Upsetting the Balance of Power

The head of Israeli Defense Ministry’s Security-Diplomatic Bureau visited the Kremlin this week, intent upon convincing the Russians that equipping Iran, and perhaps Syria, with an upgraded version of their S-300 air defense system “would disturb the balance of power in the Middle East.”

What balance?

The Russians had earlier supplied both Iran and Syria with the Tor-M1 short-range air defense system. Iran had positioned dozens of the units around its nuclear facilities, all of which – including the Russian-built about-to-be-fueled nuclear power plant at Bushehr – have long been subject to a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Such protection shouldn’t have been necessary for an IAEA Safeguarded facility. But the paranoid Israelis had already destroyed – in 1981 – a French-built about-to-be-fueled IAEA Safeguarded nuclear reactor at the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Center in Iraq.

According to an official Israeli statement:

“The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing – whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium – would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.”

Of course, Osiraq would not have been capable of producing either weapons-grade plutonium or enriched uranium at all.

Furthermore, as the Security Council noted in UNSCR 487, passed in the immediate aftermath of the Israeli attack, being;

“Fully aware of the fact that Iraq has been a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons since it came into force in 1970, that, in accordance with that treaty, Iraq has accepted IAEA safeguards on all its nuclear activities, and that the agency has testified that these safeguards have been satisfactorily applied to date.”

And, after noting that under the terms of Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council warned that

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”

Consequently, the Security Council

  1. “Strongly condemns the military attack by Israel in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct;
  2. “Calls upon Israel to refrain in the future from any such acts or threats thereof;
  3. “Further considers that the said attack constitutes a serious threat to the entire IAEA safeguards regime which is the foundation of the non-proliferation Treaty;
  4. “Fully recognises the inalienable sovereign right of Iraq, and all other States, especially the developing countries, to establish programs of technological and nuclear development to develop their economy and industry for peaceful purposes in accordance with their present and future needs and consistent with the internationally accepted objectives of preventing nuclear-weapons proliferation.”

The Israelis paid no attention to UNSCR 487, or any of the dozens of other resolutions passed over the years, all of them approved by the United States, all critical of Israeli actions, all calling upon them to refrain from such acts in the future.

Of course, largely as a result of the actions by Bush-Cheney, the NPT – which guaranteed “inalienable” rights to signatories and provided an associated IAEA regime for ensuring that all Safeguarded programs were for peaceful purposes – has not merely been “threatened,” it has been turned on its head.

In particular, back in 2004, the Paris Accord negotiations were undertaken by the Iranians with the Brits-French-Germans in the hope they could obtain “objective guarantees” that the EU would defy the United States, would reestablish normal diplomatic and trade relations, and would, inter alia, respect both Iran’s NPT “inalienable” rights and European NPT obligations.

On March 23, 2005, the Iranians made a confidential proposal to the EU wherein the Iranians offered to forgo indefinitely the chemical processing of spent fuel to recover unspent uranium and plutonium, and to limit their uranium-enrichment activities to meeting contingency refueling requirements for Iranian nuclear power plants, planned and under construction.

The Iranians also offered to submit to “continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at the conversion and enrichment facilities to provide unprecedented added guarantees.”

Bush-Cheney-Rice-Bolton didn’t allow the Brits-French-Germans to even acknowledge the confidential offer, much less respond to it.

When the Iranians got no response, they declared the Paris Accord negotiations at an end. Bush promptly went ballistic, strong-armed the IAEA Board into demanding – quite illegally – that Iran return to the Paris Accord negotiating table. Or else.

When that didn’t work, Bush strong-armed the IAEA Board into “reporting” the Iranian “dossier” to the UN Security Council, hoping the Security Council would demand that Iran return to the Paris Accord negotiating table. Or else.

That didn’t work either.

So finally, Bush strong-armed the UN Security Council, itself, into – quite illegally – passing a series of resolutions, effectively requiring Iran to “suspend” indefinitely all its IAEA Safeguarded programs.

Or else!

Well, little wonder the Iranians bought and installed around their IAEA Safeguarded facilities the Russian Tor-M1 anti-aircraft defense systems.

But then, in September of 2007, the Israelis attacked and destroyed what they claimed was a plutonium-producing reactor, being built by the North Koreans out in the Syrian desert.

There have been reports that whatever was there was also defended by a Russian Tor-M1 anti-aircraft defense system, and that the principal reason for the attack was to check out the effectiveness – or lack, thereof – of the Iranian system.

So, the Russians agreed last year to sell the Iranians – and perhaps, also, the Syrians – their basic “export version” of the more capable S-300 anti-aircraft defense system. The truck-mounted S-300 is roughly comparable to our Patriot, which is supposed to be effective against high-flying aircraft and certain types of ballistic missiles.

Then, this past June, Israel carried out a large-scale military “exercise” in the Mediterranean as a “warning” to Iran that it had “the capacity to make an air strike on its nuclear facilities.”

Reportedly, an important objective of the “exercise” was to check out the effectiveness – or lack, thereof – of the “export version” of the Russian S-300 sited on Cyprus.

Well, apparently the Israelis satisfied themselves that Russian system wasn’t effective, either.

But, then came the revelation that the Israelis had apparently secured the rights to launch their attack against Iran’s safeguarded facilities from airfields in Saakashvilli’s Georgia.

Well, that did it.

So, there’s talk the Russians will now provide Iran the S-400 defense system. According to the Russians, that vastly upgraded (over the S-300 “export version”) system is capable of detecting and engaging targets (including stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and medium-range ballistic missile) out to a range of 250 miles.

You can see how the Iranians having such defenses might constitute what the Israelis would consider a “disturbance in the balance of power.”

Read more by Gordon Prather

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.