Nuclear Red Line (No. 1) Stephen Zunes: A Nuclear Iran Deterrence against U.S.-Israeli Aggression

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Stephen Zunes
By: Kourosh Ziabari

It’s been more than a decade that the United States, Israel and their European partners have been spreading fear about an imaginary nuclear bomb which they claim Iran will acquire shortly. This “shortly” has never arrived, and Iran, as evidenced by several reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency, hasn’t ever moved toward militarizing its nuclear program or developing suspicious materials. However, the superpowers, provoked by the Israeli regime, have continually pressured Iran with tough economic sanctions, war threats and a massive media propaganda campaign.

It was last year when the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, ridiculously displayed a controversial cartoon before the world leaders and talked of a red line which Iran will imminently cross if its continues to pursue its nuclear program with the same pace. Netanyahu said that Iran needs to be prevented from developing a nuclear bomb, and efforts have been underway to realize this goal for some 15 years. Ironically, Israel itself is the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

However, it was not the first time that Israel has threatened Iran in such a belligerent and ostentatious way. Many Israeli politicians and military officials had previously warned that Tel Aviv might launch a military strike on Iran very soon if Iran doesn’t abandon its nuclear program. The same goes with the U.S. officials who were certain that an Israeli airstrike on Iran is unavoidable. John Bolton, the former U.S. envoy to the United Nations had categorically predicted in 2008 that Israel will attack Iran before the new U.S. president is sworn in.

But are these red lines which the United States and Israel have been setting for Iran realistic and serious or an outworn repetition of the old war rhetoric that is used to frighten the Iranian people and propagate fear and trepidation among them? In order to investigate the different aspects of the U.S. and Israel’s approach to the Iran’s nuclear program in general, and the red lines which the officials in Washington and Tel Aviv have been drawing for Iran, we have begun doing a set of interviews with renowned political scientists and authors from across the world and asked them their viewpoints about the possible scenarios which may take place in the course of the confrontation which the United States and Israel have set out against Iran. Our first interviewee is Prof. Stephen Zunes, an American political scientist specializing in the Middle East politics and U.S. foreign policy. He is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. Zunes’ latest book is titled “Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution” which was published in 2010.

I asked Prof. Zunes whether he sees any credibility in Israel’s war threats against Iran or the red lines which the Tel Aviv officials have been long bragging about. He says, “for more than twenty years, Israeli leaders have said that Iran would shortly be producing nuclear weapons, so such supposed “red lines” have little credibility, and no country has the legal right to attack another because of an alleged weapons program.”

With regards to the conflicts between Washington and Tel Aviv on making a decision as to whether they should attack Iran or not, Zunes believes, “both Israel and the United States do not want Iran to challenge their nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and both might be willing to use force to maintain it. Obama, however, is more cognizant of the risks military action would entail and is a lot more reluctant to initiate an armed confrontation.”

“The other difference is that Obama says that he would be willing to use force to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons, whereas Netanyahu has threatened to use force to prevent Iran from simply having the capability of producing nuclear weapons,” he added.

But an important question is that, are the United States and Israel really afraid of a nuclear-capable Iran? They already know that Iran is ideologically opposed to nuclear weapons and it has been manifested in the speeches given by the Supreme Leader. So, what is the real root of their concerns? Stephen Zunes answers: “There is a real fear that Iran might indeed develop nuclear weapons and they do not trust Iran’s statements against them. I don’t think anyone seriously believes Iran would use them in a first strike, however. What they are afraid of is that Iran then would have a deterrent against U.S. and Israeli aggression in the region.”

With regards to the National Intelligence Estimate’s 2007 report which showed that Iran does not have the intention to develop a nuclear weapon, Zunes says, “I think they [the U.S. and Israel leaders] accept the NIE on Iran that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons program. The concern is that by Iran further developing its nuclear reprocessing capabilities, it could switch from a civilian nuclear program to a military nuclear program fairly quickly.”

However, many political analysts believe that one of the driving factors in the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and the altercation between Iran and the West is Israel. It seems that the U.S. administration and the Congress are unconditionally supporting the Israeli regime and blindly following in its footsteps. Why do the U.S. political institutions, high-ranking politicians and- government support Israel in such a subservient way? Prof. Zunes answers: “the United States is not simply blindly following Israel regarding Iran. The United States has its own interests in Iran irrespective of Israel.”

“From the 1953 CIA-organized coup to the support of the Shah and his repression to the hostility towards the revolutionary government subsequently, what motivates US policy is its hegemonic aspirations in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. Israel is sometimes used as the excuse, but it has never been the main reason for U.S. policy toward Iran,” he stressed.

I asked Prof. Zunes what he thought about the West’s hypocritical approach toward Iran’s nuclear program and the reasons why the Western leaders nonchalantly allow Israel to build nuclear weapons while pressuring Iran whereas they have no proof that Tehran’s nuclear activities are non-civilian. His response to my question was brief, but precise: “the double standards are quite blatant, not just in regard to Israel, but towards India and Pakistan as well.”

And the final question: “will drawing a red line for Iran’s nuclear program prevent it from mastering the nuclear fuel cycle really commit the United States and Israel to attack Iran, or do you consider the setting of a red line a new tactic or something like a propaganda game to frighten Iran and obstruct its progress?”

“There will certainly be those who will still call for hostile actions towards Iran, but they would not get as much support as they do now.  Concerns about nuclear proliferation can scare a lot of people who might not otherwise be prone to support war. That is why Iran’s supposed nuclear “threat” is exaggerated so much,” answered Prof. Zunes.

At any rate, what is obvious is that Iran’s nuclear program has turned into an excuse for the United States, Israel and their European allies to exert pressure on Iran, impede its economic and political progress as an emerging power in the region and undermine its independence and sovereignty. Iran will be the definite winner of this unequal battle if it continues its resistance against the bullying powers.

Key Words: Nuclear Red Line, U.S.-Israeli Aggression, Iran, Zunes

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