Thursday, September 16, 2004

Michael Costello

Michael Costello says that Israel will have to bomb Iran's nuclear plants:

SOMETIME in the next year or two, Israel is going to have to make a decision. Will it accept that Iran has nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them against Israel? Or will it do what it did to Iraq's developing nuclear capability in 1981 and bomb it out of existence?

This sounds all rather apocalyptic. That is because it is - at least for Israel. Iran is developing a wide range of nuclear facilities and capabilities. It is doing so even though there can be few countries with less need for nuclear energy than oil-rich Iran.

But, surely, Iran is developing these nuclear facilities under the eagle eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the body charged with ensuring that such facilities are developed for peaceful purposes only and not diverted to military use. True enough. Furthermore, the IAEA is charged with referring any concerns it may have of any possible diversion to military use to the UN Security Council for action.

Now this sounds all fine and dandy. But there are a few problems. The IAEA supervised Iraq's nuclear facilities and developments and swore they were for peaceful purposes only. Unfortunately for Iraq, its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to its military trouncing and to the imposition of UN weapons inspections. These weapons inspectors found that the American and Israeli assertions that Iraq was indeed developing nuclear capability were not accurate - they were far too optimistic. The Americans and Israelis had in fact underestimated - that's right, underestimated - how far Iraq had progressed down the path to nuclear weapons.

Then there was Libya. When Libya in the past 18 months decided to give up its nuclear facilities, lo and behold, once again it turned out that Western intelligence agencies had severely underestimated how far Libya had progressed down the nuclear weapons path.

And, of course, there are the fine fellows who lead the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Their nuclear facilities were also subject to IAEA safeguards. Yet they, too, have diverted so-called peaceful uses of nuclear energy to military purposes, and have left the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA system.

Former IAEA director-general Hans Blix has been replaced by a genuinely competent and much more serious person, Mohamed ElBaradei. The new director-general has done everything he can to try to bring the Iranians to heel. The Europeans demanded a central role in helping out on this, but every time things come to a head the usual suspects, Russia and France - and this time, to its shame, Britain - have refused to take the necessary action to force Iran to comply with its obligations. Only in the past few days they have again failed to take strong action.

The Iranian leadership is widely hated by its own people. It is a fundamentalist Islamic dictatorship that made a farce of the recent so-called elections - a fundamentalist dictatorship that is another great gift to the world from that fine nation France, just as Iraq's original nuclear reactor was a gift from the generous-hearted people of France. While the Iranian dictatorship is no friend to Osama bin Laden, it does agree with him absolutely on one thing: Israel should cease to exist.

Furthermore, we cannot rely on this kind of dictatorship having the same sense of self-preservation as the US and the Soviet Union showed during the Cold War. Although there were moments when we stood on the brink of nuclear war, each side accepted the terrible logic of mutual assured destruction and stepped back. This is not true of Iran's leadership. Their beliefs embrace death and martyrdom. To rely on a nuclear-armed Iran to show restraint would be a triumph of hope against reason.

So, sometime soon, Israel will be faced with this choice. Does it allow an implacable enemy determined to obliterate it as a nation to develop the means by which it can achieve that end? Or does it rely on the international community to protect it, an international community that cannot even agree on action to protect the hundreds of thousands of people being subjected to genocide right now in Darfur? Or should it simply "go gentle into that good night"? No, I don't think so. I think it will "rage against the dying of the light".

If Israel does undertake military action to protect itself, action that will be far more difficult, extensive and dangerous than that which it took against Iraq, the world will throw up its hands in horror. Instead the world should hang its head in shame for its failure to insist that Iran meet the commitments it has made.

Whether it is Iraq, or Iran, or North Korea, or Rwanda, or Darfur, or any of the other many and manifest blights on human decency, the international community continues to fail the great promise of those who founded the UN with such high hope: hope that it would bring to the world peace at last. Not peace at any price - but peace with justice and right.


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