Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the US
- Helal Pasha
- November 29, 2014
Pakistan Daily Times
Now Iran is in a position to challenge the US’s interests in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. The crisis in Iraq is also forcing the US to look at options that can help salvage a dismal situation.
The US and Iran are both feeling the heat in this area. A divided Iraq, without a moderate government in Iran, could become a bastion of Shia fundamentalism in an increasingly sectarian Middle East. Given the difficulties in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear weapons acquisition programme sounds a 10 fire alarm for the US. On the Iranian side, a military standoff with the US could be disastrous. The proliferation of nuclear states in the region and hostile relations with Israel do provide Iran with a rationale for overt or covert nuclear acquisitions. Pointing to the hostile US attitude, Iran also feels that nuclear capabilities just might save it from a surprise US military intervention.
The acrimonious nature of US-Iran relations makes the US’s arguments against Iran self-serving. The US has never acted against any other nuclear state. Both India and Pakistan acquired nuclear capabilities within the full view and knowledge of the US. The superpower had been well aware of India and Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions since 1974 but never took any steps to deter either country. The Israeli nuclear programme is believed to be far more advanced than the current Iranian programme. The US’s nuclear deal with India and quiet acceptance of the Pakistani programme also set a precedent that could jeopardise the nuclear weapons control and monitoring system.
There are several inconsistencies in the US’s arguments against Iran. The US emphasises that Iran is looking to acquire nuclear devices without any reason or strategic rationale. It argues that, unlike Pakistan and India, Iran does not have any historical enemy in the region that could assault Iran. Iran and Israel face off against one another in several areas but are geographically separated. It is not likely that Iran will ever face the Israeli army on some battlefield around Tehran or even on the Iraqi border. The Pakistani and Indian nuclear arsenals are country-specific. The odds of India or Pakistan using nuclear weapons against any third country are nonexistent. With the India-US nuclear deal and effective monitoring of the Pakistani programme, chances are that both India and Pakistan might never use their respective nuclear arsenals.
Iran has adroitly tried to counter the US’s arguments by positioning itself as the primary opponent of Israel in the Middle East. Iran has provided military and financial help to Hamas and it has whipped up massive anti-Israeli sentiments within the Iranian population. Iran has been championing the Palestinian cause on international forums as well to promote the idea that Israel is the enemy that may attempt to destroy the Iranian state. These provocative Iranian statements about Israel are primarily aimed at whipping up a frenzy in Israel and the Israeli lobby in the US. Iran’s continued stand against Israel has indeed weakened its already unconvincing position that it does not wish to acquire nuclear weapons.
With every passing day, it is becoming apparent that the solution in Iraq lies in the division of the country into Shia, Sunni and Kurd semi-independent states. The breakup of the central authority in Iraq would allow the US to maintain a permanent presence in any one of the sectors. Currently, the Islamic State (IS) insurgency in Iraq is located in the Sunni areas but could spread to other parts of Iraq. The US believes that it can suppress the insurgency in the Sunni areas if it has to only deal with a small geographic area. The Iranian government, sensing the US’s predicament, is attempting to increase its influence in the Shia areas. Thus, it aims to tie the US’s hands completely in Iraq before the division of Iraq takes place.
Nuclear proliferation is not the only issue that has put Iran and the US onto the confrontational path. The cornerstone of the US’s policy in the Persian Gulf is the uninterrupted exploration, development and transportation of oil to international markets. Human rights violations by the state in Iran are also a major concern for the international community. The US is keen to resolve the Iranian conundrum and is exerting enormous pressure on Iran to soften its position on terrorism, its nuclear ambitions and the human rights situation. The primary motivating factor for the US remains oil and gas supplies to international markets. The current Iranian government is capable of disrupting the supply lines in the Persian Gulf. The US would like to see a friendly regime in Iran to ensure the potential of disruption in oil supplies is diminished or eliminated entirely.
Earlier this year, the US and Iran attempted to resolve their differences. Some consensus was developed over Iran’s nuclear programme. The short-lived thaw in US-Iran relations, roundly criticised in the US, did not change the nature of differences in both countries. The Roman Effect dominates US foreign policy decisions. After 37 years of a hostile relationship with the US, Arab countries and Israel, Iran now plans to be a regional power that has some international clout. Despite Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear warheads, it lacks the capabilities needed to threaten the US’s military in the foreseeable future. Still, a minor disruption could jeopardise the US’s ambitions in the area. The region has already seen more bloody conflicts than any other part of the world in the last 30 years.
The current talks over the nuclear programme present some hope but looking at the wide gulf between the two countries and the mistrust that exists, the chances are the current round of talks will merely drag on the process and no long-term solution will be reached. The countries in and around the area should brace for continued violence for some time to come.
The writer is a management consultant based in the US. He is a freelance writer and tweets as @HarPasha