It's Time to Deal With Nuclear Iran

Unless there is a major change in Iran's strategic calculus, which is not foreseeable at the moment, it is time to start thinking about policies to deal with a nuclear Iran.

The IAEA report on Iran's nuclear programme, released on 8 November, was the most damning report to date; describing in painful detail Iran's suspicious activities and weaponisation work.

The media hype and the build-up surrounding it was unprecedented, fed by selective leaks prior to its release.

But the report brought nothing new to the table. All the information it contained was already known to national intelligence agencies, and very little of it described activities conducted after Iran's temporary freeze in 2003. So why all the fuss?

Although the IAEA pointedly described that its information came from "more than ten member states", it is reasonable to assume that the bulk of it was the work of American and Israeli intelligence agencies. The report was essentially a compilation of previously known information with the IAEA's stamp of approval. This begs the question, why the need for IAEA blessing?

The international community has come to a standstill on Iran. Years of fruitless attempts at negotiations coupled with threats of military action and increasingly aggressive sanctions have not convinced the Iranians to change their course. Quite the opposite, no matter what is thrown at it, the Islamic Republic continues undeterred. So the West has decided to apply pressure any way it can.

Enter the IAEA.

The agency's legitimacy as international guarantor of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime (NPT) and the safety and security of civilian nuclear programmes, is being used to garner international support for more aggressive policies against Iran. In this particular case, for stronger international sanctions.

Although Israel has once again been banging the drums of war, it doesn't want to launch a strike against a powerful country like Iran, unless it has too. At least, not yet. Israel's hesitating because it is aware that it will not stop the programme, buying it, at most, two to three years, while increasing Iranian resolve and public support for nuclear weapons.

Israel views Iran as an existential threat. If the information in this report was enough on its own, to spark a military response, it is likely that Israel would have already done so. In responding to such threats, Israel has shown that it is prepared to live with international condemnation, like when it bombed Al-Kibar in 2007.

So the pressure the US and Israel placed on the IAEA to release this information was in support of another policy. The report is intended to generate momentum for a fifth wave of international sanctions against Iran.

To date, international sanctions have succeeded in slowing down Iran's programme. They have restricted access to essential foreign goods and materials that Iran cannot produce indigenously. They have also targeted individuals and entities involved in its nuclear and missile programmes, and raised the cost of doing business with Iran.

But they have not eliminated Iran's capacity or desire to continue on its nuclear trajectory. What would be required to affect Iran's strategic thinking, is not tighter unilateral sanctions from the US, EU and other allies, but the implementation of a unified sanctions regime, from all Iran's major trading partners.

But that isn't going to happen. Russia and China have not hidden their opposition, with the Russians immediately ruling out participation in new sanctions, and China loath to consider any policy which would have any negative impact on its energy supplies.

So the IAEA report has essentially preached to the choir, confirming to the international community what the Western governments have known for sometime. But what it hasn't done, is gain the support of the necessary partners for the kind of sanctions regime which would change Iran's strategic calculus.

There is no immediate apparent way to break this stalemate. Unless there is a major change in Iran's strategic calculus, which is not foreseeable at the moment, it is time to start thinking about policies to deal with a nuclear Iran.


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