A Tough Tus­sle

Could a US-Is­raeli mil­i­tary airstrike on Iran trig­ger an­other war on South Asian soil?

Southasia - - Contents - By S. M. Hali Group Cap­tain (R) Sul­tan M. Hali, now a prac­tic­ing jour­nal­ist, writes for print me­dia, pro­duces doc­u­men­taries and hosts a TV talk show. He is cur­rently based in Is­lam­abad.

Is a US-Is­raeli mil­i­tary strike on Iran in­evitable?

The war of words be­tween Iran and Is­rael has been heat­ing up with Is­rael threat­en­ing the use of pre­emp­tive strikes to take out the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­ject be­fore Iran al­legedly crosses the nu­clear thresh­old. Pres­i­dent Obama has been pre­scrib­ing cau­tion, try­ing to rein in trig­ger-happy Is­rael. On June 1981, Is­rael con­ducted Op­er­a­tion Baby­lon in a sur­prise air strike that de­stroyed an Iraqi nu­clear re­ac­tor un­der con­struc­tion 17 kilo­me­ters (10.5 miles) south­east of Bagh­dad. On Septem­ber 6, 2007, Is­rael’s at­tack on Syria’s alKibar nu­clear fa­cil­ity nipped the Syr­ian nu­clear pro­gram in the bud. Me­dia re­ports in­di­cate that Is­rael at­tempted at­tacks on the Pak­istani nu­clear fa­cil­ity too when it was in the bud­ding phase but did not suc­ceed ow­ing to the vig­i­lance of the Pak­istan Armed Forces.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s March 2013 visit to Is­rael was his first over­seas tour in his sec­ond term. While there, the U.S. Pres­i­dent did not mince his words when he bla­tantly an­nounced that the al­lies are united, rather than di­vided, over the need to halt Tehran’s pur­suit of nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity.

Obama has been walk­ing a tightrope as far as the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram is con­cerned. On one hand he has en­deav­ored to keep the Is­raelis from di­rectly at­tack­ing Iran for fear of be­ing in­volved in a third war in quick suc­ces­sion af­ter hav­ing paid a heavy toll through its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other, he did give his pres­i­den­tial nod to clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions to thwart the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram. David Sanger, in his book Con­front and Con­ceal re­veals that the U.S., through a cyber at­tack op­er­a­tion co­de­named “Olympic Games” in­fected Iran’s nu­clear cen­trifuges, in a bid to slow down the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram. An­other pro­posal was to launch a “clan­des­tine” mil­i­tary strike to de­stroy Ira­nian nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties like the ones against Iraq and Syria. But a covert strike against Iran is much riskier than the one tar­get­ing Syria be­cause Iran is mil­i­tar­ily stronger and is cer­tain to re­tal­i­ate by strik­ing Is­raeli and Amer­i­can tar­gets in the Mid­dle East.

Obama’s visit to Is­rael may have re­newed the ur­gency among the Is­raeli lead­ers over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram as Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s dead­line for Iran to with­draw its nu­clear plans is also clos­ing in. Where for­mer heads of Is­rael’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies view that any at­tack on Iran will be un­suc­cess­ful and counter-pro­duc­tive, Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu thinks oth­er­wise and is adamant to carry out his threat.

The orig­i­nal goal of the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram was to build nu­clear power plants in or­der to pro­duce 23,000 megawatts of elec­tri­cal power, main­tain­ing it has the right to en­rich ura­nium, both for nu­clear power plants and for mak­ing med­i­cal iso­topes, which re­quire fuel en­riched to a fis­sile pu­rity of 20 per­cent.

But the U.S. and its al­lies are con­cerned that 20-per­cent pu­rity is a ma­jor step to­wards pro­duc­ing weapons-grade ura­nium and that Tehran is covertly de­vel­op­ing weapons ca­pa­bil­ity; ac­cu­sa­tions that Iran de­nies. The big ques­tion is whether Is­rael will un­der­take such an as­sault op­er­a­tion tar­get­ing Ira­nian nu­clear fa­cil­ity. The fa­ther of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, Ak­bar Etemad, now in his 80s and cur­rently re­sid­ing in Paris says there is no way out of cur­rent dead­lock be­tween western pow­ers and the Is­lamic Repub­lic. He opines that nei­ther the

U.S. nor Is­rael are in a po­si­tion to at­tack Iran.

Talks be­tween Iran and six world pow­ers - the United States, China, Rus­sia, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many - are to re­sume early next month in a fur­ther at­tempt to strike a deal over Ira­nian nu­clear as­pi­ra­tions.

Mean­while prag­ma­tism has set in and Ira­nian supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, has de­cided to keep Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram within the lim­its de­manded by Is­rael for now. Se­nior U.S, Euro­pean and Is­raeli of­fi­cials be­lieve this move is de­signed to avert an in­ter­na­tional cri­sis dur­ing an Ira­nian elec­tion year. U.S. and Euro­pean of­fi­cials have been con­cerned that Mr. Khamenei might chal­lenge Is­rael and the U.S. over the nu­clear is­sue to con­sol­i­date his po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion. Mr. Khamenei’s ap­proach is plac­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies in a del­i­cate strate­gic po­si­tion, pos­si­bly con­strain­ing their re­sponse to Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram. U.S., Euro­pean and Is­raeli of­fi­cials have de­scribed 2013 as the “crit­i­cal” year in Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, which has been seen as a ref­er­ence to the pos­si­ble use of mil­i­tary force.

The U.S. is also fac­ing a threat posed by North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, with Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang en­gaged in height­ened mil­i­tary threats. North Korea de­fi­antly con­ducted its third nu­clear weapons test in Fe­bru­ary.

The U.N.’s nu­clear watch­dog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, said in late De­cem­ber that Tehran had amassed 232 kilo­grams of ura­nium en­riched to the 20% level but al­most 100 kilo­grams of that amount is be­ing con­verted into fuel plates to power Tehran’s re­search re­ac­tor. Fis­sile ma­te­rial in this form is dif­fi­cult to use in a weapons pro­gram. “Based on the lat­est IAEA re­port, Iran ap­pears to be lim­it­ing its stock­pile of 20% en­riched ura­nium by con­vert­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of it to ox­ide,” said a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial work­ing on Iran. “But that could change at any mo­ment.” Iran may phys­i­cally lack the po­ten­tial to deal with a joint Is­raeli-U.S. at­tack but it def­i­nitely has the pluck to sur­vive and coun­ter­at­tack. Be­cause of its strate­gic lo­ca­tion, Iran is in a po­si­tion to block­ade the free flow of fuel to the west through the Strait of Hor­muz.

It is ex­pected that both the UN as well as the U.S. will be able to re­strain Is­rael from at­tack­ing Iran. In the even­tu­al­ity of an Is­raeli-Iran war, the South Asian re­gion will get em­broiled in the con­flict. Pak­istan, which has deep re­la­tions with Iran but also prefers to main­tain pos­i­tive re­la­tions with the U.S., will en­deavor to keep the war off its back­yard. The next few weeks are cru­cial in thwart­ing the war be­tween Is­rael and Iran and in­tense diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity is mer­ited to keep the war­ring fac­tions at bay.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.