IRAN AND THE GREEN WAVE (PART II)
Ahmadinejad and the Atom
The years 2010-2011 were not characterized only by an intestine clash in Iran's leadership. The country was touched by events that could effectively influence its future: the nuclear program and the consequent sanctions by the UN.
The Iranian nuclear program
It dates back to the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi; it was suspended following the Israeli bombing of the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq in 1981 and then re-started.
Iran has had nuclear know-how and technology for over 20 years thanks to the direct help of Russia and Pakistan and to the indirect help of China and north Korea.
In August 2002 during a conference in Washington, the "People's Mujahedeen" (MEK), an armed faction opposing the regime, announced that Iran was about to complete the construction of a site for the enrichment of uranium in Natanz, where in 2003 tens of centrifuges would have been operational; the enrichment would have been of modest proportions, solely for the medical sector; after Natanz a number of other "key" sites would be built: Isfahan, Arak and lastly Fordow, near Qom.
In nature, uranium contains about 0,7% "fissile uranium" (uranium-235); the rest is uranium-238, "non fissile": the number defines its atomic weight.
Enrichment is the process through which fissile uranium is separated - through the use of a centrifuge - from non-fissile uranium.
Inspections by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Natanz did not find any traces of "highly enriched" uranium. It is helpful to note that uranium: Is enriched by 3,5% for use in electric plants; by 20% for medical use; by at least 90% for military use.
We must also note that IAEA's inspectors operate on the basis of a specific "Treaty of non-proliferation" (TNP) and an adjunct protocol signed by the adhering nations (the "adjunct" treaty allows for inspections of sites that are not listed in the original Treaty). Singularly, while Israel never signed the TNP, Iran did. The countries that fall short of respecting the TNP are proposed for sanctions by inspectors and other adhering nations to the UN Security Council (15 members) for approval.
Iran's nuclear program was also the object of several meetings of the so-called "5+1 club" (the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), which has invited Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium in order to avoid negative consequences, namely the sanctions.
In the past Russia had proposed that Iran transfer on Russian ground all activities related to the production cycle of fissile nuclear material: the offer was refused. Iran - which is now facing the 4th round of sanctions - has declared that the sanctions are illegitimate and anticipated its pulling out from TNP accords in case of further international pressure about its nuclear program. In the meanwhile Iran has installed 6000 centrifuges in Natanz (enrichment 2-4%) that should be increased to 50.000 by 2013.
Natanz uranium enrichment facility
The United States have abandoned all attempts to find an accord and press for sanctions which - if applied to petrol exports - could compromise the economy and the survival of the Iranian regime.
That is why the US have abandoned the Turkish/Brasilian initiative to enrich Iranian uranium in one of the two countries; some analysts say that if Iran pulls out of the TNP, it could be able to build an atomic weapon within a year!
These events has marked the years 2010-2011, with a worsening of Iran's condition by the end of 2011 with the application of the 4th round of sanctions for not suspending the enrichment of uranium.
Once again, Iran has signed the TNP while Israel refuses to do so: the paradox is that "those who secretly have the supreme weapon refuse to sign a treaty that would prohibit them from having it while they accuse another country that has signed the treaty (and that doesn't have the weapon) of wanting to build one", as stated by the publication "Limes", n.1/12 page. 26.
The 4th round of sanctions
The 4th round of sanctions against Iran was approved with resolution n.1929 of June 2nd, 2010 by the UN Security Council. It includes:
A ban on Iranian investments abroad in the nuclear field;
A ban on all sales to Iran of heavy military equipment (tanks, airplanes, warships);
A ban on all activity by Iran regarding ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads;
The reinforcing of inspections in harbors and at sea of all cargo ships suspected of transporting prohibited materials;
The ban on all countries to participate financially with Iran in the nuclear field;
The ban on the opening by Iran of any financial structure abroad (be it single-party or joint-venture) that could contribute to the development of its nuclear program;
The resolution was approved with 12 favorable votes, 2 against (Turkey and Brazil), and 1 abstained (lebanon).
On November 21st 2011 the US, UK, Canada and other western countries have announced - on top of resolution 1929 - a number of "unilateral" sanctions against Iran in the financial and energy sectors.
France is also looking to implement similar measures, among which is the freezing of capitals of the Central Iranian Bank and the suspension of oil imports from Iran.
Despite denials by Iran, the 4th round of sanctions plus the "unilateral" ones have taken a toll on Iran's economy.
The pull-outs of Shell and Total have dealt a blow to the oil sector, especially in economic and technological terms.
The sanctions on several Iranian companies (the lists of which - privates, companies and banks - are attached to the resolution) have had a negative impact on commerce. The sanctions aim at the country's financial system, which is largely dependent on oil-money.
Iran, the world's n.2 OPEC oil-producing country - with the 4th round of sanctions - has had to limit its imports of "distilled" fuel, the availability of which depends on imports (from India, China, Venezuela, etc.) by 30%. This has forced Iran to re-structure some of the oil-dependent production cycles and to raise the price of fuel at home.
