Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Get Ready for a Major Conflict - Iran

The world is suddenly a very dangerous place. More dangerous than the Cuban missile crisis and as dangerous then the lead up to the Second World War. The reason: Iran. The cause: the nuclear threat that Iran poses to the world.

Many dismiss the Iran “crisis” as just another Bush created scenario. It is not. In fact, Bush is showing a great deal of caution and is seeking a multinational diplomatic solution, through UN institutions. But all NATO allies should be engaged in contingency planning for a military intervention if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

Here is the problem. Iran is using nuclear power to meet its growing demands for energy. It is also using its nuclear program to generate the capacity for nuclear weapons production and it has made clear that it intends to both use the weapons against Israel and to share the technology with other states.

Some think that the threats to use the weapons and share the technology are “empty” threats – aimed at increasing Iran’s revenue from the increased price of oil caused by promoting regional “uncertainty”. They seek appeasement. Others, including the majority of serious regional analysts, are not sure. They vacillate between believing that, while Iran’s intentions are complex, they are unlikely to use any weapons they create to indicating that use is inevitable while the current power structure remains in Iran. In short, we need to be ready for all possibilities.

The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” He has repeated these comments several times – they are not “off the cuff” remarks, but part of his thinking about Iran’s position. He has held rallies to promote these ideas and the rallies have been well attended. He has replaced well trained Iranian diplomats and foreign office officials with members of the revolutionary guard and is following a “script” which puts real pressure on the West, with the script being written (or at least approved) by the Supreme Ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. This is the same cleric who is a clear supporter of terrorist groups.

No one is sure how long it will take Iran to build a nuclear weapon – estimates vary from three to ten years. This gives some room for diplomacy, though Iran shows real defiance in the face of such threats. Sanctions are likely, but they have power too: oil. By their defiance, they will force up the price of oil and benefit from lowering their supply of oil to the world market.

The International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) will try and ascertain what is going on in Iran, but will be denied access to key sites and key information. It is likely, as was the case with Iraq, that only partial information will be available when some key decisions will need to be taken. This time, the IAEA should be given the opportunity to undertake their work and recommend action to the UN Security Council.

But get used to the idea of an air strike against Iran. Get used to the idea that, despite the debacle in Iraq, Iran poses a real and present danger to peace and stability in the world. Get used to the rhetoric of this conflict become more dramatic and shrill. Get used to the Israeli’s becoming increasingly concerned about their vulnerability. Get used to having poor information on which to base your judgment about whether Iran or the UN is right of this issue. Get used to the US being willing to act alone, or with a limited number of coalition partners, with the aim of regime change.

The prelude to the Second World War was one of confusion, denial, hope, appeasement, defiance. There was a prelude when, with hindsight, more could have been done to prevent widespread war and to reduce the generational impact of conflict. Now is a moment of prelude – a time for wise counsel, focused action and intelligent planning. We should use it wisely.

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