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Preventing Both an Iranian Nuclear Weapon and War

Norman Robbins and Kevin Martin

The risk of war with Iran has increased. The US rejection of the nuclear swap arranged by Brazil and Turkey, the recent arrival of Israeli and American nuclear armed submarines in the Persian Gulf, Obama's exclusion of Iran from previous agreements that nuclear states would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, the impending doubling of US carrier task forces in the Gulf, and the upgrading of an U.S. airbase in Afghanistan 30 km from the Iranian border -- all signal or increase the likelihood of an intentional or unintentional clash.

In addition, Israeli officials have said that if there was no progress in stopping Iran's uranium enrichment by this summer or fall, they would consider an attack. Since hardly a single Iran expert expects sanctions to stop Iran from enriching uranium, this redline moment is bound to arrive unless cooler heads prevail. The failure of the President or Congress to back an impartial UN investigation of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla events, assures Israel that the US would likewise treat an attack on Iran as "self-defense".

There is almost no media discussion of the inevitability of US forces being involved in the aftermath of an Israeli attack, or the price in lives and treasure we would pay (this raises a seemingly taboo subject, that Israel's and the United States' interests are not necessarily always identical). Lastly, Congress may well pass legislation which would cut gasoline supplies to Iran -- hurting civilians, forcing reformist Iranians to unite with the hardliners, and further increasing tensions.

How did we arrive at this tinderbox moment? Whether the risk of a disastrous war is 10% or 40%, what can we do to de-escalate and still move toward the goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?


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As in the run-up to the Iraq war, the American mainstream media persist in presenting one "common wisdom" view about Iran, regardless of the real facts and options. As a result, most Americans do not know:

  • that Iran's per capita military spending is miniscule compared to that of the US, Israel, and Turkey;
  • that US intelligence and even some prominent Israeli leaders do not believe Iran would launch a suicidal attack on Israel;
  • that the nuclear swap agreement with Brazil and Turkey, while not stopping enrichment, could prevent Iran from enriching uranium to 20% for its medical reactor and could establish a precedent of Iran sending its enriched uranium outside the country for conversion to fuel rods under tight international inspection;
  • that Iran has repeatedly expressed interest in an international or capped enrichment program within Iran in return for intrusive inspections, which arms control experts say is the best insurance against a nuclear weapons program. This option seems far better than more futile sanctions, war, deterrence, or acceptance of an Iranian nuclear weapon;
  • that Iran backs a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, which would require intrusive inspections in all participating countries if it is to work;
  • that Middle East experts repeatedly point out that Iran and the U.S. have strong common interests in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, which could save American and civilian lives and reduce our expenditures, if only there could be a nuclear agreement as well, and
  • that indirectly or directly, an Israeli attack on Iran would endanger American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, de-stabilize those countries still further, increase terrorism recruitment, hike gas and food prices, depress our economy, and suck money and attention away from desperate needs here at home.

Perhaps the most important lasting solution, which might well have other benefits in the realm of peace-building, would be the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free, indeed a weapons of mass destruction-free, zone in the Middle East. Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal of at least 200 warheads will likely not be disposed in any other, less comprehensive fashion. While we advocate the global elimination of nuclear weapons, ridding one of the world's most troubled regions of the world's worst weapons should be an urgent, near-term priority. The consensus report from last month's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference called for a conference on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone to be held in 2012. The U.S. complained, and Israel was mum, as it is not a party to the treaty, but both countries should seize the opportunity presented by this call, rather than continue to block progress toward this long-sought goal.

Here's what we can do to prevent a disastrous war with Iran, and still respect the security interests of all parties:

  1. Get informed: See further background and references at:
  2. Don't miss any opportunity to explain the better solutions to the Iranian nuclear issue than sanctions or war;
  3. Stay alert to mainstream reports that leave out critical information or provide misleading information (an almost daily occurrence), and respond with letters to the Editor or call in, as appropriate;
  4. Call or write a personal letter to your Senators and Congress people, to counter their cave-in to unbalanced media reports or pressure groups.

Norman Robbins is an Emeritus Professor at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio and Iran consultant to Cleveland Peace Action. Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country's largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members.

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