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June 10, 2006

Trapping Iran with a Tripwire


by Jorge Hirsch

C all me paranoid, but I don't buy the changed face of the Bush administration. Smiling Condoleezza Rice saying "we understand that it may take a little time for Iran to assess the situation," Bush saying of Iran's reaction "sounds like a positive response to me," unnamed American official saying that eventually "this Iranian regime can have enrichment at home." Is this Neverland? Or is it a con job?

It is possible that it is all true and sincere. It is also possible that Santa Claus exists.

But it is more likely that it is a trap. That the sole purpose of the current US "soft" diplomatic activity is to induce Iran to "suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way." What for?

There is no security risk to the United States nor anybody else if Iran runs 164 P1 centrifuges. It would take 28 years for that equipment to make sufficient enriched uranium for a single bomb. Why then the precondition that Iran needs to stop this activity for the US to even start talking? Why isn't this one of the many issues that could be addressed during the actual talks?

"The suspension of all enrichment-related activity is at the core of what the international community is asking Iran to do." Why?

Because this is in all likelyhood the beginning and the end of the US diplomatic involvement with Iran. Once Iran stops enriching and the IAEA places its seals, the tripwire is in place. The split-second Iran breaks those seals again, the US cruise missiles will be launched. It will be almost hard wired, certainly at least in the minds of the decisionmakers.

Israel refuses to be the trigger. The US needs a trigger to start the bombing. This will be the line in the sand.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have not changed their stripes. They have not had a change of heart. They are not being swayed by the "realists." They are simply playing a cunning game of deception.

The North Korea Lesson

What is happening with Iran today has similarity with the North Korea situation in 1994. North Korea was enticed by the Clinton administration to give up its graphite reactors, in exchange for "carrots" light water reactors and oil supplies ( "Agreed Framework").

In October 2002, the Bush administration announced that North Korea had admitted to possessing a secret uranium enrichment program. The construction of the light water reactors was stopped, and the promised oil shipments to North Korea were stopped.

Naturally, North Korea concluded that the Agreed Framework was dead and acted accordingly.

North Korea denies that it admitted to any uranium enrichment program, and the Bush administration has provided no evidence that such a program exists in North Korea. It has not specified how far along it is. To make enriched uranium for bombs requires a large scale industrial effort, thousands of centrifuges. Where are they?

There is no reason to believe that this is anything but another deliberate "failure" of US intelligence, and that the North Korean enrichment program is any more real than Saddam's WMD's. The Bush administration decided it was time to abrogate the Agreed Framework, and took action to do so.

Lesson: the US can unilaterally break up any negotiations or abrogate any agreement with Iran, simply claiming that Iran is not abiding by its "commitments," without providing any evidence. Just like in the case of North Korea, nobody will question it. If in response Iran resumes uranium enrichment, it will be nuked.

The Iraq Lesson

We know now that the decision to invade Iraq was made well before the diplomatic song and dance that took place in the months preceding the invasion. Only details of the path depended on Saddam's actions. If he had refused UN inspections in November 2002, this would have facilitated the plan. Similarly if he had refused to destroy missiles in February 2003. But ultimately nothing that Saddam could do or not do would have changed what was the predesigned plan of the Bush administration, to invade Iraq. Saddam could not provide proof that he did not have the WMD that he didn't have. Even today, Bush continues to maintain that because "Saddam defied the international community," "Saddam continued to see the utility of WMD," and "Virtually no senior Iraqi believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever," he "presented a threat we could no longer ignore," as justification for the Iraq invasion.

The parallels are ominous:

Lesson: the US can very easily make negotiations fail by placing intolerable demands on Iran, for example, that it opens up all its military facilities for inspection or destroys all its missiles. Iran will not abide by such demands as Iraq did. If, when negotiations fail, Iran resumes uranium enrichment, it will be nuked.

Only details of the path to be followed will depend on what Iran does or does not do. Nevertheless, what Iran does is important for how the world will perceive the US actions, and what effect it will have on US future actions. What Iran does in response to the current diplomatic initiative can, if nothing else, make the US plan to attack the next victim more difficult.

What Is Being Planned?

The US is planning a massive aerial attack on Iran using conventional and nuclear weapons. Evidence for this has been extensively documented in articles by Seymour Hersh [1], [2], Philip Giraldi, this series of articles and many other sources. It is not a "contingency plan," it is a real plan, as real as the plan to invade Iraq that was reported by the New York Times in July 2002 and put into practice in March 2003 after the intervening diplomatic charade.

The "axis of evil" Iraq, Iran and North Korea are the targets, in that order. The attack on Iraq makes no sense without the subsequent attack on Iran. The deliberately provoked standoff with North Korea makes no sense in isolation. After bombing Iran into submission and in the process demonstrating that the nuclear "deterrent" is for real, North Korea will have little choice but to comply with any US demands.

