It is appalling, if unsurprising, to read the neoconservative cheerleader Oliver Kamm arguing in these pages that the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki 62 years ago saved lives and ended suffering. The subtext is plain. The same camp whose vocal endorsement led to the present catastrophe in Iraq are now hawkishly gazing at Iran. The same absurd and dangerous logic that defends the nuclear atrocities of 1945 can now be used to support the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against Iran - the threat of which in turn makes the idea of a conventional attack appear more palatable. Now, more than ever, we should be unequivocal in our moral position: as Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said, the mere possession of nuclear weapons today should be viewed with the same condemnation and horror as we have regarded slavery and genocide in our modern civilized world.
Astonishingly, the calamity of Iraq has failed to dampen the belligerent clique within the White House. The arrival of an IAEA team in Tehran yesterday to discuss inspections is equally unlikely to dissuade advocates of a strike, nuclear or conventional. Such an assault would be in flagrant breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but it would hardly be the first time the US has disregarded the 1968 accord.
The treaty obliges nuclear states to pursue negotiations in good faith towards cessation of the nuclear arms race and on to disarmament. It also guarantees non-nuclear states help with and access to peaceful nuclear know-how and technology.
All five original nuclear states are in violation of the treaty for failing to take effective action towards disarmament. The US systematically contravened the treaty in the 1980s and 1990s by successfully bringing pressure to bear on western governments and companies, as well as China and Russia, not to enter nuclear collaborations with Iran - which, as a signatory of the treaty, has been entitled since 1970 to receive material, technology and information for the peaceful use of nuclear power. This eventually drove Iran, after the bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant by Israel in 1981, on to the black market in order to pursue its nuclear programme. The subsequent partial concealment of Iran's nuclear activities gave rise to western suspicion of its nuclear ambitions, but rarely does the media characterisation make reference to the context in which the recourse to the black market took place. It is rare, too, to see mention made of the fact that the IAEA has found no evidence of a weapons programme after over 2,200 hours of snap inspections of Iranian nuclear plants.
In marked contrast to western suspicion of Iran, the real nuclear programme in Israel has been eagerly sponsored by the governments of France, Britain and the US. They have actively supported Israel's development of an arsenal estimated to include more than 200 warheads. It is a weapons programme Tel Aviv is determined to shroud in secrecy. Mordechai Vanunu served an 18-year prison sentence, including 12 years in solitary confinement, after speaking publicly of Israel's possession of nuclear weapons in 1986. Last month he was sentenced to a further six months in prison for speaking to foreigners .
Even as Iran discusses renewed inspections with the IAEA, the risk of a military attack on its nuclear facilities remains high. Israel's threat to deploy nuclear bunker busters to destroy Iran's weapons potential is in line with the US's national security strategy of 2006 and the Pentagon's doctrine for joint nuclear operations which justifies use of tactical nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states as a "deterrent". The ultimate irony is that the leading violator of the treaty, the US, and the region's sole nuclear power and non-signatory, Israel, are contemplating nuclear strikes on the pretext of nuclear limitation.
Last year John McCain, a Republican presidential hopeful and an advocate of keeping the military option against Iran on the table, was asked what the consequence of an attack on Iran would be. His response was only one word: "Armageddon." After three devastating wars driven by the US, Britain and Israel since 9/11, the prospect of a catastrophic war against Iran hangs over the region.
While the world remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an international statement endorsed by dozens of leading peace, anti-nuclear and community organisations in the UK, US and Israel, as well as five Nobel laureates, calls for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel could do the region a great service by announcing immediately that it is to disable its nuclear arsenal.
· Abbas Edalat is professor of computer science and mathematics at Imperial College London and founder of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran; Mehrnaz Shahabi is the campaign's executive editor www.campaigniran.org
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