The stand off between the U.S. and Iran over nuclear technology was developed from two misconceptions on part of both the Iranians and the Americans. The Iranians thought from the beginning that if they just insist on their right as a member of IAEA to civilian nuclear energy and open all their nuclear energy installation for inspection by IAEA, finally U.S. will accept their right and then the rest of the West will follow. They knew from the beginning that the Americans are after them and try to prevent them to complete the projects the shah had started, as they did with other industrial projects in Iran. They new the Americans will pressure them for political concessions.
However, many hardliners still believed that “America can not do a damn thing” as Khomeini had said. The Europeans and Americans thought that if they let the Iranians do whatever investment they want in nuclear field, they can not master this sophisticated technology due to the lack of scientists and mangers that left Iran after Islamic Revolution. They thought that the Iranians will then turn to the West for help and then again they can pressure them for political concessions. The second misconception was that, even if they were getting close to enrich Uranium or what they defined later as “red lines”, they can intervene diplomatically or militarily and stop them at that stage and cause humiliation and the Iranian have then to dance at their tune. Both of these misconceptions did not turned out to be right.
The Iranian nuclear program started during sixties and by the 1979 when the Shah of Iran was toppled there were 9 nuclear power plants at different stages of contract or construction. The Bushehr power plant which was built by German was about 99% complete. After revolution and at the start of Iran-Iraq war the American and European companies that were building these plants all left Iran under the pressure from the U.S. government. As the Iranians tried to persuade, Germans, Checks, and Ukrainians to complete Busher power plant, all refused under pressure from the U.S. The Russians finally agreed to complete the plant. They signed a contract for about 800 million dollars to redesign the plant and supply the fuels.
In 1984 in the middle of Iran-Iraq war the speaker of parliament Hashemi Rafsanjani gathered a group of people in his close circle and asked them to follow up the Iranian nuclear program. The goal of this group was to obtain mastery of nuclear technology and finish the program by all means. In that meeting someone brings up the question of what should be done if the enemy (at the time Iraq) tries to destroy the installation. Rafsanjani says, “If we make a chicken farm, we have to be able to protect them from the foxes”, and thus development of missile industry takes a priority parallel to nuclear technology and Iran's missile industry is created.
To prevent any Ozirak type experience, they decided to make a parallel nuclear energy organization as a back up system. The back up system would be clandestine and would contain the critical parts of the nuclear industry and would help the overt civilian nuclear program. The back up system was a very secret organization where people were selected from very devoted young men who had fought in Iran-Iraq war and were sent for education to Europe, US, Japan and other countries with advanced nuclear technology. To have parallel organizations was the idea of Khomeini himself when he came to power, because he did not trust anybody from the previous regime. Although he kept the army and purged it from pro-shah generals he formed Revolutionary the Guard. He formed parallel organization to air force, and navy as well, and Revolutionary Guards navy and air force are in some aspect more and better equipped. Other parallel organizations such as Jihad for Construction and Committees were later dissolved into Ministry of Agriculture, and the Police Force, respectively. The nuclear installations were in old mines in remote mountains in Kerman province, the home province of Rafsanjani. Their goal was to speed up the overt nuclear energy program and hide and protect the sensitive research from unwanted interference.
The Iranians knew from the beginning that the Americans and the Europeans have not any sympathy with their civilian program and will not help them at all. The Iranians knew that the West will try to sabotage and prevent them from obtaining this technology. Therefore, they decided to stick to IAEA guideline but to reveal as little as possible and as late as possible to those countries that were hostile to the program. The back up system was always ahead of overt system. The policy was to reveal gradually and the revelation should be timed-released. If the back up system was at the stage 3 of the development, they showed that they are at stage 1 of development in the overt program, and that was only when the Europeans or the Americans put the pressure on them. The Euro-3 found this very late in their negotiations with Iran and that is why Condoleezza Rice recently said the Iranian have used “salami slicing technique” revealing bit by bit here and there. So the actual enrichment of Uranium was achieved in 2001 and by November of 2004 a cascade of 164 centrifuges or probably more were already running in backup system, while the Iranians were still negotiating with Euro-3, although Ahmadinejad announced it on April 9, 2006.
Iranians suspended Uranium enrichment voluntarily for abut 2 and half years while the negotiations were going on with Euro-3. In their agreement with Europ-3 Iranian had agreed to “suspend Uranium enrichment temporarily and voluntarily for confidence building”. They had suspended the research in the areas which they had no problem and mastered the technology and continued research work on those area which still had problems to resolve. The back up system was working hard during this period. When after 2 and half years the negotiations did not produce any results, the Iranian started the enrichment again.
