Iran’s nuclear program has been a major issue before the international community for more than half a decade. Iran which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has strenuously denied that it is working toward achieving nuclear weapons capability but its public prouncements are not accepted by Israel and the United States both of whom have repeatedly stressed that all options- including a military strike on its nuclear installations- are on the table. How much such rhetoric constitutes saber rattling to deter Iran is difficult to gauge with any degree of certainty. According to some reports, the Obama administration is counseling Netanyahu and Barak against a military attack on Iran in the expectation that the UN mandated economic sanctions will compel Iran away from trying to acquirenuclearweapons capability. I personally think that the political rhetoric emanating from Tel Aviv and Washington may have the effect opposite to the one intended, namely that the Iranian government may be tempted to accelerate its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
There is a need for the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to reengage diplomatically with Iran. The US has recently announced the resumption of diplomatic talks with North Korea, another regime that it finds distasteful, and which has reportedly achieved nuclear weapons capability. As a wise statesman observed not long ago, “one does not talk to one’s friends but one should talk to one’s enemies.”
Israel is the only non- signatory power to the NPT in the Middle East today with an estimated 200 nuclear warheads. The mainstream media seldom mentions this elephant in the room. This unipolarity cannot but create a climate of insecurity in countries such as Iran which are implacably opposed to the Zionist regime. Also, until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved which does not appear to be on the horizon, continuing and widespread hostility toward it in the Arab and Islamic world is on the cards. According to the latter, Israel is loath to give up control over the occupied West Bank and occupied Arab East Jerusalem if a two state solution to end the conflict is to be achieved. Instead,Israel’s continuing building of settlements in these areas populated by nearly 500,000 settlers, point to itscurrent policy to uphold the status quo through overwhelming military might.
What might deter a military strike by Israel or the US or a combination of the two acting in concert, is the likely economic fall out of the exercise of this option. According to Amir Kahanovich Chief Economist at Calal Finance, one of Israel’s largest investment firms, any military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would exact an economic price too high for the world to accept. This would include a sharp rise in the price of oil, the costs of war and the damage to global trade. Such a grim scenario would deter world powers away from the temptations of a military strike.
Supporting Kahanovich’s assertion is the generally admitted fact that Iran has both the capability and determination to retaliate by disrupting oil supplies from the Gulf of Hormuz through which around 40% of the world’s oil supplies pass. Iran also has the capability to mobilize its allies, Hizbullah and Hamas to mount attacks on Israel. The recent bombings attacks of Israeli targets in India and Georgia which Israel has blamed on Iran – purportedly in retaliation for Israel orchestrating the recent assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists- is a pointer to such tit for tat retaliation. That a military strike could result in a regional war in the Middle East cannot be discounted, the consequences for which would be grave not only for international stability but for Western countries grappling with a plethora of daunting economic problems.
Two respected academics,Shibley Talhami and Steven Kull in a recent op ed in the New York Times have advocated that the solution to the Iran imbroglio lies in the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone(NWFZ) in the Middle East. Under this proposal no country in the Middle East would possess nuclear weapons.This is sensible advice which would avert the undesirable consequences of a military adventure unsupported by the UN Security Council. One can only hope that the NWFZ proposal finds traction in the Western chancelleries. This is what Pakistan had advocated at the UN for many years in the 1970’s for South Asia, but did not find the powerful countries willing to put pressure on India to go along with it. The result was that both India and Pakistan gatecrashed the nuclear club in 1998.Kahanovich believes that acquiescing in Iran becoming a nuclear weapons power, if that indeed is it’s goal, and thereby achieving nuclear parity with Israel may be the more palatable option than risking the unintended consequences of the military option that the hawks in Israel, abetted by some of their counterparts in the US, are currently trumpeting.Let’s hope that diplomacy prevails in dissuading Iran from going nuclear rather than the drum beat of war heard in Israel and some quarters in the US, which would likely impel it toward that direction.