious

The repeated statements by Dr. Mohammed El-Baradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), incongruously denying that Iran is seeking and making progress towards acquiring nuclear weapons, are difficult to explain.  The evidence is staring everyone in the face - the banks of centrifuges from A.Q. Khan's proliferation supermarket (used by Pakistan for its bomb) and other technology inappropriate for a civil power program; the subterfuge that kept these and other activities from the IAEA inspectors for many years; the import of components and evidence of facilities for testing weapons design. Taken together, the case is overwhelming, not only in Washington and Jerusalem, but also in Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing.

So why is El-Baradei insisting on denying the obvious?  He is an Egyptian national, but without a history of ideologically or religiously motivated policies or statements, and does not share the visceral anti-Israel and anti-Western positions held by the Nasserites such as Amr Mousa (ex-foreign minister and now head of the Arab League). Indeed, when El-Baradei was first nominated to head the IAEA after many years as a lower level official, the Egyptian government proposed another candidate. And in official visits to Israel, El-Baradei showed a high level of diplomatic skill in repeating the traditional call for universal accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but acknowledging the complexity of the Israeli situation. His statements and activities projected an image of an international civil servant who took these obligations and commitments seriously.

Seeking to Rehabilitate the IAEA

In this spirit, during his first years as IAEA director-general beginning in 1997, El-Baradei continued and even accelerated the effort to rehabilitate the IAEA and its tattered image as the world's nuclear proliferation watchdog under the 1970 NPT. In 1981, following the Israeli operation that destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor before it could start producing plutonium, the IAEA was exposed as lacking professionalism and credibility. Officials were shown to have closed their collective eyes to Saddam Hussein's illegal diversions from an ostensibly civil nuclear program to weapons development, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin with no alternative to military action.

The IAEA's inspectors and verification experts worked to re-establish credibility, enforcing enhanced safeguards that were designed to prevent the kind of subterfuge employed by Saddam. Their detailed reports on the status of Iraq's nuclear program during this period (and its limitations) turned out, in some areas, to be more accurate than the U.S. government assessments. And while El-Baradei's interpretation of the dangers posed by Saddam's continuing nuclear activities downplayed the implications, and he argued against the military action that removed Saddam Hussein, the IAEA did not cover up or tamper with the evidence.  

Ignoring the Evidence on Iranian Nuclear Weapons Development

But on Iran, the IAEA under El-Baradei has again lost credibility and is covering up wholesale violations of the NPT and the efforts of the extremist leaders of the Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear weapons. For over three years, the quarterly IAEA reports on Iran contained the details of violations, obstruction of inspector's visits, important inconsistencies between official claims and the results of tests from samples taken from various facilities, and other forms of non-compliance. But the final assessment in each report, signed by the director-general, absurdly concluded that this evidence did not demonstrate that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons. This process delayed the imposition of sanctions that might have dissuaded Iran from this path. Eventually, even the more reluctant leaders in Russia, China, and India recognized the overwhelming nature of the evidence, rejected El-Baradei's assertions, and voted in September 2005 to officially find Iran in non-compliance with the NPT and to start the sanctions process.

Since then, El-Baradei's summaries of the quarterly IAEA reports, which are the basis for UN Security Council reviews and consideration of increased sanctions, continue to deny the Iranian threat. He also has started to echo Iranian claims to be beyond the "point of no return" in enriching uranium to the level required for weapons - a boast that the IAEA's own data does not support. This has again cast the IAEA as a target for derision and ridicule and led some key professionals to leave the agency.

El-Baradei's behavior also has slowed the impact of the limitations imposed by the U.S.-led international "coalition of the willing" on Iranian banks and financial institutions. These targeted sanctions have had a very direct impact on the regime and leadership, leading to signs of rising dissatisfaction and acts of defiance in Iran. There is evidence that more sanctions would accelerate the internal opposition and slow or even force a halt to the effort to acquire nuclear weapons.

Explaining El-Baradei's Behavior

It is difficult to explain the logic of El-Baradei's behavior, which is the opposite of what is expected for the head of an international watchdog organization whose decisions have a major impact on international security and stability. One factor may be personal - in 2005, when the Bush Administration opposed his selection for a third term as director-general, in large part because of the Iranian cover-up, they failed to get much support in the Board of Governors. Supporting Iran is the most effective form of retaliation against the United States.

Beyond this dimension, El-Baradei understandably wants to defend the IAEA and the NPT framework from a wrenching confrontation over the Iranian nuclear weapons program that could mark the end of this security framework based on treaties and international enforcement organizations. He may have chosen what he sees as the path of least resistance by acquiescing to Iran's aspirations to become a nuclear power. This was also the dominant view in Europe, at least until the rise of Ahmadinejad and the realization that stable deterrence based on the U.S.-Soviet Cold War model was not applicable to a nuclear-armed Iran and a regional arms race.

