Israel has been joined by Saudi Arabia openly and Turkey covertly, in opposing the rehabilitation of Iran. Here is what is What I wrote about. A shorter verion appeared in The Indian Express.
“The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran – EU nuclear agreement is proving short-lived. Republicans in the US Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it. Hilary Clinton, the democratic Presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted ‘at once’.
But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement he warned the American public in three successive speeches that it would threaten the survival of Israel and increase the risk of ‘a horrific war’. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of misinformation.
Netanyahu unveiled the first at the UN General Assembly in 2012. It was 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 nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that Mossad, his own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.
Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later: that although Iran already had enough 5 percent, or low-enriched, Uranium in August 2012 to build 5 to 7 bombs, it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of 20 percent to meet the requirement for even one bomb. The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because 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 only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. But he knows that 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.
What is more, since he also knows that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future he does not want the strike to end till it has destroyed Iran’s infrastructure ( as Israel destroyed Southern Lebanon’s in 2006) , its industry, its research facilities and its science universities.
He knows that Israel cannot undertake such a vast operation without the Americans. But there is one stumbling block—Barak Obama, who has learned from his recent experience that, to put it mildly, America’s interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the middle east. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the US Congress to insert clauses in the Treaty draft that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of the spike in paranoia that will follow to push the west into an attack on Iran.
He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February Saudi Arabia quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance they will need to fly. And less than four weeks later, on March 26, it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of Iran.
This is a substantial oversimplification , and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship. Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias. The Houthis, who make up 30 percent of Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practiced in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit a region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of Yemen, and three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran, and Asir, that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934. The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis have fought since the 1960s have not been sectarian, or even against the Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.
The timing of Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant portrayal of the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked Sana’a, the capital, last September. So why did Saudi Arabia wait till now before sending its bombers in?
Iran has kept out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the UN Security Council, the immediate resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by Saleh’s successor, Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in Teheran. Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect for Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore Iraq’s future.
To stop this drift Obama needs to tell his people precisely how far, under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the US, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push it into actions that have imperiled its own security in the middle east.
Instead of dwelling on how the treaty will make it close-to-impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry but carry out at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.
Lastly the White house 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 all and more of the sanctions they are under, but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.
Finally, should a military strike, whether deserved or undeserved, destroy Iran’s economy, it will add tens of thousands of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and the other failed states and regions of the world. The security that Netanyahu claims it will bring, will turn out to be a chimera.