Is the Media Exaggerating the Iranian Nuke Threat?

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Salon.com

Is the Media Exaggerating the Iranian Nuke Threat?

If Iran is open to U.N. inspections, it's probably not constructing nuclear weapons

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, reaffirmed Monday that a date would soon be set for the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the planned nuclear enrichment facility near Qom about which the Iranian government informed the IAEA on Monday a week ago.

 

If Iran really does permit full, ongoing IAEA inspections of the facility, then it cannot be used for weapons production. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted Sunday that Iran cannot use the Natanz plant for bomb-making because it is being regularly inspected by the UN.

Scott Ritter, an experienced inspector himself, dispels the myths about the new Qom facility and urges against new economic sanctions on Iran as counter-productive. Greater transparency and more inspections should be the demand of the West, he says.

I made the same point on MSNBC on Monday with Nora O'Donnell:

 

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And no here's something you won't read in major American newspapers or see on American television.

The USG Open Source Center translated remarks to Iranian television of General Hoseyn Salami, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Air Force concerning Iran's Monday missile tests (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network Television (IRINN), Monday, September 28, 2009):

Gen. Salami said, "as long as our enemies act within a political domain, our behavior will be completely political. However, if they want to leave the domain of political action and enter the domain of military threat, then our action will be exactly and completely military."

Many Western media reports implied that the missile tests were launched along with threats to wipe out Israel. But note that the commanding officer overseeing them explicitly restated Iran's "no first strike" pledge. To my knowledge, no current high official in the Iranian executive has threatened war against Israel, which in any case would be foolhardy given Israel's nuclear arsenal (see below). Iranian officials do say they hope the "Zionist regime" will collapse as the Soviet Union did.

The report also said:

Salami said the strategic objective in staging the war game was "to demonstrate the Iranian nation's resolution in defending revolutionary and national values and ideals as well as to make a new attempt to upgrade the level and quality of the Islamic Republic's deterrence against any probable threat given the current political and international atmosphere."

Salami linked the tests strongly to Iran's defensive needs and pointed out they came before the anniversary of Iraq's 1980 attack on Iran, which kicked off a highly destructive 8-year war that killed on the order of 250,000 Iranians. (The United States supported Iraq in that war.) The trauma of being invaded by a rapacious enemy at a moment of national weakness after the 1979 revolution has deeply informed Iranian political leaders' views of the world ever since.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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