Iran nuclear threat is real, expert says

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Quoting David Kay, former United Nations weapons inspector, Andrew Srulevitch, European affairs director of the Anti-Defamation League, told local ADL Board members, “it looks like Iran is 80 percent of the way to a functioning nuclear weapon.”

Srulevitch, who prior to joining ADL earlier this year had been director of international affairs at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and previously served as executive director of the UN Watch, addressed 25 ADL Board members and volunteers at a breakfast briefing last week at the St. Louis Club in Clayton.

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Srulevitch noted Kay’s statement was based on investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Six years ago, in August 2002, an Iranian exile group exposed Iran’s nuclear program. Since Iran was a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, they were obligated to declare all their nuclear work — the two main parts of which were a uranium enrichment program at Natanz, and a heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak.” Srulevitch said that the process of enriching uranium, can be used at varying levels, — low enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear power plants, whereas highly-enriched uranium can be used for nuclear weapons.

“For the past six years, the International Atomic Energy Commission has been inspecting Iranian facilities and documents and asking a lot of questions. The IAEA can basically issue two grades: they can certify that a country’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only or they can not certify. They do not say, ‘yes, Country X has a nuclear weapons program,'” Srulevitch said.

“For six years, the IAEA has been saying that they cannot certify the peaceful nature of Iran’s program,” he continued. “And with good reason.”

In the course of their inspections, he said, the IAEA has obtained Iranian technical documents that provide evidence of a nuclear weapons program, including information on warhead design, nuclear core production, documents on adapting missile warheads to accommodate a nuclear weapon.

Also, they have documents about designing underground nuclear test silos, he said. In addition, Iran had a covert nuclear program for about 20 years, during which time, they could have had access to the IAEA’s technical assistance for nuclear power which they chose to forego. Also, Srulevitch said, Iran refused Russia’s offer to sell it nuclear fuel for any power plants they want to build, but the spent fuel would be taken back to Russia, which would mean there could be no risk of plutonium being extracted.

Turning to the possible Iranian intentions — “why do they want a nuclear bomb?” Srulevitch said, “Everyone focuses on (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and his statements about wiping Israel off the face of the map. But he wasn’t the first one to say this. In calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, Ahmadinejad was quoting the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini.”

“And former President (Ali-Akbar) Rafsanjani said in 2001, ‘If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.'”

Srulevitch said that other reasons Iran wants nuclear weapons is to fulfill its stated ambition to “be a superpower” and to make sure Iran could win if a future world war should occur.

He added that Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini “sees America as Iran’s true enemy.” “Israel he regards with disgust, but the U.S. he sees as Iran’s greatest rival,” Srulevitch said.

The consequences of a nuclear Iran would be dire, Srulevitch warned. “Even if there is a 1 percent chance of Iran launching nuclear armed missiles at Israel, that’s too risky. But the threat to Israel is more than that of missiles falling on Tel Aviv and Haifa. A nuclear Iran will embolden Hezbollah, because they will perceive a limit on Israel’s freedom of action against an ally of a nuclear power. The same logic goes for other expressions of Iran’s aggressive foreign policy in the Gulf region and throughout the Middle East where Iran wants to be seen as the leader.”

Other consequences of an Iran with nuclear weapons could be a massive exodus of Jews from Israel, Srulevitch said, citing a poll that indicated that as many as 27 percent of Israel’s population would leave the Jewish State in such an eventuality.

Srulevitch also warned that a nuclear Iran could spur a region-wide nuclear arms race among such other nations as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which could also increase the probability of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons.

Srulevitch turned to the possible responses from the international community as well as the United States and Israel to the threat of a nuclear Iran. “In brief, there are three,” he said. “The logical first response, and the one we are seeing now, is a diplomatic approach of incentives and sanctions to convince the regime to end its nuclear weapons program. The second is a hybrid sanctions-military response, involving physical embargoes. The third is a category of military responses, of which there are three: a regional arms race, preventive military action and deterrence.”

Srulevitch discussed the pluses and minuses of each of the three reponses, pointing out that the present sanctions regime has not worked because Russia and China have watered down sanctions resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and the European nations, which depend upon Iranian oil, have been reluctant to take strong economic steps against Iran.

Discussing possible military action by either the United States or Israel against Iran’s suspected nuclear sites, Srulevitch pointed out that when Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear faciliity in Osirak in 1981 or the Syrian nuclear facility in September 2007, those targets were singular and effectively destroyed. Iran’s facilities are believed to be spread through mulitple locations and may be buried deep beneath the ground in bomb-proof bunkers for which Israel would not have an effective weapon.

“A successful strike is one that causes Tehran to end its nuclear program,” Srulevitch said. “An attack that destroyed much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would be counterproductive, if it led to widespread condemnation of the U.S., embolden Iran to reconstitute its program with the excuse that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself from such attacks, and deter the United States from taking military action against Iran’s rebuilt nuclear program or nuclear weapons programs in other countries.”

If a military strike is not the option, deterrence could be considered, Srulevitch said, “but deterrence is not without its risk as well…Deterring a nuclear Iran will be more difficult than deterring the Soviet Union was, for a number of reasons, including unlike the strong Soviet bureacracy, Iran is more susceptible to potential command-and-control problems. The Iranian Republican Guard Command is involved in many aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and also runs its terror operations, raising the risk that a bomb could find its way to terrorists.”

Srulevitch indicated that the threat of a nuclear Iran will certainly face the new administrations in both Washington and Jerusalem in the months and years ahead.

“I’ll end on that scary idea of deterrence failing with a nuclear armed Iran, because everything else we can talk about will be more optimistic,” he said.