LONDON – Western powers are already planning use of the military option in the face of Iran’s insistence that it will go ahead with what it calls its nuclear research program, a leading expert says.
”The military option is being considered already, they are just not talking about it because it would be deeply unpopular,” Dr. Ali Ansari a leading Iran expert at The Royal Institute for International Affairs in London told IPS.
”Certainly, what they are considering is air strikes, I don’t think they will carry out an invasion,” Dr. Ansari said. After the Iraq experience that is not likely, he said.
But air strikes will not win international support, and will not be an option that could be domestically popular either, Dr. Ansari said.
”I think it would be a mistake,” he said. ”It will not achieve what they want to achieve, and I think it will make matters a whole lot worse in the Middle East.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that the military option is not being ruled out. He said the referral of the matter to the United Nations Security Council was only a first step. ”Then we have to decide what measures to take, and we obviously don’t rule out any measures at all,” he said.
Holding out such options puts Britain and the United States back in a position similar in many ways to that before the invasion of Iraq. If the Security Council fails to deliver what some Western governments want, they have held open the right to act on their own.
Any decision in the Security Council could be vetoed by China and Russia. Russia is in fact proposing delivery of nuclear fuel to the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr.
The chief diplomatic difference in the planning of an assault on Iran now is the stronger possibility that France and Germany which opposed the invasion of Iraq could back limited military action against Iran. Britain, France and Germany have come together as the "EU3" to restrain Iran’s nuclear program over the past two years.
The military option is believed to have strong backing against Israel, which carried out an air strike on the Osiraq nuclear center in Iraq in 1981. Some reports suggest that Israel on its own may carry out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with tacit backing from the United States and Britain.
But an air assault is not likely to be a simple repeat of the Osiraq attack. Iran has at least 25 or so nuclear facilities that all would be potential targets. And in anticipation of an attack, Iran would be expected to have taken due precautions.
”But any military strike would be a disaster because it would only strengthen the conservatives within Iran and put an end to the reformist movement,” Dr.. Zhand Shakibi from the London School of Economics and Political Science told IPS.
There is a real danger that such an attack will be carried out, he said. ”There are people in U.S. circles that will want to attack,” he said. Sanctions may not be considered as an option because ”sanctions are not effective,” he said.
The fundamental problem within Iran is a lack of trust in the United States ”because the U.S. has refused to guarantee the security of Iran,” he said. The United States had made it clear last month that there can be no such guarantees, he said.
”Sitting in Tehran if you see the US going to war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, there are people who will think in Iran that you might want to build a nuclear defense,” Shakibi said.
But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked alarm as much with his statements as his actions in ordering a resumption of Iran’s nuclear program in defiance of conditions laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He has called for Israel ”to be wiped from the face of the Earth.”
Iranian scientists have broken the seals at three nuclear installations that had been closed down in 2004 under an international agreement.
There are signs of political consensus in Iran over the decision. Former leader Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in a statement: ”Even if the Westerners destroy our scientists, their successors would continue to do the job. If they cause any disturbance they will ultimately regret it.”
But any military option is likely to be preceded by a phase of economic sanctions that could develop into sanctions as serious as those slapped on Iraq at the end of the first Gulf war in 1991.
But with some fears that Iran could develop nuclear weapons within as little as six months, the sanctions route may not be an available option.