The 3,000 centrifuges operating in Iran are like the waterline of Lake Kinneret. They provide an impressionistic sense of danger and mark the desired level of anxiety. They constitute a signal that points to danger, even if they themselves are not the danger. The assumption is that if and when all of these centrifuges are operating at supersonic speed for an extended period of time, they can be used to enrich enough uranium for the creation of a nuclear bomb within a year.
This does not mean that Iran - as opposed to Pakistan or India - has or will have an atomic bomb. Nonethless, the rational working assumption must be that if Iran wants to develop a nuclear bomb it can do so. There is no need even to wait for the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or other confirmation regarding the transparency of Iran's nuclear industry. No country is more transparent than Iran on this issue. It has no policy of ambiguity and is not ashamed to show off its achievements.
If our working assumption is that Iran has the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, then our anxiety should be double; it is becoming increasingly obvious that the "international community" is a hollow concept when it comes to organizing a protective belt against international threats like the military nuclearization of a particular state. The joy with which the deep affection between George W. Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy is reported, as well as the fact that the two leaders finally see eye to eye on the danger posed by Iran, is not equal in value to the defensive wall that Russia and China have built around Iran.
But even if the United Nations finds a sufficiently tortuous formula for the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran, there is no plan in place for the day after the sanctions, when Iran, besieged as it is, nevertheless puts its nuclear arsenal on display for all to see. Would France still agree to dispatch aircraft to bomb Iranian facilities? Would President Bush still agree to freeze his European missile deployment scheme to get Vladimir Putin on board for an attack on Iran? Would the citizens of Europe, who today tell pollsters that Iran indeed poses a threat, accept the drastic rise in petroleum prices that would surely follow an attack on Iran?
Even without China and Russia, there are large holes in the sanctions net - Venezuela, for example, Iran's "sister state." South Africa is quite a good friend to Iran, which has also demonstrated that the development of a nuclear capability can be founded on small organizations, organized crime and even individual scientists.
The international community, which is looking to its leaders to neutralize Iran's nuclear bomb with their own hands, will have a hard time coming up with the goods. After all, this is the same community that imposed sanctions on Iraq and did not manage to prevent war being waged on it; that has dealt so incompetently with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; that cannot stop the atrocities taking place in Darfur or implement its resolutions in Lebanon, and has long since pushed Africa out of its field of vision.
In light of these fumblings on the part of "the international community," another working assumption can be adopted. Within two to three years that same community will be needing a new kind of diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran - the kind that the U.S. is using with North Korea, a diplomacy whose goal is to dismantle existing weapons and eliminate the motivation to use them. This would be a policy that is the opposite of sanctions. A policy that would give Iran the international status it desires, and for which purpose it is, among other things, developing nuclear capabilities. A policy that would include Arab states and Israel, in place of the kind that is perceived as a Western diktat to the Arab and Muslim world. In essence, that is the same policy that should be employed now, especially at a time when important voices in Iran are showing a willingness to conduct serious negotiations.
It would appear, however, that the world's approach to Iran has already gone on autopilot, to the point where the purpose of the sanctions is not to punish Iran but only to show that "the international community" is still alive and kicking. Its real achievement is the embrace between Sarkozy and Bush.
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