Before the end of March the IAEA will reveal their next steps in the cat-and-mouse game over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons development programme.
The general impression given by 'Western' news reporting lines on the issue is that Iran is intent on developing a nuclear weapon, but this simply hasn't been proven yet because Iran has been concealing its accelerating nuclear weaponisation activities, and soon they will be so deep underground that they will be militarily impenetrable. Hence the apparent urgency - and the prospect of a third and fourth IAEA delegation visit within two months.
This narrative lies behind the US, UK and French military build up around Iran - in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Djibouti and Bahrain, on the islands of Socotra and Masirah, and in the waters off the coast of Iran. It also underpins the drive towards blockade-type economic sanctions which will apply from 1 July 2012. The logic is that by applying economic and military pressure, the Iranian regime will be forced to negotiate to give up its nuclear weapons programme, cease uranium enrichment to 20%, and allow more intrusive IAEA inspections.
Is this 'pro-war' narrative supported by the facts, or does it have elements similar to those from 2002 over Iraq? Is there a campaign to go to war regardless, and are the facts being fixed around the policy? If the latter, then the implication is that the blockade-type sanctions and the military build up are simply preparations for war, rather than part of a complex negotiating strategy. Unfortunately it does look that way if the hard facts are contrasted with the information which is fed to the media by military and security institutions on both sides of the Atlantic.
However the Iran situation is very different to Iraq. Obama and his top military and security appointees are against war with Iran, and state quite clearly that, based on information from all top US intel agencies, Iran is not building a nuclear weapon. They go further and state that Iran has not made any decision to do so in the future, has not diverted any nuclear material, and is currently enriching uranium ton 20% for civilian purposes.
Obama's Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, and his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, have both warned Israel that if they try and drag the US into a war with Iran, by attacking unilaterally, it will not work, and the US will not 'complete the job' (Israel cannot complete such a mission on its own).
What is astonishing to most politicians in the UK and the rest of Europe is that a campaign for war is being pursued on an global basis by some institutions in the US, with the support of the Israeli leadership, against the wishes of the President and his top military, security and diplomatic officials. Indeed, it is widely concluded that the campaign to go war with Iran is as much about engineering an Obama defeat in this years elections than it is about stopping Iran from weaponising its nuclear capability.
There are some tell-tale signs that help to clarify this.
First, Iran was first accused of developing a nuclear weapon in 1982, when it was predicted to have a deliverable weapon by 1984. In 1984 Jane's Defence Weekly announced that Iran would have a bomb by 1986. This pattern has been repeated many times since, until 2009 when the 'bomb-in-two-years' story flashed across everyone's news screens again.
The news narrative following the latest (8 Nov 2011) IAEA report reflected again this repeated accusation. However, the report itself in effect concurred with the USA's 2007 and 2010 combined intel reports (NIEs), that the Iranians gave up their fledgling weaponisation programme in 2003.
Second, the 8 November IAEA report referred to some additional concerns arising from new information about nuclear weapons development at the site where Iran develops its conventional longer range missiles - Parchin, a site visited by IAEA inspectors a number of times. This information (since ridiculed by US experts) was said to have originated from a laptop obtained by the IAEA via Israel - a laptop that was not available for independent verification. It was Parchin that the Iranian's are alleged, controversially, to have refused an IAEA visit in February. The 'Parchin affair, looks very similar to events in the run up to Iraq war.
These manoeuvrings are reflected in the UK, with hawkish tones coming from the UK Foreign Secretary - who said 'There can be no plausible civilian explanation for Iran's nuclear enrichment' - but PM Cameron more recently reflecting the White House line and warning Israel that there can be no justification at present for an attack.
Will there be an Israeli attack before the new blockade sanctions apply on 1 July 2012, or a US/UK attack after? It depends who wins the argument. Given the devastating effect that such a war will have on the world economy and in loss of life, it is worth keeping one's eye on the manoeuvrings in Washington DC and London. We can only await new negotiations and for the Iranians to ratify the 'Additional IAEA Protocol' and allow more extensive inspections.
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