Lease this WebApp and get rid of the ads.
Bushehr: Iran's strike against sanctions
Mon Aug 23, 2010 16:12

Bushehr: Iran's strike against sanctions
by Kaveh L Afrasiabi (source: Asia Times Online)
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Completion of the project is another sign that the international sanctions are not working," Jerusalem Post Editorial

The much-delayed nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr was uploaded with nuclear fuel on Saturday, the first step toward the Russian-built plant going online next month. This realizes a long-sought objective of Iran that at times seemed imperiled by costly delays and efforts by the United States and Israel to convince Moscow to stop it opening until Iran had complied with United Nations sanctions resolutions.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly stated that in Washington's opinion Bushehr should open only if Iran reassured the world it wouldn't be enriching uranium, or if its behavior changed as a result of international sanctions.

By all indications, Iran remains defiant. Alaedin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, categorically stated that the "issues of uranium enrichment and national security are interconnected". In other words, freezing the enrichment activity would pose national security risks to the country.

"The Russians have showed signs that they can be trusted,'' Boroujerdi said ''This could turn into a turning point to repair relations for both sides so that they can make better use of the potential for fulfilling the interests of both nations." His words imply that broader Russia-Iran nuclear cooperation could take place in light of several memorandum of understanding Tehran and Moscow have already signed for more power plants in Iran.

Not only that, given political considerations globally and within Russia - where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has taken credit for backing the decision to build Bushehr over resistance from the more pro-West President Dmitry Medvedev - Iran must now develop signs of flexibility on the nuclear negotiations to lessen the heat of backlashes against Moscow by Western nations.

Iranian politicians, including Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have expressed a new Iranian willingness to engage in nuclear negotiations with Washington within the frameworks of both the Vienna Group - ie, the US, Russia, France and the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) - and the "Iran Six" (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

This autumn could prove to be a fruitful season of nuclear diplomacy if Bushehr's opening is followed by multilateral agreement on the nuclear fuel swap for the small research reactor in Tehran, ie, two major confidence-building strikes against a nuclear crisis, one that could easily spiral out of control and, as Fidel Castro aptly warned earlier this month, even culminate in a nuclear war (see Castro: Nuclear sage or siren
, Asia Times Online, August 12, 2010).

On Iran's part, achieving the twin goals of getting Bushehr off the ground after a 12-year delay and replenishing the depleting nuclear fuel for the Tehran reactor would represent nothing short of milestones, warranting fresh thinking on the thorny subject of dialogue with Washington.

"The final decision on this issue rests with the supreme leader and through his advisers Ayatollah Khamenei has sent positive signals to the West that if they are serious about dialogue then Iran is ready to engage with them," says a Tehran University political science professor who is close to the president's camp.

But the main challenge before Tehran remains: how to achieve its nuclear power objectives, and how to stave off the pressure of sanctions without being forced to make substantive concessions?
After all, the enrichment capability has given Iran a "proto-nuclear status" that serves Iran's plethora of national security objectives and, therefore, it is unlikely to be forfeited for the sake of any other gain - even though this does not preclude certain intermediary options. These include the so-called standby option and a more rigorous IAEA inspection of Iran's facilities. Tehran has consistently denied the claims of Western governments that it is developing nuclear weapons as part of its strike power.

The US said it saw no "proliferation risk" from Bushehr, though the supply of Russian uranium rods for the nuclear reactor was condemned by Israel as "unacceptable". Fox News quoted Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy, as saying, "The international community should increase pressure to force Iran to abide by international decisions and cease its enrichment activities and its construction of reactors."

This aside, Russia's decision to ignore the US's demand to delay Bushehr's launching needs to be analyzed in the overall geostrategic environment that could exact a heavy toll on Russia's own security if the West were allowed to march forward unhindered with its graduated strategy of weakening Iran, a regional bulwark against expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and US interventionism.

In other words, the reason Putin won over pro-West politicians in Moscow on the question is geopolitical in nature, much as other considerations, such as Russia's contractual obligations or purely economic interests, may have also played a role.