The Euro-3 tactic was to kill time while negotiations were going on and ask for more inspections. They hoped in the long run the program will be dissolved. They thought by continued negotiations and suspension, the scientists and managers will be fed up and leave the program and find jobs in other industries in Iran or outside the country. They offered attractive salaries to some of the top scientists to work for them. When the Iranians started the enrichment, the foreign ministers of Euro-3 who did not expect this were furious. Although the agreement said that it was voluntary on the part of the Iranians, the Euro-3 and Americans condemned Iran as though Iran had broken the agreement. During this period IAEA inspectors inspected all Iranian nuclear sites and did not found any noncompliance. Iran even accepted the additional protocol that asks for snap inspections of member countries.
During the inspections by IAEA, the Americans and Euro-3 collected a lot of intelligence regarding the Iranian nuclear energy program, people, and intention, direction it is going and the extent and level of the program's progress. Based on this intelligence they tried to sabotage the whole system, by bribing, buying Iranians officials and derailing or delaying the whole efforts by giving false nuclear information to Iranians through Russian scientists and others who worked in the nuclear energy program. However, despite all these efforts, the Iranians overcame all these obstacles and resolved many of the technical problems.
The Euro-3 did not know that the back up system had enriched Uranium already. Later they found out that Iran has passed over many of “Red lines” they had set up”. That is why after meeting with Tony Blair in summer of 2005 President Bush used different vocabulary, until then he used to say Iran should not have nuclear energy, but he then changed his words saying Iran should not have nuclear weapons. Now the enrichment is done with more than 20,000 centrifuges in the backup system.
On April 28 we may hear more “good news” from Ahmadinejad on the progress of the Iranians in nuclear technology. This might be the announcement of enrichment with few thousands more centrifuges or use of advanced P2 centrifuge system. Their main goal is to show it is a “done job” and enrichment is irreversible. Now all the Israel, Europe and U.S. can hope is to increase the pressure up so that finally when they agree that Iran has the right to enrich Uranium, they get strong guarantees in return that Iran does not enrich Uranium at the weapon grade level.
If there is one man which should be credited for the nuclear energy and missile industry of Iran is Hashemi Rafsanjani. Twenty one years later the man who started the whole program was confident enough to bypass the president of Iran and announce to the world that Iran had enriched Uranium before the president of Iran formally announce it in a big ceremony. So with so much investment in the nuclear energy industry and the end of oil export in next 10-15 years Iran can not give up the independent energy source.
Will U.S. attack Iran?
The Americans found out about the covert nuclear activity, probably by one of the Iranian negotiators who defected to Britain after the failure of the negotiation with Euro-3. The critical part of Iran's nuclear program is well hidden in the mountains and they do not know where exactly they are and even if they knew where they are, it is impossible to destroy them. Other news revealed by Seymour Hersh is very important and interesting, but is not all truth about what happened between closed doors in Pentagon.
The Idea of attacking Iran was conceived during the first term of the Bush presidency and after 9/11. This kind of planning is very common in Pentagon and is kind of war games generals keep themselves busy with in the peace times and its purpose is not to get surprised in the war times. However, the Collin Powell, the foreign secretary at the time, who was did not like neoconservatives, especially after the invasion of Iraq, opposed the plan. He once called them “fucking neocrazies”. Collin Powell told them “It is a dangerous plan”.
Therefore at the end of President Bush first term, Powell did not attend and was not invited to many of meetings on major policies on Iran. American politician of his caliber and position when retire start making big money by endorsement for big corporations or sign book deals. He did not get any and quietly went to oblivion. He was one of a few great soldier-statesmen after World War II and his political career was ended soon.
The Iran war plan called for air, sea and land invasion of Iran. The computer simulation of the war between two countries showed massive casualties from Iranian side. Although the casualties of Americans were not comparable with the Iranians, it was a few thousands in the first day of the attack. That is a few times all the casualties Americans had in Afghanistan and Iraq over the whole course of war until then.
Another problem was that the Iranians could easily absorb this massive casualties and more join for fight to defend their country, while American public could not take these casualties. Furthermore, the war would lag for months and years and still the outcome of the war would not be certain and did not seem to be restricted to Iran only and would quickly spread throughout the Middle East and even to other Islamic countries. That plans was then changed to attacking and destroying the Iranian underground nuclear sites with nuclear weapons.