The use of nuclear weapons against Iran is an integral and essential part of the plan of attack. It will be real US nukes against imaginary Iran nukes. The nuclear option is "on the table" and the American public has accepted it, unaware or oblivious to the real reason for nuking Iran.

A "biological threat" from Iran is likely to be invoked as a contributing factor. Just like Iran could in theory use its civilian nuclear enterprise for nuclear weapons, it could use its biotechnical expertise for biological weapons. "The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology." Iran is, according to America, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, and "America will lead the world to victory against terrorism."

Threatening Iran with a Nuclear Strike

On April 18, 2006, President Bush was asked: "Sir, when you talk about Iran and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?" Bush responded (watch it by clicking here). "All options are on the table."

Iran should make that statement the centerpiece of its response to the "incentives" proposal.

How can the "world" demand that Iran not develop nuclear weapons nor nuclear technology when it is being threatened with a nuclear strike? What is the logical, legal, moral or ethical justification to such demand? Why can't Iran defend itself against nuclear aggression? The UN Charter both outlaws threats of aggression against other states (Chpt.1, Article 2.4) , and gives states the right to defend themselves against aggression (Chpt. 7, Article 51). Iran is being wronged on both counts.

Iran should ask that the United States formally renounces the nuclear strike option as a precondition to talks, and certainly as a precondition to stopping enrichment.

The predictable US response will be "the American President never takes any option off the table." However this is false. The US did provide such an assurance to North Korea in the 1994 Agreed Framework: "The U.S. will provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S."

What Iran Should Not Do

There certainly is one path that Iran should not follow because it is extremely dangerous. Iran should not agree to verifiably stop its enrichment activity unless it is fully committed not to start enrichment again while the Bush administration is in power, no matter what happens at the negotiating table.

The US is demanding that suspension of enrichment "would have to hold throughout any potential negotiations." Iran should go beyond that: if it agrees to stop enrichment, it should be prepared not to resume even if negotiations break down completely.

Because Iran's Parliament could force the issue, as it has in the past, Iran's President should get a commitment from Parliament that it will not do so this time, before agreeing to stop enrichment.

If Iran is prepared to stop enrichment for at least two and a half years, it would be positive since it would limit the options of the Bush administration. Stopping enrichment and planning to resume it if negotiations go nowhere, or using the threat of resumption as leverage during the negotiations, would be suicidal for Iran.

Calling the Bluff

The US has stated that "security guarantees are not on the table." The proposal to Iran does not contain any indication that the US would not use military force against Iran during, before, or after the negotiations. Would you negotiate with a gun pointing at your head? That is what is being asked of Iran, that is what it has to submit itself to for the "privilege" of talking to the standard bearer of "Promoting Peace and Democracy – and Acts of Mercy" in the Middle East.

Condoleezza Rice has stated that this is not a "grand bargain." That the US has many other issues with Iran besides the nuclear issue. The implication is of course that the other issues could also lead to the US use of military force.

Iran's options are limited. Perhaps the best it can hope for is to make it as evident as possible that the impending US attack is an outrageously arbitrary exercise in brute force. That is what Saddam Hussein achieved, by making sure there was not a single ounce of "WMD" in Iraq nor of Nigerian yellowcake that could have provided at least a bland excuse to the US fabricated claims that Iraq was a threat. And by complying with all the UN demands, even destroying its short-ranged missiles, Saddam thwarted all US efforts to get any UN resolution beyond the fig-leaf 1441 to "legalize" its attack.

It would contribute to calling the bluff if, as a condition to suspending enrichment, Iran asks:

  • That the US commits not to attack Iran while enrichment activity is suspended. The US will refuse, and this alone will make it evident that it is all a bluff. Refusal by the US to even exclude the nuclear option will make it even more evident.
  • That the European nations involved in the negotiations commit themselves to oppose and condemn a US attack on Iran while enrichment is suspended. It is likely that Britain, perhaps France, maybe even Germany, will find an excuse to refuse even that. This will make it even more evident that it is all a bluff.
  • That the United Nations provides a contingent of peacekeeping forces, to be stationed at key facilities in Iran that could be subject to a US attack, in particular Natanz and Isfahan, as a precondition to stop enrichment. Since such request needs to be approved by the UN Security Council, it has little chance of passing, despite the fact that the primary responsibility of the Security Council is the maintenance of international peace and security. It will make the US bluff even more evident.

Russia and China

Russia and China have a compelling interest to defuse the situation and prevent a US attack on Iran. They are playing a constructive role. But they are not likely to be willing to commit themselves to intervene militarily as a way to deter a US attack.

Still, Iran could ask Russia and China to provide a sizable contingent of civilian or military personnel to be stationed near key facilities as a condition to stop enrichment. So-called "human shields." Russia and China are encouraging Iran to stop enrichment, and it would put them in an awkward position to refuse such a request.

The US could still attack. But in so doing it would be killing hundreds or thousands of Russian and Chinese nationals. Russia and China wouldn't like that. It just might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

 

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Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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