The 4th round of sanctions is just the last regarding Iran's nuclear program. It was preceded by the following resolutions:
N. 1737 of December 2006, approved unanimously by the UN Security Council, which bans the sale to Iran of technologies for the enrichment of uranium. Also, the same resolution banned some of the regime dignitaries from traveling abroad and froze their assets;
N. 1747 of March 2007, also approved unanimously, which introduces the prohibition to sell Iran military airplanes, assault helicopters, missiles and armored vehicles. The resolution also prohibited government figures from traveling abroad, including members of the Pasdaran, froze their assets and those of the Iranian institutions, including the Central Bank of Teheran;
N. 1803 of March 2008 (14 favourable, 1 abstained - Lebanon) which not only bans those involved in the nuclear program from traveling abroad, but also imposes inspections on suspicious Iranian ships.
Regarding the sale of refined petrol to Iran for internal use (the country does not have the technology nor the plants for refining at home), Iran still has good relations with Venezuela (as seen last January during Ahmadinejad's visit to Venezuela, which the White House dubbed "tour of tyrants"). In 2010, Iran's import of refined petrol reached an average of 20.000 barrels/day, not mentioning the considerable imports in chemical components for the treatment of oil.
The possible war against Iran
Regardless of the evaluation of sanctions imposed against Iran for its nuclear program and of the intestine clashes among its governing elite due to the downfall of its economy (brought about by the sanctions), the year 2012 seems to be another troublesome year for the middle-east:
Iran doesn't seem ready to yield on its nuclear program;
Israel sees its supremacy over the middle-eastern region, that was already scathed by the strong rise of concurrent countries in the area like Turkey, in peril in view of Teheran's nuclear proliferation;
There has been talk (and there still is) about a possible "surgical" Israeli raid against Iranian nuclear sites, with or without the support of the United States;
The US are nearing elections in November, where the outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama will run against the Republicans that stand, in case of victory, by Israel's side. Some are even favorable to the "raid" against Iran.
The bombing of nuclear sites (Israel would have put its hands on bombs that could hit even the underground site of Fordow, near Qom) would not be supported by the UN (Russia and China would veto it). The Iranian regime could use the raids to find new cohesiveness, strength and national dignity, especially if the raids are against its nuclear program.
In such a scenario there could be a possible counter-attack against US military structures in the Persian gulf (Kuwait, Baharain, Qatar, U.A.E, Oman and Saudi Arabia) and against those same countries. A last resort measure could also be to stage a blockade in the strait of Hormuz, through which 17 million barrels of petrol (a third of the world's commercial exchanges in oil) transit each day.
Here is a short list of possible scenarios determined by an attack on Iran by Israel (with or without the support of the United States):
A limited attack against Iranian nuclear sites by Israel with the support of the United States would cause a loss of international consensus by the US with negative repercussions for President Obama in the November elections. For Iran it would mean a strengthening of the regime. The blocking of the strait of Hormuz would have to be carefully evaluated because of the fallback on Iranian economy and on the international public opinion.
A generalized attack on all nuclear sites by the US-Israel coalition would also mean a loss of consensus during the November elections. The Iranian regime would be reinforced and would probably close the Hormuz strait - as a retaliation for those responsible for the attacks (US, Israel). In this scenario Iran would also attack objectives in the middle-eastern region, both directly and indirectly (through mobilization of Hezbollah and other extremist organizations).
An attack by Israel without the support of the United States would - regardless of the end results - provoke a wave of Islamic terrorism: Israel would become the main destabilizing factor in the region, for the delight of Iranian propaganda. The US interests in the region would still be a target for Islamic terrorism, which would still see the US responsible for the Israeli attacks.
Despite President Natanyahu's stance in favor of a military attack against Iran, the above scenarios show that the military solution is not convenient for both Iran and Israel (with or without the involvement of the US). An option could be to shift the situation to a generalized conflict following non-deliberate actions by one of the contenders (Iran, Israel). Iran has shown no will to suspend their nuclear program, even after a possible attack. It is backed by its population's nationalism and by an increase of its credibility in the region. The more recent news speak of terrorist attacks against Iran's nuclear scientists, the dynamics and financiers of which are not clear (Teheran says that it is the Mossad). The motives and financiers of the failed assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador in Washington by a presumed Iranian terrorist cell are also unclear as of yet.
This latest attempt would have risen the tension between United States, Iran and between Iran and Saudi Arabia (SA has always accused Iran of supporting Shiite minorities against the leading Sunnis in the Gulf countries).
In conclusion, the middle-eastern situation, with the clash among Iran's leaders Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, the 4th round of sanctions against the country and the possibility of further talks of the "5+1 group" about Iran's nuclear program, contains extremely unstable elements, so much so that the situation could get out of control even because of minor events or non-deliberate ones.
There could, however, be factors that would alleviate the tension. One could be the outcome of the November elections in the US (the republican candidates are openly in favor of Israel). Another could be the upcoming elections in Iran (2013): expectations are high on the candidate Qalibaf, present mayor of Teheran with high intellectual and humane characteristics.
The aforementioned considerations thus qualify the military solution as one that would harm both contenders (Israel and Iran). Diplomacy and the rigorous application of the sanctions still seems the most viable solution, despite the discomforting outcomes of previous attempts (from Obama's hand of friendship to the mediation of the 5+1 group in an attempt to "de-locate" the enrichment of uranium).