Generals who were unhappy about the management of Iraq war by Donald Rumsfeld opposed the plan to attack another Islamic country without any justification. The generals threatened to go public about it, first by criticizing his policy in Iraq and if he insisted on, they would then go public on Iran Plan as well. The recent criticism of Donald Rumsfeld by 6 retired U.S. army generals is part of the discontent of Pentagon officials about Iran war plan. They went as far as calling him part of the “axis of arrogance” which includes Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. After Hersh article Rumsfeld called it “fantasyland” and President Bush called it “speculations”.
All these revelations put an end to political carrier of Donald Rumsfeld and he was himself another casualty of war of words with Iran as many other American politicians had the same fate over the last 27 years. Considering the current atmosphere President Bush is not going to fire Rumsfeld or replace him at all. Rumsfeld might later resign due to health problems or other personal reasons, but chance of President Bush firing him is zero.
The more Bush shows he is determined to attack Iran; more retired general will come out and criticize Rumsfeld in coming days and months. We might even see some of the generals who are in active duty come forward and criticize Rumsfeld.
Is the military attack against Iran an option?
The answer is a big NO! There are many reasons for this. U.S. has not achieved what it declared as its goals in Iraq before and after invasion. The morals of US soldiers in Iraq are at the lowest and there have been some reports in the Iranian papers that some low rank active U.S. military personnel have left their units and gone to Iran and asked Iran to help them to seek asylum in a European country. The number of American military servicemen in Iraq who committed suicide in 2005 was 25, a rate of 30% increase compared to the previous year.
On the other hand, the Iranian government has turned the nuclear technology to a national pride and compared this stand off with the West with the nationalization of oil by Dr. Mossadegh during 1950's. The patriotic sentiment of the Iranians is at high level, they might not like Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, but they have shown their support for the government on this issue. Indeed 85% of the Iranians support the government's nuclear policy and its position against U.S. Therefore any military attack will alienate the population of which 60% is under 30 years of age.
Furthermore, Iran will not be sit idle and will retaliate extensively and will turn it into an all out war. The war will be much different from the war with Iraq which mainly supporter of the Islamic regime fought it. In this war a wider spectrum of Iranian society, including the secular section, would join to support the regime. That is why the Iranians officials are so confident and determined on their position.
The Bush administration does not credibility in the world opinions and in the eyes of the Americans in this regard. Their claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was totally fabricated and they are saying the same thing about Iran providing no evidence. The fact is that all of 5 official members of nuclear club (U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China) and 3 unofficial members (India, Pakistan, and Israel) started their nuclear program as a military clandestine program. The unofficial members have never even let IAEA inspectors in their countries. Pakistan and Israel do not have even a nuclear power plant, but nuclear weapons.
President Bush has no problem to invite general Mussharaf, general Sharon, or Prime Minster of India to the White House have dinner with them, shake hand with them, and have photo sessions with them in the White House lawn. On the other hand, Iran is the only country which started its program with civilian technology, let the IAEA inspectors go wherever they want to, and even accepted the addition protocol for snap inspection. Beside all these, no “smoking gone” has ever found, showing a nuclear weapon program. So why is so much fuss about Iranian nuclear program?
The main reason is pressure from Israel through its powerful grippe on U.S. political system. Israel does not want a strong country in the Middle East until she has annexed all Palestinian lands and some of their neighbor's lands. During the last 15 yeas Israeli leaders have been warning the whole world that Iran is going to build a nuclear weapon and yet we are still waiting to see it. European countries do not mind if Iran goes nuclear as far as it does not make nuclear weapons. Even if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it is by far a more responsible or stable country than North Korea, Pakistan, or even Israel.
Iran is country of 2500 years of government with a distinct culture and history and a more homogenous population than these 3 countries. U.S. does not mind it either, because it has so many common interests with Iran in the Middle East and rest of the world. The main forces which prevent any Iran-U.S. direct dialog are the pro-Israeli lobbies like AIPAC (American-Israeli Political Action Council) which pressure U.S. government and has a great deal of saying in the U.S Middle-East policy.
That is why Dick Cheney made his first official “meaningful response” threat to Iran when he was addressing this organization, not congress or other American Institutions. The impact of pro-Israel lobbies such as AIPAC on U.S. Middle East policy is enormous, as it seems all the decision on American Middle East policy is taken in Tel-Aviv rather than in Washington. For this unquestionable support of Israel, America to most Moslem countries looks like a Jewish state, rather than a secular Christian state.
President Bush line of response to journalists who were asking him about Iran during the last few months has been “All the options are on the table”. The diplomatically ambiguous response has not ringed the bell in Iran. Recently, one of the members of the Iranian parliament in response to President Bush said “We are happy that all the options are on the table. We know that and we are going to give it a hard kick and overturn it in time of our choosing”.
