Showdown in the Middle East

The Iranian prospects of developing nuclear weapons that could radically shift the balance of power in the Middle East has been a geopolitical concern and logistics problem for the West since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Regardless of several reports from a team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors that proclaim suspicions, but no evidence of nuclear bomb production in Iran, the war rhetoric continues to heat up. The American government and the European Union (EU) have imposed an array of punitive sanctions against the Iranian nation due to the continued expansion of their ambitious nuclear program. While Israel and Iran continue to fuel the crises through political posturing and verbal jousting, an historic overview of their respective nuclear programs lends clarity to the current situation.


It is noteworthy that similar assertions were quietly levied against Iran, Pakistan, and Israel as far back as circa 1978 when it was presented in the prestigious Scientific American journal that these countries were experimenting with nuclear energy. Living through this era it was apparent these budding nuclear programs were being discretely conducted without mainstream media attention. As such, very few Americans were aware of their advancing nuclear agendas. Nonetheless, back in 1967 when the staunch American ally, the Shah of Iran, was entrenched in power (the revered title associated with Persian emperors or kings), the United States then supplied the so-called Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) to Iran with weapon-grade uranium fuel for the reactor. It was during this period of good will between the nations that the Iranian nuclear program was born. 


After the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution deposed the Shah (who ruled from 1941-1979), the Ayatollah Khomeini assumed authority. At that time Iran no longer received replacement uranium fuel from the U.S. or Europe due to a myriad of imposed sanctions. However, this does not imply that Asian countries, or the like, also adhered to such prohibitions. Fast-forward to 2012 and Iran’s nuclear energy program consists of the TRR, an aging light-water research reactor, plus four other known reactors that are either still under construction or recently in operation. The preeminent Iranian reactor is called the  Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant that commenced construction in 1975, but supposedly did not become fully operational until 2011. To date, Tehran has publicly maintained their nuclear program and uranium enrichment practice is peaceful as it is intended for domestic energy production and medical purposes.


Conversely, there has been speculation in the West that the Iranians may have developed several nuclear weapons (perhaps with limited technological aid from trading partners Russia, China, or North Korea), but with a primitive delivery system. Of utmost concern to Israel is the fear this “primitive” delivery window time is rapidly closing. Meanwhile, Dr. Ollie Heinonen, a former IAEA Deputy Director, chief inspector, and leading expert on the Iranian nuclear program has a contradictory perspective. Speaking with the “Voice of Russia,” Heinonen declared that Iran’s uranium enrichment technology is so obsolete that even the thousands of centrifuges in its hands cannot produce enough material for making a single nuclear weapon any time soon.


Nonetheless, the perceived threat to Israeli national security has prompted them to make public threats to attack suspected experimental sites in Iran. In turn, the Iranians have responded by directly threatening the nation of Israel and to move preemptively if necessary by possibly targeting the Strait of Hormuz located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Roughly 20 percent of the world’s oil supply passes through the 6-mile-wide travel lanes of the Strait on a daily basis. Any interruption of these traffic lanes that are intended to accommodate oil tanker passage could effectively choke off, or at least throttle back, worldwide oil distribution.


Due to mere threats this spring, elevated U.S. and EU crude oil costs resulted in higher prices at the gasoline pumps. Should the saber rattling escalate into combative engagements dubbed “peace-keeping” missions, “kinetic action,” “humanitarian relief,” or “no fly zones” by some (otherwise known as undeclared war), anticipate much higher fuel prices that may significantly impact the global economy as well as individual lifestyles. In turn, the Western powers have significantly contributed to the escalating war rhetoric in the region by imposing stricter international sanctions on Tehran.


Israel’s Nuclear Program


The Israeli nuclear program can be described as riddled with duplicity and uncertainty. While Israel steadfastly refuses to publicly acknowledge any nuclear weaponry arsenal, it is known that France assisted them in the development of a nuclear program during the 1950s that has been focused not on domestic energy production, but on the development of nuclear weaponry. Unlike Iran’s supposed primitive delivery system, the long-standing Israeli system may be functional throughout the Middle East. It is speculated that Israel’s Dimona Research Center harbors a nuclear reactor that has stockpiled anywhere from 75-200 warheads.


According to one source, “Israel has not confirmed that it has nuclear weapons and officially maintains that it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Yet the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons is a ‘public secret’ by now due to the declassification of large numbers of formerly highly classified U.S. government documents which show that the U.S. by 1975 was convinced that Israel had nuclear weapons.” Speculation aside, history reveals that Israel has never signed the UN-sponsored Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


It then follows that Washington, the EU, the UN, NATO, other world governments, and the IAEA have historically given Israel and the U.S. a diplomatic pass on the matter. Meanwhile, due to estranged political relations between a sovereign Iran and the West, Tehran has been subjected to a deceptively different set of nuclear standards that has also been marred with perceived hypocrisy and duplicity. Clearly, a technologically advancing Iranian government that does not answer to the prevailing Western powers threatens to irrevocably shift the status quo balance of power in the Middle East. While the preservation of the nation of Israel is of paramount importance to the West, is the nuclear problem the only influencing factor at play here or are other veiled economic interests and geopolitical concerns present?


One such example speculates that UN-imposed sanctions that stopped Iranian oil exports to Europe were designed to isolate Iran and to depress the value of their monetary currency. Such actions could lead to an economic collapse. In response, Iran has relied on oil trade with various members of the rising economic conglomerate known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). One source asserts that key members Russia, India, and China are now trading with Iran in currencies outside of the American dollar—the world reserve currency—or with gold. The problem is that during the 1970s an international deal was established that ensured the U.S. dollar would be the exclusive currency used for oil trade (the so-called “petrodollar system”). If this opposing trend in trading were to achieve widespread acceptance, it could potentially threaten to undermine the intrinsic value of the dollar and the status quo system of global economic trade.


With all this said, what are we to make of the sordid Iranian and Israeli nuclear histories and piecemeal disclosures? Regardless of no concrete evidence to date of nuclear bomb production in Iran, the mainstream media neither critically investigates, questions, nor debates in the public forum unsubstantiated accusations driven by the UN-influenced IAEA. Similar parallels can be drawn to the allegation of “weapons of mass destruction” levied against Iraq that in hindsight was devoid of reliable intelligence and objective review. Regardless of whether the Iranian nuclear charges have validity, it is noted that expert opinion that contradicts the current war rhetoric has largely been ignored or censored from widespread public dissemination. Such actions may yet serve as a pretense for the West that is arguably searching for grounds to justify launching a war with Iran 


William Lepak is an independent freelance writer with experience as a teacher, town planner, and health field professional.