via Lobe Log

News and views relevant to US mideast foreign policy for Sept. 20

Iranian policymakers should understand that failing to limit the enrichment program will eventually trigger war”: The Security Times carries a commentary by Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an influential British think tank. Outlining the continuing difficulties in negotiating an agreement on Iran’s enrichment activities, Fitzpatrick notes that the lack of an agreement means that pressure will grow to take military action in the coming years:

…. Iran already is nuclear capable – now possessing all the materials and technology, requiring only a political decision – and, while unpalatable, this status has not triggered military action.

The problem is that the red line separating nuclear-capable from nuclear-armed will become less clear as Iran’s enrichment program makes further advances. At present, Iran is still months away from being able to make a successful dash to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU). Because IAEA inspections take place on average twice a month, any such ‘breakout’ at declared facilities would be detected in time.

If, however, the Iranians sought to produce HEU at clandestine plants, they could not be confident the work would remain hidden. Twice already, secret enrichment plants have been exposed. Iran might judge that it could get away with such exposure, claiming, as it does today, that it does not need to follow IAEA rules about early notification of new nuclear facilities.

If this is Iran’s calculation, it could well backfire. Iran does not know how close it could come to crossing the line to weapons production before its adversaries determined it was too close. If Iran’s enrichment program continues unabated, at some point Western intelligence agencies will judge that because the uranium stockpile is too large, the technology too advanced and the hiding places too many, a dash for the bomb cannot be detected in time. The red line of weapons production will have become too blurred to serve as an effective tripwire.

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations”: The Congressional Research Service asks “Has Iran Violated the NPT?” in a new report and concludes that the matter is “unclear” though the IAEA believes Iran “has violated its safeguards agreement” and was, until at least 2003, pursuing military research as part of the program. It notes that investigations are still ongoing over claims that Iran violated the NPT’s Article II, “which state[s] that non-nuclear-weapon states-parties shall not ‘manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear  explosive devices’ or “’seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.’”

The 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate assessed in 2007 that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

In response to an IAEA Board of Governors ruling that Iran had not met its disclosure (and safeguards) obligations, the Iranian press reported that “Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani said that the most recent resolution issued against Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency raises doubt about the benefit of being a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

Who’s Sabotaging Iran’s Nuclear Program?”: Building off an earlier New York Times report on allegations of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake questions if this is an act of escalation by the perpetrators:

Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran’s vice president and the chief of its nuclear-energy agency, disclosed that power lines between the holy city of Qom and the underground Fordow nuclear centrifuge facility were blown up with explosives on Aug. 17. He also said the power lines leading to Iran’s Natanz facilities were blown up as well. On the day after the power was cut off at Fordow, an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asked to visit the facility.

The disclosure is significant. To start, it is the first piece of evidence to suggest opponents of the Iranian program are targeting the country’s electrical grid and doing so on the ground.

The US has publicly denied it is carrying out attacks on any facilities and military or civilian targets in Iran. An NBC investigative report from the summer reported that Israel, not the US, is actually orchestrating the bombings and assassinations. Rather than risk discovery of its own network in the Islamic Republic, the NBC said that the Mossad relies on members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMO) to carry out these operations.

Poll: Majority of Palestinians, Israelis say attack on Iran would result in major war”: Haaretz reports on a new poll in Israel expressing growing concern among Israeli citizens and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories that a war with Iran would “would ignite a major regional war,” though the poll also noted that a significant number of respondents do not believe a war is likely this year anyway:

According to the study’s finding, 77 percent of Israeli respondents and 82 percent of Palestinian respondents said that an Israeli attack on Iran would result in a major regional confrontation.

Regarding the possibility of an Israeli strike without U.S. backing, 65 percent of Israelis were against such a course of action, an increase from 52 percent in June.

Also, the study found that 70 percent of Israelis did not believe Israel would strike Iran in the coming months, with only 20 percent of respondents saying they believe the Iranians’ goal is to destroy Israel.

The Israeli press also reported that US diplomats have warned their Israeli counterparts that should Israel attack Iran this year, it would jeopardize Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt.