It’s Cloudy Over Tehran

Israel whips up fears based on misinformation on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Written by Prem Shankar Jha | Updated: May 1, 2015 7:29 am
Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: get the US Congress to insert clauses in the treaty that Iran will be forced to reject and take advantage of the ensuing paranoia to push the West into an attack. Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: get the US Congress to insert clauses in the treaty that Iran will be forced to reject and take advantage of the ensuing paranoia to push the West into an attack.

The euphoria over the Iran nuclear agreement has evaporated. Its most inveterate enemy is Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shortly after the agreement, he warned the US public that it would threaten Israel’s survival and increase the risk of “a horrific war”. This is a brazen attempt to whip up hysteria on the basis of misinformation.

Netanyahu’s fear mongering on Iran started a while ago. At the UN General Assembly in 2012, he unveiled a large cartoon of a bomb with a red line across it, just below the mouth. This was how close Iran was to making a bomb, he said. Later, the world would learn that the Mossad had told him Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb. The Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later: although Iran had enough low-enriched uranium in August 2012 to build five-seven bombs, it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of 20 per cent to make even one bomb. The CRS concluded that Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it “abruptly” in 2003.

Netanyahu’s second deception is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions till it gives up trying to acquire not just nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could facilitate this in future. He knows no government in Iran can agree to this. So what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative — a military attack on Iran. Since he also knows that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these, he does not want the strike to end till it has destroyed Iranian infrastructure, industry and research facilities. 

Netanyahu knows Israel will need US help for such an operation. But President Barack Obama has learned from recent experience that US interests don’t always tally with those of its allies in the Middle East. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: get the US Congress to insert clauses in the treaty that Iran will be forced to reject and take advantage of the ensuing paranoia to push the West into an attack.

Netanyahu is joined by another friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February, Riyadh and Tel Aviv signed an agreement that would allow Israeli warplanes to fly over Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. Less than four weeks later, Saudi Arabia declared war on the Houthis, whom it has portrayed as a minority bent on taking over Yemen with the backing of Iran. The timing of the Saudi attack, its insistence that the Houthis are proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding with Israel. The Houthis attacked Sanaa last September. Why did the Saudis wait till March to send bombers in?

Iran has kept out of the Yemen conflict so far, but the one-sided resolution passed by the UNSC, the resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution to the conflict, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in Tehran. Iraq PM Haidar al-Abadi’s criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington shows he is aware that these developments are darkening prospects of Iran’s rehabilitation and Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift, Obama needs to make plain how far Israel’s interests have diverged from the US’s under Netanyahu’s tenure, and how Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push the latter into actions that imperilled its own security. He needs to remind Americans that to convert a nuclear device into a bomb, Iran will need to master the physics of bomb-making and carry out at least one test explosion. That will make escaping detection pretty impossible.

Finally, Obama needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know the price they will pay if they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back the sanctions, but it will also vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a preemptive military strike virtually unavoidable. Should a military strike destroy Iran’s economy, it will cause the creation of thousands of Shia jihadis. The security that Netanyahu claims it will bring will turn out to be an illusion.

Jha is a senior journalist and author.

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. M
    May 1, 2015 at 1:40 pm
    One couldn't agree more with Jha. Iran is paying for its idealism. Though historically shiite don't have a feud with europeans & its extensions, they have had to pay a price for standing for the Palestinian plight, mostly to protect the lebanese shias in the baalbek valley. It has been disproportionately accused of things that western GCC allies are themselves far outstanding at. Its so ironic that this propaa machine galvanizes itself into action upon the killing of army school children in Peshawar while ignoring the killings of thousands of christians, shias & hindus for reasons that look trivial in 21st century. It sees the shiite militias trying to protect their own people as a war crime but ignores this 25 years of genocidal wars run by wahabi groups. The nuclear deal that would have stabilised the situation is extremely unlikely now. Eventually this failure is going to lead to enormous bloodshed. However, it must be remembered that Persia has existed for 3000 years now with virtually the same borders. It has been able to do so even in face of the destruction by arabs, mongols, turks & europeans. These people won't go down without a fight. When pushed to the brink of extinction, perhaps a new & more combative ideology might emerge amongst them. Whether Iran is in the picture or not, the larger issue of Arab-Israeli conflict will remain. And this new NATO-style arab force with stani nuclear weapons would become a mortal threat to Israel. Moreover, with chaos that would come at the destruction of the regime in Iran, wahabi groups from south asia will link up with their brethrens in mid east. Whether one likes or not Iran is a bullwark against all such scenarios. The west will shoot itself in the foot if it heeds to this war mongering.
    1. Outer Delhi Times
      May 1, 2015 at 10:44 pm
      Hatred against US is deep in the Iranian mind, i lived there for 2 years and I can tell you that it does not seem that it will go away soon, If deal is done, US will be exposed to greater risks,.
      1. R
        May 1, 2015 at 12:33 pm
        The issues involved in making a nuclear bomb is much simpler than Jha believes. Iran may possibly have a bomb even now. stan has a bomb designed by Chinese & funded by US & SA. It is also engaged in supporting terrorists who are anti Iran. To imagine that Iran will not be afraid of the stani bomb, especially given that stan is involved with many terrorists, is wishful thinking. SA was looking at stan as a mercenary who will support its financier but recent events will certainly make it jittery. Americans accepted the Indian nuclear programme only when they realized that India was more advanced on Thorium based reactors than the western world & India has large amounts of Thorium. Similarly, US warming up to Iran is because they recognise that Americans need a stable middle east & Iran is crucial for this. Iran is probably likely to be more reliable than SA which is also financing many Sunni extremists. Israel will need some time to accept the reality that having a nuclear bomb & using it are very different issues.