By Bob Rigg.
It is important to understand why successive generations of US policy-makers of varying political persuasions have ascribed such great importance to Iran. If the Middle East region produced mainly dates, pomegranates, goat’s milk and myrrh, it would not today be overrun with foreign armies and bristling with dense concentrations of the world’s most advanced weaponry, including nuclear weapons.
In 1953 the CIA surprised itself by overthrowing an elected Iranian government that had dared to question the divine right of a multinational oil company to export huge profits, almost none of which benefited Iran’s struggling economy. The Shah installed by the US proceeded to squander most of his country’s oil wealth on massive purchases of cutting edge US armaments and military technology. This strategic alliance permitted the US to wield considerable influence, not just over Iran and the Middle East, but also over Iran’s massive reserves of oil and gas. When the Shah was overthrown in 1979, this influence went west with him. The most powerful player in the Middle East was suddenly hostile to US hegemony in the region, with Israel as the only US ally.
When US inspectors were finally, in the early 1960s, granted access to Israel’s “peaceful” nuclear facility at Dimona, the Israelis went to extreme lengths to pull the wool over their eyes, and succeeded in doing so. By about 1965 Israel probably possessed a couple of primitive atomic weapons – just one year after China had conducted its first nuclear test. Under President Nixon the US stopped wavering and decided that its national interest would be well served by a nuclear capable Israel in the heart of the Middle East.
Israel’s current nuclear arsenal, which includes as many as 200-250 sophisticated warheads, is supported by the most advanced missile technology, as well as by the devastating nuclear strike capability of US forces stationed in and around the Middle East. Much of Israel’s military development has been bankrolled by the US, with Israel currently still receiving about half of annual US development assistance.
When the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force in 1970, the international community generally assumed that only the five permanent members (P-5) of the UN Security Council (UNSC) – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – were nuclear capable. Although France, the UK and the US knew at the time that Israel was already nuclear capable, they have consistently acted as though this was not the case, and have blocked international discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
This contradiction was temporarily set aside when India and Pakistan added a nuclear dimension to their deadly military rivalry. The nuclear weapons states sent them to diplomatic Siberia for several years for what, they sermonised, was a serious transgression of the NPT. India and Pakistan did no more than what Israel had done before them. By remaining outside the NPT they were initially viewed as international pariahs, only to be eventually welcomed back as indispensable partners of the Western alliance. If the West approves of you, you may go nuclear outside the NPT. If it does not, you can go to hell.
In the meantime the West ignored the anger that surfaced in the Muslim world when news of Israel’s covertly acquired nuclear capability leaked out, disrupting the fragile balance of power in the Middle East. Since then the following Middle Eastern states have enriched uranium at various points in their history, in most cases in relation to the possible acquisition of a nuclear capability: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Turkey. And there have been reported visits by Saudi Arabian ministers to top secret nuclear and missile installations in Pakistan and North Korea.
Contrary to what the US and Israel now claim, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East has been a hot issue ever since it was discovered that Israel was nuclear capable. It is Israel, not Iran that is driving the nuclearisation of the Middle East.
Since the public disclosure of Israel’s nuclear capability other Middle Eastern states have consistently argued that Israel should join the NPT and accept inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There have also been repeated calls in multilateral forums for a nuclear weapons free zone throughout the Middle East.
All of these initiatives have been stonewalled by Western states, headed by the US. Then, at this year's IAEA General Conference a resolution was finally adopted in the teeth of western filibustering. It recalled UNSC resolution 487 of 1981 and requested Israel to join all other Middle Eastern states in ratifying the NPT and submitting its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspections. This ground-breaking resolution expressed concern about the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the security and stability of the region. It referred explicitly to “Israeli nuclear capabilities”, and called on Israel to join the NPT and to accept the application of the IAEA’s inspection regime to all its nuclear facilities. Western media devoted little or no space to this resolution, which was acclaimed by everyone in the Muslim world and in the West by Noam Chomsky.
This resolution revealed the extent to which the bankrupt nuclear policies of the Western alliance had suppressed international awareness of the acute threat to Middle Eastern stability posed by Israel’s regional monopoly on nuclear weapons. It also revealed the growing power, wealth and self-possession of states which, just a decade earlier, would have thrown in the sponge in the face of US arm-twisting.
Iran’s nuclear program was started by the Shah with active US assistance. When the Shah was overthrown the US refused to deliver on a contract to provide the new government with enriched uranium, and even pocketed the advance payment. This partly explains Iran’s present reluctance to agree to Western proposals to enrich its uranium outside Iran.
Since 1979 the US has imposed a harsh unilateral trade embargo on Iran, until recently not legitimized by the UNSC. This compelled the Iranians to resort to the international black market on a large scale for everything from relatively mundane items to the technology and materials required to pursue their nuclear program. Although this accounts for much of the clandestine nature of Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians still have a lot of tough questions to answer.
In their unrelenting focus on Iran, which possesses no nuclear weapons at present and probably needs at least two or three years to go nuclear, the United States and its Western allies are diverting attention from the only Middle Eastern state whose large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal threatens regional and world stability and peace.
Iran cooperates with the IAEA, which is barred from inspecting Israel’s nuclear facilities, while the Prime Minister of Israel, which is not a party to the NPT, recently visited key world leaders urging them to require Iran to fulfil its NPT obligations. This grotesque and discriminatory state of affairs will persist until Israel ratifies the NPT and joins all other Middle Eastern states, including Iran, that have declared their support for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East.
The credibility of the NPT regime is at rock bottom. In today’s increasingly atomized world the probability of nuclear proliferation and nuclear conflict will continue to increase as the credibility of the NPT is frittered away. The future of the world is at stake.