Last week, almost four months late, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its report on Iran. The document, based on the findings of its director, Mohammed El Baradei, after a February visit to Tehran, states that Iran has not met the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it is a signatory.
It transpires that, despite the demands of the NPT, Iran did not report the acquisition and processing of nuclear materials, 1.8 tons of natural uranium, and their storage in a facility that was hitherto unknown to the IAEA. The uranium was purchased from China as early as 1991, but Iran admitted making the purchase only during El Baradei's visit in February.
This is just one in a series of findings proving that Iran is systematically violating the conditions of the NPT, while exploiting the compromising approach of the IAEA and its head. In the past few months, nuclear facilities (for enriching uranium) that had been secretly set up were discovered at Nantez and Arak (a facility for producing heavy water), while in Tehran, a secret laboratory was found at the Center for Nuclear Research. All of these make it clear that Iran has intensive plans to develop and manufacture nuclear weapons.
And indeed, the U.S. administration has no doubts about Iran's intentions. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher has stressed that Iran's clandestine nuclear program constitutes "a serious challenge to stability in the region," as well as to the international community and the global regimes for preventing proliferation.
However, there is a catch facing the Bush administration regarding Iran. The possibility of preventing Iranian nuclear activity is diminishing, and what now appears, together with the North Korean nuclear challenge, as Washington's prime test following the Iraqi war may end in concessions that will ultimately leave nuclear capability in Iran's hands.
America's policies will no doubt be influenced by the embarrassment facing the administration in its failure to come up with proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is doubtful whether, at a time when it is being attacked for going to war with Iraq on false pretenses, the Americans can, or will want to, use military strength against another nation that is denying its intentions to produce nuclear weapons. The fact that the chances of rallying international support for military action against Iran are close to nil must also be considered.
If Bush had any hopes in this regard, French President Jacques Chirac made it clear in his remarks at the G-8 summit earlier this month that once again - as it had in the instances of North Korea and Iraq - the United States would have to handle the struggle against non-proliferation virtually alone. Chirac absolutely rejected the interpretation profered by American officials that the warning sent by the summit leaders to North Korea and Iran about developing nuclear weapons was tantamount to approval for the use of force against them.
Attempts to get support from Russia, which is helping Iran build its nuclear reactor in Bushehr, are also unlikely to produce positive results. The Americans cannot rely on the IAEA or its director as is evident from the sentence that El Baradei added to the report on the treaty violations. He said that despite the violations, Iran was "adopting an approach of renewed cooperation" with the agency. In other words, from his point of view, it is worthwhile to continue to cooperate with the Iranians' attempts at misleading in the hope that eventually all the details of its nuclear plans will become known. It was this type of approach in the past that enabled Iraq to make swift advances in its plans to develop nuclear weapons, and apparently has made it possible for North Korea to complete the construction of nuclear bombs.
The Americans are now only left with the diplomatic option. The board of governors of the IAEA, which represents 35 countries, is due to convene Monday, and the Americans intend to ask it to adopt a resolution stating that Iran has violated the NPT's terms. This will make it possible to bring up the issue before the UN Security Council, which the United States hopes will lead to serious sanctions against Tehran. Judging by the attitude of UN Security Council members regarding Iraq, these are idle hopes.
It is important that the lessons learned from the international community's reconciliation with the fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons be studied not only in Washington, but also in Jerusalem.
The European nations' apathy to the arming of Iran means that the danger that pressure will be brought to bear on Israel on the nuclear issue is also less likely; but it could lead to a situation where in the not-too-distant future, we find ourselves face-to-face with a hostile country that has nuclear weapons.
When the Iranian ballistic missiles program is completed, Tehran could have the capability of sending nuclear warheads at Israeli targets. There is no need to panic, but it is necessary to update constantly our national security perception, so that it includes the readiness to face a nuclear threat. For some time, the correct steps have been taken in this direction. What is required is that the current discussion in the IDF General Staff and the struggle over the division of resources between the navy and the air force reach a speedy conclusion.
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