After having failed to prevent the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the IAEA's director-general may now be overcompensating by embracing the Iranian claims in the hope of preventing a military attack on Iran. His angry reaction to unconfirmed reports that Israel destroyed a North Korean-built nuclear reactor in Syria, and the demand that information on NPT violations be provided to the IAEA for action, can also be understood as an attempt to salvage the agency's severely damaged reputation.

But if this is El-Baradei's objective, his complicity in the Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons and the obvious attempt to cover-up the evidence is counterproductive. The further that Iran advances, the higher the probability of confrontation and military action in the next two to four years. Instead, if the IAEA and El-Baradei were to join in the effort to warn and deter the Iranian regime, it might still be possible to halt the uranium enrichment and similar activities, without needing to use force. This is the only way that the NPT will survive, and the world will be spared the dangers of a radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons.


Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is head of the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Executive Director of NGO Monitor.


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Iran wants the Bomb so it can use it

By Daniel Hannan

Daily Telegraph (London), 05/11/2007

One of the many tragic consequences of the Iraq war is that it has made it harder to act against Iran. The geographical and alphabetical proximity of the two countries tempts us into false comparisons. Look at the mess the neo-cons made in Iraq, we think. We surely can't let those clots try the same failed strategy against Iran. Nor do you hear this argument only from tousled students.

Mohammed El-Baradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, says that Iraq should serve as a warning to those who want a forward policy against Teheran.

Well, I am no neo-con. I was the only leader writer on this newspaper who argued against the Iraq war. I opposed the invasion because I didn't believe that Saddam had a weapons programme. When it comes to Iran, though, there can be no doubt that the regime is developing a nuclear capability, and that it has the delivery mechanism: Shahhab-3 missiles, with a range of 1,500 miles.

Nor can there be much doubt that the reason the ayatollahs want the Bomb is so that they can use it. Look, after all, at what they are already doing. They have armed militias as far afield as the Balkans, the Caucasus and the old Silk Road Khanates.

They have supplied their Lebanese proxy, Hizbollah, with rockets. They have been implicated in the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina.

Can we really be certain that, if they had the technology, they wouldn't tip some of these bombs with nuclear warheads?

It's the Buenos Aires bomb that I find most interesting. What possible strategic interest can the mullahs have had in Argentina? The answer, surely, is that the very remoteness of the target made it attractive: Teheran was flaunting its ability to strike wherever it wanted. That is what makes an Iranian bomb so frightening: we are not dealing, as we were in the Cold War, with a regime pursuing rational aims. The ayatollahs play by different rules.

They advertised this with the very first act of their revolution: the seizure of the US embassy. The sanctity of diplomatic personnel is the basis of all international relations. Even during the Second World War, when mutually antagonistic ideologies struggled to obliterate each other, legation staff were peacefully evacuated through neutral states. By violating this principle, the mullahs were sending out a deliberate signal: your notions of territorial jurisdiction mean nothing to us; we recognise a higher authority than yours.

They got away with it, too. Even while the US embassy staff were being held hostage, the Iranian mission in London was seized. We sent in the SAS, recovered the building, and handed it back to Teheran with a cheque to cover the breakages.

The ayatollahs concluded that they could have it both ways, being accorded the privileges of a sovereign state without having to reciprocate.

That set the pattern for what was to follow. Iran has never shown much respect for state sovereignty.

Like all revolutionary regimes, it has spilled out from behind its borders, seeking to replicate itself elsewhere. It has sought, in particular, to radicalise its co-religionists in the Arab world, prompting King Abdullah of Jordan to warn against a "Shia crescent" arcing from the Lebanon through Syria, Turkey and Iran to the Gulf monarchies.

Yet our response – and by "our", I mean the EU's – has been to pursue a policy of "constructive engagement" in the hope of jollying the mullahs out of their nuclear ambitions. To his credit, even Jack Straw, who was the most visible agent of that policy, and who for a while seemed to be in Teheran every other week, now accepts that it has failed.

What, though, is the alternative? Well, in between the current policy of trying to wheedle the Chinese into letting us pass UN resolutions, and the option of direct military action, there are several escalating steps. First, there is economic isolation.

By that, I don't mean the withholding of investment by a few Western firms, something which is already happening; I mean proper sanctions. The EU is easily Iran's largest trade partner and, as Malcolm Rifkind has pointed out, much of that trade is underwritten by export credit guarantees. Proper sanctions should include the seizure of assets, the freezing of accounts and travel embargoes.

Then there is the option of sponsoring internal dissent: something the Iranians are quite happy to do in other countries.

One of the sillier concessions we made to the ayatollahs during our "constructive engagement" phase was to decide that the military arm of the main opposition group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran, was a terrorist organisation. Removing that tag from this group – the People's Mujahideen of Iran – and hanging it instead on the ayatollahs might indicate that we mean business.

There are plenty of disaffected Iranians. There are monarchists, secularists, socialists and students.