Another one said, “Euro-3 tried to persuade us to give up our right for the enrichment of Uranium in turn for guaranteed supply of Uranium. How can were trust these Western Gentlemen. The Iranians must have donkey brain to trust them after Germany and many others declined to complete Bushehr power plant. Not only they did not respect their obligation under the contract, but sanctioned export of anything related to the nuclear technology to Iran. The Russian have been dragging their feet for the last 5 years and still it is not known when they are really going to give us the fuel for the power plant. It is very funny they ask Iran to trust them”.
The Iranian army is not what Khomeini took control of. The Revolutionary Guard is not the one at the first year of Iran-Iraq war, when the young volunteers went to front lines with pajamas and slippers. Many were lost in their own country and were captured by Iraqis or died of cold or thirst. Now they are well equipped and well-trained. They have many of the equipment of modern armies like night goggles, GPS, bullet proof vests, etc. They have obtained stealth technology and applied it in some of their rockets and their long range missiles.
Although Iranian army is not a match for the immense U.S. fire power, considering that the Iranian are defending a legitimate right, have the support of the people, and are able to sustain a very long war in their territory, they have a greater advantage over the U.S. troops. That is why Zbigniev Brezezinski the President Carter's national security adviser recently warned President Bush against attacking Iran by saying, “The use of war would spell the end of U.S. global supremacy and the war itself would drag for 30 years”.
What will U.S. do?
The Russians and Chinese probably are not going to vote for sanctioning Iran. So what might happen next? The U.S. will pressure European countries to form a so called “coalition of willings” for sanction of Iran and try to make life harder for the Iranian government and the people in the hope that in the long run, the people are fed up and turn against their government. Iran has been under U.S. sanctions over the last 27 years, however the American companies have had ways to deal with sanction and sell their products and services to Iran, including Dick Cheney's Halliburton.
U.S. also might amass troops in countries around Iran, like turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, or even may bring more battleships into the Persian Gulf in order to pressure and get better bargaining position when eventually recognizes the right of Iranians for nuclear energy and sites around a table for talk with Iran. The successive U.S. administrations by now have learned that the regime change in Iran is impossible and change should come only from within the Iranian society. They have learned that any government in Iran which has the backing of the U.S. is bound to be failed.
About fifty years ago U.S. gave a little help to Shah of Iran who had left his country and brought him back to the power. Although he was the legal Shah of Iran and his father was also Shah, Iranians still remember that and are angry of that intervention. Successive U.S. administrations have been humiliated for this over the last 27 years. Now, imagine what could happen if U.S. was able to change the regime which still has some Iranian support and what the Iranian's attitude would be for the next century? For all these reasons making a war with Iran is very risky, since after it starts it will not be under U.S. control and neither the results are clear.
U.S. and Israeli intelligent services already enlisted the service of theat notorious cult, the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization.
Members of this organization have been going under special training for civil disturbances, assassination, and quietly have been smuggled through Kurdistan into Iran as sleeper cells. They are working amongst Iranian minorities like Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Azaris and try to organize them for terrorist activity inside Iran. They already have started some explosions and assassinations in Iran. After about 100 years of oil discovery in Iran, for the first time the Iranian oil pipe were blown up. They have gone into Bakhtiari and Qashgai tribe to organize them for terrorist activity. There have been many kidnapping and killing of innocent people in Sistan and Baliuchestan. It is the irony of politics that a country like U.S which has been the victim of terrorists is organizing and helping terrorists in Iran to push its own political agenda.
All these being said, however, there remains one unsolved puzzle. Israel which from the beginning of formation of Islamic Republic in Iran has been showing hostility toward Iran and constantly threatening Iran with bombing of its nuclear installations has been very silent recently and has delegated the U.S. to resolve this problem. Historically when Israel wanted to attack her neighbor or start a new war she played role of a victim. The disinterestedness of Israeli leaders in recent event in Iran in the last few weeks and lack of inflammatory remarks from Israeli leaders makes the situation more complicated. Are they up to something? In next few months the picture will be clearer.
The world seems to be tripolar at this moment: USrael (United State-Israel), China, and Iran. The Russians always back-stabbed Iranian over the last two centuries and it is not for sure if they veto the U.N. sanction on. They probably go along with U.S. policy. If the Chinese veto sanctions, then it seems the world is going into a bipolar order: USrael and ChIran.
Hussein Sharifi is freelance journalist which writes for Persian language journals.