Thursday, April 5, 2012

Nuclear Destabilization

Does This Look Destabilized Enough?

The dangers of war erupting this year with Iran are the greatest they’ve been since the hostage rescue misadventure in 1980 that left eight soldiers dead in the Persian desert. Now goaded by war-hawks in Congress and Israel, and with emotions and political posturing unnaturally heightened by the presidential election season, the Obama administration is coming under fierce pressure to either resolve the Iranian “problem” or offer the Israelis a green light and U.S. assistance to take care of Iran on their own.
As tensions rise, Israel and Iran continue a covert war that could easily spiral beyond either nation’s intentions, while U.S. forces run dangerous navy patrols in the flashpoint of the Straits of Hormuz. 
Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that a nuclear-armed Iran or a conflict over its program would both destabilize the region as she pressed Tehran for clear commitments in upcoming talks.

While Israel voiced growing impatience over Iran, Clinton credited US sanctions with inflicting pressure on the Islamic republic but she warned of a tough road ahead as Tehran prepares to meet with six major powers.

"There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing to the entire world," Clinton said.

Having just emerged from nearly a decade of war in Iraq and still struggling to shake off what is beginning to look like a hopeless effort in Afghanistan, and with the economy still fragile and the entire region a tinderbox of political turmoil and resentment, the notion of yet another U.S. conflict in the Middle East seems absurd. Yet pundits and politicians, ably assisted by the powerful voices of the Israel lobby in Washington, are at it again, attempting to soften U.S. public opinion with fresh rationalizations for a new and, according to international laws, illegal elective war. 
Straits of Hormuz

As costly and devastating as the Iraq adventure turned out to be, a conflict with Iran offers the potential to be a thousand times worse. A U.S.-Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities seems certain to cause a wider regional war. Some on the Israeli right are openly proposing the use of tactical nuclear weapons. A preemptive assault would probably provoke an explosion of terrorism against U.S. targets around the nation and the world as well as attacks on Israel from Iranian surrogates Hezbollah and Hamas. It would also likely cause a crippling spike in worldwide oil prices and an environmental catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.
The U.S. has "worked very hard with Israel on all levels from the military, intelligence, strategic, and diplomatic level to make sure we were sharing information," she said. "It's our very strong belief, as President Obama conveyed to the Israelis, that it is not in anyone’s interest for them to take unilateral action."
Clinton added that pursuing the diplomatic path is in everyone's interest. She didn't comment on the report claiming Israeli might use air bases in Azerbaijan, and refused to talk about an alternative plan case the talks with Iran fail.
I don’t want to think about it that way, because I want to give this the very best effort we can," she said. "So I don’t want to go into it with the attitude of, well, it’s going to fail, and I don’t want the Iranians to go into it with the attitude of that we can just keep it open and never have to come to any outcome.

The risks seem grossly out of balance with the possible gains, especially as U.S. intelligence sources report that Iran has not committed its “research” to weapons production and remains open to a negotiated settlement and the return of nuclear inspectors. Ultimately even Israeli defense analysts allow that Iran would not be willing to come to body blows with Israel, an undeclared nuclear power.

The U.S. bishops have been distracted by a rhetorical war over religious liberty and contraception, sadly, because the clarity of their voice on this actual war with Iran is notable. In a March 2 letter from Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the bishops expressed their concern over “an alarming escalation in rhetoric and tensions.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Ahead of international talks April 13 in Istanbul on Iran’s uranium enrichment program, Clinton talked strategy with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Tehran last week with other government officials.
“They were told that the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) viewed weapons of mass destruction as religiously prohibited, as against Islam,’’ Clinton said at a news conference.
In an interview Clinton added that "I want us to come together in Istanbul in a few weeks and really talk honestly about what we need to do to remove the cloud of the Iranian nuclear program, and remove all of the suspicion that could possibly lead to confrontation from the international community."

"We're going to be looking for a way to try to convey the legitimate fears that people in the region have about what comes next. Because if Iran were ever to get a nuclear weapon, the countries in the region are going to buy their way to one as well," Clinton said.
Russia said Monday that the date and venue have not been definitively set, leading the United States to say that Iran was sending mixed signals.

Clinton, who had earlier given April 13 as the date and Istanbul as the venue, said Tuesday only that the United States is "hoping that those talks will commence within the next several weeks."

"And we're hoping that there will be a path forward that gives the Iranians a reason to believe that it is in their national interest not to pursue their nuclear program," she said.

The United States has been threatening sanctions to press other countries to stop buying Iranian oil, the country's chief money-maker. Turkey said Friday that it was cutting oil imports from its neighbor by 20 percent.
Benjamin Netanyahu

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Iran has not moved "even one millimeter" from its nuclear program despite its financial struggles.

"The sanctions are painful, hard," Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem. "But will this bring about a halt or a retreat in the Iranian nuclear program? Until now, it has not happened."

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday that the sanctions "may have caused us small problems but we will continue our path."

Iranian officials, however, say its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes. 

The latest US intelligence assessments have not concluded that the regime has given the go-ahead to develop a nuclear bomb.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb "constitutes a major sin" for Iran, reiterating a fatwa -- or religious edict -- that he made in 2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei's fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized," Clinton said in Norfolk.

Iran’s bellicose statements, its failure to be transparent about its nuclear program, and its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons are serious matters, but in themselves they do not justify military action. Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive.

Opinion polls in both the United States and Israel run strongly against an attack on Iran, but if this confrontation is to be avoided, the people of both nations need to speak up to their leaders—loudly—now. Before the Iraq war the U.S. bishops and the Vatican challenged the moral legitimacy of pre-emptive war-making, charging that the concept fails both the precepts of the just war tradition and, when the many risks and hazards of such an adventure are calculated, common sense. 

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