Preparing for the Persian bomb
Dubai - The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme may have been extended but the real outcome of the talks is already painfully self-evident: The foundation for the eventual weaponisation and secure mass production of all the components necessary for nuclear weapons by the Islamic Republic has been established.
The parameters of the final outcome — some of which will remain buried in secret annexes — make a Persian bomb an inevitability. Arab states must begin to plan accordingly. Vienna is the Arabs’ “Munich” moment. Nazi German Adolf Hitler cowed British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier into sacrificing the Sudetenland for the prospects of a lasting “peace”. Tragically, US Secretary of State John Kerry, in the pursuit of that same elusive peace, stands to repeat that historic folly with an Iran unsatiated with its expansionist designs in the Middle East.
Chamberlin was convinced of Hitler’s “reasonable” demands. Nazi Germany’s re-militarisation and expansionist aims were thought to be within limited bounds of containable sovereign designs. Peace, the narrative went then, would require mutual recognition and respect. This great “good deal” would spare the world the calamity of war. Instead, it engendered it.
And now, a post-Vienna Middle East will prove to be as combustible as ever.
The Iranian negotiating team too has pressed for recognition of Iran as a coequal party with legitimate sovereign aspirations. It has deftly used the nuclear negotiations as cover to demand that the UN Security Council end the arms embargo on Iran. In addition to the billions of dollars of sanctions relief that would flow directly to Iran’s external special operations forces managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Tehran, with Moscow’s insistence, is seeking diplomatic normalisation that would allow it to significantly enhance its military might.
The Iranians have also succeeded in cowing Washington and the West from taking meaningful steps to countering Iran’s unconventional warfare and covert terrorist actions in the region. The thinking goes that the nuclear deal is the prize, so why risk unnecessary distractions?
In other words, the Vienna accord is de facto recognition of Persian dominion in the Arab world at a time when Iran is accelerating its involvement in the affairs of Arab states. The Obama White House has attempted to reassure and spin Arab leaders on the notion that the deal with Iran is in the collective interests of all parties. The reality is that there is little policy concern with sacrificing Arab allies as the necessary “collateral damage” to reach a final deal with Iran.
Punching above its weight class and leveraging the psychological advantage of an American negotiating team desperate for a deal, Iran has managed to survive withering economic sanctions and internal dissent while blackmailing a militarily superior United States with its relatively smaller IRGC.
And despite protestations to the contrary from the White House, the outcome of Vienna goes beyond Iran’s nuclear programme.
The Iranians insisted on linkage between a nuclear deal and achieving recognition as a regional power with “legitimate” interests (as it defines by its revisionist Shia expansionist doctrine.) That is precisely what the Iranians are poised to receive. The international inspection and verification system designed to ensure Iranian compliance and prevent covert nuclear weaponisation has been markedly watered down.
The Americans have functionally caved to the Iranian demand that IRGC facilities that are designated as “conventional” military sites be off-limits to inspections.
Even with high-tech remote monitoring systems in place, Iranian obfuscation and deception tactics, which it has adeptly honed over a decade of covert nuclear work, will buy the country sufficient time to eventually reach nuclear breakout capability.
The Iranian plan is remarkably simple: leverage Vienna as a stepping stone in a long-term campaign towards nuclear weaponisation. Iran will not be compelled to fully reveal the prior military dimensions — to include refitting long-range ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads — of its covert nuclear development. There will be no starting point to even begin to assess just how close Iran is to achieving breakout capability. The warning systems in place will simply be decorative in nature.
The Iranians will moonwalk their way to nuclear weaponisation by projecting all the appearances of compliance while testing the West’s fortitude to maintain deterrence.
History is instructive here. The 2013 chemical weapons deal brokered with the Russians, and overseen by the United Nations, was meant to rid the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Inspections and remote monitoring systems were instituted. Yet, new reports are surfacing that the Assad regime has maintained covert undeclared precursor chemicals that will allow it to rapidly produce VX and sarin gas again.
The weapon systems that would deliver the deadly gas were not covered by the so-called deal. Hailed as a diplomatic triumph, it simply reinforced Iran’s perceptions that gross intransigence can be papered over with a sufficient level of plausible deniability and a thin veneer of rhetoric professing desire to avoid conflict.
Here are some steps that Arab states can take in anticipation:
• Begin to heavily invest in offensive cyber-weapon capability. Iran already has an advantage in this arena.
• Pooling resources and establishing regional strategic partnerships will be central to maintaining an asymmetric capacity that can harass Iran’s conventional and weapons of mass destruction infrastructure.
• Weaken Iran on the periphery. An emboldened Iran is both dangerous and vulnerable. Iranian advisers, fighters and military equipment continue to flow into Syria. Significantly increasing support to Syrian rebels in the southern front will force the Iranians to expend even more resources that they can hardly afford to do so.
• Fund Iranian and anti-Iranian Shia Arab dissident groups that the West has stopped funding as part of the nuclear agreement.
• Encourage the next US administration to reassess the status quo acceptance that military strikes against underground reinforced nuclear facilities would not meaningfully set back, if not eliminate, Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions.
• Challenge Russia in its near-abroad. Moscow is Iran’s principle enabler and key source for weapon proliferation. Fund and send military aid to bolster the Ukrainian defence effort against the all-but-in-name Russian invasion.
• Force Russia to pay dearly for its expansionism.
• Anticipate that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps will expand its international terrorist activity as a result of a nuclear deal. This could include plausibly deniable terror attacks against targets in the Gulf and allies such as Jordan.
• Finally, enhance force integration between Gulf Cooperation Council armed forces in preparation for wider regional conflagration with Iran and Shia militant auxiliaries in the coming 5-10 years.