Friday, October 23, 2009

Iran Update

Today has been given to Iran for a decision deadline on the nuclear fuel enrichment deal being worked on in Vienna. An initial response by Iranian officials is a "no", but a final answer has not been rendered. This could sharply dial up the risk of the military option being used very soon, especially considering what's going on with the S-300s. In a news release just today, Tehran On The Brink Of Procurring S-300 Missiles , the deal is back on for Russia to ship the deadly anti-aircraft missile system to Iran to deploy around all its nuclear sites. Russia had agreed to stop the deal given the delicate nature of negotiation attempts. Currently, it would be relatively routine for Israel, even if acting alone, to successfully bomb Iran's facilities. How effective that bombing would be is another question. But the S-300s, if deployed, would mean serious damage to the Israeli air force if and when they were to do a strike.

The talks, as Israel claims, may be just stalling and deal making (and breaking) to give Iran both its nuclear bomb program and the S-300s to guard it with. Our optimistic impulse is to cheer the initiative being worked on now. It sounds good. It would have Iran hand over 75% of its low enriched uranium to Russia and France for higher enrichment and processing to a form suitable only for power plant or medical use but not for bomb making, then sold back to Iran. There would be no need for Iran's enrichment program with its possible bomb threat. But as the above news release says,
..., this apparent breakthrough may come at a grave price if in exchange for its “flexibility” Iran finally gets the S-300’s from Moscow. Washington is currently praising Tehran for finally responding to Barack Obama’s outstretched hand and will not be in a strong position to do or say much if Moscow rewards Tehran with S-300’s.

Together with the Tor M1 and the older super long-range S-200 (provided by Russia in 1994) and the S-300 missiles Iran could build a solid multilayer anti-aircraft defense shield that could defend its nuclear facilities against a possible U.S. or Israeli air attack and inflict serious damage on any attacking force. Without the S-300’s Iran does not have any credible air defenses and its nuclear facilities are vulnerable to such attacks (Interfax, October 21). The possible price for showing “flexibility” to get the S-300’s by sending 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium abroad may not be as significant as it seems. In 2008, Russia shipped to Iran some 82 tons of low-enriched uranium as nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power reactor and it is stored under the protection of an IAEA seal (RIA-Novosti, February 25). Iran could dip into that source to easily replace the uranium it may agree to send to Russia under the IAEA draft deal as soon as its nuclear facilities are protected by a credible air defense system from a devastating outside attack. The over-enthusiastic Obama administration might face a nasty surprise.
The nasty surprise may come from the Israelis. In my September 3 post "Silence May Not Be Golden For Iran" I said:
consider the observation of Andrew Apostolou and other analysts interviewed a few months ago on Israel's willingness to strike Iran.

"But it's unlikely, they say, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reach that conclusion in the coming weeks or months...Israel is locked in a wait-and-see mode, planning to let U.S. diplomacy exhaust itself. Matthew Silver, a historian at Emek Yezreel College in the Galilee, agrees: "Netanyahu figures, "Okay, let Obama talk to the mullahs. It's a preordained failure." That the Israeli prime minister is making loud noises about a possible military strike, Apostolou says, suggests one won't come anytime soon. "If the Israelis really wanted to scare the Americans, they'd say nothing. When the Israelis go really quiet, that's when you have to start worrying.
As my chart shows in that post, the Israelis have gone quiet since he said that. So much so that you see it noted in headlines and in stories on Iran lately. In a NY Times piece out today "Draft Iran Deal Has Israel Worried" we have:

Thus far, officially Israel largely remained mum on the talks in Vienna and Geneva.

The only reaction from an Israeli government official so far came from Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who late Thursday criticised the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) proposal as insufficient.

'The agreement, if it is signed, will postpone uranium enrichment in Iran by about one year. But if the enrichment is not halted, then the only end result is that Iran will have received legitimacy to enrich uranium on its soil,' Barak told a conference in Jerusalem.

'Therefore, a halt of enrichment in Iran ... coupled with immediate harsh sanctions free of any illusions and with eyes wide open' was needed, and without 'all parties taking any option off the table under any conditions', said the Israeli defence minister.

"Iran should know" they emphasized "that all options are on the table". Iran has been reported as vowing to continue enrichment even if they send the uranium to Russia. This does not sound like a peaceful resolution of the situation coming up. Russia processing Iran's bomb material just sounds too much like the fox guarding the hen house to begin with. If they decide to go ahead with the S-300 missiles, they would be delivered immediately. I get the impression the Israelis may not wait around until Iran gets a boat load of the new missiles ready to shred their planes before they do the air strikes.

1 comment:

  1. Short & mid-range anti-aircraft missiles & anti-sub torpedoes for aircraft carrier: