IAEA Report: Is Israel's Sabre-Rattling Towards Iran A Diplomatic Tactic?
The publication of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report detailing Iran's efforts to build a nuclear weapon could have profound implications for the Middle East and beyond.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Iran had carried out tests specific to "the development of a nuclear device", according to the UN's atomic watchdog.
The document, handed over to the 35-member states of the IAEA Board of Governors on Tuesday, highlights a damning list of tests and a build up of technology and materials the application of which, according to the report, can only be for the development of a "nuclear explosive"
According to the document, the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons programme, which publically ended in 2003 following international diplomatic pressure, continued with the state making efforts to "procure nuclear related and dual use equipment", acquire "nuclear weapons development information" and "work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components."
The report states that "some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing."
In recent weeks, Israeli politicians have become increasingly strident in their public pronouncements on their regional neighbour, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling a nuclear Iran “a grave threat to the Middle East and the entire world, and of course it is a direct and grave threat on us."
Ehud Barak struck a similar tone, saying: "a situation could be created in the Middle East in which Israel must defend its vital interests in an independent fashion, without necessarily having to reply on other forces, regional or otherwise.”
Even the traditionally non-belligerent President, Shimon Peres, recently said that military action is "closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic action”, indicating that Israel may be genuinely considering a pre-emptive or preventative strike against the Iranian facilities.
However, opinion remains divided as to Israel’s next course of action.
“Israel is probably sabre rattling as they want to shape the context in which this report is received,” Wyn Bowen, a Professor of Non-Proliferation & International Security at King’s College London, told The Huffington Post UK.
“The US and Israeli goal is likely to be more economic and diplomatic pressure. The report provides more evidence that Iran’s [nuclear] programme has military intent, so the Israelis are laying the ground for any [UN] Security Council discussion in which the emphasis will be on convincing the Chinese and the Russians to buy into more sanctions, but that will be difficult particularly given China's energy ties to Iran.”
The way to gain an international consensus for stiffer penalties is for the Israelis to remind everyone that “there’s always the big stick in the background,” he adds.
However, Abraham Wagner, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs and an expert in nuclear proliferation, believes there’s more to the Israeli threats than just political or diplomatic manoeuvrings.
“Most recently the public statements in Israel by the former Mossad chief [Meir] Dagan and the former Shin Bet chief [Yuval] Diskin have ignited a debate in the Israeli press,” he tells The Huffington Post UK.
In May, Dagan said that a military strike against Iran would be “stupid”, adding that any strike against the programme would be “an illegal act according to international law.”
Both Diskin and Dagan are currently being investigated for allegedly leaking information about a proposed Israeli strike on Iran.
“Such a strike would not eliminate the program entirely, and might serve to provoke a war,” says Wagner. “This is the substance of Dagan's argument but clearly others in the Israeli Government now think otherwise.”
There is also the question of US involvement. Afghanistan and Iraq have all but quelled American appetite for foreign intervention, with the US role in Libya, although significant, played from the sidelines.
Next year’s election is also likely to halt any American military involvement. As Bowen says, “does Obama want to get stuck into Iran mid-way through a campaign?”
Israel could go it alone. “I would not rule that out,” says Wagner “but I think it highly unlikely that the US would provide any military or intelligence support. They have repeatedly told the Israelis not to undertake such a strike… Netanyahu may want to do this,” he says, adding that the domestic and international pressures not to strike look likely to prevail.
So the most likely outcome appears to be a stalemate, with perhaps more diplomacy and possibly stiffer UN sanctions.
“It is clear that further sanctions will not be effective without support from Russia and China,” says Wagner. Here Russia will provide the support, and the Chinese will not, despite repeated assurances that they would do so. The critical actor as far as sanctions go is the Chinese and this remains the problem.”
"There may be some lip service paid to tougher sanctions,” says Bowen, “adding names of certain people to travel ban lists or barring trading with certain entities, but to do anything more significant with Iran you’d have to start looking at their oil and gas sectors, and China is just not going to be interested.”