The Final Say
by Eric Margolis
by Eric Margolis
Iran's nuclear program is a danger to the entire world, U.S. President George Bush warned again last week as Washington pressed the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.
The uproar certainly helped distract public attention from the Bush administration's mounting domestic and foreign policy woes. It also showed how few people understand the Iranian nuclear question.
Experts say Iran may be in a position to fabricate a crude nuclear weapon in 5—10 years, but all the current alarms about Iran ignore a basic reality of nuclear weapons.
A nuclear device is useless unless it can be delivered with moderate accuracy over medium to long distances. One reason I was among the few insisting in 2002 that Iraq posed no threat was because it had no delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's most advanced missile could fly only 130 km. Its aircraft couldn't carry a nuclear weapon.
Even if Iran could fabricate, miniaturize and harden a nuclear warhead (a difficult achievement), the maximum range of the country's most advanced missile — the highly inaccurate Shahab-3 — is only about 1,300 km. Iran has no nuclear-capable aircraft.
The only way Iran could pose the grave nuclear threat to the U.S. that Bush and his aides loudly claim, would be to send a nuclear device by freighter or FedEx.
Each nuclear explosion has a distinctive signature. U.S. monitoring devices would quickly identify its provenance and vaporize the attacking nation within hours.
The CIA admits North Korea's Taep'o-dong missile can today hit North America with a nuclear warhead. India's developing ICBMs and sea-launched missiles will also be able to do so in a few years. Contrast Washington's nonchalance about these real programs with the contrived hysteria over Iran.
Even if nuclear armed, Iran's handful of missiles only have range to hit U.S. bases in the Gulf, or Israel. But these bases are so close, any nuclear strike would blow back on Iran.
That leaves Israel, which has the world's only operational anti-missile system and an estimated 200 atomic and hydrogen warheads. Iran knows it would be destroyed by massive thermonuclear retaliation from Israel — which could survive any surprise nuclear attack.
If Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons, it is for reasons of national prestige and self-defence. Iran is surrounded by nuclear-armed powers: Israel, India, Russia, Pakistan — and U.S. forces. The Cold War showed strategic nuclear weapons are useless as offensive arms, but effective in warding off attack, exhibit A being North Korea and Israel in 1973.
Yet while fulminating against Iran for developing nuclear power, the Bush administration is considering using tactical nuclear weapons itself against deeply buried targets — particularly in the case of Iran.
Too great a risk
But, neocons clamour, what if Iran gives a nuclear weapon to terrorists who sneak it into the U.S.? Iran has been at scimitars drawn with Sunni militant groups, notably al-Qaida and Taliban. How would it benefit by giving a bomb to fanatics that could be quickly traced back to Tehran? Seeing Baltimore blow up is not worth having Iran turned into a wasteland.
The European Union's opposition to Iran's nuclear program does not come from fear of Iranian attack, but from concern a U.S.-British attack on Iran will produce violence in its backyard, and enflame Muslim minorities across Europe.
Amidst the cries for war against Iran, no Bush administration official has yet proposed creation of a Mideast nuclear-free zone. The sole nuclear power in the region refuses to consider this option. But, in the end, that is the option most likely to eliminate the nuclear threat.
May 8, 2006
Copyright © 2006 Eric Margolis