Iran’s shocking nuclear bravado

And the Arab world’s meddlesome response.

By AARON HECHT
September 3, 2011 01:57
Iranian clerics stand by missile near Qom

Iranian clerics missile_521. (photo credit: Reuters)

Despite the tough new attitude of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is becoming ever bolder about its strategic objectives, openly boasting over recent weeks about the latest advances in its uranium enrichment activities and the ranges and capabilities of its ballistic missile systems.

Meanwhile, neighboring Arab states may be fearful of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and Tehran’s bid for regional hegemony, but their diplomatic plans currently call for challenging Israel’s presumed atomic arsenal at a UN-sponsored summit next year aimed at achieving a nuclear-free Middle East.

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According to a report issued by the Israel Missile Defense Association, Iran scored a series of startlingly successful ballistic missile tests during annual military exercises in July. These came on the heels of a flurry of announcements from Iran’s defense ministry which suggest the clerical regime may be close to achieving one of if its key goals: using asymmetric, aggressive military capabilities to make it a de facto regional and global power player.

Tehran is reportedly seeking to triple its capacity to enrich uranium to weapons-grade purity, installing advanced centrifuges in heavily protected facilities and already stockpiling enough fissile material for at least three nuclear warheads. IMDA analysts assessing these developments indicate Iran is not simply working on producing a nuclear warhead – it is well on the way toward an entire production line for multiple warheads.

To deliver these warheads, Iran has extended the range of its Fateh-110 ballistic missiles to over 1,243 miles. Iran also announced that these rockets now have advanced guidance systems, making them extremely accurate in hitting targets on land or at sea.

In addition, they are being deployed on navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea, with plans to soon have Iranian cruisers patrolling the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, Tehran also disclosed that it has built a series of reinforced underground missile silos – a very troubling fact given that no nation has ever used such missile silos except to house and protect nuclear warheads.

The scope of Iran’s military display, and the recent surge of Iranian-sponsored attacks on American servicemen in Iraq show the depth of Tehran’s contempt for any Western intervention to stop its nuclear drive, noted the IMDA report.

The developments come as Israel prepares for yet another looming diplomatic battle – next year’s summit on making the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction.

A furious debate erupted over the issue at the UN conference held in May 2010 to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel and several Western powers wanted to focus attention on Iran’s renegade nuclear program, but Arab countries refused to do this unless equal attention was paid to Israel’s alleged atomic arsenal.

The conference ended with a recommendation to hold another conference in 2012 to discuss the proposal, but partly due to the on-going political upheaval in the Arab world, little official progress has been made towards scheduling it. However, the same “Arab Spring” has also drawn attention away from Iran’s dramatic progress in developing nuclear weapons.

Dr. Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University is one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear deterrence, proliferation and related security issues.

She recently told The Christian Edition that while she is not opposed in principle to rendering the Middle East free of WMDs, she insists the issue must be addressed within the wider regional context.

“I think it’s important to understand what such a WMD-free zone in the Middle East means and what is the best way to get there. It cannot be dealt with outside of context, meaning inter-state relations in the Middle East,” she stated.

“There’s a reason why states have tried to acquire these WMDs, and there’s a question of how they’re thinking of employing them in the Middle East. For example, if you take the Israeli case and the Iranian case, these two cases are different in almost every respect.”

“When people talk about creating a WMD free-zone and declaring that when that happens the danger will be gone, they forget about the context,” continued Landau. “And that context is critically important if a state acquires a WMD program for purely defensive reasons or if a state is going in that direction in order to threaten its neighbors, or in order to enjoy immunity when attacking another state through a third party (like Hezbollah in Lebanon).

“Today, with the [poor] quality of interstate relations in the Middle East, there’s no way that a WMD free-zone will be a realistic option anytime soon. They would have to improve dramatically for states to feel secure enough to do away with WMDs,” concluded Landau.

Landau also contended that Israel should maintain its traditional policy of ambiguity about its theoretical nuclear arsenal.

“Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity is good for Israel, but it’s also good for the region and the international community,” she assessed. “It is actually a policy of being very low profile and non-threatening. In all of Israel’s wars, except for a brief moment during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the nuclear issue never came into play.

Israel’s nuclear deterrent exists for one purpose only, and that is to ensure its continued existence in the Middle East.

It is defensive, not offensive, and it doesn’t come into play for anything short of an existential threat.”

“When Arab governments talk about Israel ending its policy of ambiguity, in the next breath they inevitably talk about Israel signing the NPT, and that necessarily means that Israel would join as a non-nuclear weapons state. In turn, it would mean that Israel would have to disarm itself of whatever nuclear capability it does indeed have. So calls for Israel to end its nuclear ambiguity aren’t really about transparency and confidence.”

Meantime, Landau expressed serious concern that “Iran’s nuclear program is advancing all the time. There are international efforts to try to stop Iran, to control its nuclear program, to prevent it from reaching a nuclear weapons capability. Iran is suffering to a certain degree, but at the same time is continuing with its nuclear program and its missile program.”

She noted that “in the international discussion on Iran, you see the question of where is Iran going in the nuclear realm is raised less and less often, and more and more it is said that it’s clear where Iran is going in the nuclear realm; that they are working towards a nuclear weapons capability and that they’re probably unstoppable at this point.”

Many Arab governments are now seeking Western assistance to build nuclear power plants, arguing that it will allow them to export more oil and natural gas instead of using it for their own domestic needs. But Landau agrees with numerous Western analysts who see this as a reaction to the mounting Iranian nuclear threat.

“This dynamic in the Arab world is very clearly linked to their fears about Iran’s nuclear program,” she said.

“There is a civilian rational for these programs, but basically I think they’re trying to send a message to Iran, the region and the wider international community, that they’re not just going to stand by and take it as Iran slowly moves to a nuclear weapons capability with the international community almost helpless to stop it.”

Landau believes the Israeli government should be more assertive in differentiating between its own nuclear deterrence policy built on a defensive posture, and the aggressive nature of Iran’s atomic drive.

“Israel needs to be heavily involved in the discussion and explain the real threat that Iran poses not only to Israel, but to the region and the entire world,” she stated.


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