In this the US and European Union (as well as Israel) can blame themselves to some extent by overplaying their hands, as of late by imposing tough unilateral sanctions decried by Moscow and Beijing and by turning the volumes on war threats against Iran, an unacceptable scenario from the vantage point of Russian as well as China's interests.

In the absence of the nuclear standoff, the launching of a peaceful reactor under the full supervision of the IAEA would never be pinned with so many side-effects and implications. A major setback for the advocates of crippling sanctions on Iran, making Bushehr power plant operational is tantamount to a torpedo effect on the sanction regime - this despite the fact that UN sanction resolutions have excepted Bushehr from their purview.

"Bushehr's opening shows that the threats against Iran are all psychological," Kazem Jalali, spokesperson for parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, has stated. Still, in addition to the psychological effect, the net political effect of Bushehr's opening is the message that neither sanctions nor threats have succeeded in halting Iran's march to nuclear power.

Beefing up military muscle
Meanwhile, confronted with the possibility of external attacks on its nuclear installations, this summer Iran has been busy showcasing its enhanced military muscle, by unveiling a drone long-range bomber, nicknamed "ambassador of death to Iran's enemies" by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

It is a third generation of home-manufactured missiles, as part of Iran's defense strategy of a "missile blitz" against hard and "soft targets" throughout the Persian Gulf and beyond in the event of an attack. The program includes the mass production of midget submarines, fast torpedo/cruise missile-equipped boats, and a surface-to-surface missile known as Qiam 1. The latter is described by Iranian military officials as a "high velocity, radar-evading missile" that can be "launched from different types of launch pads".

Insisting that Iran's enhanced military capability is for purely defensive purposes, Tehran is at the same time trying to penetrate the global arms market as an arms exporter, in light of last week's announcement by Iran's Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi that Iran was now capable of exporting arms to some 50 countries.

Describing the new military hardware as evidence of Iran's growing "self-confidence and self-belief", top military officials have also pointed at the regional strategic balance that mandates Iran's current drive to prepare for what is commonly known as "asymmetrical warfare".

The strategy relies, among other things, on mobile tactical vessels, the mass production of missiles, increased mining capabilities, as well as an "extended deterrence strategy" that aims to "expand the theater of conflict" by hitting the attacker's interests in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. Khamenei recently said that "Iran's counter-attack will not be merely regional, but covering a vaster scene".

There is no hiding the fact in Iran that the country has major areas of military vulnerability, especially in the realm of anti-aircraft systems and the opposing sides' advantage in air power, which is why Iran is still keen on the Russian delivery of the S-300 defense system, which Moscow has delayed for political and other reasons, including lobbying by Saudi Arabia.

And yet Russia's sale of the more advanced S-400 defense system to the Saudis in future may actually prove to a be a catalyst for Moscow fulfilling its contract with Iran, particularly if huge multi-billion dollar US arms sales reportedly in the pipeline to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, such as Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, are finalized by the Barack Obama administration. The latter include offensive weaponry such as advanced fighter jets and attack helicopters, which are bound to accelerate an already intense regional arms race, in turn forcing Iran to accelerate its own arms buildup.

In conclusion, not everyone in Iran is satisfied with the nation's (over) emphasis on a purely defensive posture. Ahmadinejad's latest comment on Iran Military Industry Day that Iran "will never initiate an attack" may serve to assuage the concerns of some of Iran's Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf, but at the same time it divests Iran of the "pre-emptive strike" dimension that is integral to the military doctrine of Western powers such as the US and France, and Israel.

In other words, there is a dysfunctional gap between Iran's national security interests and a one-dimensional, purely defensive military doctrine that is self-undermining by categorically ruling out a pre-emptive strike. The gap is a dangerous one that may paralyze counter-terrorism efforts, in particular those dealing with cross-border operations in Pakistan and Iraq.

A number of Iranian policy analysts have told the author that Iran is seriously disadvantaged in the burgeoning regional arms race and should not behave "one-dimensionally" by rejecting the principle of "pre-emptive strike" that could come in handy if there is viable information of an impending strike against the country. The lines between "defense" and "offense" may have been cut too drastically - to the detriment of Iran's national security interests.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and his latest book, Looking for rights at Harvard, is now available.

Click here to receive daily updates