Another Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated yesterday by a magnetic bomb placed on his car, the fifth such incident in the last 2 years. This part of a covert war with Iran now under way including cyber warfare (the Stuxnet virus that shut down a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges), the killing of the pioneer of the Iranian missile programme in an explosion at a Revolutionary Guards base near Teheran 2 months ago, and the promise of more ‘unnatural events’ 2 days ago from the Israeli IDF chief of staff. The rationale for all this is that Iran has to be stopped at any cost from building an atomic bomb. Iran has repeatedly denied it is doing so, and insists on its inalienable right to obtaining nuclear energy under the NPT. More significantly there is still no conclusive proof that Iran is actually building a nuclear bomb: the IAEA says that inspectors still “verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at Iran’s nuclear facilities”. So why this relentless demonising of Iran by the West?
Of course it would be better if Iran did not manufacture a nuclear bomb, assuming that is their long-term intention which is far from certain. But even if that were their true aim, is it something that the West has a right to stop? Iran is entirely encircled by 6 nuclear powers, some mortally hostile – the US (with military contractors and CIA operatives remaining in Afghanistan after the troop pull-out, US client states like Bahrain and Qatar, US allies like Turkey and Turkmenistan, and the US fleet in the eastern Mediterranean), Pakistan, India, China, Russia, and of course Israel with 100 nuclear warheads less than a thousand miles to the east. It is hardly surprising against this background that Iran would want nuclear weapons for self-protection. Nor is this a mad mullah or Ahmadinejad fantasy: surveys show two-thirds of the Iranian population support nuclear energy and one-third nuclear weapons.
The MOD review of 2006 reiterated Britain’s justifications for retaining nuclear weapons: it is “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression”. If that is warranted for Britain, why not for Iran which is under far greater nuclear threat? That is never answered by the West. The US justifies its unremitting hostility towards Iran (on which it imposed the Shah through the coup against the democratic Mossadeq in 1953 and then suffered the humiliation of the seizure of the US Embassy staff for a year in the revolution of 1979 – history not to be forgotten) on two grounds. An Iranian atomic bomb would start a Middle East nuclear arms race including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. That is implausible given that Iran has shown no signs of attacking its neighbours for centuries, unlike Israel. Second, Israel must be protected against any threat to its regional supremacy. Given Israel’s extreme aggression towardcs its neighbours over the last 60 years, it might be wise for the US to consider whether that automatic reflex support for Israel regardless of the circumstances is really in the US interest as the Arab spring spreads across the Middle East.