There are Sunnis, who are not even allowed to build a mosque in Teheran. There are national minorities, including Azeris and Arabs, with little love for the Persian state. We could be doing far more to back democratic opposition groups, as we have done in formerly Soviet territories.

As a last resort, if nothing else works, we could apply the kind of armed siege, complete with no-fly zone and targeted air strikes, that we imposed on Iraq between the two wars. Our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has removed two anti-Shia powers from Iran's flanks; but we now have bases from which to deploy in extremis.

Before you complain about escalation, consider the consequences of further non-escalation.

The Iranians were implicated in terrorist attacks against Western interests.

They got away with it, so they started backing the anti-British militias in Basra. When they got away with that, too, they went a stage further and kidnapped our sailors.

By any definition, the use of force against uniformed British Servicemen on patrol in the territory of an allied state is an act of war, but still the mullahs escaped any consequences.

Now, our soldiers in Helmand complain that Iran is arming the Taliban. Our non-escalation, in other words, has encouraged a good deal of escalation from the ayatollahs. Can you really be sure that, if they had the Bomb, they might not use it?

Daniel Hannan is a Daily Telegraph leader writer and Conservative MEP for South East England.


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Holocaust Denial and Tehran

By ROYA HAKAKIAN

Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2007; Page A8

Dictatorships bear paradoxes. I came across a set of them 10 years ago, when I hosted a dinner for two female Iranian medical students who'd come to Yale Medical School on a rare academic exchange program. These impressive women had climbed to the top 10th percentile in a man's profession, in a man's country. But I was stunned to learn that -- despite 16 years of education at some of Iran's premiere schools -- neither had ever heard of the word "Holocaust," or thought of Hitler as anything but the German equivalent of Napoleon.

Tehran's Holocaust denial did not begin with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It began in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent miseducation of the entire post-revolutionary generation. The Holocaust did not exist in the textbooks of my two young guests, and there was hardly any literature about it in Persian.

Now, millions of Iranian youths are hearing about the Holocaust for the first time through the airing of a government-sponsored soap opera called "Zero Degree Turn." In it, the Islamic Republic's handpicked director, Hassan Fatthi, breaks the regime's taboos. Beautiful women appear without the Islamic dress code. Men and women also come together, hold hands, and even fall into a fleeting embrace.

In the end, however, the program offers little more than an aesthetically pleasing venue for the regime's usual diatribes. Its linchpin is a conspiracy theory: Two Israeli agents assassinate the chief rabbi of Tehran to frighten the Iranian Jewish community into leaving Iran for Israel. The noble chief of the Iranian embassy in France, Abdol Hossein Sardari, who facilitated the escape of hundreds of Iranian and French Jews by providing them with Iranian passports, is portrayed as a mere opportunist motivated by bribes.

The good news is that Iran is now home to a highly rebellious young generation that is deeply disenchanted with the status quo and suspicious of government propaganda in all its forms, including misinformation about Jews and Israel. Iranians actually possess a healthy curiosity toward Israel. In the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah, for example, young Iranians were reportedly not interested in supporting Hezbollah, and were vehemently against their government's investment in it.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad steals the spotlight. With his threats toward Israel and his dreams of a nuclear Iran he has engendered a fear, however legitimate, that too often blinds Western and Israeli leaders of the broader, more complex realities of the Iranian people. American, European and Israeli media are full of dire warnings about the threat of a nuclear Iran. There is little mention of the plight of the Iranians themselves, or the ripe opportunity presented by a nation disenchanted with 30 years of theocratic rule: A people that has historically been friendly to Jews, can, with some effort, be so once again.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, along with his coterie of fundamentalist radicals, is already a threat to Israel and the region. But they do not represent everyday Iranians. And as much as the regime in Tehran would like to deny it, a more accepting, rational view of Israel was once held by Iranian leaders.

In the early 1960s, several leading Iranian intellectuals traveled to Israel on the invitation of the Israeli foreign ministry and for the most part, the travelogues of their trips amounted to what may be the longest love letter to Israel ever to be penned in Persian. That sentiment, of course, would change dramatically. But for several years at least, it seemed that it would determine the attitude of an entire generation toward Israel.

Iran's Holocaust education could begin in Iran itself. Through the Port of Pahlavi in 1942, tens of thousands of Polish refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish, escaped the Nazis found a safe haven in Iran. Eventually, the majority of them relocated to other parts of the world. Yet, hundreds fell in love with "Persia" and stayed. Iranians could learn of their shared history with the Jewish people by visiting the hundreds of Polish graves in Tehran's Doulab cemetery alone.

Despite the regime's anti-Semitic rhetoric, the people have held fast to the values of their ancient civilization. They pride themselves on the idea that they have accepted members of other religions and ethnicities as equals, and as Iranians.

Ms. Hakakian is the author of "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Three Rivers Press, 2005), a memoir of growing up Jewish in Iran.