August 13, 2009

Iran proposes no-attack agreement

Just when you think they have pushed the West as far as possible, the Iranians can still manage a surprise. Their latest tactic is a proposal for an international ban on attacks on nuclear facilities. They intend to introduce such a proposal at the September meeting of the 150 nations that belong to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So let me understand this. Iran fails to comply with virtually all international demands that it stop enriching uranium and allow complete inspections of its suspected nuclear facilities. Then they ask these same international organizations to agree to a ban on any action that might be taken against them. I think the Israelis have a word for that - chutzpah.

Natanz nuclear facility

The conventional wisdom would indicate that the Iranians are concerned about a possible Israeli strike against its facilities. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau has been very clear that the Jewish state will not permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons - "I promise that if I am elected, Iran will not acquire nuclear arms, and this implies everything necessary to carry this out."

Of course, the Iranians deny that this proposal has anything to do with a possible Israeli attack. Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh, stated that explicitly, followed by this bravado-laden claim, "Nobody dares to do anything against Iran." Say it enough and maybe you'll begin to believe it....

Let's not dismiss this as a hare-brained scheme. There is precedent for such a proposal. In 1990, the IAEA adopted a similar resolution named "Prohibition of All Armed Attacks Against Nuclear Installations Devoted to Peaceful Purposes Whether Under Construction or in Operation." Yes, that is the actual title - guess who drafted that resolution. Right, Soltaniyeh, the same Iranian who is the current delegate to the IAEA.

Should the Iranians be concerned, even though Soltaniyeh tells us that no one would dare attack Iran? There is precedent, as we all know. In 1981, Israeli war planes struck Iraq's French-made Osirak nuclear reactor at al-Tuwaythah, south of Baghdad. In 2006, Israeli planes hit a North Korean-made reactor in a remote area of northeast Syria.

As I have written in the past, it will be extremely difficult for Israel to successfully attack Iran's dispersed, hardened and well-defended nuclear facilities. That does not mean they will not try - senior Israelis regard a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to their country.

Iran hopes to divert attention away from the fact that it has defied repeated United Nations demands about its enrichment activities and hopes to focus the world on Israel. While the anti-attack resolution is debated in Vienna next month, the thousands of centrifuges at Natanz will continue to spin, continue to enrich uranium.

Pretty clever.